With a continued promise to meet up somewhere in the world each year, Anna and I decided this time, we'd make it London! It seemed like the perfect place for a German and a Canadian to connect over multiple beers and the inspirational and artsy culture that keeps the city buzzing with nifty markets, hip neighborhoods and London-ers! Plus it's as close to the "middle" between our home cities as we can get without actually meeting in Canada. The other option I guess would be...Iceland? Or the middle of the Atlantic ocean of course!
To start off, getting to London is always going to be cheapest if flying from Toronto with Air Transat. You're looking at less than $800CAD for a round-trip (and even less if you get awesome travel perks - woohoo!). Although the planes are small and the food is below average... and the entertainment screens are a little wonky... (I'm really selling it huh?) you're going to want to sleep through both departure and return flight anyways, as it's all the sleep you are going to get if you're heading to London for three days so... minus well go cheap!
Hopping off at London Gatwick, with a 30 minute train ride into the city via London Bridge, Anna and I met outside the station and after hugs and kisses, made our way through Borough Market to stuff our faces with local and artisan cuisine at the multiple hipster vendors taking shelter under yellow and red topped umbrellas below the bridge. The market is always packed for lunch, no matter what day, but the food is 100% worth it. Anna grabbed Rachette - a plate of roasted potatoes smothered with melted cheese straight from a massive cheese wheel, topped with gherkin pickles - while I grabbed a delicious halloumi vegan burger from Vegan Burger Bar for $5GBP.
Note: Budget weekend trips should never really be spent in restaurants. London under $50GBP a day is completely possible and food markets are where you are going to get the best grub anyways.
Although we ended up staying with friends Saturday and Sunday, we did check into a hostel our first night there. In the Swiss Cottage area, we settled into Palmer's Lodge Swiss Cottage, an adorable old biscuit factory (how British, huh?) turned hostel with very European and beautiful detailed interior architecture with a real cottage feel. It even kind of smelled like a cottage. I highly recommend the spot if you're looking for a cheaper hostel close to the action - you can definitely get closer but pricing will only be further from your budget.
After a quick shower and some girl talk, we made our way via bus into Camden Town with a Spanish Senorita staying in our hostel room. Camden Town is what I would compare to a mix of Kensington Market and Hanlan's Point, Toronto Island - extremely hip and full of young, artsy people. I loved the cute sitting areas on the run off sections of the Thames River. Great for sitting by with a beer in hand looking out at the tourists in gondolas cruising by. I really enjoyed the market in Camden Town as well but as the weekend went on, I came to realize that all the markets in London seem to sell the same things and of course, it's all from India and Nepal. Wasn't exactly "new" material to me. But the food stalls were amazing! I inhaled a delicious Pakistani-styled roti with curried chicken. The spice mixed well with the Pressure Drop Pale Fire Ale sitting in my belly, a local brew from the Hackney hood.
My favorite and silliest stop in Camden Town - Cyber Dog. A hilarious rave store where you can literally buy anything and everything you need for a good time raving, as well as a basement sex shop…very interesting. We tried on the most ridiculous, neon and "glow in the dark" clothing items while rocking out to the extremely loud trance music with multi-coloured strobe lights flashing in our eyes. Apparently they even have cage dancers some nights - too fun!
The evening started out quite early since we didn't see a reason to nap come 7:00pm and found ourselves back in the hostel with a few Strongbows running through our veins, which then easily influenced us to make our way back out to Camden Town to experience the night life. Two bars later and we were in The World's End. An extremely busy metal and rock pub, with probably the dirtiest bathrooms I've ever seen. The bar looks like a small little joint when you walk up to it on Camden High Street, but once you enter, it's like jumping into a Harry Potter-styled tent. It just keeps going and going until you're in a massive room with some really funky, punky people standing around with beers in hand and purple hair. We ended up at a table with a group of locals. One round of tequila and beers turned into four and next thing I knew, we were out dancing at the Proud. Waking up to check-out at 11am the next day was probably one of the biggest challenges I've faced in a while.
Saturday we spent the day walking around Brick Lane Markets in Shoreditch before making our way to the downtown area for a touristy walk along London and Millennium bridges. Shoreditch is, and has always been, one of my favorite hoods in London. Full of art, cool hip shops, markets, restaurants and bars, and really chilled out young people. Be sure to check out the pop-up shops next to Shoreditch underground station, all inside a row of large shipping containers!
Late afternoon we caught the overground down to Greenwich to meet with Celia and Tom, our hosts for the night. The two Frenchies just moved to London after traveling the world for the past 3 years. Seriously the whole world - from Asia to Australia to Central and North America. The photos decorating the walls of their beautiful condo made me extremely envious. The two live with another couple, Audrey, a Parisian, and Steve, an actually Londer-er. The group had all met traveling a year back and when Celia and Tom finally decided to touch down in London to settle for a bit, fate brought the four back together.
We made a lovely veggie, and extremely cheesy pasta for dinner, which was immediately followed by a lot of wine consumption before heading out to the downtown core of London in Oxford Circus. After making a quick stop at a casino so Anna could have her first gambling experience - only $4 GBP's lost - we made our way to O'Neill's in Soho, a popular tourist pub playing set lists of Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys on the main level, while the upstairs a cover band of older gentleman rock out to commercial music. Not exactly my scene but a great place to start the night. I didn't make it quite further than that though as jet-lag and post-hungover-ness started to take the best of me and before I knew it, I was fast asleep on a red double decker.
Sunday was a lovely morning of crepe making before Anna and I headed out to Regent's Park for "Running Wild" a beautiful and extremely artsy and inspiring children's play being put on in the park's Open Air Theater that afternoon. I was blown away by the imagination, the incredible young talent and the soundtrack all done through live drumming and vocal harmony. The play follows the story of a young Brit taken off into the jungle by a wild elephant after the tsunami that took place in Indonesia in 2004. The wild animals of the show are all puppets maned by extremely empathetic and very lyrical movers. Anna and I were so in "awe" of the puppets and their movements; the tenderness shown between the actors and the puppet animals was extremely relatable.
The rest of our afternoon, beside sharing our thoughts of the adorable and tear-jerking piece of work, we spent browsing Oxford and Piccadilly Circus window shopping, snacking and reminiscing on how fortunate we have been to know each other and share these amazing experiences together. Perhaps a quick stop to Oktoberfest in September is now in order as the invite has officially been extended!
It's funny to think of going to London for a weekend as it seems so far away but compared to flying to Vancouver, I would have been looking at about the same amount of money for a round-trip flight and the same amount of time spent in a plane. But in Van, I wouldn't be able to experience that European culture and architecture that I enjoy oh so much when overseas.
My next adventure? A few things are on the books at the moment including maybe some North American cities, possibly some more Europe later this year, a cool little venture may be taking me to Nicaragua in late fall and thanks to a beautiful new project I'm working on - Rwanda!