What would Morrisey do? Yes, that is the question that I have kept asking myself as I’ve been scampering across the streets of London. It’s mostly served me well. London’s been interesting, to say the least, but it’s also been rather overwhelming. Traveling has filled me with both adrenaline and an exhausting sense of malaise. Let it suffice to say, five days into my trip so far, I have seen a whole lot. Let me do a hurried and a harried rundown:
Day 1 (Fri)
–Slept through most of my flight, but it was still a pain. My forehead started feeling spasms of sharp pain just when we were starting to land. Fortunately, it subsided, with no aneurysm occurring.
–Checked into my hostel, which was a bit disappointing. Of course I knew the 8-bed dorm would be cramped, but I guess it’s easier to accept theoretically as opposed to you actually being there and looking at it. The worst part is the shower. It’s got this weird hiccup where the hot water doesn’t turn on for about five seconds. The problem is, you have to open the glass door to reach in and turn it on, and then pull your arm back out and close the door again as fast as possible. No matter how many times I’ve tried, I have yet to escape the stream of ice-cold water hitting my body before I shut the door. At least, it definitely wakes you up to start the day! Oh, and the promised complimentary breakfast each morning? It’s toast. And cereal. That’s it. The least they could do is to provide some strawberry jam, but no, they only have butter and apricot jam(!?!).
–Do you think just getting off a ten-hour-plus flight transatlantic flight would stop me from a good game of tennis? Ha! I think not, my friend. I went on my pre-arranged visit to a London tennis club, where I played three hours of solid tennis (winning four sets and losing one, not to brag or anything, ha) before calling it a night. It was rather funny to realize how Koreanized I had become in tennis etiquette, as I kept wanting to bow before returning serve and shaking hands before the game like Korean players do. The members were overall very nice and invited me out to dinner, but I hadn’t brought clothes to change into and had to bail out (D’oh!). It was definitely a fun way to start my London experience, but playing on hardcourt didn’t do my back any favors, as the pain still lingers (calling an acupuncturist and a chiropractor, NOW!).
Day 2 (Sat)
–Carrying on the tennis theme, it was rise and shine, then on to WIMBLEDON! Yes, little old me on the hallowed grounds of the All England Lawn Tennis Club. My timing was perfect, as I arrived minutes before a guided tour of the grounds, which turned out to be awesome. It felt surreal to be looking down on Centre Court (and it looked so much smaller than it does on TV!)
–Lunch was fish & chips, which I’m sorry but I found vastly overrated. It’s all just too bland. And why just put vinegar on the “chips” instead of ketchup? Don’t get it.
–I moved on to Notting Hill. I didn’t find Hugh or Julia anywhere, but there was a huge street market going on Portobello Road. Can’t say there was anything all that interesting, but the fruits were very good deals (got a basket of bananas and one of Mandarin oranges, each for one pound; they lasted me three days).
Day 3 (Sun)
–Sick. Fever. Got up, got down, said, “Must. Sleep. More.”
–Finally felt somewhat better in the afternoon. Ate at McDonald’s (pretty much the same as McDonald’s everywhere, which I suppose is the point; people like consistency), then hurried off to Kings Cross Station for a photo op. My cousin had told me there was some sort of a replica of the famous Harry Potter scene where the kids take the train at 9 3/4 Station to go to Hogwarts. Well, there it was on platform 8. Basically, it’s a cart stuck halfway in a brick wall. Got my photo taken; done and done. By the way, EVERY single person I’ve asked to take a picture has been more than obliging. Many of them have answered with “No worries, mate.” I am SO going to start saying that when I get back home.
Mom: “Tommy, are you hungry?”
Me: “No worries, mate. I ate already.”
–Tried to visit the Harrods Departement Store, but it was closed. But got to see it lit up and pretty. Then went back near my hostel and hate a dinner of chicken curry. Easily the best thing I’ve eaten so far, and even that was kind of bland-tasting. Seriously, red pepper paste (go-chu-jang in Korean) must be one of the great inventions ever; Brits, you guys are really missing out. Big time.
Day 4 (Mon)
–This turned out to be like 5 days crammed into one. It wasn’t planned to be; in fact, I’ve barely planned at all, kinda doing the whole fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants deal. I just kept going to one place and seeing the sign pointing to another cool-sounding place, so I just kept on walking and walking and walking.
–I started the morning in Hyde Park. Did a lap around it (Speakers’ Corner was rather disappointing, as there were no speakers to speak of), ended up at the round stream made in the memory of Princess Diana. It seemed rather understated, but I loved the quote in my guidebook regarding it: (paraphrasing from memory) “It’s like the life of a princess, going through its ups and downs, before eventually draining away.”
–Went back to Harrods for lunch. I tried Beef Wellington for the first time, since that was something I had heard of but didn’t really know what the heck it was. As it turned out, it’s like a pie with beef in it. Now, I seem to remember Joey on “Friends” coming up with something like that and everyone making fun of him for liking it. Well, in defense of Joey, it was pretty decent, if a little–here we go again–bland. Actually, one corner was actually selling chopped liver; I had no idea that the dish actually existed still; the chopped liver people really should hire a new PR person.
–Visited the Charles Dickens House, where he once lived. Not a whole lot to see, but it was nice to pay my respects. I mean, “Great Expectations.” What a classic.
–Then onto Buckingham Palace. A nice elderly couple who I took a picture for told me than there were tours available where you could actually go inside. Oy??? As it turned out, the State Rooms (where the Queen entertains various guests and dignitaries) are opened to tourists at certain times of the year. That sounded quite cool, so I snapped up a ticket for the following day.
–I walked over to nearby Westminster Abbey, where an Evensong service was just starting. I went in, and even though I’m not exactly religious (my philosophy on God: Love God. Be a good person, both to other people and yourself. Beyond that, why make things overly complicated?), the service was really moving. The kids’ choir can really SING; I found myself hoping their grades weren’t suffering from all the practicing they had to (hey, once a teacher, always a teacher).
–The Phantom of the Opera is there, not just inside my mind, but in front of my very eyes. This is one of the two big-ticket events that I shelled out considerable amounts of money for on my trip (Tori of course is the other one). My seat was in the second row, meaning I could look up right into the nostrils of the performers. The show was cool (“All I Ask of You” is one heck of a song), but the storyline is pretty simple at its core. A young, pretty, but underappreciated and unrecognized heroine becomes the object of obsession by a not-so-conventionally-handsome misfit, and then comes an upper-class lothario to steal her away and break the misfit’s heart. Come on, you tell me how that’s any different from the plot of “Pretty in Pink” (Catherine=Molly Ringwald, the rich guy=the rich guy, the Phantom=Duckie).
Day 5 (Tue & today)
–The fever has returned. I slept in and barely woke up in time to make it back to Buckhingham Palace for the State Room tour. So feverstruck and with no breakfast or water, I crept along some of the most glamorous rooms ever built. Even in my sick stupor, I was pretty damn impressed. The royals sure loved things shiny and gold. I felt my first pangs of homesickness as I gazed at the various dresses the Queen wore on international visits; my mom would have LOVED it. Mom, I miss you!
–I was starving and just about hallucinating by the time I was through. I was looking desperately for somewhere cheap to eat, when praise God, I came into Chinatown. All-you-can-eat-buffet? I’m there! The food wasn’t great, but it was food, and there was plenty of it, and it was pretty cheap, so I was happy.
–After that, I made it back to my hostel for a nap, and that takes me to the here and now as I write this at the Internet Cafe next to my hostel.
–A few final notes. One, a discovery I made several days into my trip. I should have realized this sooner, but really, the thing to do is to go to restaurants/diners for lunches. They’re often cheaper at lunchtime, and you really to fuel up on energy in the middle of the day. For dinner, just go to the supermarket and get some pastries and/or fruit; they’re cheap and should be more than enough.
–The London Underground is very easy to manage, thank God. I’ve gotten an Oyster Card with a one-week Travelpass set on it, and I can pretty much go on and off the system at my will. It’s an excellent bargain, and I highly recommend it. It’s also good for buses, some of which run all night long.
–Not having a language barrier to contend with has made things a whole lot easier, so easy that it’s actually left me a bit apprehensive about Paris. My guidebook tells me that some Metro attendants try not to sell the French version of the Travelcard to foreigners, and you have to argue with them before they give in. Yikes.
–London is one very diverse city. I keep hearing various languages all around me. That being said, I haven’t seen any Korean person around, at least to my knowledge. I was hoping to find maybe at least one Korean restaurant in Chinatown, but no dice.
–There is just one dilemma I have yet to find an answer for. Laundry. I still don’t know what to do about it. I was expecting to either find washing machines at my hostel or coin laundromats around, but nope and nope. Hmm.
–Important advice for anyone about to sleep in dorm rooms at a hostel. Bring your mp3 player and earphones. Trust me, one of your roommates will snore. And it will not be pretty.
–If you’re riding eastward on the Piccadilly Metro line, you will repeatedly hear, “This is the Piccadilly service headed to Cockfosters.” This may make you want to start giggling like a British schoolgirl, but it’s better that you hold it in. You get used to it after the first few times.
Okay, that’s pretty much about it for now. I’ll write more later (I’ve got the Windsor Castle and the Tower of London left on my checklist). And everyone please remember, “No worries, mate!”
*This stupid computer isn’t letting me upload it, but I’ll upload Morrissey’s “Piccadilly Palare” as soon as I can. That song is running through my head here pretty much all the time.
EDIT: Here’s Morrissey! Piccadilly Palare – Morrissey