The GoldenTours’ bus was one stop light and 100-feet away, idling at Stop 22, St. Martin-in-the-Fields. I shifted from one foot to the other, whispering “change, light, change” and praying the bus wouldn’t pull away. Traffic finally stopped. I stepped off the sidewalk as the pedestrian light switch to green and jogged to the bus.
“Is this the bus going to the Tower of London?” I dug through my too-small purse, hunting for my bus pass.
“Yes. Yes. This is the bus.” The driver smiled broadly and nodded his dark-haired head. I noted his accent. It wasn’t British.
“I’d hoped to be at the Tower by one. It’s already…” I looked at my watch and did the math. I’d only have two hours for my tour. I sighed. “It’s already 2:15.”
I held out some papers, not even sure if the ticket was among them. Still smiling he said, “No need.”
I thanked him and fell into the first seat behind the stairs. I tapped my foot on the floor and stopped only when the bus pulled forward. I stuck in my earbuds and open my worn GoldenTours map. Only five stops to go. I traced the path, studied the distance from stop to stop. My heart sank. We still had to travel one-third of the map.
“It’s okay. You only need an hour and a half at the Tower,” called the driver.
I wanted to tell him Rick Steves’ London 2019 says I need three hours. Instead I nodded.
I’d had a plan—I’d hop from red bus to the yellow bus then to orange and cut across London, staying on the straightaways and skipping the scenic detours. It would’ve been a good plan, had there been a yellow bus. There wasn’t. I had to walk the yellow bus’s route.
Shoulders back, I had walked along Piccadilly. I’d rushed past the Ritz and Fortnum & Mason. For a brief second I slowed as I passed the Royal Academy of Arts. I longed to go in. But no. I had Tower tickets and no time to waste. Once again I picked up my pace: first Haymarket, then Pall Mall. I headed for the gray lump of a statue on the GoldenTours’ map.
This time I slowed. Then stopped. I pieced together where I was. The map’s lump of gray was Trafalgar Square. There were fountains, lions, and Admiral Horatio Nelson was 170-feet overhead. Was that the National Gallery? I snapped some photos and wondered, how does anybody decide what to see in London? And I ran for the bus.
As we waited at the Covent Garden stop, for what I did not know, I asked the driver, “Where are you from?”
“Spain,” he said. He told me he came to London seven years prior for work. He didn’t miss Spain, yet he spoke of his home with pride. “My name is Aritz. It’s a Basque name.”
Basque is the oldest language in Europe. According to Culture Trip, the Basque language is a “linguistic mystery”, and existed before Romance languages. At the next stop Aritz called me up to the cab again. He scribbled a map of Spain on a dirty envelope and placed two dots in the northeast corner. Starting with the point nearest to France, he said, “This is my town, and this is the Guggenheim.” Both are in the heart of the Basque-speaking region that encompasses northeast Spain and southwest France.
For the remainder of the trip I sat in the high seat to the left of the cab. Aritz pointed out his favorite London sites and spoke of his home in Spain. He delivered me to the Tower of London in time for an hour and half tour, but it is today’s journey to the Tower that will not be forgotten.