Traveling to London always interested me. Besides the obvious fact that they speak English, it always seemed a place I could be comfortable in. Everyone has high praises for it and it wouldn’t really take me out of my comfort zone. I’ve long been a fan of Sherlock Holmes and James Bond so I always wanted to see where these fictitious characters came from. The problem with basing a city off two fictitious characters from different eras where that the city of London became a dream or a fantasy more than a reality. Just a few months ago, I watched a movie called “London is falling” which depicted London being blown to smithereens by terrorists. Needless to say, the London I found was not the London I envisioned and that is not a bad thing.
*please excuse typos, I am off to hop on a ferry to a Croatian island and did not have time to proof-read
I got off the train from Paris and found the tube map that would take me to my hostel. Thirteen pounds for a 24 hr tube pass and I’m already in the red in this city. I get to my hostel and the staff can barely speak English but they help me to the baggage room to drop my bag off. Off to find a pint and fish and chips! I’m staying in SoHo so there are plenty of restaurants around so I set off to find one. I find what looks to me like a proper English pub but when I sit down I don’t see Guiness on draft nor the fish and chips I was hoping for. Instead they had a German beer on draft and their option was an upscale haddock dish that was tasty but didn’t scream England. Determined to find something familiar, I set off in the cold and rain to find Big Ben. Looking right when I should look left and left when I should right, I dodged the double-deckers and black cabs to find the one monument I know would scream I am in England. Weaving through throngs of tourists I finally see it poke up around the corner. I really is an impressive structure that is the focal point of a huge building with stunning architecture. Standing on the banks of the Thames, Big Ben looks out over the city seemingly protecting it from the gimmicky London Eye at the other end. A took a right headed down to Buckingham Palace and then through some of the surrounding parks.
Satisfied with my first authentic London sighting, I checked into my hostel and headed north to find the home of Sherlock Holmes. I can’t remember when I first picked up the books but I’ve ready every Sherlock Holmes book I could find in the last couple of years. Something about his 19th century adventures always entertained me. I wanted to stroll Regents park like he did so I set off for 221B Baker Street. I finally arrive to and see the non-descript house and walk through the gift shop. I didn’t expect much and since I didn’t need to add a Sherlock magnet to my collection, I went next door to grab a pint. A couple of pints and a stroll through Regent’s park later, I began to meander my way through the city to meet up with some Remote Year folks. There were about 10 of us flying from London to Croatia so we decided to grab dinner to all meet each other.
It was about an hour and a half walk to the restaurant right as rush-hour was hitting. This was fine with me as it was great people watching and I enjoyed seeing people run from the bus to the tube – one sardine pack to the other but just a normal commute in the city. As impressive as Oxford street was it still didn’t feel like London. I still had only heard one English accent on the day and all I saw on the road were BMWs, Mercedes, Range Rovers, Rolls Royces, etc. I knew London was a wealthy city but I was amazed with the amount of luxury cars I saw. They seemed to outnumber the normal small sedans that I have come used to seeing in Europe. With the prices for food and entertainment being so high, I have to imagine there is a huge gap between the wealthy and poor in this city. It reminded me a bit of LA, where places like Beverly Hills stand tall as poorer communities surround it. I continued walking and walking and kept counting after I saw my 10th starbucks on the same street. As it became dark, I took a few wrong turns and my journey began to extend. Eventually, I found the restaurant excited to meet 9 people I would be sharing my year long journey with. At the table we had 2 Brits, 1 Indian, 1 Bulgarian, 1 Dutch, 1 Korean and 4 Americans. I was excited about the diversity as I hoping to meet a mixed bunch on this trip. We had an amazing dinner eating, what else Burgers and Fries, talking about what we do and why this trip was so appealing to us. It was really nice to meet some people beforehand to be comfortable with them before being introduced to 60 new faces.
The next day I decided to do some more walking. The person behind the counter at the hostel suggested Primrose hill so I set off to find it. But first, I headed south to the London bridge and some other sites along the Thames. For a quick snack, I somehow ate New York Pastrami and decided that my next meal would be fish and chips no matter where I had to find it. I enjoyed the walk up Primrose hill and the nice view of the city it provides. After taking the view and resting a bit, I found a restaurant called something about the ‘Queen’ so I stopped in. So here it was, all mine for only 30 US dollars, a pint of Guiness and the elusive fish and chips. It was delicious and I didn’t mind paying a high price for it. A huge piece of battered fish on top on crispy potatoes with mushy peas on the side. It really was something special and not a few fried fish fillets you see in the States a lot. Once I was filled up, I set off for the Camden market. I didn’t know what to expect but I was blown away with the enormity and diversity of it. Walking through the market was quite an experience of sights and sounds and although I wasn’t hungry and didn’t want to buy anything it was still fun just to casually stroll through the market as thousands of people surround you. Nothing crazy to note after Camden market and I’m a bit tired of typing so I went to bed fairly early and caught the tube to Heathrow in the morning.
I really really enjoyed London, it just wasn’t what I expected. It really is a melting pot and it seemed as if there are more people who don’t speak English than do. I get to experience the London I had dreamed about, seeing double-deckers, black cabs, phone booths, Buckingham palace guards, enjoying a proper pint, getting my fish and chips and seeing Big Ben and the London bridge. I was expected to be punched in the face by “British things” but realized you have to seek them out, especially if you already have this image in your head about what London should be. Now that I am a different perspective on the great city, I’d like to go again, this time with reset expectations.