So here we are. After saying goodbye to Montréal, hitching across the States to spend a few months in Portland, then two weeks in Los Angeles with the family, we finally cross the Atlantic. Our flights arrived at separate airports, mine Gatwick, his London Heathrow. We’re to meet at King’s Cross station in central London and rendezvous with an old friend of mine. Two days prior to our arrival, in my usual fashion, we had no idea where we would be staying for the week. But plans fell into place at the last minute, as they tend to with my travels. A girl I knew from a coffee shop of my teenage years back in Pasadena offered us a place to land for the night, and the Greeks got back to us on Couchsurfing for the following few days. Hurrah.
We spent our first day as zombies in this new city halfway across the world. We kept ourselves propped up, holding onto consciousness as long as we could before we passed out for the night just before the sun went down. Though we did get to spend the day exploring Highgate, tried some delicious Turkish food (gözleme and lahmacun, both incredible), and took the bus around to get a feel for the neighborhood. If you visit London, I recommend getting a bus pass instead of riding the Underground. It may take a bit longer, and be a bit more difficult to navigate, but the view from the upper-deck as you pass through the city compared to the tube.. not to mention the difference in price, is well worth it.
Our hours are all sorts of crazy. We wake up around five in the morning, talk for a minute, then try to go back to sleep only to end up laying wide-awake until around eight.
We spent a good seventeen hours Sunday wandering around town, exploring. Our first destination was St. Paul’s Cathedral. We had just arrived at our new hosts’ and our first bit of advice was to see central London. Now, I’m not one for tourist areas, but every once in a while you do have to see the sights, right? So we hop on a bus down to the cathedral, get off, and walk around a bit. Halfway over the millennium bridge and back, avoiding the street performance of Pachelbel’s canon, we stand in front of the enormous cathedral littered with tourists and ponder. Is this really where we want to be? The day before we had asked the old friend of mine about an area we heard of called Shoreditch. It’s supposed to be the artistic center of the city. You know where you find the musicians, galleries, street art, etc. all gloriously gentrified. She and her room mate warned us of the high hipster content, said it was best to stay clear. But we’re from Portland, we’re professionals, we can handle this.
Five or so seconds of staring at the tourists like ants covering the square, Pachelbel still to be heard off in the distance, we agree to give in, skip the tourist crap downtown, and head to Shoreditch. All we really want is some decent coffee and a place to sit and people watch, get a feel for the city.
We arrive and explore; walking for hours on end. The first spot we get to is Brick Lane. We later found out we missed Shoreditch by a mile or so, but this area is just as interesting. We found it by following the trail of hipsters. No, really, we just walked towards where they came from, it was that easy. Brick Lane is a few city blocks covered in vintage clothing vendors. It was a Sunday afternoon and incredibly crowded, but we found our way through. Past the vendors is a gigantic warehouse filled with all sorts of cuisine. We were told this area is known for the Indian food though we didn’t try any. Just past the warehouse is the entrance to a closed off area of back-patios and bars, filled with hundreds of people drinking. We went around the corner to the liquor store, got some beers, and joined them sitting on the curb to get in some much needed people watching.
An hour or so later, while waiting for bathrooms, we met some locals who showed us around. We grabbed some beers and walked back up Brick Lane drinking. I asked if it’s legal to drink in public, as we were in plain sight holding tall cans and stumbling. They said no, but don’t worry about it. I shrugged it off. Halfway through my beer I realize I have a pretty good buzz, and it came out of nowhere. We’re drinking Carlsberg, a pretty common beer around Europe, but this is the “Special Brew” weighing in at 9%. Ah, that would explain the dizziness. One of the englishmen kindly explains that drinking this beer will make me wish I were dead the following morning. Lovely.
We say our goodbyes, exchange info, and head off to check on a piece we saw going up a few blocks back. There’s an amazing artist who we spotted all around town, and we saw him painting a piece across from a liquor store. In fact, he’s the one who recommended we check out Brick Lane. We head back and he’s made progress. There are a few Irish guys hanging out while he works, they paint too. Morgan and I make conversation, exchange info, and stumble off an hour or so later as the sun is going down. Around nine at night, mind you. A few bus stops later we find our ride, wait half an hour, and jump on. We both fall asleep but I somehow manage to wake up just after our stop. We get off, retrace our steps and I crash on the couch. Out cold.
I awake the next morning feeling like hell. In fact, I’m sick. I suppose seventeen hours on your feet and a 9% beer that has a reputation for destroying you body will do that to you, eh? The day is spent in and out of consciousness as my body recovers. Morgan went out on the town to meet a friend while I stayed on the couch. Stepping outside for a few minutes gives me the chills and I head back inside to drift off to sleep again. That night my host returns and we wander around the local neighborhood (Angel, Islington) looking for food. After being accosted by a few servers standing in front of Indian restaurants we settle of Chicken Cottage, and go for the Mountain Burger. I could have done worse. We go back and I call it a night. We have a street-art tour and an art show the next day, I need my rest.