I bailed on NYC for the New Year. Yeah, I shuttled off to London by myself to ring in 2011. Suffice it to say, getting there was a major pain, considering the blizzard that hit the day before I was scheduled to leave. Nevertheless, I made it there a day later than planned, and accomplished my goal.
I cracked my eyelids on the first day of 2011 in another country
The first two nights in London I stayed in the Astor Hyde Park hostel, which was a few blocks walk from the Gloucester Road underground station. I want to sit here and say my first time staying at a hostel was this sort of comfy experience and tell you that it’s the best way to experience London on the cheap, because I think in total those two nights may have only cost me about 50 bucks. But in reality my time there was sort of shitty. There were a few girls staying in the shared room I booked and they were just loud and inconsiderate and I really couldn’t get any sleep other than during the day. That’s kinda pointless when you’re visiting a new city. I ended up bailing on the hostel situation, figuring NYE was going to be a drunken mess for anyone I was sharing a room with, so I booked a hotel not far from the hostel. Cost a grip but I couldn’t stand to not get any sleep for another day. I was already jetlagged and exhausted from walking around the city for two days.
One thing that helped me a lot on this trip was having a cell phone that worked in London. Prior to going, I thought I was going to rack up crazy roaming charges on T-Mobile because they don’t offer any real international usage plan. But I got hipped to unlocking my blackberry, which allowed me to use it with a UK sim. I was able to purchase one right in the airport from a vending machine like a soda. Crazy. Having my blackberry allowed me to use google maps, which gave me a good tool for navigating the city and its surrounding areas. Just little things, like finding where the nearest tube station was, not saying it’d have been impossible without google maps, but that app definitely helped speed up the process. Hip-hop hooray for google.
I never really did make it onto London time. Nor did I stay on New York time. I think I wound up somewhere in the middle, and that was largely due to those first two days where I didn’t get much rest. On the day of New Year’s eve, which was basically my third day- the day I checked into the hotel- I slept like all day, and that just threw the schedule all out of whack. So for the most part I was waking up at around 5am every day. It was cool though, because I was able to get up early, have breakfast near where I was staying, and take things at a leisurely pace.
The exchange rate from USD to british pounds is terrible. I don’t know what it is off top and I’m too lazy to google it (I know, lazy, right?), but I just know everything I spent money on there seemed like it was going to end up costing a grip in American dollars. Why? Because you would think that things would be priced on scale. I know there’s some economic term for what I’m referring to, but I’m not an economics guy. So let’s just use this as an example. If a british pound is 60 pence compared to 1 USD, then a 10 dollar hamburger should cost 6 pounds. But it doesn’t. A 10 dollar hamburger costs 10 pounds. Like a soda from a corner store the United States, which costs 1.50, still costs 1.50 there. The fuck? So yeah, your finances are taking a beating by going to London. Mine definitely did.
I can say this much, I’ve traveled alone before, but never to another country. It was definitely sort of an interesting feeling, just getting off that Gloucester Road stop when I initially arrived in London. It seemed busy there, it was mid-day. It kind of reminded me of New York in a sense, but then, not so much. People didn’t seem too friendly. Typically I can chat up the average person pretty easily. In London, that didn’t seem to work. I don’t know what it was. Maybe I was giving off a touristy vibe- that’s fine, I was a tourist- but it didn’t seem like conversations were easy to strike up. It could have also been just me. Like, I don’t know that I was super enthused about talking to anyone. I was kind of cool with the idea of people watching, just walking around and chilling, mostly. At any instant, I would pop into a little cafe for a coffee and a croissant. I would just sit and listen to the words and conversations I was hearing around me. Watching people’s mannerisms, the way their hands move, how they interact with others, what they’re wearing, and so on. It was kind of like a study of British people, in a sense.
I don’t really know how much I did in London compared to what other people do when they visit. I just know whatever I did worked for me. I had visited London about ten years ago, in August of 2001. At the time, I was 19 years old and was heading into my second year of college. College is really what put the bug in my ear, and subsequently my mother’s ear, that London was a place to visit that summer. I had an international politics class my second semester of the first year, and I recall needing a big book of maps for it. We basically looked at those maps for the entire semester, and went through histories of so many different countries. It definitely wasn’t the first time I’d looked at a map, but I think it was the first time I had added context, and I began to understand more why each country existed in a certain space and so on. Or, maybe it was just the first time I ever paid attention. Whatever the case, it made me want to see the world so badly. So going to London in 2001 was the first step towards that. That trip, however, wasn’t how I envisioned it. It was mostly sightseeing and typical tourist stuff, which was fine, except for me, I like to do that stuff in my own way. Kind of digest in the way that works for me. I think I had one day where I got to do something completely solo. I shopped for vinyl and books, nerdy stuff that guys like me are into. Had my whole trip been that way, I’d have called it a success.
This time around, I wanted to take that one day from the 2001 trip and basically extend it. I wanted to just float and do my own thing. I pretty much did that. Saw Stonehenge. Saw Buckingham Palace. Saw Royal Albert monument. Saw Queen Victoria Monument. Shopped in Camden Town. Shopped in Leicester Square. Went up to the park at Hampstead Heath. Saw the London Eye. Went to Harrod’s. Went to Carnaby Street. Kicked it in Soho one night. Went to Natural Science Museum. Saw the Adrian Boot photo exhibit at the Proud Galleries in Camden Town. Saw the High Society exhibit at the Wellcome Collection. Ate a lot of good food, drank some pretty strong coffee. I’m sure I’m forgetting some things.
It was very cold and rainy there. Colder and rainer than NYC in the winter, for sure. And I had just left a blizzard. I don’t think I saw the sun the entire time I was there. One peculiar observation, folks in London don’t really drink coffee the way we do here. If you were to order a coffee there and want milk in, you would order a white coffee. Otherwise, the coffee is coming to you black. But even at that, drip coffee was hard to come by. They make americanos there. I’m not a fan.
As far as women, my god, I wouldn’t even know where to start. If you took the top 10% most fashionable women in New York, cloned them and made thousands of duplicate super fashionable beautiful women, you would have London’s entire female demographic. I’m not really the gawking type. Typically, I’m not even that impressed by…. well, anyone. That’s not my ego or anything, it’s just, I don’t get goo gaga over appearance. Beauty is more than that. But there, I couldn’t help but stare. So. Many. Beautiful. Women. Even the older women looked amazing and dressed to kill. I know some of my female friends, ones who are super into all this high fashion stuff, they would have had a ball out there just people watching. Everyone dressed well.
Below, some pictures. I snapped over 400 pictures there, be it on the Canon Rebel t2i or my blackberry’s camera phone. I also shot some video as well, which I’ll probably post at some point soon. There’s really no rhyme or reason to the slideshow, it’s just kind of random. If I had a little more patience I could probably say where each photo was, and maybe at some point I’ll do that. For now, enjoy.