Back in the summer of ‘97 I made my first trip overseas to London. Together with my family we navigated our way through the city, sporting our fanny packs to all the touristic sites. The Underground was a maze and the double-decker bus rides a thrill. It was a great experience. Returning now as an adult and seasoned traveler my perception of the city is completely different. The city has certainly developed and become busier. The Underground is quite easy - after you can manage Tokyo, the train system of any other city is a cakewalk! However frustration still occurs when they close the Picadilly Line for the weekend. The core traffic is thrown for a loop as the masses of people are channeled through bottlenecks, slowing everything to an uncomfortable pace in a stifling atmosphere.
Nikki and I met up again on Thursday and walked alongside the River Thames finding refuge in the city parks. The paths of St. James Park to Green Park took us right by Buckingham Palace so we stopped for the incumbent photograph. The first was a failed attempt by fellow from Norway who just couldn’t hold the camera steady, so for the next try we asked a group of three who were already taking pictures on their own. They were our age, just on a layover in London, enroute to Africa where they’d be working on some type of missionary project. The guy who took our photo was from Hawaii and the girls were from California and, Saskatoon of all places. We continued our stroll through the park and found a snack at a nearby grocery store. On Saturday Nikki left for Mumbai, India. She’ll spend the next four months there teaching piano.
On Saturday afternoon I met up with Grace, a fellow CouchSurfer, and she took me to an authentic Moroccan restaurant on a quiet sidestreet of central London. A place only locals would know, it seemed miles away from the bustle of Picadilly and Regent though it was just down the back alley. From there we went to the Apollo Cinema where the Raindance Film Festival had an afternoon presentation of short films which Le Grand Sault, the most recent film of my friend Hervé in Montreal, was part of. I saw Hervé’s first film Sur La Terre Comme Au Ciel at the Whistler Film Festival, and I wasn’t going to miss seeing his second on the big screen, even if it meant me traveling all the way to London! Though the presentation of films did not proceed without technical difficulties, the screening of Hervé’s film was flawless.
After the show we met up with Callista, Nikki’s former flatmate in Glasgow, and all together went to Princi, an Italian bakery in the Soho neighbourhood of London. A trendy place with gourmet dishes and delectable desserts, it seems to maintain a chaotic buzz throughout the entire day. One must be patient to find a place to sit and stand at the counter to order. It’s worth a visit.
My wonderful hostess in London was Hannah. One evening of the week we went out for some great Indian food at a place in her neighbourhood in northeast London. By the end of the week she had me convinced to join her for an outing of swing dancing. The club we went to was cool. In the basement we experienced the early swing era, with the later era music being danced to on the floor above. There were several dedicated couples fitted in traditional clothing, showcasing their talents of Lindy Hop, Charleston, and other forms of swing. It was impressive to watch but I struggled to find the late-night energy for my clumsy, untrained feet. Hannah showed me a few steps and I lasted a few numbers but exhaustion forced me to retire to the lounge sofa.
We had a Hannah’s friends join us at her flat in the afternoon for cake & coffee in an early celebration of her birthday. With the Picadilly Line still closed for the weekend I had to leave early to make my way to Gatwick Airport in time for my flight to Slovenia.