Oh, what a city. I only spent three days and change in London while awaiting a flight to Iceland, but I can definitely see why so many people fall in love with this place.
I was skeptical upon arrival (after a surprisingly awesome 14-hour flight on Malaysia Airlines) because the weather was questionable, the Underground map was mind-boggling and everything was absurdly expensive.
But after defeating the tube and DLR to find my way to my first couchsurfing host’s flat in Isle of Dogs, the tide quickly turned. I met Daniel, who is a Brazilian business student at Hult University, and the trip really took off.
Soon after arriving, we hopped a bus to his school and met up with a bunch of his classmates and friends to have a few drinks and go out on the town. Among them, I met two other Brazilians (this becomes important later!), Mateus and Marina. The former is Daniel’s roommate in the flat. Nations also represented were Spain, Denmark, Venezuela and the USA (you’ll notice a theme of this trip was the lack of actual British people in London – a testament to how diverse the city is!).
They were all so easy to talk to and get to know, and I felt instantly accepted into this tight-knit group of friends, despite being the old man of the pack (I think they were all 20-21, for the most part).
We went out to a nightclub in a neighborhood I can’t remember the name of and danced, laughed and drank beer until five in the morning. Exhausted from my flight, time change and long night, I collapsed into bed afterwards, physically unable to rise until almost one in the afternoon.
At that point, Daniel and I wandered down to the River Thames and crossed Tower Bridge to embark on the Queen’s Walk. That took us past the London Eye, London Bridge (it’s…not very interesting), Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, a view of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and eventually over the river to the House of Parliament and Big Ben.
Needless to say I was completely awestruck by the views; especially the last one. It’s just so massive and majestic and surreal to see in person! We took the tube to Camden Town after admiring Big Ben and walked through the streets and the seemingly endless markets and food courts. Daniel made me go into Cyberdog alone, which is the strangest store you’ll ever see, just to get a good laugh out of it!
After Camden Town, we got back on the tube to ride to Angel, where Daniel’s friend Isabella and her boyfriend were hosting a small dinner. It was the four of us, Mateus and Marina. We spent a few wonderful hours chatting, listening to Brazilian (and American) music and eating the delicious tapioca Daniel cooked for us (I didn’t realize tapioca was something other than pudding…the traditional Brazilian dish is really tasty though!).
The next morning, I said my goodbyes to Daniel and Mateus. However, they had mentioned the first night that they and Marina were transferring to the San Francisco campus of their school in September! I was so excited to hear that and am even more excited to meet up with them and show them around whenever I get home.
That day, I hauled my huge backpack to the middle of London where I had an overpriced but completely delicious burger and a couple local beers. I caught up on some work and headed out to Surbiton, which is just South of London City and requires an overland train to reach. That is where my second couchsurfing host, John, lives. He teaches history in high school in London, and was an incredibly kind, accommodating, helpful host.
We chatted over beers and a great pasta dish John cooked with Louis (France, on internship in London for community management this summer) and Cristian (Spain, studying at Aberdeen University in Scotland), who were also couchsurfing at John’s.
Though John and Louis had to head to work in the morning, Cristian and I hit up the rest of the landmark sightseeing spots. We arrived at Buckingham Palace just in time for the changing of the guard (completely accidental!), saw Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square, Soho and Big Ben again. We also stopped into a place called The Chandos, which is apparently one of many well-known London pubs by Sam Smith (not the singer, I learned). It had cheap and delicious fish and chips, as well as a very good homemade ale.
After that, Cristian scurried over to Queen’s Theater to catch a performance of Les Mis (can’t say I wasn’t jealous…next time!) and I headed to Hyde Park. Though not as large or impressive as Golden Gate Park or Central Park, in my opinion, Hyde Park had its own special charm to it that kept me wandering through its twists and turns, mesmerized, for a couple hours.
I finally settled on a spot at the water’s edge to catch a quick timelapse of the setting sun. It was not a bad way at all to finish my time in London. I headed back to John’s in Surbiton (one wrong bus, two hours, and a life-saving “CHUCK NORRIS LIVES HERE” WiFi service later…) and chatted with him and Hiro, who was a new couchsurfer from Japan.
That was the short and sweet of my time in London, as I flew out to Reykjavik, Iceland yesterday. I’m at another couchsurfer’s home now for one more night and then off to Saga Fest in Selfoss! I can’t wait for the adventures that lie ahead of me here in a country that is already proving to be as intriguing and mystical as I’d hoped.
As for London…I’ll be back. I didn’t have nearly enough time to get a feel for the city (and certainly not enough money!), but I fell in love with the neighborhoods, architecture and train travel that characterized my time there. It may be a small sample size, but I could totally see myself giving London a try for a year, if the stars aligned.