Day #10: Tonight an earplug saved my life

Morning arrived just as it always does with honking horns and little children crying for their mothers. There is some sun but more clouds and it seems a likely day for more rest once I make it to the hostel. The hostel is a long ride from where I am. From Turnpike Lane in the East I have to get to Willesden Green in the West or Northwest. At this point I don’t know, but I do know it will likely take about an hour. I take the Piccadilly West and then get onto the Jubilee line. It is after rush hour and I am grateful because I don’t want to stare at the suits. Though on the whole I like the suits. I like the professionalism of the attire that is required of most London business people, which is something the casual Seattle lacks overall. I almost want to be one of the suits, but I haven’t been convinced to join London culture as of yet, perhaps I’ll just buy a suit once I get back.
After a long and relaxing ride with my pocket Sudoku and pen (okay, I was only playing easy) I make it to Willesden Green, which is about fifteen minutes out from central London. I at first am okay with this because it is very inexpensive to stay here, about $25 per night. At 10am it is quiet when I walk in. The halls are empty and the cleaning staff are about. Hillspring Lodge is much like a hotel and sells itself as a “backpackers boutique,” which upon first arrival seems to suit it. I situate myself in my beautiful four bed room. I am on the bottom bunk of one side and the beds are made out of wood. We have our own sink, though we must use shared bathrooms down the hall. I decide that I am much in need of a shower and find a private bathroom down the hall, which has a small bathtub. I am once again pleased.
On this lazy day I decide that I should make it to London and see more art. I decide on the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square because I haven’t yet been to this free attraction. It is busy just like every other part of London and so I purchase an audio tour just to block the other people out. I 100% recommend audio tours after this trip, not only to block noise, but also because there’s more information than is on the little placard next to the art. It gives a history and often amusing tales of the art. A few days before while at Tate Modern, an older petite French woman listening to a guided tour began to chortle and then hem and haw and it was quite a beautiful scene because she was literally standing in front of a piece of linen that had a cut in it. All in all the art didn’t look like much but a macheted linen, but she was almost reduced to holding herself up on her knees. People laughing is a lovely sight.
I enjoyed the art here for the most part, but then I came upon first a self portrait of Salvator Rosa, looking much like Johnny Depp’s pirate predecessor. He is holding up a paper that says, “Be quiet, unless your speech be better than silence” words to rest my mind on. He is so intriguing in the painting that I must see his artwork. Next to it is a painting called Witches at their Incantation. It is dark and concerning, but I cannot take my eyes from it. From this painting I have certainly fallen in love with Salvator, except for 400 years too late.
From here it is hard to imagine other artwork that can compare but I weave in and out of the other halls in search of greatness. Of course everything is great, just at the moment not as moving. Mostly I find that I am rather tired and it is once again hard to react to the art the way I want to besides yawning and getting cold stares from the staff. I decide after an hour and a half that I should make my way back to the hostel and nap. I haven’t not taken a good day off just to sleep for a while. Everyday I have walked and walked, even on my resting days. I decide that I must sleep so that I can be fully prepared for Nicole Larsen’s impending arrival and we can begin to party like rock stars. When I say party, I mean drink approximately two gin and tonics and dance for a good hour before sleeping. When I say two gin and tonics, I think about drinking two Mac n’ Jacks. Yes, I am thinking about another drink while drinking the one I have. Sigh, the grass is always greener.
I sleep from 6 until 8 and decide I should settle on some food before my full nights sleep lest I wake from hunger as has happened a few times on this trip. I venture through the Willesden Green area where I am happy to find an array of foods from Asyrian, to Japanese, to Indian. I have long been craving Indian and decide on it. I know that Indian will not suit my gluten/dairy free diet, but I decide that I am on vacation and there’s no time like the present to feel a little bit sick because at the very least, it won’t be all over someone I know.
I order some all time favorites, Chicken Tikka Masala and a small side dish of Sag Paneer over plain rice. Yes, I do order Naan. What the hell is Indian food without naan I ask you? It is not bad, but it is not great either. I forgot to order it spicy because spiciness has never been a problem in the states, but here it is very mild. The chicken tikka masala is actually quite good but it is a little sweet, as if there is some sugar in it. The sag paneer on the other hand is cheesier and a little more overcooked than I would have liked. I am happy to try it though. I was given a recommendation for another Indian place closer to central London, perhaps I will try that one before I leave to see if there is a marked difference. I at the very least leave mostly satisfied and head back to the hostel.
This is when I realize why the hostel is not so expensive. When I arrive there are large groups of children and teenagers filling the halls, running, and screaming. I realize that this hostel caters to large groups and I realize that this time my luck has run out. I am glad of the nap I had taken earlier in the day.
The noise does eventually die down and I relax in what is a very comfortable bed where two other hosteler’s have already fallen asleep. I don’t remember being as rambunctious and annoying as a child while on school trips, but… perhaps we were. Perhaps there really is no regard for other people when that young, or perhaps their chaperones should learn a thing or two about watching children.
Oh well, the night is peaceful except for the sound of the roaring elevator outside. Who the hell is taking the elevator up and down this time of night? This night some earplugs saved my life.

Day #9: Can you tell me where I might find Harry Potter?

Cambridge for me is just like being on the set of Harry Potter. The shops are quaint and overpriced, while the streets are filled with students. The only difference is that all of the students have bikes instead of brooms. The bikes are a Seattleites dream come true, you can take dream however you want. They are perfect for the emo, tattooed, one pant leg up, smoking a cig, thinking about his band, hot as hell Seattle cyclist, but for the all the time driver tears might form upon seeing so many bikes. I may honestly be understating how many bikes there are in Cambridge. When I de-board the lovely quick train from London and pop out of the station, there is a bike station filled with at least a hundred bikes. Bikes of all kinds, purple with baskets, blue with thick mountain tires, green, and gray that also line the streets. Whole streets are filled with bikes and bikers. Crosswalk signs do not have little people, they have bikes!
I am here with Spyros and another couch surfer named Laura, a beautiful Argentinian girl. Have I even told you what Spyros looks like? He is about 5’9 with medium length dark brown hair and piercing dark brown eyes. He always looks as if a full Greek beard might take shape on his face, but it never does. Laura calls him “charming” and I’d have to agree that he is.
Laura is small and looks the way I imagine every Argentinian to look, like a supermodel, though she is too short to be one. She has perfect golden brown skin with a few freckles. Her long brown hair is usually pinned up in a classically messy way that makes her look exotic rather than unkempt. She is a lawyer in Argentina and hates her job so she has decided to travel for a year. Her English is not perfect, but the fact that she struggles and the listener has to fill in the gaps makes her even more endearing. Due to this array of qualities she has not had problems finding places to stay and I venture to guess will not in the future. Spyros is as equally charmed by her as she is by him.
I know when I go with them that I am out of place and that they would be better off spending time alone, but I don’t much want to go to Cambridge alone and so much like the extra napkins thrown into a to-go bag full of cookies, I go along.
On our way to the talk we stop at the market and buy champagne and grapes and wash them off in the center of town. We make our way around a confusion of buildings, going in and out of alleys, down cobbled streets in search of the talk that will soon be happening. Spyros decides to ask Cambridge staff where to go and eventually we wind around the city to where we need to be with no time to spare. We find our room and prepare to sit and listen to Nancy Fraser and Luke Paltansky . The talk is not what we originally think it’s on, which is the “Socioeconomic input/output of women in the workforce” or something of that nature. Instead it is a critique of criticism. If you can imagine what a philosophical conundrum a critique of criticism is as well as the reality of reality than you will have found the space that we occupied that day. These two speakers attempt, I’m not sure if it is successfully or unsuccessfully to reinvent and reinterpret the culture of domination by institutions and the manner in which they have to simultaneously possess a culture of domination and free will. I’m not going to go long into this. It’s something so on the forefront of our minds that we often don’t take the time to really examine it.
When the talk is over we decide to picnic with our goods. Weeping willows dot the park that is surrounded by a river filled with boats that aren’t quite gondolas, but are manned by students for extra cash. If it weren’t the three of us, I would say this is the most romantic day I’ve had at a park in a long time. I see a couple on the other side of the river in each others arms and I take pictures to remember the sweetness of the day. It quickly turns cold as we dine on our grapes and champagne, but we are determined to enjoy the day regardless of imminent rain.
It is hard to convince the two pseudo love-birds to leave the grassy nook we have found, but after a long stretch under the tree where Spryos teaches Laura to roll her own cigarettes, we venture off to see the rest of Cambridge. It’s hard to say that I’ve ever seen a more beautiful city. The buildings are architecturally magnificent, comprised of Victorian and modern buildings. Modern in the sense of English modern is still a brick exterior. It is on this walk that I see two young men in capes and I am utterly transported into HP’s world. I just hope that one of them throws an invisibility cloak over himself soon!
I become keenly aware of my hunger as we walk through the town. Grapes are just not enough to fill a woman of my size and we begin to seek a place for sustenance. It is difficult to find anything for less than 10pds. That is the equivalent of about $15. Eventually we walk down a side street where a new pub is hidden and find nothing but burgers. I am so hungry that I decide I cannot wait until London for a meal and decide that I will have to take my chances and eaten a gluten filled meal. It is spectacular! I can’t tell you how much I have craved the taste of tender bread on my tongue for the last month and a half. It is as if I had won the lottery. I savor every morsel and await the consequences of such a meal.
It is time to leave Cambridge around 10pm and I am a little sad. This is the kind of place I could spend weeks just relaxing in the parks and riding around on bikes. It is not as crowded as London and I like this because I will never truly be a big city girl. I am always the right outside the big city girl, accessible but not life consuming.
It is hard to talk on the train back. We are tired and it seems like the train itself is tired too. It seems sluggish and the eyes of other passengers are red and struggling to stay open. I want to sleep, but I don’t want to be rude to my host and new friend. We talk more about travel and then they discuss opening a restaurant on a cliffside in Greece. They invite me to become a part of the grand scheme, but I am hesitant because I am not a great cook and have never had grand dreams to serve anyone in that way ever again.
By the time we make it back to the big blue couch it is after 11 and my grand plans of making it to my hostel are thwarted. I have to ask Spyros if I can stay for a fourth night, which to me is very much the same as overextending my stay. Luckily, Laura is small enough to fit on love seat while I once again retain big blue. It is time for more tea and more music. We are happy, this new small couch family. I will leave in the morning and leave them to their smaller couch family and the members will be switched out again in time. I like this. I like the way people come and go and there are no obligations. I think perhaps I will have to host when I get back to the states, though I feel terrible that I cannot offer the same couch. Big blue, you will be missed.

Day #8: These feet were made for walking, so that’s just what they’ll do

Today was slow to rise mostly because I was feeling very soft and doughy, which made me think perhaps it was time to workout again. I have been staying up nights to chat with my friends and write. I am sure that I should be going to bed earlier and waking up early too so I can experience more of London, but I also know that I can do that in a few days anyhow.
On this day, the only thing that gets me off of that beautiful blue sofa is a message from Michael from Seattle. We have arranged to hang out at some point since he is also in London and he asks if I want to meet for lunch. I figure it will be good to meet up with someone from Seattle even if I don’t know him well just for familiarity.
I completely underestimate the amount of time it will take to get from my location to St. Paul’s Cathedral. I leave fifteen minutes before meeting time while the trip is almost 30. Thankfully there is almost always a train arriving at the tube right when I get there. One never has to wait more than five minutes for a train usually, everything about the tube is wonderful except for the smells. Because of my tardiness I join the crowds running up and down the left side of the escalator and it feels good to use my legs for the first time this day. When I get to the station I should be at I am fully aware that out in the square I am directionally challenged. It is hard to keep my senses about me in London since the streets run sideways half the time and I’m still not sure which way is north. I never get lost in Seattle, but have found myself doing so here a few times, though I am not usually on a time schedule so it’s okay. Today, I have to remember where the millenium bridge is from the point that I’m standing. I stand in the square and locate my direction based on the sun and follow what I think is the surest way. It is! After a bit of walking, I find Michael.
He is cheerful and talkative, which is a great contrast to my haggard demeanor of the time. I am still a little damp from the evening before and attempting to change my mood. I realize when I see him that I have met him before sometime at church. He is 5’10 and white with a five o’clock shadow. He looks a bit like a surfer, but he is a tech guy. He is exactly the kind of person I need on this type of day. My mood begins to liven after a while, after a meal at yet another Italian place where I suffer through another terrible tuna salad. Actually, on the whole almost every tuna salad I’ve had has been good to great, this one is terrible. I don’t tell him that though. I eat it and remind myself that I neeeeeeed the protein, must have the protein.
After lunch we have a hard time figuring out what to do next and end up over at Tate Modern again. I could go to the Tate over and over again and not see everything I want to see. Art takes time and I want to take time with it. This city is full of things that take more time than I will ever have to see them. Once again, the problem with art is that it inspires me to want to do more and I can’t do it while actually viewing the art. Michael is not as enthusiastic about the art as I am and says he’s “not much of an art person.” I honestly don’t know what to do with that information because those words don’t make sense to me. Everything is art.
Then we walk. We walk and walk down Embankment and over to Westminster Abbey in search of a pub for beer that I can’t drink. We find a place, I accidentally order a lemonade thinking lemonade and remember only after that it’s Sprite. I am disappointed, but I drink it and then we walk some more. Eventually it comes time for awkwardly departing and I say, “thanks for hanging out, “ and he says “yeah.” We both turn in different directions and go. I’m terrible at saying goodbye to people, especially since I am still getting used to the hug/non-hug greetings and goodbyes. No hug this time, but I think that would have been too personal upon first meeting a church boy.
Where do I go? Ray’s Jazz. Yes, I’m in love with this place now or perhaps I’m just in comfort with it. I discussed with my counselor before I left, finding things that were familiar and making them a part of my routine. She said I should do this in order to maintain clarity and composure. I have obviously done this with this café. I return to it like a cat to a dead bird. Hmm… maybe not, but I do return.
I stay until I am done soaking up the scent of coffee, listening to some jazz, and having a good stare at some of the customers. I listen to them, many speaking in different languages and I become aware of my lack of worldliness. If not for the turn of events in the last year and a half I realize I would not be here. Everything has placed itself in such a way that I am here and I am listening to Italian girls go on about? I don’t know, but their accents and fluidity of speech are somewhat calming. I sip my Americano and stare into the mellow gray skies.
Back to the tube, back to Spyros’, back to the big blue couch. He makes me a cup of green tea when I get there and we laugh over the music on the radio. It is good to have someone to laugh with because quite frankly, I’m starting to look crazy laughing at myself.

Day #7: Temper Your Heart

Monday: I took this as a day of rest. Slept in until 11am after going to bed around 2. I knew that I didn’t want to walk after two days of endless movement. I really don’t understand how one can be a tourist for multiple days in a row without rest. Perhaps I think this too because I will be a tourist in foreign lands for another thirty days yet. I don’t feel the urgency of visitation and spectatorship. Relaxing is an essential component of a vacation and on this day I do so. A light breakfast and music. I see that Spyros has a classical guitar with one string missing and so I decide I must re-string it so I can practice or else perhaps forget my songs before my return to the states. I have never strung a classical guitar, but there are you-tube videos and so I re-string with that. It is easy and satisfying to know that perhaps I offered at least one thing to this host besides the mess that I continuously create.
After some practice and thoughts on music I decide around 2pm that I should at least attempt to venture out into the city and so I once again return to Ray’s Jazz Café. I sit to write and reflect more on life. I know that this sitting and reflecting couldn’t come to much good because I know that later I will be reminded of the past, but I am avoiding the past in these thoughts and think on the future. As I am walking to the café on this day and older Indian man stops me to tell me that I should temper my heart because it wants the wrong things, but at the very least tells me I will be falling in love soon. I am not sure I should believe him, but it was so random that I want to. I had that premonition a month and a half ago that I would fall in love within the next four months while listening to John Legend. Haha. I figured it was me momentarily being captivated by John Legends coffee liqueur voice. I am still not sure though. I have had premonitions in the past and not listened and they have in fact come true. I just am not sure I believe in them though. I will not put much stock in these. I will explain later why I am thinking so much on love right now though and maybe this will make much more sense.
After too much contemplation again it is time to meet Stacey for dinner and I wonder how people ever find each other in the crowds of London. We decide on a Korean/Japanese place called Loki. I prefer Asian food because most of it is gluten and dairy free, which makes selection much easier. The meal is large and wonderful, exactly what I have needed for a while. I feel my appetite returning again and realize it as a good thing.
Our plans this night are Les Miserables, which I have prepared for by stuffing my pockets with tissues. I already know that I will have a breakdown at the theatre because the first time I went I started crying a mere thirty minutes into the opera. I was worried I would come to the same this time around as well. This time though I had more to think on. The actual plot makes even more sense and strikes heart chords that it didn’t as a child. I feel more sympathetic towards different characters now and it is a completely different experience.
The first time I saw Les Miserables I was fifteen and my mother took me for my birthday. She spent more money than I thought she ought to for something she wasn’t remotely interested in seeing, but did anyway. I know she was bored but she smiled as I cried and loved the music and sang along with poor little Cosette in her little castle on a cloud. As I sit in the audience now I think on how much I wish it was my mother sitting next to me again with our arms locked and once again me tearing up and hoping to one day be one of the actors on stage (I didn’t realize at the time that I could never be in Les Miserables because I’m black).
I did begin to weep a mere thirty minutes in once again, but it wasn’t the plot. It was the way the singers voices felt in my body and the reminders of my missing mother. Then it became my missing mother and her last wishes for me that the opera brought up again and I had known as soon as I saw posters for Les Mis would come, which is why I have been pining for love like a beggar for food all week. My mother died alone like all of us die, but in this case I mean she lived alone and had no one to look after her. I called her that night, likely an hour or so before she passed. It was St. Paddy’s Day 2009 when others are celebrating overzealously with drink and cheer that we said our last “I love you’s” and she said, “have you met anyone yet?” and I said “no” once again because I felt too hard hearted to meet anyone at the time. We hung up with no new revelations, but knowing that we would talk again tomorrow or the next. There was no tomorrow or the next though. All there was was a phone call from Raleigh and before she uttered a word, I knew. I screamed and thought I would die, so I hung up on her because maybe it wouldn’t be real if I didn’t let her speak.
The thing is that you don’t know what to expect when someone you love dies. All I could think of as I boarded a plane hours after the call were all of the things that I never gave her that she expected of me or didn’t. I wanted to give her a home and let her rest for the remainder of her life that had been hard for most, but I didn’t. I wanted to give her grandchildren so she could see herself in them, but that would never happen either. I could only think that I had been so selfish and that because I didn’t want to be hurt I was avoiding what could maybe make me happy.
I brought a picture of her with me so I can look at it anytime I need her and she smiles at me and says things are okay. This is in fact why I’ve been too much thinking on the heart this week. When I think of my mother and some of her last words to me it makes me think of loneliness. I am not lonely though. I enjoy my independence much of the time, but I do think it would be wonderful to have a family to take care of sometimes. I just think of how nice it would be to have someone to come home to. In time that will come, but for now I will just explore and live and love and be loved and know that my mom is always with me no matter where I go. I dedicate everyday I am here to her memory and hope that people can see the good of her in me, because she was a good person that loved people and would help them even if they had hurt her. I never saw her as that while a child, but as I grew older I saw in her a woman I wanted to be. So I take her good and her bad as my own and hope to make her proud in everyday I live. Mom, I love you.

Day #6: A smile and a snore

After a day of walking more than five consecutive hours the last thing one wants to do is walk some more. So what did I do? I took up with my new Aussie friend Stacey and headed out to see more of the city on foot. It’s not that my feet were hurting it was my lower back, likely from carrying too much around in my little REI travel backpack filled with my little netbook and Nikon D5000 + extra lens, my journal, and my recently acquired book of compiled poems by Adrienne Rich. One never knows when a park bench or grassy nook might look comfortable and poetry might need to be read.
On this day Stacey and I agreed that the Portrait Gallery was a must see before she was to leave London. The portrait gallery was not a far walk from our hostel and though the day was the first rain we had seen since arriving in fair London, we ventured out to learn the city once again.
I awoke too late for breakfast at the hostel and so our first stop was Covent Garden to acquire a meal for me so that I did not become ravenous and eat the greater city of London. We found a French Café and I sat down to a menu filled with bread this and cheese that. It is quite the task to not eat gluten and dairy here and I have slipped up a number of times on the dairy and felt the consequences in a number of not so pleasant ways. I knew that this would be a good way to prepare for my actual trip to France and so though it was a formidable task, I picked through the menu and found something edible. Scrambled eggs, porcini mushrooms, proscuitto, and a fruit bowl. I said, “no bread.” “No bread?“ I shook my head. “No bread?“ the waiter scoffed. “No bread please.“ I could just feel his disappointment as his nostrils tried their hardest not to fume. I decided from then on that I will just take the bread and not eat it and please the French as they want to be pleased. I also accidentally ordered a still water with this meal. My thought was that still water would be tap water because it was not sparkling, but it is just a glass container of water that costs an extra pound fifty. From this a lesson was learned and has not been repeated. On the upside, the meal was delicious and I am certain now that I can make it through France, though I am not sure I can 100% avoid cheese because I am in love with cheese. I also miss the feel of tart sourdough on my tongue, but… alas it is useless for me to think of this.
Covent Garden is vibrant and constantly bustling. There are large groups of buskers that filter in and out of the square. On this day there is a group of six string players that take their little stage area. They begin to play, they are… extraordinary! Not only does the bass player have an extreme amount of talent and enthusiasm. He literally picks it up and holds it on his knee for sport while playing. This group is as good if not better than going to see a symphony, I am in awe and would have dropped my fork if I had one.
Now that I have eaten I can properly see the Portrait Gallery. We walk into a pristine four story complex and begin our tour of portraits with The Tudors. Who isn’t fascinated by the Tudors? I mean there’s now an HBO tele series about them. “Off with their heads!” Okay, that comes about a bit later, but I finally pieced together the story that I was a little on the outs on. With my little guided audio tour and hours ahead of me I went about seeing England through the centuries. I loved it, was utterly fascinated by the royal line. Once again, put me near the royal line and I will jump right in. More Queen Elizabeth II was to be seen and more of me staring at her awkward beauty.
Eventually I made it beyond the royal family line and into the great artists section and once again fell in love with Alexander Pope and then Johann Christian Bach, Bach’s son. As I went around from artist to artist I saw and fell in love with each of the inspired men. However, while I was walking betwixt painting after painting of these portraits I saw droopy eyes, pock marks, weathered lips and I thought to myself, now why in the hell if you were being painted and had enough money to take a swim in would you let anyone paint you with all of your defects? I am more than grateful that most of those being painted let the artist take them at face value. I am happy to see their deficiencies because it makes them real and human. I don’t know if I could let someone paint me that way, I can barely let others photograph me.
Speaking of photographs, it was time to venture down and see some. What should I come upon but more pictures of the royal family. Queen Elizbeth, Charles, William, Harry, and Diana. It took all I had not to break down in front of Lady Di with her children. It was sad when she died, but suddenly now, I saw two boys without a mother and almost had an emotional collapse. I can’t help but bring into everything I know about loss that I didn’t have then to grieve for them. I know they have grieved, but I had to right then and it was so hard to turn away. At last, before I had the opportunity to use enough tissue to fuel a Christmas fire Stacey came down and found me. It was time to leave, to eat once again.
Yet another battle with the menu was about to arise. This time we were headed to the second least likely place for me to find a meal, Italian. I have to say I was confronting absolute scenarios. When I say absolute I just mean that I will in fact be in Italy staring at menu’s and wondering what the hell to eat when I can’t have a delicious penne covered in a cheese sauce, but instead I’ll go for the chicken breast. I actually ended up going for risotto, which did have cheese and began the downward spiral of me and dairy that day. The meal was rich and delicious. My risotto was cooked in a creamy mushroom sauce that tasted only of dairy crack. No, you don’t understand. I mmmmd and ohhhd over the food because it had been so long. It had been so long that after the meal we walked over to a gelato shop and yes, I had more. It was like I was on a spree to milk every cow in London and eat the goods. Toffee gelato. It was more than I could have ever hoped for in more ways than it being delicious. Besides my tongue that was full of excitement, the rest of my body was angry at my hurtful decision. It was angry at the way I made a decision without consultation. I summarily apologized and went about eating my gelato. Lucky for everyone at the hostel I was to be leaving that night and moving onto my couch surfing hosts house, so they wouldn’t be subjected to the consequences of my dairy consumption.
It was now time for more walking and my body was already aching from the morning of walking, but I was determined to go on. We decided to walk towards Westminster Abbey. On a Sunday this wasn’t a good idea because both of us foreigners were unaware that it, just as everything else in London seems to be closed on Sunday. However, it was a good and gratifying walk because of two things: 1) The London Marathon= there is nothing more inspiring than seeing people at odds with their bodies complete a marathon. One woman had two hip replacements and still completed the thing. Stacey became determined to return to the city one year from now to complete the trial of the marathon. I swooned over the possibility of a marathon and have become determined to really train for one once I get back. For realz this time. 2) Even if you can’t go inside Westminster Abbey, the architecture is so gorgeous that being on the outside won’t disappoint. It is so delicately detailed that the idea of crafting it seems a task beyond reason.
After a walk around this wonder it was time for us to call it a day and head back so I could get to my hosts house at the reasonable hour of 10pm. His house is East of the city and takes a bit of time on the tube. I gathered all of my belongings and put my backpack on and could swear it got heavier already. I could not imagine transporting this from my hostel to his place, but that I did. Barely fitting through the tube entrance, I was reminded of my former self when my body was almost large enough to get stuck in turnstiles and desks. I was grateful it was just my bag and that I was not that former self.
After half an hour I made it to his beautiful upstairs flat in Tottenham and eyed the comfy blue couch I would soon be sleeping on. My host is Spyros, he is Greek but has been in the city for 9 years now. I ask him all about his work and how he has come to it. He is a sociology professor and I am impressed of course. His house is covered with books I want to read, but decide instead to just take note of for later. I am happy for a host and happy to be out of the hostel for a good rest.

Day #5: It’s sun o’clock

I awoke at 7, not because I wanted to, but because the sun was up and I thought it was near 10. None of my clocks had been set to the correct time and my understanding was that it was sometime after night time and so I decided to get up. Once it’s officially not night time any longer and you’ve up and abouted yourself, it seems fairly pointless to try to fall asleep again in a hostel because soon there will be footsteps and thumps as peoples bags zip shut and fall into walls with their weight.
Everyone has a heavy bag that barely closes and has a hard time fitting in their luggage locker beneath the bed. Mine is on the verge of making an extra lump in my bed and causing me Princess and the Pea syndrome. I am on the side of perhaps I should just chuck some clothes, but can’t seem to find my way to it yet. I packed just slightly too much, but enough that I can’t actually acquire anything more, which is limiting. I am now thinking of just buying and posting things to the US so I have presents to come home to since no one seems to be sending presents my way these days.
The point of this is that I got up at 7 and decided that I would walk where the streets of London take me. It was quite a crisp and beautiful day outside. The sun had been shining everyday since arrival and could not be put out by any gloomy gus’s walking around. London on a Saturday morning was quiet. Most things were still shut and dark, but it made wondering peaceful and pictures easy. I did not have to fight with the crowds that would later be New Years Eve in Seattle large, but… this is any old day in London.
I didn’t begin this trip thinking that I would walk until my legs gave out. Until I was panting in the streets like a dog in… a really bad cardigan, you know those terrible ones that owners buy for their dogs to make them look like they are some kind of Yale Doggie Grad? I walked down Holborn and found an alleyway that was quiet and had pipes of steam filling the street. It was a perfect scene that deserved to be captured by more than my camera, so I’ve remembered it, though I’m sure this memory will go bad.
Side note: There’s a really great radiolab on memory if you ever get the chance to listen to it about how memories actually go bad once you start to use them. When I say go bad, I mostly mean that you are going to alter or change it somehow just by bringing it up. You’ll insert colors and fabrics and sayings that likely weren’t there, they will sound good, but my friend… they will be wrong. My best advice, if there’s a really important memory you want to hold onto, just don’t ever bring it up. Keep it to yourself, then you and no one else can fuck with it and when you die… it’ll be perfectly preserved just like your cold dead body. End note.
I made my way over to the London Bridge and Tower Bridge, because one has to make her way over the bridges or else she hasn’t visited London. I wanted to be able to say that I had been here and so I took the obligatory pictures. Actually, I took about twenty pictures after that as well because truly, the bridges here are beautiful (except for the millenium bridge, which is kind of an eye sore – actually I think most millennial things turned out as a blight upon our civilization, but we’ll discuss that more later).
After the bridges I made my way, not a great distance, but a distance none-the-less to the Tower of London. I honestly didn’t know much about the tower other than people had been held and executed there. I think that’s really the only thing one must know to be utterly enveloped in the story of the Tower. Who doesn’t have the urge to flock to a place where beheadings took place? Our morbid curiosity always gets the better of us. When we say how could they do that? We mean, how can I get a glimpse of what that was like? The tales of the tower are gruesome, but fascinating. I mostly came to see the place where Anne Boleyn was held and summarily executed, but the crown jewels were there and so of course I took a little looksie.
I don’t care about the crown jewels. That’s what I learned about my trip through the holdings. I could give less than a damn about what is on a crown and what kind of serve ware people had. What did interest me was seeing video of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. Getting a glimpse of her young, handsome self piqued my curiosity on the royal family much more than it had been. I had to see more pictures, I had to see Queen Elizabeth. I stared at a life size portrait of her for a few minutes, into the motionless eyes that still followed me around the room. I think I would be utterly obsessed with the Royal Family if I lived here and am grateful that I don’t.
After a good tour and a few hours of the Tower it was time to explore the city and so I walked East. Yes East always goes somewhere good because it means you’re “movin’ on up” right? I walked and walked and walked and… you know where I’m going with that right. I was just not sitting. My camera has now left a mark on the part of my stomach that it falls on and crashes into when I am forgetting to hold it. On this part of the walk I am looking for anything that maybe is a “wonder” of London, but all I continue to see and will see I’m sure are more HSBC’s. I have decided that HSBC owns the entirety of London and will likely turn the city into a giant credit card. Beware Londoner’s is all I have to say.
Eventually I make it to a side street in hopes of returning to Holborn and run into a Londoner that stops me on the street to find out if I’m lost. And while technically I am a little lost I would never let a stranger know that. I would much more likely take a strange drink than do such a thing. I run into a guy named Chris that’s just leaving a worksite and offers to show me around the city. Apparently my camera has led him to believe I need help on a tour of the city. He is a nice guy and we walk for a few minutes and talk about the area. I have run into Shoreditch, a quaint artsy area of London that is right next to the Universities. I become excited when I see graffiti covering walls around the area and realize that this is the neighborhood for me. The bars have eccentric people hanging from their doors and art and music is everywhere. I haven’t been in Shoreditch long, but know that I love it.
Chris makes me take a picture of him before leaving. “Why you takin’ peekchas of all that and none ah me?” I took a couple of pictures to please him, though none turned out well. I told him I would give him a call and went about my way because false promises can help people disappear faster (sometimes).
Eventually I was very lost and my body screamed for forgiveness and said it would be nice to me if I would just stop the torture, stop what had once been a perfectly lovely walk. I found myself looking for the tube. Being mapless in London hasn’t posed much of a problem, but when looking for the tube to secure a rest it can seem daunting without one. Eventually, after much walking and more peekchas I found the Northern Line and felt relief. I decided to take a look at my bodybugg for a consultation on why I was so tired and got confirmation.
Walked: 5 hours Calories Burned: 3800 Steps: 29,000. Seeing the numbers made me almost immediately ache even more intensely, I just needed to make it back to the hostel and I would survive.
On day 5, by 10pm I realized I couldn’t go out once again. There’s no such thing as a second wind for me on a day like that because at that point I was on eighth wind mode and the only thing that comes at the end of an eighth wind is a car wreck because it’s blown you into the side of a tree stump. I don’t care though. My priority here is not going out because the only thing that’s ever done is get me into more trouble than anticipated.
Soon I will drink and dance, but in the meantime sleep says, “nice to meet you, wanna come home with me?” And that sounds much better than anything that could ever happen in a bar anyhow.

Day #4 – Fly me to the moon and let me play among the stars

I daydream too much. It’s too easy to daydream when you’re alone and there are too many possibilities around. I left much of this trip up to whimsy and the other part of it up to Larsen. When she is here things will be more planned.
I have already found a favorite café called Ray’s Jazz in the Soho. The thing is that it’s actually the café for the Folley’s bookstore, which is basically London’s version of Barnes and Noble but way better. This café has character, from the diversity of Brits, French, Argentinians, Americans, and more to the chipping wooden floor boards. If the name didn’t already express it, there is an array of jazz music played throughout the day, which is what initially drew me here, because my first love is jazz. The leaves, the Autumn leaves!
I am not up for funny today, so much of this post will be a mix of glum and coffee.
Today my thoughts about life have changed like a girl with too much time in a Forever 21 dressing room. Thoughts on life should change of course, but I’m pretty sure I know where I’m going now and though I can usually roll with whatever comes, I’m not sure if want something different. Ha, that’s funny, I know that I can’t choose what comes. I can feel something coming, but I’m not sure what.
The thing about today is that I have felt like I’m in love all the day, but I am in love with no one. I am not sure how this feeling works or where it comes from, but that my heart thinks that I have someone to go home to. If it continues on like this it will be sorely disappointed. I fear for it, that it will easily be done in with this attitude and soon I will be making eggs hollandaise with prosciutto for some undeserving guy because my heart is confused. I will surely have to pray about this. Perhaps my heart is yearning for Seattle and I have misdiagnosed it, though it doesn’t feel so. As of yet I haven’t started missing my real life, I am still awaiting that. I wonder if I will miss it.
Today I went for a jog in Hyde Park so I could feel English wind on my face. I went so that I could feel my muscles work besides the way they do when I’m walking on the street. Running makes me feel like I’m strong, and can take on anything. The only problem is that one cannot run without food. I have never struggled before to eat enough as anyone that has seen me can tell, I have not gone without. Recently though, once I started the allergy free diet (now only gluten and dairy free) my appetite or thoughts on food have dwindled. I have barely remembered that I need to eat something to sustain life. Luckily on this morning I made sure to go buy a small salad comprised of fruit and two boiled eggs for protein. However, before I had the chance to eat I found myself stumbling down to the tube dizzy from what I believe to be low blood sugar. I almost fainted while I was in the tube, but as is my character, pressed on instead of going back. I headed directly to a bench at Hyde Park, enjoyed the sun, music, and my newly acquired food. Fortunately I began to revive.
I have to give myself constant reminders to eat enough here. Though I know I won’t waste away if I don’t eat much, I have to eat something. I am not a foodie, so I barely ever miss food. Mostly I look in windows and think, “oh look, there’s more food I can’t eat anyhow, so I might as well not care for it.” My preference however is to not fall down any escalator stairs going up or down from the tube.
Did I say that Hyde Park is beautiful? It is. It is a large expanse of green and trees, but I have to say it’s still not as beautiful as Seattle is everyday. Seattle is a gorgeous city. London does not have the landscape of Seattle, it is just very different and notable for its own characteristics. I am tired and can’t write much beyond this. Things are good. I just desire for the ways of my heart to change. For me to have the ability to tie it up neatly in a little box and give it away only when I desire. Funny thing is that I never feel things there. Do you? I feel everything in my stomach. Perhaps this is why I am not eating much. Who knows. The days will go on and I will see London and I will see France and your underpants?

Day #3: Hello, Goodbye

Too much art is like a sugar rush, I get too high and feel the crash later. I need space between experiences to reflect and will never be a good tourist because of this. I think this is this express reason for why I hate Disneyland. It’s never head down and go in for one day and then rest, it used to be a three or four day extravaganza of castles, robots, and lollipops. My flip flops would have by day four rubbed off the fleshy pads of my feet and sores would begin forming. I would try to remove the flip flops and walk barefoot, but the hot paths would make it worse and my mom would constantly say, “you don’t know where that sidewalk’s been,” which I never understood because the sidewalk hadn’t moved anywhere had it? It was always just a little too much Mickey or Minnie and not enough pool at the hotel. Yeah, I loved Space Mountain, but I didn’t love the line that led to the mountain or getting on it ten times in a row.
Art is the same way for me, it can be too much of a good thing, but it is something I will never hate.
Yesterday was one of those days that wore me down both physically and emotionally. It all started with a wake up “bam” feet on the floor from one of the top bunk hostelers. It was 8 am, not early, but hard on a girl that climbed in bed at 3 in the morning in a drunk stupor after a long plane flight. I contemplated waiting it out, the rifling through bags, the in and outs, the whispers so that I could go back to sleep, but then suddenly remembered that I had made plans to go to the British Museum with two other hostelers.
I realized that I shouldn’t say yes to anything while drunk and have made it a promise that I will only say no or maybe in the future so that I can avoid obligations such as this.
Walking down to the kitchen was terrible for me because I ran into everyone from the previous nights pub crawl and had absolutely nothing to say but a nod, which for me meant “good morning, lovely to see you so f’ng early. Gimme food or I will eat you alive.” I have a feeling they instead took my nod and look as I will eat you if you talk to me, which may have in reality been the truth. Unfortunately, there were no gluten free items in the kitchen and so I had to head out to the market for anything to keep me alive.
At ten I met up with Peter and Rhinehold anticipating a lengthy walk to the museum, only to find out it is literally across the street from my hostel. Perhaps I’m oblivious, but I like to think that my eyes are just bad. Just the façade of the museum is magnificent lined with columns and stone stairs where tourists would one by one stop for photographs, always giggling and fuzzing up pictures with their movement.
The domed skylight ceiling is the most striking part of the museum as I walk in and I know this will be an amazing visit. The three of us attempt to decide on a place to start, but with 95 gallery rooms this proves challenging and I head to the gallery I am mostly likely to worry over dead spirits entering my body… the Egyptian exhibit.
Glass cases are lined with scarab jewelry and sarcophagi. I am entranced. I have always been enamored with Ancient Egypt. I am reminded of my first “long” story I wrote as a child for Riri and Raleigh as a Christmas gift. It told the story of a young girl gone to Egypt to excavate the pyramids, but she is cursed and must find a way to run or else she will be struck dead of something mysterious. Okay, fine, it wasn’t an original plot, but I was eleven and wanted to be an archeologist but feared the inevitable curse of the mummy. The story itself was quite terrible, but I was proud and Riri and Raleigh pretended to be as well. What child didn’t fear mummies? Dead bodies wrapped in linen is on par with a haunting by Rush Limbaugh. I was terrified that just thinking about grave robbing might make me susceptible to death by wrapping strangulation. I was a frightened and nervous child, thus the reason I have not ended up in a profession such as archeology. Death would become me.
This section took up all of my time at the museum before heading for our meeting point. However, Peter never showed up and I took on the city with Rhinehold. Rhinehold is a young German getting his Chemistry and English teaching degrees in Switzerland. He is nice, but we are not a good pair for hanging out because we both are interminably shy (okay, I realize some of you out there may not believe that about me, but seriously, I am shy – just not when I’m drunk).
I am useless when it comes to figuring out where to go, so with Rhinhold’s map and a sunny outlook we headed what I believe is south, walking the streets and eventually bumping into St. Paul’s Cathedral. I have no words to describe this place but breathtaking. Gold encrusted mural scenes and filled almost the entirety of the cathedral. There was a crypt below and almost 500 steps above an overlook to the city. We decided we should go to the top. Everyday since I have been here has been sunny and the city looks endless and agreeable in the light. Truly I could feel the presence of God here.
St. Paul’s left my legs shaky from the stairs and my stomach empty, so I went for my first meal out in London, though it wasn’t really out. We decided to go to the Tate Modern café where I ordered roasted chicken with braised spinach. I’m not sure if I was just really hungry or if it really was the best meal I’ve had in months. It was likely a combination of both. As far as I know, I would recommend this place if you’re at or near Tate Modern.
Afterwards it was time for more art. I headed towards Poetry and Dream, while Rhinehold headed off to his art of choice. I found myself surrounded by surrealist musings as I entered the gallery. Foulcault’s words circled with black ink in one room while stuffed birds pierced with arrows above a cityscape contend with imaginative reality in another. I enjoy much of the exhibit, but am too exhausted to really commit to feeling anything and so I leave to write. My mind enjoys time off and wonders on how to find an instrument around a city of this size.
At this point I’m so exhausted that I wait for my meeting time with Rhinehold and hope that our walk back will not be desperately awkward. Our conversation that was already sparse could not get any better with both of us having little sleep and being sick. The walk back was quiet, but I enjoyed hearing the city. I love to hear big cities and sometimes smell them too. It seems to me that the city right now smells like one big whiff of cologne, as if every guy here owns the exact same cologne and nothing else. Before I leave, I will find out what this is because I want to spray a page of my journal to remember it with.
At the hostel we parted with few words and never really said goodbye, but I think that’s the way things should be. I don’t want this trip to be like camp when I was younger, crying over friends I only knew for one week. “Oh, but I’ll miss you so!” “I will visit!” “I will write!” Then… nothing. I don’t want this trip to turn into one goodbye after another, so instead I will just take photos and write about them.
It was a good day. It was a very good day.
Oh… and I bought a purple ukulele. The end.

Day #2.5: Pucker Up! (waaaay too long post, read ayor)

I was anticipating dinner after a long stretch with nothing but the left over chips from the airplane to sustain me. After a good afternoon nap, I awoke ready to peek out at London and figure what would be in store. Before that, a shower. A shower always washes the stench of travel off. The smell of airplane food, old cigarettes, and sweet perfume. I feel weak and sore after long plane rides from sitting too long and atrophying. I think… well I would likely die quickly if anything ever happened to me. I am not built to withstand these conditions.
My hostel, the Astor Museum in Bloomsbury is quaint and inviting. I am in room 45, a four bed mixed gender room at the very top of a set of small windy stairs, ones that I will surely fall down if I am too drunk. The bathroom is down the hall, but not by much and I am pleased. There are four levels beyond this with more rooms, most much larger than mine and then there is the common area and kitchen. After my shower, in hopes of finding a pleasant gluten/dairy free meal I head down to the commons to ask some questions.
I am stopped by Abby, the girl I met at the reception desk. “Nicole, are you coming to the pub crawl? You are right on time!” I was not anticipating a pub crawl, I was anticipating a satisfying meal that would stop my stomach from eating itself.
“Yes, I’m going,” and I hand over 10 pounds and await my wrist band and stand in line with other younger, more restless hostelers awaiting a night of booze and debauchery.
I try to introduce myself to a few girls, but I am not up for the occassion because I am sick and tired. Yes, literally both of these things, with a runny nose and a light fever. I am also not socially lubed up yet. It is hard if not impossible for me to sustain a conversation with new people under these conditions, so I decide that in order to actually have fun with these people I am going to have to risk staying sick for longer and drink up.
The walk began with awkward silence, the way any walk with lots of random strangers tends to start, but Peter, a guy from Zurich decides to ask me my name and I think perhaps I should give him a fake one and don’t because the hostel staff already know my name. This is a good decision, because later we go on round-abouts of everyones names so as not to forget anyone and not forget the evening. Peter is nice, but shy and easily maleable. I can tell from the beginning he is to be avoided and when we arrive at our first pub, I make my way over to Abby and her visiting friend Rachel from Brooklyn. A drinking game begins as we enter, a game I am unwilling to play because I am jet lagged, sick, and black. Okay… black isn’t a good excuse, but I’m making it one. I drink a glass of wine and after half a glass am struck with the feeling that tonight’s both going to be a good night and a very bad night.
At each bar we get one free shot. It is almost madness having a group of 24 hostelers sidle up to the bar looking for free shots and feeling very entitled. My first shot is of Pucker. Have I even had said drink since I was 21? Likely not, but perhaps being almost 30 in London is the same thing as 21 in America and I drink it like a champion. I am now one large grin. We are onto our second pub.
A new drinking game ensues when we reach Slug and Lettuce, which mainly consists of holding your drink in your left hand the entirety of the night and the poor hapless fool that gets caught with it in their right has to drink. I was a hapless fool many times over and as the end of the second bar approached was quite ready to throw in the towel.
“Let’s get food!” Rachel said as we exited the bar on our way to a club. My stomach flipped with excitement. I was ready. It didn’t get readier than this, my eyes darted about looking for my next slaughter. “Groop peektcha” said Benjamine our french guide. The second bar had made most of us become fast friends as Journey came on and Abby told us a rip roaring story of the Hamptons and seeing the best cover band of Journey that actually was Journey. Fast friends, taking pictures, led us to the next site and Rachel and I foodless on the streets of London.
As we entered the club we circled the bar for our third shot of the night, more Pucker. More pictures were taken and the bad dancing began. I love dancing because dancing with people makes short friendships easy and manageable, no talking, just gestures and smiles. It’s all hip movement and darting eyes. Sexy Back came on and the girls wandered to the floor where we danced and were watched and tugged at by varieties of men. Note: When avoiding men, always dance in a group of three or more girls. Do the three girl triangle in order to keep men out. Stare directly at each other and make absolutely no eye contact with outside parties. The men may attempt to dance with you, but will soon feel the force-field of woman power and dance themselves into a stupor over some other unlucky lady. Avoid two girls at all costs, because unless you’re actively looking for a threesome, the two girl combo only leads to lusty fantasies about you two and him in some skeeeeezy hotel. End Note
The final club came and there was still no food and I had finally given up hopes of ever seeing it and downed a gin and tonic instead along with what? My final free shot of the night. You do not give up free or should I say “complimentary.” Here is where I made the mistake of going downstairs alone to check out the scene. I love dancing and will do so whenever I can, but forgot to follow the rules. It was pretty clear seconds in that I was in danger or dancing with hot weirdo, creepy dude, other random guy, and that dude that wants to make out one second after you start dancing without even asking your name. These are all true, these all did happen. Luckily my girls streamed through the crowd and became my little angels. Last guy on the list was very persistent and even with no’s from me aaaaaand my girls continued to follow me around. “Just get to know me, you’ll like me.” Well, thus far I didn’t and so lied, “I’m sorry, I have a boyfriend back home.” “Oh.” Finally he walked away.
What I learned from this night. Yes, London is super fun and there are great clubs with great music. No, I cannot go out and party by myself. In America I’ve always felt relatively safe and haven’t really had to worry about guys following me about. Since I don’t know my surroundings very well, I am going to stick with at least one other girl at all times. I also learned that, I won’t be drinking Pucker again and will leave that to the 21 yo’s, I would say you should do the same.
London is great so far, but I’ve only experienced one night of it. Tonight, I write this blog and go to sleep awaiting a fun filled day of more sun, more people, more discoveries and more ideas about what to blog about. So goes Day 2.5.