London as an Adult

January 23, 2015

Eye of London

Although I firmly believe in the value of people getting their kids out in the world at a young age – though not before four, when they’re unlikely to retain any of it – I have to question some of my parents’ travel choices. Photographs prove I was on Long Beach at age four, but if you ask me what it was like riding the Back to the Future experience at Universal Studios Park, I wouldn’t know any better than a kid today (and he might have to be taught what Back to the Future even is). I remember being small enough my dad could easily lift me out of bed at six in the morning and lay me in the back of our Lincoln Continental on top of a pile of blankets and pillows so I could skip being conscious for our road trip to Disneyworld.

London back in 1993 is also fairly clear. Though I have no memory of landing in Gatwick or going through immigration with my first passport, fresh from Houston, I can distinctly recall the feeling of walking on foreign streets for the first time. Ogling the funny shape of British Coca Cola cans. Being introduced to mushy peas.

This is the first time I stepped foot in the UK outside an airport since that landing over twenty years ago. Thanks to my US Airways Barclaycard and a special the airline runs from January 15 to February 28, I was able to get into (and out of) Europe with 30,000 miles and just over $170 in taxes. Some things I was numb to: the travel experience in and of itself; hearing British accents… ok, I’ll admit I still chuckle from time to time. Let’s face it: to American ears, everything sounds more sophisticated in the Queen’s English.

The last time around, my parents were the ones arranging the itinerary and accommodation. They had to provide a reasonably comfortable place for their children, after all. And, like many tourists then and now, they felt compelled to cram in as much culture as possible during a short trip. I have no such restrictions, Couchsurfing on arrival, going out when I want, and even choosing to just skip a sight when I’m not in the mood. It will be there when I return, after all.

I wonder if that is the motivation for many tourists when they try to squeeze in sixteen attractions into a single day, or a hundred in a week. Maybe they don’t know when or if they will ever find a way back to this foreign land, so far from home. If I’ve learned anything from ten years of travel, it’s that this is seldom the case. True, I’m not going to stay inside a hotel for the duration of the trip, but slow travel is incredibly enjoyable. If I want to take a day to just relax and catch up on writing instead of going out and seeing Big Ben, I can… and did. There will be other opportunities to come back, and even if things change, different experiences can be had.

Collecting souvenirs has also changed for me. I used to be the king of picking up expensive knick-knacks from every souvenir stand at every major attraction across my travels. To give you some perspective, this included:

– Paper umbrellas from Chinese restaurants
– A marble replica of the Washington Monument
– Elongated pennies from those smashing machines across the US
– A laser-carved box from Royal Caribbean (I didn’t have any jewelry)

Walking past some of the shops near Westminster and the British Museum has served as a reminder of how far I’ve come. I feel no more attraction to any of those objects in the window than I do to anything else I might buy. It’s no longer necessary for me to define myself by my possessions, especially those that are overpriced, useless, and will be soon forgotten.

So far, what I’ve noticed about London is its multiculturalism. If anything, the British people seem to be the minority in the areas I’ve observed – which, granted, are touristy. A dozen different languages can be heard in almost any tube station, and I definitely spotted some Koreans with their selfie sticks on Westminster Bridge at night.

I did have a small list of things to see when I finally arrived. Burns Night will be celebrated on January 25th, so it would be good to find a Scottish pub. Earl’s Court Station has a police box similar to the one in Doctor Who. Hummingbird Bakery supposedly serves the best cupcakes in London; I’ll admit they are tasty, but not spectacular. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is a restaurant and pub on Fleet Street that has been open since 1667.

The TARDIS

Of course, walking past Buckingham, Westminster, the Eye of London, and Big Ben were also high on the list, but most of those, in addition to the Crown Jewels, were still burned into my memory from ’93.

Big Ben

Some things have changed. There are Harry Potter tours, but I’m not really tempted to do that. Maybe I’ll run into Ricky Gervais at some point? Because I had to handle money this time around, I noticed takeaway is often cheaper than eating in certain shops. Water isn’t automatically placed on your table at pubs or restaurants, and should you ask for it, you must specify whether you want still, sparkling, or tap (the last being the only free option).

Although there are no open container laws in France and other European countries, in the UK, drinking on the streets is limited to immediately outside the bar… now I understand why some tourists in San Francisco were confused when they were told they couldn’t take their beers outside. Granted, America’s drinking laws are very Puritan.

I’m writing this from Liverpool, and I should complete my next blog on all things Beatles and Titanic on the Megabus ride back. On Monday I’m meeting YouTuber caffinejedi down in Brighton, where we can discuss Japan, life, the universe, and everything. Stay frosty… I know I will until I return to Oahu.

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