It’s really nostalgic to go back and write these blog posts months after my return. My friends frequently ask me how I remember enough details to still compose a post, so I’m going to let you in on my two very important secrets. First, I take a lot of pictures, maybe too many pictures, but when I see a picture of my first real fish and chips in London, I could tell you exactly which table I sat at in that restaurant and how our petite brunette waitress was very kind. Second, I take damn good notes while I travel. A lot of people recommend Moleskine Notebooks, but I really prefer just writing notes in my iPhone. So, with the combination of photographs, notes, and little souvenirs, I’m able to tell my story.
I landed in Gatwick airport and immediately began to flirt with my customs officer. At this point of my travels, each time I had to speak with an officer I was petrified of being deported. A lone girl with a passport full of international stamps and no business related itinerary tends to raise a few eyebrows. After acceptance and another stamp, I quickly scurried to catch the next train into London. Since I booked my hostels very last minute, I had to stay my first three nights at St. Christopher’s Hostel. I say that with a negative tone because I had no idea what I was getting myself into. On the ground floor is a huge bar and in the basement is a massive night club. My bed was right above both of them. It’s not that I don’t like to party, I just prefer more of a separation. I do not enjoy sleeping within twenty feet (sorry, I use the imperial system) of where eighteen-year-olds are puking. I shared a room with thirteen other strangers and quickly grew fond of my earplugs.
The following morning I joined a walking tour. Although London is absolutely massive, it was nice to get a general orientation of the city. We started in Green Park and I arrived just in time to see the Horse Guard Parade down The Mall to Buckingham Palace. We strolled by the royal manors, the prestigious Athenaeum Club, and stopped in Trafalgar Square. We finished in the Parliament Square to see the House of Commons (Also known as The Parliament), Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey. After the tour a few of us walked back to Trafalgar Square to see the National Museum. The artwork wasn’t exactly my style, but it was refreshing to learn that most Museums in London are free, so it didn’t hurt to browse. I then walked back to the Parliament Square and across Westminster Bridge to see the London Eye and, in my opinion, the best view of Ben. It began to rain so I hoped on the tube to Borough Market and quickly bundled up back at the hostel. This is where my unlimited tube pass definitely came in handy. Later, I went to Piccadilly Circus when suddenly a massive Ferguson protest began in the now pouring rain. Thousands of people marched while I sheepishly tried to navigate around like a lost child. I ran for cover in a nearby Chipotle, got a burrito, and went back to the hostel.
The next day was Thanksgiving. As an American, it was weird to spend my first major holiday away from home. I joined my American friend Michael (that I had met in Prague) for lunch at Pret A Manger. I enjoyed a seasonally appropriate turkey, cranberry, and stuffing sandwich with a warm pumpkin soup. After lunch, Michael left and I began walking; I got purposefully lost in the city until I arrived at St. James’s Park. I stumbled across an older gentleman surrounded by wild animals, I kept my distance and observed his Snow White-esque behavior. Ducks, bunnies, and squirrels surrounded his feet as he fed and spoke to each creature. I couldn’t help but to interrupt, he smiled, and invited me to join. I sat down on the bench with him, he handed me a handful of peanuts, and instructed me how to properly feed everyone. I sat with this man on the bench as he told me about his life and why he comes there everyday – meanwhile squirrels are running up my legs and jumping on my shoulders to snatch a peanut. I continued on back to my hostel for the longest shower of my life. Just as I was finished getting dressed, one of my roommates returned to the hostel. Feeling rather spontaneous, I invited him for, “A nice dinner, I don’t really know what it’s called – but I want fish and chips. It’s in the Primrose Hill area, there’s supposedly a big tree in the center of the bar, I don’t know, but my neighbor said I can’t miss it.” He laughed and in his heavy Australian accent said, “Yeah alright!” I soon realized that I should have tried to locate the name before departing as we walked alongside extremely sketchy uv-a lit canals deep in Camden Town. We eventually found an old staircase that led to the even darker street level where I at some point stepped in dog s**t. I proceeded to unknowingly track the excrement in and out of every establishment as we tried to find a bar with a tree in it. I finally realized the horrific lingering smell wasn’t the garbage on the street, it was me. I dragged my shoes in rain puddles and every grass lawn I could find as the Aussie proceeded to cry from laughter. We finally gave up and just stopped at the first warmly lit pub with a promising beer list. We had our fish and chips and ended up having a really great meal. After dinner, we walked back to Camden Town for a few more beers with an interesting crowd. We sat down at a table when suddenly a sixty-six-year-old man with purple fishnets, leopard shoes, and bright orange hair joined us. I liked him a lot.
While London doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, they definitely do acknowledge Black Friday. That morning I checked into my next hostel, an old Victorian mansion, in Swiss Cottage. I then spent hours at Oxford Circus shopping at the Topshop Flagship store, Primark, and more. After a long day of shopping I met with an old high school friend, John, while he was in town for business. We got Chipotle (again), and then went to a trendy bar in Soho for Happy Hour. Honestly, in London when the sun sets at 3pm, there really is not much else to do but drink – I wasn’t complaining. The reunions continued as my British friend Joe (that I had met in Israel) met us in the city for some drinks. Our group continued to grow as Joe’s friends met us at another pub just past Dirty Dicks. At some point we stopped for really delicious burgers, went to a nightclub, and then another sketchy bar. I was pleased (sarcasm) to find out that the tube doesn’t run past midnight, so I slept at Joe’s friend’s house in the outskirts of London about an hour from the city. I got about two hours of sleep. The next morning Joe took me to East London and convinced me to try shepherd’s pie and mash, as well as a nice plate (more sarcasm) of jellied eel, and a large cup of English breakfast tea to wash it all down. The pie and mash may have been nice on a stronger stomach, but the jellied eel was horrific… absolutely, positively, repulsive. The tea was nice. I rode a double decker bus back to town and we headed to Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. Wonderland was precious, we drank mulled wine at the Bavarian Market, met up with one of Joe’s friends, and all played carnival games together. I discovered that “cotton candy” is called “candy floss” and in true rom-com style, Joe won me two stuffed bears. At this point I was an exhausted zombie. So after stopping at one last pub, I called it a night.
The next day I slept in, got a huge bowl of pho, and continued being a tourist. I went to the Camden Market, the Vintage Markets, and Brick Lane. All of which I highly recommend taking the time to explore. We stopped at the famous Beigel Bake before heading over to the Tower Bridge. We window-shopped at Harrods and after a long day of walking, Joe and I stumbled across the newly opened Bubba Gump. I smiled seeing a little reminder of home and subsequently glanced over at Joe smiling ear-to-ear. I quickly learned that Forrest Gump was one of Joe’s favorite movies, so we went there for dinner. It was fun to be the tourist showing the local around the restaurant. It was also fun beating him at the table-side trivia. For my last full day in London I was back on my own. I finished the last few things I needed to see while I was in town. I hunted down an original Banksy piece, saw St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Shakespearean Globe, but most importantly – I went to the James Bond exhibition at the London Film Museum. Being an avid Bond fan and an even bigger Aston Martin fan, I was in Heaven. Finally, I somehow found myself at Chipotle again where I met up with my friend Rachel (that I’d met in Paris). We walked around the festively decorated Oxford Circus and I made the greatest purchase ever at H&M, my pizza / hot dog / fries onesie. After playing in the artificial snow sprinkling down the streets, my busy week caught up with me, so I headed back to my mansion (lol) for a good night’s sleep. The following morning I took one last stroll through town and headed back to Italy.
25 November 2014 – 2 December 2014