Sometimes you take a trip for the purpose of seeing a city. Other times you do it for the purpose of seeing friends. My most recent trip to London definitely fell into the second category.
I spent a long weekend in London last week to visit my dear friends Edwin and Dan. You probably remember Edwin, as I’ve written about him enough on here – he’s my posh gay British friend I met in Berlin last summer. I mean two summers ago. I’m still not used to saying that. I also met Dan in Berlin during the same summer. We met through his brother Teseo, who I simply refer to in casual conversation as “the crazy Mexican.” Teseo and I were living in the same neighborhood of Berlin and met randomly at a restaurant one day.
Anyway, I didn’t blog about it, but at the end of summer 2013, Edwin and I took a week-long trip through England. I got to meet his mother in Nottingham, see Roman bath houses and ridiculously old buildings in York, a huge beautiful cathedral in Ely and Edwin’s former dormitory at Cambridge. Dan is from Brighton, which is on the south coast and quite far from where Edwin and I were traveling, but the three of us managed to meet up in London for a couple of days, and it was tons of fun. So much fun, in fact, that we decided to do it again!
(Scroll over the photos to see the captions, and click on them to make them bigger. My stats tell me you’re not clicking my photos!)
I arrived in London on Thursday the 23rd and was supposed to meet up with Dan at Victoria Station. I was tired and disoriented from waking up so early, and though the flight itself was short and dirt-cheap (thanks, RyanAir), the whole journey from Aarhus to London was not – I had to wake up at 6am, take an hour-long bus ride to the Aarhus airport which cost 100kr ($18), wait at the airport for another hour, fly to Stansted, then take a 2-hour bus ride from Stansted to London proper. So it was actually quite exhausting! To boot, neither my German nor my Danish cell phone had service, and the data on my smart phone didn’t work, so I had to rely on the spotty wi-fi at the station to contact Dan.
In retrospect we realized we were both at Victoria at the same time, but we never found each other. Sometimes, when things are going wrong or I’m just confused when I’m traveling, instead of freaking out I get in this really calm, happy mental state, and that’s where I was. I was so happy just to be in London, and I didn’t have a schedule to stick to, so I just hung around the station for a long time, taking it all in and gradually getting the food situation and the public transit sorted out.
Anyway, after some tube delays and much confusion, Dan and I both wound up in Tottenham. I gave in and bought a British SIM card for my phone, and he picked me up at the tube station Seven Sisters.
We were staying at Dan’s friend Jim’s house. I’d met Jim once before during my previous trip to London. Jim works for festivals. He owns (or co-owns or something) a business that rents out big beautiful Moroccan-style tents for festivals, Marquees of India, and runs a chai shop as well.
There were industrial amounts of ginger left over from the festival season, so Dan and I made ginger beer.
Side note – is “marquee” British English for tent? Because in American English, a marquee is a scrolling sign. Anyway, Dan works for Jim during summers setting up marquees at festivals and making chai.
It was tons of fun seeing my old friend again, and Jim’s house is the most cozy, delightful place. I’ve described it as “the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of London” because after a long day of sightseeing and running around a city, it’s the perfect place to come “home” to. I don’t know how to describe it other than “cozy” – it’s got a wood fireplace, a backyard (or “garden” as the Brits say) with a natural forest, rustic brick walls, beautiful skylights, lots of cozy couches and armchairs, and Indian textiles.
It’s interesting. The Brits – or at least some of them – have a strong connection with, or fascination with, India. I think it started as a colonial thing, but has since become something more. For instance, curry is the national dish of England, although I guess the curry in England is actually quite different than the curry in India. And many people I met at Jim’s house, Jim most of all, were fascinated by India and traveled there often. Dan had caught the bug as well and wanted to go, said lots of his friends went there to “find themselves.” What an interesting phenomenon.
On Friday Dan and I went to the Tower of London. It was an insanely touristy thing to do, but you know, there is only one in the world, and I think you have to do it at least once if you’re in London. We saved time and money by booking tickets through a discount website beforehand, so that was worth it. It was a really cool piece of London’s history.
After the Tower we met up with Edwin, who had just arrived in the city. We had intended to go to a cabaret or burlesque show that night, so we booked it back to Seven Sisters and made dinner, but by the time dinner was over it was already quite late to go out, as most shows had started at 6pm, so we wound up staying in and socializing, which was also fun. We made curry for dinner, and Jim showed us how to season it like he’d learned in India. Pretty cool!
Saturday Dan, Edwin and I went to the British Museum – another must-see in London. We were only there for two hours, which wasn’t even near enough time to see even a quarter of it, but we prioritized the exhibits we really wanted to see – ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, and a temporary exhibit on witchcraft – and I felt good about the whole thing.
(Click on the photos to see a slideshow)
After the museum we went to Camden Market. This is an absolute must-see if you’ve never been there before. It’s incredibly kitschy and touristy on the street, so make sure you make it down to the lower levels and see the older parts as well. It was a series of shops and stalls that had expanded from one unified “market” to sprawl out into the surrounding streets going almost all the way back to the tube station. We only briefly walked through, but I got impressions of every type of clothing, accessory and ethnic food you could imagine. At the very bottom of Stables Market, we went to a cute, posh little tea room, where we met up with some of Edwin’s friends, as well as an actor friend of mine, and we had coffee. I’d met the actor, Michael Koltes, while covering a local film festival for my student newspaper back in 2011. We’d kept in touch a bit on Facebook since then, but this was the first time we’d met up in person since then, so that was kind of cool.
Saturday night was a big party at Jim’s! It was an end-of-season party for the festival workers. I’d never been to a festival before so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The living room was cleared out and turned into a dance floor. They’d set up a small marquee in the backyard you could go in and out of. A DJ played eclectic music – I don’t know how to describe what it was, just what it wasn’t: definitely not pop and definitely not EDM (the two types of music I was used to hearing at parties). At one point there was a live band. A projector on the wall showed pictures of festivals from the previous season. We stayed up all night laughing, drinking, talking, dancing. And in the wee hours of the morning, thus did Alison bring forth her toothbrush, don her pajamas, and go to sleep in the back of a truck, because there was no room for her in the house.
Really, though. So many people were staying the night, there wasn’t space for everyone, plus the party was still going on by the time I went to bed, so we set up beds in the backs of these big trucks and trailers, the kind used for hauling festival gear, and there were plenty of foam pads as mattresses and marquee walls as blankets for everyone, and it was actually quite cozy.
Sunday was a day of cleaning up and recovery. I was quite useless at moving furniture and tearing down marquees, so I mostly washed dishes. It was actually quite funny, moving things around and discovering everyone’s ‘secret’ alcohol stashes from the night before. I wound up losing my laptop charger and my spare camera battery, which was quite frustrating, but what can you do.
Monday morning we said goodbye to Edwin. Dan and I were still keen on going to a cabaret or a burlesque show, but there wasn’t much going on on a Monday night that didn’t also involve dinner and copious amounts of money. We wound up going to Cellar Door, a really tiny venue in Soho that was quite literally underground. My friend Malena, who I went to undergrad with in the states, was doing a semester abroad in London at the time, so we invited her, too, and the three of us enjoyed cocktails and popcorn before the show started.
It turned out I had forgotten to check the schedule, and it was a drag show, not a burlesque show, that night. But the performer was absolutely fabulous, she was tons of fun, a good singer and made lots of raunchy jokes. In fact, her whole gig seemed to be relentlessly “taking the piss” out of various members of the audience, which is British for “making fun of them.” Dan, who has terrible stagefright, was terrified at the thought she might go after him, but fortunately she didn’t. She did, however, zero in on Malena at one point. Malena was studying away with a program called AHA, and she didn’t know what AHA stood for, and the queen thought that was just a hoot. “If I had an STD, I’d want to know what it was called!”
We weren’t ready to call it a night yet, but we were tired of blowing cash on overpriced cocktails, so the three of us went back to Tottenham for some more drinks. We wound up getting very tipsy and giggly and had loads of fun and good times bonding. It was a great last night in the city. I just wish I had gotten a picture with Malena!
The next morning Dan and I packed our bags, headed to Victoria Station and said goodbye, left to deal with our respective hangovers. All in all it was a great trip, and I’m glad I spent so much more time bonding with friends than trying to see all of the city.
Necessary disclaimer: Although my blog heavily focuses on partying and drinking and traveling and such, my life does include a lot of serious studying that I don’t write about as well. I’ve spent nearly every day since I got back from London reading relentlessly to get caught up on the school work I pushed off past the weekend, and as I write this, it’s a Saturday night, several of my friends are out partying, and I’m “rewarding” myself for a long afternoon reading for class by writing a blog post and sorting through pictures. So just because you don’t hear about the responsible aspects of my life, doesn’t mean they’re not there!