Liesl and I went to Europe when we were 18 and 20 years old. It was my first major trip and my very first backpacking experience. I could squeeze thousands of stories out of those six weeks of traveling, but the most deranged story comes from our first stop in London.
We flew into London because it was the cheapest option. A stunning $350 one-way ticket to Europe. I remember buying it in Marc’s dorm room as he, Liesl, and I lounged on a floor mattress. I even took a screenshot of the confirmation.
We stayed in London for four days and nights. An eye-opening first leg. We almost instantly created a budget friendly way of traveling. We were set into our penny pinching ways early on. So much that we decided to forgo another night at the London Eye hostel and sleep in the airport instead to catch a 6 am flight. We were sloths all night long there. Spending an hour or two in one sitting area before relocating to the next. Always trying to find a better, comfier, darker area to rest. I was wearing almost all my clothes to try and stay warm in the cold, damp airport. I remember making it down to what seemed like the airport basement. It was very early in the morning, maybe 1 am. There were hardly any other passengers down in the basement. Mostly there were long corridors and deserted help desks. We trudged forward, aimlessly wandering.
We came across a door with no window that said: Chapel. We entered, and I remember my eyes getting big even with the heaviness of sleep. Inside was a dimly lit chapel with cushioned chairs and no arm rests in between. There was a dark green curtain strung across the front of the room. There was carpet. It was warmer inside. Everything about the chapel was a million times more cozy than the rest of the airport.
We set our backpacks down and took a seat. I stared at that green curtain for a long time. I probably said a prayer. I asked for help, or rather a comfortable outlook on the rest of the trip. Have we resorted to this? Sleeping in a chapel?
I dozed off. I woke up to a Muslim man coming in, rolling out his prayer rug, and kneeling for his first prayer of the day. It was very early, almost time for Liesl and I to make our way to go through security. He prayed for a few minutes. I was half sleeping sitting up, my hands in my lap. When he left I relaxed a little more and fell completely asleep.
It was impossible to know how much time passed. I continued to doze fitfully. It was silent.
*POUND POUND POUND*
I gasped awake, straightened my spine, the hairs on my neck spiked.
In walked three tall men, all wearing bulletproof vests, middle aged. Those were secondary qualities.
The first thing I noticed were the three of them carrying three foot machines guns. The men looked tense, concerned, angry.
I looked over at Liesl and she shared the same frightened wide-eyed gaze. We were fully awake now.
“You have to leave! You can’t sleep in here!” One of the men said.
Liesl and I apologized and scurried out. We didn’t look back.
To this day I know the praying man ratted us out. It wouldn’t stop us from dozing in a chapel again.