London is the capital of England.
The first time I went to London, I was a senior in high school. It was the first time I had ever traveled outside of the country. It was my first trans-atlantic flight. We were getting ready to put on a production of Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona and to our good fortune, we were also seeing it performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-Upon-Avon. They took us on a tour of the Globe Theater and we also went to Camden Market. I stood in front of the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum, and I almost peed my pants laughing at my friends when we visited the hokey London Dungeon. I had a crush on my tour director – he turned out to be gay. I missed it a lot when I came back to the United States.
The second time I went to London was the summer after my freshman year of college. I’d broken up with my boyfriend and was looking for a bit of fun. It was a study abroad trip and I took classes on British history. I learned about every king and queen of England (and some Scottish ones too), from Alfred the Great until Queen Elizabeth II. We visited a lot of castles, a lot of churches, a lot of cafes and a lot of gift shops. We drank a lot of Strongbow cider, at the pub, and in Millennium Park (after the pubs closed). I went on a few dates with a drug dealer from Croydon and an engineering student who brought me Goldfish crackers from his recent trip to Canada. I missed it even more when I came back to the United States.
The third time I went to London was right after the last time I studied abroad. I had a stopover in the city before embarking on a bus tour of Europe with Contiki. I went back to my favorite fish and chip shop. I walked along the Thames near my old university. It was colder now, and there were Christmas markets. I met my best friend, Dana, who was studying in Buckinghamshire. We took a ride on the London Eye, and I remember feeling how ridiculous it was to pay almost $30 to stand in this pod, overlooking the city at night, when I’d seen the entire city from the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral nearly three years prior for only $4. We found a winter carnival and I remember riding on the Tube and thinking about how small it was compared to Prague’s massive, boxy metro cars.
My best friend is going to be living in London this summer. I think I might go and live with her too.
Although I’ve just gotten a recent promotion at Matador Network, I still like to spread my work to other sites for exposure to different audiences. Brandon over at Eye and Pen has recently started a new publication called Travel Origins Narrative Magazine. He collects bizarre stories from readers all around the world to expose a different side of travel.
This piece is about a drug dealer I met in a British internet chatroom, who I ended up dating for a bit before he, well, sort of got put in jail. It’s definitely one of the craziest things I’ve ever done and I thought it would be good for Brandon’s magazine.
We get together a couple of times in London, actually. He seems like a pretty stand-up guy – gregarious, sympathetic, and generous with the gifts. On our first meeting, be brought me a British cell phone to use so I didn’t have to keep calling him from phone booths. Good thing too, because I was tired of looking at porno ads every time I rang him up. For our second meeting, be takes me out for a steak dinner. I didn’t even need to give him a blow job for it! But our third meeting is the cherry on the ice cream sundae –
“Remember that bloke I tol’ yew about,” he asks as we walk alongside the Thames near Waterloo station.
“The crazy one that met his girlfriend online,” I retell him. “And he got her a Prada bag on their third date?”
He smiles and whips out a neatly-wrapped package from behind his back. “Yeah, well, he did that, but sew did I…”
It’s a legit Prada bag. It’s small, a lower-end model (I can tell from the nylon, patchwork design) but it still probably costs at least $200. As a poor American college student I’m ecstatic nonetheless. But I’m sceptical.
“I can’t accept this, David,” I tell him.
“Why not?” he asks, disappointed.
“Because I can’t have sex with you tonight,” I honestly reply. “It’s that…time of the month.”
Anyway, check out his publication and let me know what you think about the article. It’s a story I like to tell people because it’s super bizarre and like, who does that? Hanging out with guys you meet in internet chatrooms? Okay sure.
Read it here:
The heat wave of 2006 gave us a very different impression of a city that was typically shrouded with gray skies all year long. The evenings, without use of an air conditioner, are brutally hot – one had to sleep nude or else risk illness due to overheating.
But the mornings are mercifully cooler.
We converge at Waterloo Station before walking down that ever-lasting platform to a train that would take us somewhere new and exciting, historic and inspiring. I remember the smells – the smoky scent of coffee, the cinnamon sweetness of cappuccinos brewing for the commuting crowds, fresh-cut flowers at the Marks and Spencer’s kiosk where I always bought a boxed sandwich for breakfast. There’s nothing like an egg and cress sandwich at 8:15am.
Our tickets are handed out and we board different compartments of the train, with their plastic and plush seats decorated in bright orange and blue designs.
I love living in the city, but I also love leaving it as well. There is something about finding yourself looking out to a corn field minutes after the train has left the station, that is so outside of anything I have ever known. Where I came from, it is the city, followed by the suburbs, followed by the slums, and then, if you are lucky, maybe you see an acre or two of cleared land. Nothing like this though. I have to drive for hours and hours if I want to see so much as a farm stand on Long Island.
My friends chat or sleep, but my face is pressed to the glass. I love the way the sunlight makes nature look golden in the mornings, how all you can see is a rolling meadow with a dot in the distance; a house, no doubt, an old house, that has been passed down and is made of brick-red painted wood, with white trim. Public transportation isn’t so bad when you’ve got something nice to look at day after day.
We end up in Winchester, or Oxford, Bath or Edinburgh. The view is always the same, except when we pass through Newcastle – that is a bit different.
But English scenery will never disappoint me, I think.
Tonight I’ll be meeting some travel community folks via an event with Matador Network and I’m like, super excited. It’s going to be like meeting TRAVEL CELEBRITIES ohemgee. I guess I get overzealous when it comes to stuff like this, but it’s only because the people I have met online have always been somewhere between incredibly awesome and incredibly awkward.
There are classy ways to meet people in person that you’ve met online. And then there are trashy ways of doing it. I almost always fall into the latter category. Presenting to you, a new notch in the “Trashy Travel” series:
Trashy Travel Confessions
I met him in a British chat room the spring before I lived in London. Usually I’d sit online trying to fuck with internet predators in hopes that if they were wasting their time being frustrated with by me, maybe they weren’t chatting inappropriately with underage teens. David seemed fairly normal though. He upfront told me he didn’t want to have cybersex (cool) and that he liked American girls because of their “moxie” (aka the fact that I was screwing with the minds of paedophiles and creepers). We decided to meet up in London when I got there.
Totally safe, right? Totally. No big deal. Yeah, he was from Croydon, yeah, he had a thick cockney accent, yeah, he said he’d run away to Greece one time after “gettin’ into a bit o’ trouble” and yeah, he had a distinctive scar across his nose after some knife fight that he got into in Cuba, but what the hell, I was a savvy traveller. I could take this guy on if he thought a little rape was involved.
We got together a couple of times, actually. He was a pretty stand-up guy – gregarious, sympathetic, generous with the gifts. On our first meeting, be brought me a British cell phone to use so I didn’t have to keep calling him from phone booths. Okay cool, I’ll give it back in the end, I thought. The second meeting, be bought me a steak dinner. I didn’t even need to give him a blow job for it! Our third meeting was the cherry on the cake though – he bought me a Prada bag.
Hot damn, I found myself a British Sugar Daddy.
I embraced David because he was so sincere about everything he did. I frequently told him to stop buying me shit because I wasn’t going to sleep with him in return for it, but he really didn’t seem to mind.
“I just want yew ta go back ta the states and tell all your mates how much fun yew ‘ad with a cool Bri’ish bloke,” he told me.
Okay cool, so I just got to London and I have this British guy who is crazy about me and maybe we’ll get married and have British babies and I’ll get dual citizenship, hooray! Amazing life at the age of 19!
Our fourth date was supposed to be dinner at the acclaimed Oxo Tower. For that, I’d consent to having sex in the bathroom at least. That place is faaaanCY. I never really knew what David did for a living though – he was pretty evasive on the topic of employment, but he said that his Grandfather owned property all across London and that he didn’t really work because his Grandfather just gave him money from that. Doesn’t explain why he was living in craphole Croydon but I figured he just liked being modest.
“Oh man, a real-life About A Boy situation!” I squealed inside. That is one of my favorite films. I’d met my Hugh Grant, the Ibiza bachelor who didn’t need to work and lived off a family member’s royalties.
Except that when we were supposed to dine at the Oxo Tower, he never showed up.
“That motherfucker stood me up!” I complained to my friends. I’d never been stood up before. This really pissed me off, too. You stand people up at the movies, or at a crappy diner, not in front of the friggin’ Oxo Tower.
I get a call the next day.
“Sorry love, I ran into a bit o’ trouble lawst night,” his voice is rushed, like he’s running. “Three men in blue suits came to me ‘ouse and banged on me door and I didn’t know ‘ho they were and I had to jump out of a second-story window and now I’m at me mum’s. I’ll call you later-”
He hangs up.
“Okay…” this is getting fishy. He calls me later and tries to explain again what’s going on, but all I can hear is,
“STOP THE CAR! STOP THE FUCKING CAR! YOU MOTHERFUCKING…I’LL MURDER YOU!-”
He wasn’t yelling at me. He was yelling at someone else, someone chasing him, or someone that hit his car – I have no idea, but that’s when I ended our sordid affair. The men in blue suits were obviously cops, he was obviously on the run from something, and the reason he had enough money to buy me a Prada purse while unemployed was that he was obviously a drug dealer.
I tried to return the goodies to him, but he refused my offer. What was I supposed to do? So what, this Prada bag was bought in cocaine and heroin baggies? Don’t ask, don’t tell, right?
My theories were confirmed years later when, with increased use of Facebook, I decided to Google him. Low and behold, he had a Facebook account!
And he was updating his statues from jail.
Well, it could have been a lot worse. I could have gotten wrapped up in all his drug-dealery, I could have been molested, I could have been shot in the face. But I’m not going to lie, hanging out with David was a ton of fun and I got a European cell phone, a Prada bag, and some yummy dinners out of it. Meeting people from sketchy internet chat rooms is totally trashy, but at least it makes for a good story.
In London, the pubs close at 11pm. I suppose that’s a decent time for everyone to go home, relax and get ready for the next day, but when you’re an underage study abroad student FUCK NO, IT’S TOO EARLY TO STOP DRINKING! So what does one do when the bell is rung and the barman yells out “last call”?
Head to Jubilee Gardens, of course.
Back when I was drinking there, it was called “Millennium Park.” I think they’ve since renamed it because of all the trashy things my mates and I used to do there – the new website touts it as “a new green landmark for London.” Yeah. Okay. There is nothing green about London except for maybe mushy peas. Anyway, it was dubbed Millennium Park because it is the space is situated below the world-reknowned London Eye, built to commemorate the new Millennium. You know – that big-ass ferris wheel with cool space-pod-looking things which help tourists see London’s landscape in exchange for raping their wallets.
Jubilee Gardens is close to King’s College, where I studied. It’s the perfect place to loiter about with a couple of beer cans, maybe some boxed wine, or a plastic 2 Liter bottle of Strongbow Cider, and get drunk off your ass for cheap. No cops will bother you here, in fact, they are pretty nonexistent. And everyone keeps to themselves really, which is nice, because I don’t like being mugged.
There are three types of people who hang out at Jubilee Gardens: 1) drug addicts who just want to shoot up, 2) horny couples who apparently don’t own an flat where they can have sex, and 3) my drunken asshole friends. We used to play a very naughty game; the third group would try and sit “uncomfortably close” to the other two groups, inching over every so often until we were almost on top of a heroin needle or engaging in group sex. We just wanted to see how close those other two groups of people would let us get before moving away in pursuit of their “hobbies.”
You don’t have to visit Jubilee Gardens at night to get sloppy though. Just go during the daytime, when families bring their children to the park to play games, or old people come to sit in the sun. Since there are no “open container” laws in London, feel free to pop a wine cork into the air and chug as much vino as your heart desires. No one will stop you otherwise, and when you get too drunk to go home, just take a nap in the park.
All the homeless people do it.
- Trash-Meter: 1 out of 10 during the day because hey, it’s a public park, but 10 out of 10 at night, especially in the summer (10 being pretty fucking trashy).
- Alcohol Intake: Casual. I mean it’s easy to get really drunk when you bring your own stuff, but once that runs out, you’re screwed.
- Chance of getting laid: Quite good, actually. You don’t even have to be a prostitute to do so, just be really horny and find a friend.
- Final verdict: I say “HERE HERE!” to any place that will let me get smashed outside in nature. The ambiance of the London Eye just adds to the awesomeness of your intoxicated and/or oversexed state at Jubilee Gardens.
Between Belvedere Road and Westminster Bridge Road, London
Neighborhoods: South Bank, near Waterloo Station