EDIT: This post was meant to be my third post but for whatever reason I forgot to publish it. The rest from here on out will be in chronological order.
Finally after dealing with the hassles of and early flight I landed safe and sound at Gatwick Airport. Somehow I managed to find my may to Chris’ apartment. This was the guy I’d be couch surfing with. Luckily it was only a 20-30 minute train ride from London to South Ealing, where he lives. I already had to pay for a bus to bring me into the city center from Gatwick. I stupidly didn’t realize that it was about 30 miles outside of the city. Although I made it here fine I was a little wary at first, I really didn’t know what to expect. This is only my second destination and I am already sleeping on a stranger’s couch.
I read over the messages he sent several times before working the courage to ring the buzzer. 13, 14, 15, there it is, apartment 16. I pressed it and waited. As if he were waiting for me I hear him say “ello” through the speaker and followed by a buzzer sound. Don’t get me wrong, I know I am in England but he really did sound over the top British, as silly as that sounds I didn’t expect it.
I walked up a few floors until I finally see his apartment. As I am just about to knock on the door it opens. Chris’ is a lot taller than I expected. He is about 6’3” I’d say. After saying hello and thanking him again for letting me stay with him, I get the tour of his apartment. What a nice place it is. Technically its two bedrooms with a bathroom, living room, and kitchen but the second room was turned into an office for him—he works for an IT company.
Since he works from home you’d expect his office to be, like well, an office. It wasn’t. In the middle of this room was white massage table with herbs and incense all over the place. He also had a part-time job as a masseuse, Thai masseuse specifically. Turns out he studied this technique directly from Thailand while he was there a few years back. I just never know what to expect from this trip anymore.
I am very happy I chose to couch surf, for several reasons. One, Chris’ seems like a cool guy and it is nice to get a local’s perspective of London. Two, well it will save me a ton of money. I didn’t realize how expensive London is! Even after all these years it feels like you must be royalty to live here. I mean even though I did go to an exchange place, I was charged about $180 to take out £100. There goes a pretty chunk of my budget! My goal was to spend about €65 a day. That should have left me with enough spending money! But if more places are this expensive, it won’t last as long as I planned.
I still have this dream to step foot on every continent by the age of 30. Chris has been to everyone except for Antarctica. As you walk into his office the first thing to come into sight is his massage table. The next thing to catch your eye is his desk and his work laptop. As you turn around to leave you can’t help but admire on the wall is a map with everywhere he has been. Each point has a flag pinned to it. Each flag represents something different. The yellow ones are places he has only been once and other colors for different amounts of times visited. I have been thinking of doing something like this for a long time but it’s hard to do it when I never have been anywhere. I am even am considering getting a map world tattooed onto me, so that I can shade in every country I have visited. But until I decide on that a map will have to do.
After getting unpacked and settled I ask him for directions and recommendations for what to see first. Again we end up in his office where he pulls up a map for me. Just because I am in another country I assume they do everything different. I mean they have gone out of their way to put the steering wheel on the opposite side of a car for damn sake but I am still slightly taken back by the fact he uses Google maps to navigate. This makes no sense because I can see that he has an Android phone, of course he uses Google!
I am to take the South Ealing train off the Piccadilly line to South Kensington to transfer to the District line and get off at Tower Hill. Wonderful. Time to adventure on a confusing subway system across a country I have never been. Let’s see how well this is going to work out.
Even the tube system in London is expensive. A round trip ticket from Earl Court (where I originally got off of the bus) to South Ealing cost me about $9. It’s not like the city where you pay to get on the subway and can take it to where ever you like. On these trains you have to pay by zones. The center of London is zone 1. Then they precede left and right of it as zones 2, 3, and 4. I traveled from Zones 1 to 3. Now I had to do the same to return to do some sightseeing. Chris was nice enough to give me his Oyster Pass. It’s basically a pass you pay let’s say £10 for and it is a reusable discount train card. If you own one of these you basically save a bunch on train fare. Since Chris will be working from home all day he decided to lend it to me. This ended up being a life saver for me!
We both left the apartment at the same time. He showed me how to get back to the station, which I was pretty sure I knew the way, but some extra help never hurts. As my dad would say l have directions like my mother. My mom and I always seem to choose the wrong way no matter how hard we try to fix it. It reached the point where we would choose the opposite direction of where we think we are supposed to go to try to counter act our internal compass but we still end up being wrong. I have made it another goal of mine to fix this. I cannot let that happen in the middle of Europe.
Chris directed me to the station as he was on his way to the supermarket. He decided he was going to make dinner for us. Not only am I getting a place to stay I will also be getting free food?! This can’t get any better.
I walk up to the turnstiles and slide my oyster card over the scanner. The doors open and I make my way toward the east bound platform. As the train arrives and my mind starts to wander. I never really put much thought into why the trains were called “the tube”, that is until I saw one in person. The subway trains in the city have the shape of rectangle, large metal and pretty intimidating. The tube, whoever designed that decided it be a brilliant idea to cut off the corners entirely and make anything above your head concaved. This takes away an enough amount of headroom to the point where my 5’6” self feels fairly large. To top that off the colors are similar of a child’s play pen. Just completed covered in bright unnatural colors. I am starting to believe the developer was having a designers block and realized the toy his son was playing with was the solution. I spent the next 5 hours exploring London.
I was actually surprised with what London really looked like. It was a mix of what I expected old fashion and lots of bridges, then at the same time it was kind of bland. Thankfully most of the tourist attractions are along the Thames River. I was able to see London Tower, London Bridge, Millennium Bridge, Big Ben, and Buckingham Palace. This has been a pretty successful first day if you ask me.
When it came to seeing these iconic sight there was only two that really stuck out to me—London Bridge and Big Ben. Given I’ve done my fair share of traveling for my age; I’ve seen a lot of bridges with a bunch of different styles. Never have I ever witnessed such an ugly bridge before. I want you to picture a river. Now I want to picture four massive sized barrels lined across the water. Pour the most bland color concrete you can find on top of them
than remove the barrels and that is the London Bridge.
I couldn’t wrap my head around how this structure became such a famous icon. The London Tower Bridge was beautiful while this one was awful. You can actually see the London Bridge from is prettier sister bridge. Then I started to realize the song we used to sing as kids, “London bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down” maybe it actually fell down and they were forced to replace it with this…thing. Even if it is not true it’s the only way that it will ever be justified in my head. Not cool, London, not cool.
After hours of following the river and wandering the streets aimlessly I manage to come across where I believed Big Ben was. I was told to cross over a bridge and continue on the opposite until I saw it, it was “impossible to miss”. Well clearly they didn’t know how well my internal compass worked so I stopped for directions about 3 more times. I was still on the right path which is good!
As I was about to stop and ask directions for a fourth time I happened to look left. There it was. Big Ol’ Ben. Now whenever I’ve seen this in movies or photographs, it never really did anything for me. I always saw it as a large, grey, modern medieval style clock overpowering the horizon but never once used to actually check the time. I don’t think I’ve ever misjudged something as much as this.
It massively stood over what looked like a golden castle. The tower did overpower the horizon, I was right about that, but it wasn’t really its size that gave it that feature. What I thought was going to be boring grey brick ended up being cover in a gold that glistened. The reason why it was impossible to look away from was the way that the sun hit the tower and the way it reflected back.
I really couldn’t help but second guess that this was actually Big Ben. I even considered asking someone but then I realized that would be silly. I pictured the conversation playing out like this. “Is that Big Ben? Hey George! Check out this jolly o’ chap asking me if that’s Big Ben?” “He doesn’t believe that’s Big Ben? Well then tell him otherwise that mug!” “Is he on the piss or just being bloody cheeky?” Not only was I not looking forward to looking like a silly tourist I didn’t want to seem dumbfounded by British slang. For a place that our own language came from, the things they say just boggle my mind. So I just went along believing I was right, which thankfully was.
Before leaving to head back to Chris’ apartment I decided to take a break in Parliament Square, right across from Big Ben. Although this is only 4 days into my trip there are very few things I love more than taking off pack after hours of walking around. I assume it’s similar to when women take their bras off. I’ve always been told it was the highlight of their day.
Eventually I head back, well, attempted to head back to correct station. I followed the directions of the map I was reading and headed in the right direction. After asking several people where Green Park Station was I managed to come across Buckingham Palace. It was strange that this is where the Queen is currently living and here I am lugging a backpack filled with my life in it. I wondered if British people feel the same when they walk by the White House. Although I feel like White house is much more intimidating than this place.
I eventually find Green Parks station after accidentally walking in circles twice. I somehow managed to pass the same station three times before I realized that I probably didn’t know what I was doing. I ask again for directions, this time making it successfully to Green Park. As I get on the train and find myself a seat just to find out that the station I had walked by several times was the next stop in the direction I was headed. I could have just taken that and been back about an hour ago.
I rang the buzzer and head up to my temporary home. As the door opens my sense are attacked with the smell of real food. The richness of the smell made me feel like I had already eaten it all. You forget what real food smells like when all you have been eating is food carts and snacks.
After eating his home-made beef stew with mixed vegetables and potatoes we sat and drank a few drinks while talking about life. This was the first time I had a real conversation with Chris since stepping foot in London. I found it interesting how different our conversation would be if I were not to be sleeping on his couch tonight. There was a different sense of getting to know someone then there normally wouldn’t be for someone you just met. I mean we were going to be living together for the next few days it is silly to not get to know one another.
Chris’ has lived such an interesting life so far. He continued to tell me stories and stories about his travels, especially to Asia. I was really curious about this because I am considering making that my next adventure. I did some research and found out I can travel through Asia for 3 months on about $3,000. Average cost is something silly like $25-30 per day including food and shelter.
I am a strong believer that there are only three things we need in life that as a young adult. Good food, good sleep and good sex. I will stand by this to the end of time. Food and drink especially are one of the few things that carry on throughout life that make it have meaning. They are our real luxuries. One of the delicacies in Vietnam is snake. Chris told me a story about how he had to travel to several different restaurants to try this delicacy. They came out with a snake with the thickness of about a munchkin and the length that wrapped around the small Vietnamese mans arm span. They not only killed the snake in front of him they drained its blood into a glass. They did the same thing with the bile and then a third time putting it’s still beating heart into a third glass. After doing this they disappeared into the kitchen leaving the three glasses on the table. A new person came out with rice wine and began to fill up each of the glasses with it. It was clear what they intended to have him do. Chris against everything his stomach was telling him decided to be the respectful fellow he is and take all three as shots. Blood. Bile. Heart. This was all before his snake came out cooked in 5 different ways. What a fuckin’ story. I can’t even imagine what that must have been like but I am for sure putting that on my bucket list.
The next adventure he told me was how he volunteers at a cheetah sanctuary ever year in South Africa. The company is called Cheetah Experience. He stays there for about two weeks helping take care of all the wild life in this sanctuary. What a cool way to see South Africa! That is now something else to add to my bucket list. Plus that will knock out a whole continent for me!
Ultimately the night ended as we continued to drink some more and watch some British television. It’s strange how similar our cultures really are because shows seemed just like ours but with a strange twist. This twist was usually the dialogue and the accents but otherwise mirrored our own shows.
After drinking a bit and feeling pretty buzzed it reached the point where it was time to go to sleep. This is where things got a little bit strange. Chris got up to get ready and I just sat on the couch waiting for him to grab me some pillows or blankets. I heard him go into his room but I didn’t want to be rude and ask him what’s going on so I decided to play it out. It hit me that maybe he thought I was sleeping in the bed with him that night? Feeling a little uneasy and confused by this I stayed exactly where I was on the couch for about 15 minutes just pretending to scroll through my phone trying to figure what’s on.
He came out eventually and casually asked me if I felt more comfortable sharing the bed with him or sleeping on the couch. Slightly taken back by this, not knowing if it was intended the way it sounded or was it completely friendly, I told him I was perfectly okay with the couch. A few minutes later he came out with a pillow and blanket for me and went right back into his room. Still taken back by this I sat up for a bit trying to figure out what just happened.
Considering I was pretty buzzed I could have easily exaggerated what was actually going on. I also know that this sort of things happens a lot with couch surfing, usually to girls but that wasn’t his cup of tea to put it frank. I wasn’t offended or put off by it, I just never been on this side of things. Either way I told myself it was nothing and I drifted off to sleep.
As I woke the following morning Chris was already half way through his day and I was just starting to get up. He made me some tea and toast. Today was my last full day in London so I wanted to make the most out of it. I headed out the door as soon as I was able to collect myself.
I managed to go to three different museums all within a single day. That was easily more museums in one day then I had been to in the last two years. I forgot how interesting they are to just walk around and get lost. It’s almost as if you are living within different eras.
After visiting the British Museum, which by its name is slightly misleading? It had little to nothing to do with actually British history but with the rest of the world’s history. I messaged Chris for a recommendation for fish and chips. He gave me the name of this little hole in the wall joint called Fryers Delight. For about £4.50 ($7) I was able to get a plate full of chips and fried cod. No wonder why fish and chips have been a thing for ages it was really delicious!
After that I managed to visit two more museums, the Natural History Museum of London and Albert and Victoria Museum. Both were small but interesting to be in. I think my favorite part of all three museums is tied between the money exhibit and the British Museum and the marine life exhibit at Natural History Museum. Both of these are interests of mine. I really enjoy looking at the differences in foreign money and the ocean is something I’ve been obsessed with since being a kid. It was cool to get lost in both of these worlds in the same day.
It officially my last night out in London and I decided to head back to Chris’ a little later than I did the night before. Luckily I was still on time for dinner. After talking about his travels to Thailand yesterday he decided to make some Thai style curry chicken, since I’ve never had curry before. This hands down turned me on to Yellow Curry Chicken. The meal was absolutely delicious! After letting the food settle a bit he wanted to bring me to a local English pub. We headed to this small authentic pub and had a beer and a good conversation. Soon enough the long day got the best of me. We headed back to his apartment and almost as soon as I laid down I drifted off into sleep.
I woke up early enough so that I am in no rush to travel. There is nothing more stressful than rushing to be somewhere else. I try to avoid that at all costs, I’d much rather be 2 hours early then have 2 minutes to spare.
Chris again makes breakfast this time scrambled eggs and toast. What a perfect breakfast to start my day. I eat as much as I could since I knew that this would be my last meal for the next few hours. Before parting I give Chris a little gift to thank him for having me. He mentioned a few times how he was a vodka drinker and I knew he was low on it so I went to the local liquor store and bought him a nice bottle of Russian vodka. It was the least I could do for him. I mean I am a stranger he let into his home to sleep on his couch for a few days. What an interesting experience my first couch surfing experience has been. I will certainly looking to doing this again elsewhere!