London, England: A Midnight Bus to Victoria Station

I prepared for the interview all morning, heading to the neighbourhood cafe De Balie, where free internet and great coffee abounds. The interview was in Katwijk (say Cat-vike), and by the time I took a train and bus out to the coastal town and got back, it was already late afternoon. I had bought a ticket on the overnight bus to London, via the ferry from Calais to Dover. I walked through the Albert Cuypmarket looking for something to take on the bus, but didn’t find any prepared foods that looked any good, except some fries which I ate on the walk back to the hostel.

Suddenly I passed a shop window and saw the familiar spread of rolls, pastries, cakes and breads. Bakery. I ducked in and bought an olliebollen, a Dutch donut widely considered to be the first version of the modern donut. They’re rounder and lack holes in the center, but they’re just as delicious.

I ended up taking the long way back, and by the time I got back to the familiar grounds of the Rijksmuseum, I spotted another olliebollen cart and had to try another one. Yup, still delicious, I was satisfied. In fact, the sugar high had made me a little sick. But I had just come out of a great interview so I felt the need to treat myself to the point of trauma.

With my bags in tow I finally said goodbye to Amsterdam and waited for the bus driver to open up the Eurolines coach at Amstel station. He seemed like a pretty interesting guy, but man was that an understatement …

A few minutes after we left the station, he came on the PA and made the usual announcements of where we were going, how long it would take, other stops we’d have to make, etc. Then he started talking about rules for riding in his bus. Rule number one: no chips. “No potato chips, no Bugles, no Pringles. Some people say they’re not chips, but if they’re not chips, then I don’t know what they are. To me, they are chips.”

Rule number two: “Gentlemen, please, don’t embarrass yourself. When you use the toilet, please sit down like a lady.” That’s right, he requested that all men sit on the toilet when peeing. All the passengers looked at each other confused and amused. “When you are peeing, you have your dickie in one hand and you are balancing with the other, what happens when I go heavy on my brake?”

He had a valid point, in that it’s difficult to really get your aim right on a moving vehicle, but it was funny that he was so passionate about it. The way he saw it, “The ladies don’t like it and I don’t like it because I have to clean this mess! And I  AM  NOT  A  SOCIAL  WORKER!”

The punishment for violation of any of these rules involved a choice: “You can either walk to England or swim.” Except he pronounced it “shwim.”

Both of these rules, along with some other equally strange ones, such as “Absolutely no kind of peanut,” were announced in complete seriousness over the PA every time a new set of people boarded the bus. So the travelers who had been on since Amsterdam got to hear this wonderful code of conduct about 4 times. By the 3rd time, people would react with cheers or jeers during the more scandalous parts.

When we finally got to the ferry terminal at Calais, and a set of customs and passport checks (one for the French side, one for the British side), the driver advised, “Show the [customs] card on the UK side. Don’t show your card to the French because they cannot read.”

Finally, at around 6AM, we arrived at Victoria Station. I’ll break here since my day actually continues in London. I was going to meet Rebecca that evening after she finished work, so I had to amuse myself in the city until then. Arguably, this was the longest day of all my travels. Now you could say I did sleep on the bus so it’s really two separate days, but as anyone who’s been on these trips knows, those 2 hour bursts of sleep before someone wakes you up to tell you to sit down while you pee can hardly be considered sleep. So far I had nailed a job interview, eaten myself into a donut-fueled sugar stroke, endured a long bus ride piloted by a comic book character, and now I had been dropped in the middle of London with nothing to do, nowhere to go and 12 hours to kill. Thankfully, sightseeing in London is a by-the-book, time-tested tradition.



    1. Ok ok, it was ESA, the European Space Agency. I didn’t get the job, but if I hadn’t tried, I wouldn’t have met the world’s most eccentric bus driver.

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