I was beyond excited when I landed in Heathrow and had cleared immigration, claimed my bags, and was through customs within 20 minutes. Anyone that has ever even connected through Heathrow, knows several hours is a short time to get through this airport. So this was no small victory. I made my way to the Underground and headed towards my hotel. While the tube is one of the most connected subway systems, I had to make 2 transfers to get to my hotel. At each of the station, without my asking, there was some stranger, that would help me carry my bag up and down the stairs, and not one even waited to hear my “Thank You”. I was totally blown away by the kindness of this city. And as I learned at every step along this trip, Londoners are some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met.
I have become a bit of a “Rainmaker” during my travels. There have been many times during my travels, where it feels like simply my presence has inspired rain – or as my grandmother used to tell me, the heavens are showering their blessings on you. I spent a few days in the Moroccan dessert, and it rained for the first 3 days. I’ve been to California in the middle of the drought, and it rained several times during my trip. So coming to London, I had prepared for rain. However, the day I landed in London, there was no forcaste for rain. I got to my hotel early and was lucky get a room before check in time. By the time I got ready and left, it started pouring. Given that I was jet lagged, my plans were still unclear (please see The Long Awaited Journey), and the rain, I decided to “tour” the city in the climate controlled, super cool double decker buses.
Getting the front seat of the double decker bus was a bit of urban survival – fastest person gets the best view. You have to slowly keep switching seats and move forward, with the hopes that one of the four people in the very front get up and you are the quickest to grab the seat. Once I got to the front it was a really nice view (even in the rain). An unique experience to see the city from that height. Big Ben was the first landmark I saw, and even through the rain, was a awesome sight.
I was cruising London in a double decker bus shortly after I landed (Please see Finally in London). Along the way I spotted celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s restaurant “Italian” not too far from Westminster Abbey. Since I’m vegetarian and British food doesn’t have the most vegetarian options, the next best things is to try the food of a famous British chef with a more veggie friendly menu. I got off at the next stop and walked back to the restaurant. This was my first British dining experience and I was really looking forward to it. While the food was good and this restaurant was very reasonably priced, I can’t say it was in line with the healthy eating theme he advocates.
I started off my meal with a fresh strawberry drink, which was very fresh and effervescent. Strawberries are my favorite, so it’s hard me not to love anything made with them.
For my appetizer I had the spicy Italian “nachos”. This was mini fried cheese raviolis topped off with cheese and a spicy tomato sauce to go with it. It was filled with a smoky cheese, which isn’t my favorite, but overall the flavor was really good.
And for the main course, I had the blue potato gnocchi with pesto, goat cheese, veggies. This was incredibly good. The freshness of all the ingredients came through. The flavors all worked so well with each other and the warm, crispy, salty blue chips on top added just the right amount of texture. This was an excellent dish.
In typical urban style the tables at this restaurant were placed close to each other. I was sitting next to an older British couple that had come into town for the weekend. While we sat at our separate tables, it felt like we were dining together. The lady was a teacher and her husband was an engineer with a government agency. They were sharing stories about their life in the UK and how London had changed over their lifetime and they were curious about my solo trip. They were very helpful in telling me where to go and what to see in London. They even gave me a map and drew on it to make sure it was clear. It was so heart warming to have a meal with total strangers and just share stories. This was the first in many meals what I would eat with people I didn’t know, and enjoy just getting to sharing a common experience. The British are so friendly and welcoming. This couple, like so many other people I met, made my meal and this trip that much more memorable. So grateful to all the hospitality. My first meal in London was clearly a memorable one.
Photo Challenge – Dinnertime
Trafalgar Square is located in the heart of London, right next to the National Gallery and in the midst of bustling business district. I had first been to London as a 5 year old child. I don’t have a lot of memories from that trip, except being in Trafalgar Square and feeding the pigeons. This was one of first childhood memories, and I was hoping to relive it, during my trip to London last week. Much to my disappointment, I learned that you can no longer feed pigeons in Trafalgar Square. Since there were no pigeons to be fed, and I had not seen London by night, I had decided to take a stroll of the city, with Trafalgar Square being on the night route. In a lot of urban setting, the feel of an area changes so much between day and night. Trafalgar Square which is very busy by day, takes on a quitter life at night. With a slower flow of traffic and surrounding buildings light up, there a surreal vibe to this area. The few people that are here, have made the deliberate trip and are just enjoying the moment. There is peace and a liveliness all at the same time.
“Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. Maybe it’s about unbecoming everything that isn’t you so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place.”
After years of traveling very constantly for work and pleasure, I had hit an unexpected dry spell of being grounded – quite literally. I made a few domestic business trips and a couple trips cross country to see family, but I was missing a true overseas adventure. While those small trips had their share of enjoyment, what my soul truly craved was a journey to an unknown destination where I could discover. After having seen a few places in Europe, my heart is always drawn to culture and history there. Between switching jobs, work deadlines, family and friends (which were all fun) I just couldn’t fit in a time to take a trip. There were many well laid out intentions, but all ended in near misses and disappointments. There was a trip to Germany that didn’t happen because of work. The trip to Thailand, that fell apart due to family stuff. A trip to Israel that didn’t work out weather wise. This spring, I determined to take a trip overseas before the weather changed. With different work commitments, things just weren’t coming together – I just wasn’t able to get time off. There was a small window that looked promising in August, so I tried planning a trip for then, but that window closed with 2 days of it opening. That one almost broke my heart. Then finally on a Tuesday, all the stars aligned, and I was able to take vacation the following week. I started my mad search for destinations, tickets, and hotels. I was so lucky that by Wednesday I was able to book my flight and by Thursday I was able to confirm all my lodging. And Friday I was flying out!!! Yes – 3 days from vacation being approved, I had begun a trip to London and Paris.
This was my first time in both cities, and with the limited time I had to prepare for the trip, there was no time for any planning – I would just show up and let the next step find itself. This was also my first solo mission. I’ve traveled alone for work a lot and done portions of vacations alone, but this would be my first time doing a whole trip by myself from beginning to end – the whole 10 days. While I love traveling with friends, I really wanted to experience a full trip on my own. This was an opportunity to discover an unknown place all on my own. The thrill and excitement of surviving on my own with nothing more, then my own instincts (and Google maps) to show the way. It’s in moments like this when you are dependent on just yourself, that you realize who you really are. And this was also an unscripted trip with no agenda – all I wanted to do was experience these 2 cities and would let the journey unfold for me. This was a time to enjoy my own company and on some level prove to myself that I have the ability to survive and have lots of fun on my own.
It was finally time to break out the newly renewed passport with its crisp unmarked pages, and start filling it with stamps. As I got to the airport, fairly tired from 3 days of prepping and a little anxious at the lack of planning, I get upgraded to first class. And that is when I knew this would be the beginning of an incredible adventure.
To continue this journey please see Finally In London.
Daily Post Survival Discovery Challenge – Adventure