London II

I took a trip to London this weekend, not to visit the city, but rather to visit a friend.  These are my favorite kinds of trips. Sure, it’s great getting to explore a new, unknown city, but the people are what make my trips and the cities I visit so special. My favorite cities in Europe are the ones that I’ve spent the best time with my friends. Even though I already loved London, now it will for sure hold a place in my heart because I got to explore its depth with one of my favorite people, Alejandra.

Alejandra has been a great friend of mine for a very long time. We first met when I was living in the student dorms here in Madrid back in 2008 when I did my study abroad. Since then, we stayed in touch (relatively, it’s hard to maintain relationships from abroad), and then when I returned to Madrid last year, we hit it off becoming really close. I’ve been missing her all year since she went to London to study.  Last year, I used to pass by her house on the reg because I gave private lessons right by her old flat. I still give those classes, but now on my walk home, I don’t get the excitement of stopping by Ale’s house for a Coca Cola and good conversation.

So finally, a month or so ago I purchased my long awaited plane ticket to go visit her in London. It was over due.

On Friday, I caught the train from school to the airport.  A few short hours later, I found myself standing in line at customs in London.

We all know that I hate Spanish bureaucracy more than anything, but it almost got me in trouble this time around when they asked for my Spanish papers all of them are outdated.  Since my resident card has been expired since September, I have had to renew my card.  This has taken several trips all over the city to get the required stamps, taxes paid for, photos, and forms filled out and submitted.  I have additionally applied for a form that gives me permission to re-enter Spain with my papers expired saying that I’m in the process of renewing. Well, that too of course expired about a month and a half ago. And now I was in London, a place that I knew they’d want to see documentation but what could I do? This was out of my hands.

In the Stansted airport, I filled out the customs form but I left the destination address blank because I had never thought to ask Alejandra for her address. She was just going to pick me up at the bus stop. So when I went up to customs agent’s desk, he started off by asking where I was going. I told him to the bus stop where Ale would pick me up.  He scolded me, “You went to another country without getting an address?” He’s probably right but I knew Ale was picking me up and even if she didn’t, I could easily figure out how to get to a hostel or hotel. It’s not like I was landing in Bagdad…

So he first insulted my intelligence. Then he asked me where I was living these days. I said Madrid. He asked me for my residence card. I gave it to him and then he saw that it was expired. I explained to him that Spain is a big mess in terms of red tape and that I’ve been in the process of renewing since August. He said, “But your card expired in September. What have you been doing all this time?” That’s a great question. Why don’t you ask the worthless Spanish immigration what’s taking so long.  But I had slips proving I had turned in all the renewal documents and I explained to him that in Spain things take a really, really long time. He stared at me and then reluctantly stamped my passport letting me in.

Score. I was in.

So another hour and half later, I finally got to London Bridge where Ale was waiting for me.  We first went and got food. We got something that I negligently didn’t try the first time I came to London over a year ago: fish and chips. And I believe it holds all the fame it’s got. It was delicious!

After we finished eating, we wandered the area that we were in, Camden Town. It was chalk-full of bars and young people like us. The streets were flooded with loud college-aged Londoners, all drinking with their friends. Bars were full and lines were building up at the clubs. It was only 8 or 9 at night and Ale said people were already going into discothèques. I couldn’t believe it because in Spain we don’t go out till about two in the morning. I was soon to find out that all bars and clubs closed at two in the morning in London….Spain is really rubbing off on me. I couldn’t believe everything closed so soon! And at this hour, everyone was already rip-roaring drunk.

However, I did enjoy the English’s drinking habits: They were loud, maybe a little aggressive, but really excited about having all their friends around and listening to music that they all knew the words to. It reminded me of how American bars are, almost.  And it also made me realize that despite the stereotype, the Spanish are really chill and quiet.  The English were surprisingly loud and obnoxious within the bars.

I also couldn’t help but wish that my parents were there to see everyone in this part of the city. My mother who has been calling me an orphan for years for my dress attire and my father who just looks the other way to the “ridiculous” things I’ve worn over the past years, they would have seen everyone with my same style.  Seriously. Skinny jeans or cut off shorts. Band t-shirts. Sleeves rolled up. Hats with the bills folded up.  Facial piercings. Vans shoes. And of course tattoos. But everyone was a stinkin’ classy London hipster. Apparently this style that I’ve got is just English fashion. Who knew my somewhat grown-up punk look is just the cool thing in London?

I really do love that about London: it’s got such a prevalent counter-culture that I thrive off of, something Spain is far from having.

Eventually, Ale and I made our way back to her dorm.  We dropped off our stuff and then went downstairs to a fairly empty bar with lots of drunken English people. We each had a drink and then called it a night.

We woke up pretty early on Saturday to get a good start to the day. Our first stop was to crush a good old English Breakfast, which we both love. Ale, who grew up in India, said that her mother makes her English Breakfasts on Sundays.  Me, who has never even heard of one until I went for the first time quickly found out their amazingness and I’ve been craving them ever since.

In October I started studying French and I learned that “breakfast” in French is le petit dejeuner, which translates to the little lunch (or meal). Lunch, is just called dejeuner, or lunch or meal.  The Spanish and the French have a very similar “breakfast.” In London, fortunately for me and my American stomach, the English say to hell with a “little lunch,” and they give you a wholesome and complete breakfast: Baked beans, toast, ham, bacon, two fried eggs, French fries, and a coffee. If only Spain could adopt a real breakfast instead of their puny café con leche and a croissant, I would never have to leave this country.After our heart’s content (or should I say our stomach’s), we began hitting up the city.  We first explored the Borough Market which was this wonderful food-and-drink market selling edibles from all over the world. We got a few samples, took some pictures, and then I stopped off for a beer and Ale some ice cream.

Later, we meandered around the city looking for nothing in particular. We walked along the river ending up stopping just to enjoy the sunlight and the River Thames.  Many boats passed by to celebrate the Jubilee, the Queen’s sixtieth birthday.  Later, Ale showed me her university where we explored a photography exhibit.

For the Queen’s Jubilee

Finally, we started heading to a particular area that had a shop that I had wanted to visit for a while.  Eventually, we found it after stopping at all the Vans stores we passed along the way (I can’t refuse a Vans store). So we arrived at Drop Dead, the clothing store started by Oliver Sykes, the lead singer of one of my favorite bands, Bring Me the Horizon (click to listen), who are from Sheffield, England. I don’t actually like any of the clothes, in fact, they’re really lame, but I just wanted to go since I love the band.

Drop Dead!

Afterwards, we went to my favorite American restaurant: Chipotle! It’s been far too long since my taste buds have enjoyed such incredible flavors!  And I’m pretty sure Alejandra enjoyed it just as much as I did.  As much as people rag on English cuisine, I ate the best I had in a long time. First with my English Breakfast and then with Chipotle.  Boy, was my tummy satisfied.

Afterward, we went back to Ale’s place, ate dinner, and then went to a club.  Clearly we were stuck on Spanish time because by the time we got to the club, filled-to-the-brim with people, we only got an hour to enjoy it before they shut down and fights broke out. So at two, we went home. What a change from the Spanish way of life! I must really becoming Spanish if two in the morning now just seems like a ridiculous and childish time to go home for the night.  I mean going home before two or three in the morning in Spain is just going out for dinner, not going out.

On Sunday, I woke up alone to go to the Tate Modern to see a special Damien Hirst exhibit. About Damien Hirst…well I can’t say I like him. And I can’t say that I don’t. It’s kind of a love-hate relationship that we have. I’m really fascinated by his art, but it makes me so angry because the majority is just garbage. But the hype he gets is just so intriguing, so naturally I end up getting sucked in by his artwork.  I did enjoy the exhibit, even though it was a bit pricey.

I went back to Ale’s place, picked her up, and then I took her to my favorite English Breakfast place: it’s the same restaurant that I ate at every morning when I first came to London. Again, my stomach, body, heart, soul and mind were completely replenished after ravenously devouring its deliciousness. No, I’m not over-exaggerating.

From there, we went to Brick Lane and Shoredich and discovered its many nooks and crannies, wandering in and out of little shops and Indian supermarkets. This was the cultural part of London since there were so many Indian places. I think I liked it the best: the streets were overcrowded but the environment was so wonderful and full of culture.  At the end of the lane, we visited an enormous outdoor flower market which smelled so good and was so relaxing with all the brightly colored plants and the consistently sunny weather.

Once our legs grew tired and my time was dwindling down, we stopped at Ale’s favorite café for something to drink.  There, Federica, my roommate Carlo’s sister, came to say hello. And after a short hour, both Federica and Ale took me to the bus stop for me to catch my dreaded ride back to Madrid.

Saying goodbye to Alejandra was really hard, as I knew it was going to be. I got to see her almost everyday last year. This year, I’ve had to grow accustomed to not having her around.  But just spending time with her alone all weekend was so nice. It gave us a chance not only to catch up, but to just talk about life and whatever it is that great friends discuss.  Her time in London is coming to a close and then she’ll be back in Madrid where she belongs. Unfortunately, I’m now leaving for Barcelona, so we are just going to miss each other again. But at least Barcelona and Madrid are much closer and easier to get to and from than Madrid and London.  So I’m sure Ale and I will be seeing each other soon. At least I hope so.

So here’s to the end of a great and short weekend with a great friend in a city that I hope to call my home someday.

Write more later,

Graham

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