My first real objective after arriving in London was to hear as many English accents as possible. I patiently waited in the hour-long customs line. Nothing. I sat, surreptitiously looking at people on the tube from Heathrow to my hotel. Nothing but a few inaudible murmurs. I kept waiting, and waiting, and waiting. Turns out, like most big cities, London has a whole lot of people from a whole lot of different places. I think spending my youth watching reruns of "Chef!" and "Are You Being Served?" may have spoiled me into thinking everyone in England spoke using the Queen's English, when in actuality only 2% of the population does*.
Moving on to the touristy bits of my visit, there are the obvious attractions that a first-time visitor to London must glimpse: Big Ben, The London Eye, The Globe Theatre, the many museums, and the many pubs that are older than the United States itself. As excited as I was to see those places in person, they still could not surpass my happiness to simply be in London.
My desire to envelop myself in the city was so strong that, looking back on it, the entire trip feels like a whirlwind of adventure. Did I walk down strange, Jack the Ripper-style alleyways? Yes. Purposefully get lost on the un-air conditioned tube just to see where I came up? Definitely. Meet a local and have them invite me to their cousin's going-away party where there's a private bowling alley and free champagne? Of course! Isn't that how all Londoners spend their weekends?
Fish and chips at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Shoppe
When it comes to food and drink, two of the highlights of the trip were EAT. and Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Shoppe. EAT. is a fast-paced, cafe-style eatery with quality food and locations all over the UK, while Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Shoppe is a pub that's stood in that very same spot since 1667 when it was rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1666. These two establishments really gave me a sense of how London is embracing the new while also preserving their heritage.
Back out on the streets, I did find myself lost a few times. Whenever this happened, I did not hesitate to ask someone around me. Everyone I asked was kind, accommodating and very helpful. Some of them even took out their phones to double-check the information they had provided me. Surprisingly, even I was asked for directions a few times.
The only negative bit of the trip was that I had a difficult time sleeping. Let me tell you that jet lag is a very real thing, but heyit's my first jet lag, so even it was exciting in its own way. But even aside from that, whenever I woke up in the hotel room, my mind would start racing and I would simply stay awake. I couldn't pretend that London wasn't waiting just outside the window. It didn't matter if it was 4:30am. I got up; I couldn't help it. "Tired, Andy? Suck it up! Get some coffee and go for a walk; the city will wake you up." And it always did.
Tomorrow: The Newbie Traveler shares some life lessons learned from London and his first international trip.
[All photos: Andy Miles]