london street vendor

for godsakes, just take the tube…

noon on the thames, londonLondon went by quickly.  I really only had 3 days to spend in the city, as my first and last days were spent traveling.  I elected to take the tube as little as possible and try and walk everywhere. The thought was that I would see more of the city above ground than below, and this would really enable me to see what London was all about.  I don’t know why I fall in love with these romanticized ideas sometimes, but this plan proved less fruitful for my intentions and more painful for my legs. I walked so much that I couldn’t enjoy the sights as much because I was too busy compensating for the pain in my feet.

I don’t know why, but I hiked long 15 mile hikes in Iceland and my feet hurt less than this. I think it was because I was now navigating a concrete jungle, and since there was no real climbing or ascending, the muscles I was using were pretty limited.  Nevertheless, I soldiered on with the plan and set about exploring.

Unfortunately I made a very bad decision early on.  My second night, I decided to participate in a pub crawl organized by my hostel.  I figured it would be a good opportunity to meet some other travelers, go to some local pubs, and hopefully meet some local people.  I was wrong.  I met a fellow friendly American early on in the night and we had elected to stick together and be “wingmen” on the night.  We would help each other meet women.

Here’s why this was a bad decision:  this isn’t really why I came to Europe, mindlessly partying my ass off. Certainly I would not be upset in the slightest if I met some mysterious female from another country that swept me head over heels and convinced me never to return to the US, but going out “hunting” while I debaucherously imbibe drink after drink and carelessly attempt to meet some floozie over the obnoxiously loud music and ridiculous behavior of a bunch of drunks is certainly not an elegant or intelligent way to invest one’s time abroad.

I woke up the next morning, nursing a hangover and a marginal amount of shame that I had thrown away a night on irresponsible behavior with nothing redeemable to show for it.  I hadn’t met any cool locals, I didn’t have a feeling that I had really had a cultural experience, and I had probably spent a lot of money.  I had basically had a normal night in los angeles.  Which is why I moved to Denver.  Oh well, what the hell.  Old habits die hard.

I got up around noon and decided to be productive, I found a place called “the juice well” in soho and got a fantastic smoothie and decided to walk down to the thames river to see big ben, the house of parliament, the palace, and everything else I could find down there.  And luckily, right before I left, I checked my email and noticed that I had an email from andy, a Briton that I had met earlier in the year when I was in peru.  He wanted to meet for a pint after he got off work. Excellent.  I could make up for last night by actually hanging out with a local.

london street vendor

I met andy after I had settled into a hostel in the middle of the desert in central peru. I was hours from anything. There was an ocean and sand dunes, so you had to really be adventurous if you wanted to have fun out there, and I made the most of it. The hostel was an absolute dive, the room that my stepbrother and I stayed in was literally 4 sheetrock walls and no roof with 2 beds (thank god it never rained out there in the desert), and you could tell that not very many people stayed at this place on purpose.  The town was paracas, and it was clearly a place that you stop on your way to somewhere else if you haven’t budgeted the proper amount of time to get there.  One of the nights andy and his girlfriend lou had been hanging out in the front lobby at night and I had wanted to make some traveler friends, so I took my laptop and made my way to a table and started editing video, hoping that I could get into a conversation.  That night there were a group of rowdy Brazilians whom had brought their own alcohol and wanted to party.  They came into the lobby and were hoping to recruit some followers, but they were met with harsh looks and annoyed responses.  They weren’t welcome among this crowd.

It was actually amazing, because you could see something slowly and then quickly happen to the room.  There were the two brits, then the two americans (stepbrother gert and myself), then a nice swiss couple, a quiet, intimidating german girl, a canadienne, an Argentinian, and I think one or two other forgettable europeans. Every single person in the room had seen this scene unfold before.  The obnoxious partiers come in and take over the atmosphere and the quiet vibe that you had going becomes lost and you have to retreat to your dorm room for peace in quiet (where you’re likely just greeted with some snoring instead. Not sure what’s worse). But this time, slowly each person in this room realized that they were in fact the majority this time, and that if we banded together we could scare them away.  And scare them we did.  And after they left, a few of us started laughing and talking, and before you knew it, the whole room of people was trading stories and friendly conversation.

If you’ve read previous posts of mine, you know that I am particularly drawn to these types of magical  interactions.

Andy and Lou’s story was the most fascinating. Andy had grown to dislike his job and was a little disenfranchised.  He needed change, but somewhat luckily enough for him, the employment had come to an end and he had a modest severance package.  He and Lou could consider buying a home together (or similar) or they could do something crazy and go backpack south America for 7 months.  They chose the latter.  Andy’s story would eventually be one of my sources of inspiration for my own journey.

I met andy near “monument,” near the financial district. I showed up about 10 minutes late but he didn’t say anything of it.  We shouldered our way up to the bar and ordered a pint.

Two things I’ve noticed about the drinking culture here:

  • Irony: you travel halfway around the world and resolve to try for the most authentic local experience you can, and you immediately see that half the beers on tap are from Colorado. Go figure
  • This is a true drinking culture. I thought coloradans liked to drink, but they could learn a thing or two from Londoners. A Briton gets off work and goes straight to a pub. Not like a pub in the US.  I mean a pub. They serve beer there and that’s it. No food (or if they do it’s just fish & chips or similar variations), hardly any seating, and you’d have to search to find cocktails behind the bar.  Not only that, these places are ALL PACKED. The patrons are all spilling out into the streets (something you can’t do in the US typically), just hanging around with a pint in their hand, talking away.  All of them. The entire city is at the pub every day from 5pm – 9pm.  And then everything SHUTS DOWN.  Every bar in the city is closed by 11 during the week. It’s crazy.

nights at the london pub

Andy is another one of those individuals that’s “in tune.”  He is a genuinely good person, with good humor and a good nature, and he cares about important things, and he has good perspective.  He works for a nonprofit.  Lou is an artist of some sort, I’m not really sure, just from what I can derive from her facebook posts of cool fashion shows or music events.  They’re the kind of people you want in your life because they bring color and substance to it and they don’t just regurgitate things they’ve heard on the tv.

Andy and I joked about all manner of things before eventually starting into a more serious conversation about life and adjusting after a major journey like he’d gone on, and the one that I was on right now.  We talked about the difference between Americans and Britons, we shared ideas and observations all across the board.  One of the interesting theories that he shared is that he thinks that americans tend to obsess more about their sense of identity and purpose and meaning in life than brits.  He said that brits tend to not worry about those types of things so much, whereas americans can’t not think about it sometimes.  A fascinating theory, and I jokingly told him he had me pegged.

We talked about the narcissism that is seemingly being driven by social media, that digital connection is luring people into a hibernation that prevents authentic interaction and exploration and curiosity.  We then laughed at the irony of meeting previously in the middle of some random desert and then connecting on facebook, and now nine months later we are criticizing the very medium that made this interaction even possible.

Eventually we parted ways, but not before I realized that andy had saved my London trip.  Outside of that meeting, I felt incredibly lonely during my time in London, even with so much history and culture.  I really struggled to find meaningful connection with people amongst so many options and opportunities. Every passerby was a potential new friend, but I couldn’t break through.  I began trying to make eye contact with everyone on the street, but everyone was too busy commuting or being on their mobile phone.  Even in the pubs, people were busily chatting in their cliques.  I couldn’t get in.

This isn’t a knock on the Londoner culture, but more a realization of modern technology and also of the timing and brevity of my visit.  I realize I was only there for 4 nights and I was there during the week, not on the weekend.  Luckily I likely will return there before I return to the states, so my travels in the UK are not over.  but andy gave me a window to experience and connect in the way that i wanted to.  i didn’t just want to be a tourist, and he helped me escape that.

oh, and one sidenote, andy recommended a fantastic museum that i will pass on to you:  the john soane house.  john soane is one of the chief architects of london, and his influence is widespread and obvious once your eyes are open to it.  for example, he designed the red telephone booths that you see all over london.  this museum is actually just his house, and it is a fantastical building.  known as the master of architectural space and light, soane specialized in efficiently managing small spaces with taste and style, and it is very evident in the way he designed his home.  no space is wasted, and he also has a very eclectic and eccentric art collection.  and it’s a free museum.  trust me, it’s worth your time.

and lastly, you’re noise pollution for the weekend…

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