Wrapping Up My Trip With Broke College Students

My last two nights in London were spent with some friends of my brother. Great group of girls (and guys). After spending many a night at posh set-ups, living in a run-down house with disgusting bathrooms and kitchen was a, err, refreshing change!

I learned something. Despite the fact that these endlessly friendly and upbeat 20 year old Brits were struggling to make ends meet, finish their university education, and work basic service jobs (they all work at local stores near their Hampstead house), they seemed as or more happy than some of the wealthy adults I stayed with. Laughing and smiling abound.

I didn’t "do" much these last couple days. Had lunch with a KPMG exec (thanks Seth Levine) who is a really nice guy, even though we probably don’t agree on some things. Wandered around Heath Park. Read a lot — in Starbucks, outside in parks, in the house.


Img_1654 At dinner one night my primary host stole a flower off the restaurant table, just as the waiter came by. She did it because one of her friends "loves that kind of flower." The waiter was the weirdest I’ve ever seen. He was like a robot reading a script. "If the flower has gone missing, please return it to the table." (She didn’t.) When he brought the bill and credit cards were provided he said, "Please insert your card. When prompted, please enter your PIN. I will turn my head as you enter your confidential PIN number information. Thank you." We made out with the stolen flower anyway! At dinner we had a Sicilian lemonade/gin drink which was quite good.

Thanks to Jess and Jani for being such helpful, willing, and happy hosts! I hope I can return the favor down the road.Park_1 Img_1661


Starbucks in London Charges More for "Here" Than "To Go"

20 cents more on each food choice if you eat at the Starbucks versus “to-go.” I haven’t seen this in the States. Of course, being the sneaky guy I am, I ordered to-go, walked outside, ate my snack, and then walked back in, snuggled into a large chair, and read my book. Aren’t I bad?

My Second to Last Stop: First Four Nights in London

I took the Eurostar from Paris to London which is a fantastic way to jump between the two cities. It’s a 2.5 hour train instead of a 20 minute plane ride, and it’s more complicated than just jumping on the train (baggage security check, for example), but you miss all the airport stresses and two hour before flight check-in.

I started my journey in Ireland and I will end it in London. This makes my cultural entry and exit easier since Ireland and Britain are both English speaking and share many U.S. customs.

My first four nights in London I stayed in Chelsea, an upscale borough of London, with new friends Perry and Adriana, both involved in the world of blogging for several years now. They’re also politically engaged, contributing to the popular blog Samizdata.net. Nice, generous hosts.

I got a little lost finding their house after getting out of the bus. I asked a business guy in a dark suit pacing down the street if he knew were Cheyne street was. He told me to walk with him since he was going that way. I didn’t sense a British accent so I asked him where he was from. He said, "Like you." Pause. "Ok," I responded, confused. "The States," he added, "But I haven’t lived there for 25 years." "Oh yeah? Where do you live now?" He took a long, hard drag from his cigarette. "Saudi." Pause. Another long pause. We’re still walking. I ask, "You mean Saudi Arabia? What are you doing there?" Pause. Another drag from the cigarette. "Yeah, Saudi Arabia. Banking."

I had back-to-back-to-back-to-back meetings on my first full day in London, all either directly or indirectly a result of my blog. I met some interesting guys. Gareth Slaven has been persistent in reaching out to me and I’m glad we were finally able to hook up. Sonali De Rycker at Atlas Ventures is an impressive person who confirmed my initial impression that London is perhaps the most international city in the world. She was born in Bombay and now invests in software and tech companies in Europe (thanks Chris for intro). I met Jackie Danicki in-person, finally, at the Waterloo Burger King, which was a hoot. And then I had dinner with blog reader Mark Steele, an interesting young guy who got kicked out of high school and so is embarking on variation of my idea of "Real Life University." I hope to be able to help Mark in his work and real world education and learn from his intensive travel schedule!

Img_1603 Along the way I stopped at a Chelsea bookstore and picked up two novels which look good and had a bite to eat at a Dutch Pancake place. For some reason I had a craving for American pancakes — thick, buttery, pancakes — which I haven’t seen in Europe. I didn’t know what Dutch pancakes were, and just hoped they were close. Not really. Thin. Different. Oh well. As close as I’ll get.

On Saturday I returned to being a dumb tourist. I wandered around Picadilly Circle, ate at Subway since they were offering a 10% discount to students, and just generally tried to listen to as much of the wonderful British accent as I could. I went to the National Portrait Gallery, free, which was awesome — great photography and some amazing oil on canvas works. I then hopped on the double decker tour bus, almost by obligation. Didn’t London invent the concept of a open top tour bus?! I’ve done a bunch of tour buses on my trip and most are pretty good, some disappointing. For big cities it’s a good way to get a lay of the land and can even beat public transit when you’re going from sight to sight. From the tour bus I saw Buckingham Palace, Downing Street, Big Ben, etc. I got out at Tower of London and wandered around. Long queues were prohibitive, and the free boat ride was full, so I got on the tube and headed back home to get ready for the party.

By the time people cleared out it was 1:45 AM, so I went to bed at 2, got up at 7 AM, worked for a couple hours, went back to bed, got up at 11, had a brunch with leftovers from the night before, then headed out to the gym. I hadn’t been to the gym since Barcelona! Running outside is nice, but I’ve missed that treadmill, bike, and weights. I had an awesome workout. No better feeling. Afterwards I went to the Victoria & Albert museum right next door, one of the best in England, and free! It would take days to exhaust the place, so I just checked out the impressive first floor (Islamic art, Japan and China art, and some sculpture).Img_1622

I got home at 5, worked online, took a hot bath in a tub that actually fits me, and then went out for a late dinner. The London air was still and cool. Finally, a climate that resembles San Francisco! I could wear my SF Giants fleece! (I’ve been wearing t-shirts every night when I go out.) I had a chili thing and a salad and then walked along the main street by my house here. I grabbed a cup of hot chocolate and read at an outside table by the street. Very peaceful, cool, calm.

In my last few days on the road, I’ve made a conscious decision not to stuff tourist activities and busy-ness. I’ll take it slow. Not only because I’m, well, exhausted, but because I’ve become rather uninterested in tourism now. Yeah, 6.5 weeks of looking at sights and every single goddamn church starts to look the same. I’m going to focus on reading and talking to Brits (who are bloody good people).

A big thank you to my gracious hosts Perry and Adriana! Such hospitality and good conversations!Img_1633


The Blaring London Headlines

London papers are funny. Blaring headlines and articles filled with the same kind of Economist/British snarky bite that’s usually entertaining.

Recently there was the following headline on the newstands: Man Mugged on Tube for Bottle of Water
He was also carrying an iPod and wallet. The guy wanted his bottle of water.

Hell, I’m surprised I haven’t mugged someone for water yet.

(P.S. The Tube is madly expensive and as hot as a microwave with no AC. Definitely disappointing.)