I wish I was going to write all of these words about a different city, about a place that is lesser known, a place located off the map, a place skipped by the eye and by tourists. I want to say that this weekend was spent in some hidden locale that took me two weeks to find after digging and clawing through the dense jungles of the Amazon or climbing to the top of some unreachable peak in the Himalayas. But instead I am writing of a place that is known by everyone world-wide. I am writing about the love I unexpectedly discovered in a city so well known that I think it takes place as number 2 travel destination in the world. And I for one can vouge for its wonder. I know why it is so visited and why it is so well known and so highly desired. I have seen it and I never wanted to leave.
London was absolutely incredible.
I caught my flight around 7pm hurriedly that Friday. I went to work all day and rushed home because my friend Kevin was going to be at my place. He flew out from Denver to stay here in Madrid, he’s doing the whole study abroad thing and he needed a place to crash the first night so I offered him my place.
Him and I got pizza quickly, then I hurriedly packed and ran to the airport. The flight was quick and easy. Once I arrived at the airport, I was so relieved to see English everywhere. I seriously had completely forgotten what a blessing it is being able to communicate in your native language! It was so comforting and nice to see English everywhere. I know I love Spanish but when you have to rely on your second language for everything, it’s so nice to be able to revert back to your native tongue and not have to think about everything you want to say: Instead, you just say it and it comes out perfectly with perfect pronunciation and no “ummmm’s” in between.
I started my trip off there by converting my euros into dreadful Pounds. I went to an ATM and it asked me some strange questions I couldn’t answer (not for a lack of knowledge of the language I just had no idea what it was asking me). So I went to the exchange counter and tried ALL THREE of my credit cards and the lady said she couldn’t give me pounds on either one of them. So I handed her the fifty euros I had in cash and got about 35 pounds back. Then I discovered another exchange place and I asked the girl there if she could exchange my money from my cards. She just said use the ATM so I went over to it and it didn’t ask me unanswerable questions and it didn’t hesitate to give me the 200 pounds I wanted. I was much happier at this point.
I proceeded to board the train from Gatwick airport to the city-center of London. It took thirty minutes and I had this great conversation (in English) with some Spanish guy. He was there to visit his girl friend who I guess was unsuccessfully trying to learn English. He spoke perfect English though.
I got off the train and went into the Underground and that’s when I got my first real experience of London and Londoner’s. There were people everywhere, all different walks of life. I saw normal people, rich business people, punk people, including Chelsea girl hair cuts, hair dye, and I think I even saw a transvestite…because women don’t have five o’clock shadows like the one this person had.
But all around me, I heard ENGLISH and not incomprehensible mutterings of Spanish. It was such a relief! But not only that, it was this beautiful British English. It sounded so wonderful, it really did. I didn’t expect to like it, but hearing everyone speaking English with an unfamiliar accent was completely awing and beautiful.
After a slight wait, I got my underground ticket and took my first ride on the London Tube to my hostel. Once I got out of the Underground and got to ground level, I finally saw London in its entirety. The stop I got off at was right there at the London Bridge (and the name of the Tube stop was so appropriately named: London Bridge).
Cars were all driving in the wrong directions, but the cars themselves were something to see. Those infamous gigantic, red, double-decker buses shuffled by more frequently than average cars practically. All the taxis were these old-fashioned looking wagons, very typical of a Sherlock Holmes novel or an old James Bond film. On the sidewalks, it was written: “Look Left,” or “Look Right” to warn foreigners that the British think on the left-sides of things. That was very helpful, I couldn’t tell you how many times I thought I was going to die by getting hit by a car crossing the streets. The buildings themselves were so elegant and quaint, all built in this typical old-fashioned European architecture, with bars, restaurants, and bed-and-breakfasts not-so-quietly tucked away in corners and side streets of London’s busy haze. People flooded the streets and bars; after all, it was Friday night.
I got lost trying to find my hostel, so I began to ask around with a lot of gusto and confidence: I was taking advantage of being able to ask for directions without stutters and mistakes. God, English was a blessing! And all the people I asked to help me were very helpful and completely willing to give me directions. However, one group of guys asked me, “And you haven’t been shanked yet, mate!?” I said, “….Ugh, no….Should I have been?” “Just look out for yourself, mate!” They said. I think they were just trying to scare me because once I arrived at the hostel, they told me the neighborhood I was in was completely harmless. Even though those guys talked about the frequency of knife stabbings, beatings, and people getting things stolen, they were helpful and rather hilarious. But they didn’t make my welcome very warm to say the least.
My hostel was unreal! There was about 50-75 people there on the main floor dancing, yelling, and drinking because it was a huge bar! Music was blaring all around me. The people at the front desk were very nice and I finally got to check in over all the noise. I went to check out my room and drop off my bag so I could go back downstairs and party with everyone else, but once I got to my bed, there was a half-empty water bottle sitting on it and all the lockers below the bunk were taken. Remember: the room I was staying in at this particular hostel had 22 beds. That means that it was pretty much a free-for-all, however, everyone had an assigned bed and locker, but it looked like mine were already taken up. I went downstairs and checked with the guy at the front desk and he assured me it was my bed. I went back up and just picked another empty locker to put my stuff in and then I noticed on the front door that Bed R, my bed, was assigned to someone else. There was a list of the bed numbers and the person that was staying in that bed. My name was not there. I told this to the guy downstairs and he said it was just a really outdated list and that he promised bed R was mine. This story will be continued in a moment…
So I left. I got food at “Chicken Cottage,” some fast food chicken joint. It wasn’t bad. I went back to the hostel, bought a beer there (as a member of the hostel, I got a pretty sweet discount: 2 pounds for a beer. Really, that’s not bad. In fact I think that’s the cheapest I had the entire weekend).
Later, I got bored of trying to start conversation with someone, so I went to my room, grabbed my camera and went wandering. I got to see the London Bridge and the London Tower at night. I just kind of wandered around and got lost. I met some Canadian named Phil along the way. He was looking for his hostel and asked me for directions, but I was just as confused as he was.
Anyway, there was something about London that I loved immediately. I just got completely good vibes from the place. I felt comfortable and in awe of everything. I knew that it would be difficult to leave because there was so much to city. London is enormous and I think every corner is probably worth visiting. There is some unexplainable and undeniable essence that is so great about London. I was hooked from the start. I honestly was in love from the first sight. She had me at “‘ello!”
Anyway, after I became too cold to handle the relentless wind, I returned to the hostel. I went up to bed and started to get ready to go to sleep when some girl comes up to me and says that I’m on her bed. I explained to her that it was mine and it turns out, she thought that she and her friend were sharing that bunk. I ended up just letting her have that bunk and I took her bed which was the one next to it. It wasn’t a big deal at all. She was just kind of stupid.
The next morning, I woke up early to get my free breakfast from the bar and ate cereal with those two girls that stole my bed. They were from Germany. I ended up telling the hostel that we had switched beds so there wouldn’t be any confusion once they left because I was staying till Monday and they were only there until Sunday. But the lady at the hostel said we had to stay in our respective beds or it would mess up the entire system. But the following night, she was back in my bed. Stupid girl. I was finally able to sleep in my bed my last night there. Oh well, not big deal I suppose.
Saturday was my first full day in England! I took a free tour that lasted about 4 hours. It was a walking tour that covered all parts of the city and our guide was actually really funny. He did a great job I thought..he was Canadian and had all these ridiculous jokes about Canadians. Good stuff.
We started at the Arch (or Door) at Wellington, the entrance to Hyde Park and Apsley House. We proceeded to the Green Park, which is so appropriately named because everything there is only green, meaning there are no flowers or plants that aren’t green. Back in the 1500s or 1600s, the King of England at the time (don’t remember which) would have affairs on his wife. All the women that he had offered to him would wait in that park with a flower and he’d know that the women with flowers were “available.” Well one day when the king was off fighting a war or something, the Queen went to the park and had the Royal Guard remove every flower. So now it’s all green.
From there we went to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard. I’m glad I went and got to see that just to say I did, but it’s really absolutely pointless. The whole place is filthy-filled with tourists so you can barely even see whats going on and nothing happens. It’s so boring and absolutely anti-climatic.
From there we went to Trafalgar Square and then we finished off the day at the Westminster Abbey, Parliament, and of course, Big Ben. Afterward, he invited us all to go get lunch and drinks at a pre-arranged location. Basically, it was an over-priced tourist trap. We went to some restaurant called Verve and I got a way crappy and way over priced cheeseburger. I had a great conversation though with this video game designer from Brazil though. And the two beers I had for lunch sure made up for the heavy price.
Then I was back on my own to explore the city as I wanted. I first went to the National Gallery, which was an art museum there, but I found it pretty boring since it was all Renaissance art, and Jesus paintings bore the crap out of me. So I left.
I went back to Big Ben to take more photos and then I stopped and got some Chinese food. I was starving even right after having eaten that cheeseburger. Actually, my stomach hurt all day because I think I was so hungry. I blamed this primarily on the fact that I didn’t eat a big breakfast because the cereal and milk I had was just so bland that my stomach lied to me saying it was full after only two bowls. I decided after that moment that it really was important to have a good breakfast so every morning for the rest of the trip I went to this little hole-in-the-wall British joint and got me a 4 Pound (not four pounds in weight, four Pounds, the currency) English breakfast and a warm coffee. That was seriously one of my favorite parts of the city: in comparison to Spain, where they only eat a miserable croissant and half a cup of coffee, I was finally able to chow down on something delicious and filling: Baked beans, two fried eggs which were drippy and gooey like I like them, four pieces of toast, a huge sausage, and some ham. To a Spaniard that would be way too much, but to me, it was absolutely perfect. And get this, I never got a stomach ache again the entire trip and I felt completely rejuvenated after those English Breakfasts. Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day.
Anyway, back to my day….I returned to my hostel to get ready for the concert.
I took the tube to Brixton which is where the concert was being held. I arrived but wasn’t sure which direction to turn. I ended up asking this really strange scene girl if she knew where it was and it turns out she was going there so I followed her to the place. When we arrived, and mind you, I got there an hour before the doors opened, the line started and didn’t end till the end of the whole street. We walked down to find our place at the end but when we turned the corner, the whole next side of the street was full of kids waiting in line as well. We kept walking in search of the end of the line. Eventually we found it: We were right where we started. The line went all the way around the building. The venue didn’t even look that big, I was thinking to myself, “How are all these kids going to get in?” especially since the show was sold out.
But I waited in line with these kids and they were nice and pretty funny. But when I got to the door, the guy saw my printed out ticket and told me I had waited in the wrong line and had to go to another. Fortunately that line only took about 15 to 20 minutes to get through and I was finally in. Unfortunately, apparently I bought my concert ticket later than a lot of other people because I had to see the whole show from the top, not from the floor level which was kind of disappointing, but after the show, I think I’m glad I wasn’t down on the floor because there were 5,000 people at the show (according to one of the bands).
Pierce the Veil opened the show and it was pretty good. I had heard them once before but never live. They had a lot of energy which was pretty cool but the crowd wasn’t too animated for them. But their final song was awesome because right at the heaviest part of the song (remember they are metal-core), out walks the lead singer of the headlining band, A Day to Remember, and he just goes straight to the front of the stage and starts screaming the lyrics of the song into his microphone. The crowd went nuts! As did I :)
They finished their set and then it was Bayside’s turn. Now let me tell you that Bayside is one of my favorite bands, I absolutely LOVE them. Like they are within my top 3 favorite bands without a doubt. Seeing that they were playing with ADTR was the reason I HAD to come to this show. But when they lowered their banner from the rafters, the crowd booed. I was pretty hurt by that and offended. These guys came all the way from New York just to get booed. Especially since I love them so much, I just felt really awful. So to get back at all the jerks in the crowd, I sang EVERY lyric to EVERY one of their songs as loud as I could. Their set, although the energy of the negative crowd brought a negative atmosphere and the vibes were pretty low, it was great finally being able to see them live. I enjoyed it even if everyone else didn’t.
Then A Day to Remember came out and it was insane! It was pretty incredible. Basically the whole crowd was there just to see them so EVERYONE WENT CRAZY!!!! I really loved it. They played so well and they said that that particular show was there biggest headlining show meaning they’d never had that many people come to see them play before. At the end of the show, they took some pictures with the entire crowd to be put into magazines. You can read a whole review of the show here if your interested.
The following day, I woke up, got my English Breakfast, then I went to hunt down the rest of the city that I hadn’t seen yet. I saw the Tate Modern which was a fantastic art museum.
The best part about London’s museums is that they are all free.
Then I saw St. Paul’s church (whatever, just another church). Then I went and saw the Churchill War Rooms which was by far my favorite thing I saw in London. During World World II, Churchill had a secret bunker built under some important building right in the middle of London to protect him and his closest advisers in case of a bomb attack. It turns out that it wouldn’t have protected them at all because it wasn’t thick enough, but Churchill lived down there for six years. I got to see all the rooms and this really impressive museum all about Churchill’s life including his failures and his accomplishments. I didn’t know a whole lot about Churchill (for those that don’t know who he is, he was England’s Prime Minister during WWII), but now I’m really intrigued by him. You can count on me to go to the library this week and check out a book about him.
I’d now like to share a few quotes by Churchill because let’s face it, he was quite the witty bastard.
Winston Churchill to Lady Astor:
“Sir, you’re drunk!” “Yes, Madam, I am. But in the morning, I will be sober and you will still be ugly.”
Winston upon his deathbed:
“I am prepared to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”
Lady Nancy Astor: “Winston, if you were my husband, I’d poison your tea.”
Churchill: “Nancy, if I were your husband, I’d drink it.”
From there, I wandered around Hyde Park and then Kensington Gardens in search of a Peter Pan statue that was mysteriously erected over night by the author himself.
Eventually, I returned back to my hostel when I received a text from my friend, Ana. Ana and I met in the Residencia that I lived in two years ago when I was studying abroad. At the current moment, she no longer lives in Madrid, but rather Badajoz, so I don’t hardly get to see her, but it just so happened that she was in London the same time I was. So I went to Notting Hill to meet up with her and some of her friends. We went to some Japanese bar where her friend was bartending so I think he gave us the hook up. Later, we got pizza and we were all tired so we all went our separate ways.
The following day, I woke up early once again, got my delightful English Breakfast and coffee (god, I miss those now), and then I met back up with Ana and her friends to go to the British Museum. The museum was pretty cool, it was basically all these ancient artifacts from Ancient Rome and Greece, Egypt, Assyria, and some Asian countries. Most of it was pretty darn impressive.
Later, we all went and wandered around through some really cool market area around Picadilly Circus. It was really a strange experience actually because I was thinking to myself, “Wow, where am I? The middle of London. And I’m still speaking Spanish. It will never escape me.” haha But seriously, I was getting so mixed up because the girls I was with barely spoke English so all of our conversating was in Spanish. So for instance, if I accidentaly bumped into someone, I’d say, “perdon!” in Spanish and not in English, and I’d quickly realize what I had said, and I’d say, “Oh, sorry!” My mind was getting all mixed-up hearing and seeing English everywhere but I was speaking in Spanish the entire time. It was pretty cool in all honesty. Also the girls were so impressed with my English haha. They kept saying, “Wow, you speak so well!” and things like that. I was just like, “Ugh….it’s my native language” haha But it was cool to feel important. Especially when we got lost trying to find the British Museum, they’d be like, “Graham! Go and get us directions!” And then after I figured out where we needed to go, they’d say something like, “You can’t leave later today, we need you! You’re our guide!” Either way, the girls were really sweet and I liked the attention for speaking English. :D
We all got lunch together in the China Town of London. Lunch was delicious I thought, but I don’t think the girls were as impressed. But eventually I had to leave them because it was my last day and I still hadn’t seen the London Tower. So I said “Adios” and I went to the Tower.
Eventually, I sadly returned to the airport and flew back home to once again here and see Spanish everywhere. It was such a nice break to finally be in a society that speaks English. There were no language barriers or issues or stammers or stutters and that was a really nice break, even if I did end up spending my last day and a half speaking in Spanish. But just the fact that I could order food in English was such a …. relief.
Hopefully I’ll be able to visit London again sometime soon. I sincerely miss it.
Write more later,