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!
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).
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!