Friday, June 29, 2012

The Beach

Here's another post where I will rant about how perfect my life is. Despite various life vicissitudes, such as seeing loved ones getting old or sick, facing impeding death of close relatives, confronting one's own health issues, struggling to find love, purpose and mindfulness, despite all that - I look at the life I've lived so far and think of it as pretty fucking amazing. Wow, what an eclectic collection of adventures and experiences it has been!

July 3rd 2011 - Travis's birthday camping trip, Groveland, California

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Pissing Around in London

The European part of our trip was not in our original itinerary. London was added simply because it was a free "layover" from Delhi to Los Angeles. I decided I'd stay a week since I had a couple friends in London and I'd never been there before. Monica visited London for a couple days and then went to Romania for three weeks to visit her family and friends. I decided to go to Romania for my last week, and in between visit other friends in Switzerland.

Peeking through the trees at the London Bridge.
Prices in Europe were a real shock, especially coming from inexpensive India and Nepal. Luckily, I didn't have to pay for lodging in this European part of the trip, which was a big help. Jess and Kaf were wonderful hostesses, and live in a great neighborhood called Peckham, on the outskirts of London.

It was exciting to hear Brit rock playing in caf├ęs and stores. So much good music has come from England over the years--I've definitely been obsessed with British bands and wondered what London is like for a long time. Dream come true.

Monica and I fit a lot into her two-day visit. First we went to see the "Changing of the Guard" at Buckingham Palace. It was very traditional--like the rest of London.

Then we checked out the gift store. Monica bought some luscious soaps for her mom and I bought a guardsman's hat (in the kids' section), which I wore around town all day. It's a good conversation starter.

We did a lot of walking--over to Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Covent Garden, Piccadilly Circus, Soho, Trafalgar Square and so on.

I loved London. I thought it was a very liveable city and, for a moment, even seriously considered moving there over New York. Maybe one day I'll call London my home, but for now I'm just so happy to be back in the US that I can't think about living abroad.

One major drawback to London (as well as Zurich and Bucharest, and probably most parts of Europe) is that everyone smokes fags. It's a real bummer going into a restaurant, bar or club and suffering to find air to breathe, waking up the next day and finding your clothes and hair stinking of cigarette smoke. It brought me back to the late 1990s, early 2000s, before smoking was banned in most parts of the US. Get with the times, Europe!

Smoking in the bathroom.
Monica and I went to the British Museum.

My favorite thing in the museum was the "gut parka" pictured below. Read the description; it's pretty interesting.

Monica recognized someone she knew: Emperor Trajan.

We later saw a hilarious statue of him in Bucharest.

What the hell?
Walking over the London bridge in the rain, we saw many of the old, traditional double-decker buses passing by. This was a very London moment.

It's such a beautiful city, very pedestrian- and bike-friendly. We walked along the Thames River and enjoyed the views.

A modern building along the water.
Later that night, we went to see Kaf's boyfriend's band, Story Books, play. They were great! Check out their new music video, Peregrine.

Monica took this photo. Kaf's boyfriend, Kris, is the singer.
The next day Monica left to go to Romania, and I remained for a few more days. It was kind of sad after she left, but I went out, did a lot of walking and met a ton of people on the streets. Everyone was so friendly.

I made it to the Tate Modern, but I wasn't very impressed. This might have had something to do with the fact that I didn't pay extra for any of the rotating exhibits.

In the Damien Hirst room pictured above, there was a skull covered with diamonds. What's funny is that I saw something quite similar in the British Museum the day before, except it was from Mexico in the 15th-16th century.

I spent a day with my friends Jessica and Katherine, the girls I was staying with.

Loading up the film.
They're in a band called the Smoke Fairies, and were working on putting together elaborate box sets for their new album, Blood Speaks. One facet of the box set is a unique photograph of each of the girls, so our day out in London was a perfect opportunity to snap some of those shots.

Here's a video of one of their songs from Blood Speaks, called Awake. You can stream the entire album here, at the bottom of the page.

We went to the Tower of London. It was great because Jess and Kaf had never been there before (it's a tourist destination).

I ate a Piccadilly Whip from an ice cream truck. It was like nothing I'd ever had before. It was much creamier than a normal soft-serve ice cream you'd get in the states. It's basically an ice cream version of thick whipped cream, if you can imagine that. Then they stick a chocolate wafer in it.

We joined in on a free tour led by an enthusiastic Yeoman Warder.

The Tower of London is basically a castle, founded in 1066, in the middle of London.

I looked up and saw some monkeys. I expected them to be real from our experiences in Bali, Thailand and India, but they were fake!

There were a couple rooms devoted to arms and armour. The most interesting part to me was the armour below. I'd never seen anything like that before.

Got to protect your assets!
Legend says that six ravens guard the Tower. If they leave the fortress, the kingdom and Tower will fall. There are seven ravens at the Tower today (one extra, just in case) who respond only to the "Ravenmaster."

I found one.
It was such a gorgeous day--we really lucked out with the weather.

Loading more film into the lomo cameras.
Trying on ancient "hard hats."
That's one tiny dog! This man needs protection.
We grabbed a drink and a bite to eat at The Minories, a cool pub in the area.

Stopped in a lomo store to ask a couple questions.

The Gherkin
On Brick Lane, the sun was shining strong.

Took a peak in the Rough Trade store, and grabbed a copy of Snipe. Kaf has an column where she interviews locals in the community. It took me a while before I figured out that "lollipop lady" translates to "crossing guard" in American English.

I think I spotted a very tiny Banksy...

I walked through the insanely trendy and out-of-my-budget Borough Market.

So San Francisco.
Then I continued walking and walking and walking...

I don't know exactly where this was taken ... just another beautiful London scene.
I met up with my friend Nicole from SF, who lives in London now. She took me to the Dalston area to check out the nightlife. Nicole is a fashion designer. Check out her blog, Fashion Forestry.

Over the weekend, I went to the Flower Market on Columbia Road. It was so packed full of people ... lots of life and plants and flowers.

I had a chat with a nice guy on the street who introduced me to two of his four young kids. His name is John Birchall and he's a hair stylist. Check out his website here.

I went into some local shops and found a sweet map store: The Future Mapping Company. All of the maps are designed by a local guy and include interesting geographical information. I splurged and bought the map pictured below, which includes information about fault lines. This map will always remind me of my world trip.

Details include plate tectonic boundaries and direction of movement, capital and major cities, rivers, roads, airports, peaks, time zones and North/South Pole projections.
Soon after I bought the map, I went back out into the crowds and got pick pocketed. I was being careless and had my wallet on the top of my tote bag, which doesn't zip. I think I let my guard down since I was back in an English-speaking place. I went back to the map store to see if I'd left my wallet in there, though I pretty much knew I didn't. The owner was really nice and let me use his cell phone to cancel my credit and debit cards, and even offered me some cash.

I spent the rest of the afternoon at the police station filing a report, just in case the wallet was ever found. I told the officer I'd been all over the world and this was the first time I'd been pick pocketed. He was very nice and apologetic on London's behalf, but told me this happens all the time. He checked the CCTV recordings to see if it was caught on video, but it was way too crowded to see anything.

Jess and Kaf told me they've had other friends visit from the States who've been pick pocketed in London. I don't really hear about it happening in the US so much, but I guess it's pretty common in big European cities.

Street musicians near the Flower Market.
I read good things about Ben's Cookies, so I checked it out on a quiet afternoon. It was scrumptious!

I went to Liberty Department Store on Regent Street. I loved the design and layout of the store. A must-see if you get to London.

I felt like I was back in Southeast Asia in this room of (over-priced) rugs.
Walking down famous Carnaby Street.
I thought this was an interesting idea.
I highly recommend the Wellcome Collection. It was my favorite museum in London, and it was 100% free! It's basically a collection of Sir Henry Wellcome's personal collection, which explores the connections between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future. He was a quirky guy.

Back in Peckham, I got a jerk chicken plate from a tasty Caribbean restaurant around the corner from Jess and Kaf's apartment.

I agree. Five out of five stars.
There are a lot of Caribbean restaurants in the neighborhood, because there are a lot of Caribbean immigrants in the area. In front of me in line were two guys from the Cayman Islands. I knew the restaurant must be legit.

I also went to the famous Camden area. I ended up befriending a couple Indian guys working at a store in the area. One of them took me around and introduced me to all of his friends, who also worked at shops in Camden.

Amazing holographic art in Camden.
Cyberdog "Earth Station."
Taken from the Cyberdog website:
Chi Chi The Space Chihuahua invented the brand when he crash landed on Earth at the end of the 20th century and noticed the available clothing was too boring - the people of Earth surely deserved something more exciting!

The result was a mash up of techno funky colours and cutting edge future shock which inspired a generation of clubbers and space cadets alike! Cyberdog has since morphed into a brand with a more accessible urban underground vibe, which can only be expected from a company with its roots now firmly established in London’s Coolest hot spot, Camden Town.
After Camden, I walked to Primrose Hill, then over to Regents Canal, all along the water until I got to Little Venice, and then on to Abbey Road. London is actually a very walkable city if the weather's not too crummy.

Gorgeous walking area.

Abbey Road Studios! I wonder who was inside...
Outside the studio.
Dream come true: walking across Abbey Road.
I went to Pollock's Toy Museum (just okay).

There are so many coins in British currency, I was utterly confused.

I actually just exchanged my leftover pounds and Euros into USD today.
I hit up Yumchaa Tea Shop, which was recommended by a friend.

Could be San Francisco.
I also took a stroll through Notting Hill. I met a cool guy named Graeme who took me to his friend's pub called the Mau Mau Bar. If you're in the area, I recommend going there, especially if you're into live music.

I had a wonderful time in London, and am so glad to have friends like Jess and Kaf. If you two are reading this, you are always welcome to crash at my place, wherever I may be. Buy their music here!

Quiet night at home, drinking tea and eating desserts.