June 22nd – 26th 2010
What a dramatic start to my stay in London. My flight from Munich was slightly delayed and already being very late at night, I was concerned that I might miss the last underground train linking me to my friend Evelyn’s area. So I get off the plane, go through a long border-check line, then took the Stanstedt Express from the airport to Liverpool St Station. Upon reaching the quiet, empty station, I look for a payphone. I didn’t know how to dial an English number so after a little assistance from an Indian guy working at a store in the station (thank goodness, nothing else there was open and no one was around so late), I insert 60p to make a phone call. I only managed a few sentences with Evelyn before the phone disconnected me. Evelyn called the payphone and after several disconnections every few sentences, I manage to make out what I should do from here.
The station was closing. I asked a man closing up which train would take me to the Aldgate East stop. He told me the last one was leaving as we spoke so I better run to the platform. I get there, nothing. Shit! So I run back, tell him there wasn’t a train, he calls his coworkers, finds out the train is actually there at the platform about to leave that very moment. I run back and turns out, the train was actually just getting there. It opened and left in a matter of minutes. The last underground train for the night. I felt very lucky. But it wasn’t over.
Upon reaching Aldgate East, I get off. Now I had to look for bus N15 or 115 that would take me to Canning Town. Where?! I walk around in the dark quiet alleys, trying to get my sense of direction. The underground stations in Europe usually have 3-4 exits each so getting off at the wrong one can throw a person off. I walk past shady looking characters in those dark streets, all the while trying to figure out what I should do if I was mugged. I finally found a somewhat busy street so I felt safer. I asked some people doing roadside work where I could find an N15 or 115 bus, turns out it was just across the street. The stop was full of Indians. One of them chats with me and turns out he’s a Bangladeshi who used to live in Malaysia for a bit. All this time, I don’t reveal I live in America. I am wary of revealing my American citizenship to particular types, just being cautious. He asks if I want to use his cell phone to call Evelyn, I turn it down. No idea what some people do with other people’s cell phone numbers, better not cause any trouble for Evelyn so I preferred to keep her completely anonymous to strangers.
Relief, as I got off at Canning Town station and was met by Evelyn. Turns out, Aldgate East, the area I was wandering aimlessly in those dark alleys, was where Jack the Ripper once looked for his prey. But I am not a hooker, so why should I be afraid right? I was more concerned with those group of middle-easterners I found loitering around the area.
London…very big city, very spread out. Forget walking around, I took the “tube” (underground subway) everywhere. I spent a good chunk of change paying to get around back and forth from Canning Town to central London. Lucky for me, Evelyn graciously hosted me so I saved quite a bit of money that way, as London is an expensive place to stay, even at hostels. I do have to mention that I slept so DAMNED well staying at Evelyn’s place. So quiet and comfortable, there was a large screen TV, kitchen, non-flooded bathrooms, no late-night drunks making noise etc. It felt like home.
I don’t know why but I decided to make China Town my food center. I must’ve eaten 3-4 meals of BBQ duck/pork/roast pork combination at several places (the highlight being Four Seasons in Bayswater, just so bloody delicious). I also ate some Spanish food one evening with Evelyn (I had to treat her for being such a good host).
Saw the sights via Sandeman’s Walking Tour, which sucked this time around, despite my guide being from Austin. She was just a lousy guide. But I did end the tour with half-price fish and chips before heading off to find a place to watch England play Slovenia. Impossible task. Each place was “full” according to the bouncers. I could, of course, get into these “full” places with a little piece of paper with the Queen’s face on it to the amount of 10 quid. But I did get lucky and found a restaurant which had its windows open so quite a number of people were watching from the outsides for free.
I didn’t want to visit any museums in London. At this time, I am sick of museums. I couldn’t possibly cram anymore cultural visuals into my mind. I was content seeing Buckingham Palace (and the changing of the guard, an event watched by tons of tourists), seeing several monuments and architectural pieces from the outside (Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, the British Museum etc.). For me, I came to eat food and walk around just to see what life’s like there.
Wimbledon was a great experience. I was #5561 in the queue at 8 am so you can imagine how many people came very early to queue up for Ground’s Passes. I was not aware that the Queen was making an appearance that day as well, her first since 1977. Not only that, the Isner/Mahut match was to be finished today. Those of you who follow tennis might know this headlining match to be the longest in tennis history.
Upon getting in, I immediately looked for strawberries and cream. I was disappointed with what I got (see picture). I thought the strawberries would be larger, the cream would be thicker. But it was sweet and delicious anyway. The line-ups weren’t that great that day, the big names were all playing in Center Court, Court 1 or 2, which I had no access to. I started with a doubles match and started falling asleep, my God, doubles is bloody boring. Saw the Queen from a distance as the crowd cheered when she waved. Watched Murray play on the famous Henman Hill (or is it Murray Mound now?). Couldn’t get into the court for Isner/Mahut so I watched its conclusion at HH again. They had a special ceremony commemorating something that will likely never ever happen again.
London was fun, I eventually felt compelled to leave because Evelyn’s housemate (an English-born-Chinese girl, never met an Asian girl with an English accent so it felt weird) sweetly asked me several times when I was planning to leave. I think I got the hint but she did recommend I go to Bath, which in hindsight, I love her for (see future entry on Bath).