My journey began on an overnight Red Eye departing from Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, NC and arriving at Heathrow in London. During the flight, I sat next to a decent fellow, and, in the spirit of exploration, began a pleasant conversation with him. There is always a way to connect with a willing stranger if you courageous and polite. He was a 32 year old voice professor from Charlotte, NC who was traveling to London to visit his partner. We discussed work, relationships, and personal aspirations. Currently, he is working on his Ph.D. in music. His passion for music was fostered by his upbringing in an African American church. While singing in the church choir, he learned the basics of music and the unique style of expression only found in southern Black churches. He decided to make a living through music, and went on to study the craft in college.
Once we arrived at Heathrow, we decided to get a light breakfast together. With luggage in tow, we made our way to central London where the weather was cool and mild. I knew I would need to buy heavier clothing before nightfall. At the cafe, I enjoyed British coffee and my companion had a tea. He was eager to introduce me to London’s nightlife, and invited me out for dinner and drinks with him and his partner. Honestly, I was surprised by the man’s generosity. After all, I had only met him hours ago. He seemed trustworthy though, and I thought it would be nice to have someone familiar with the city accompany me. So, I trusted my intuition and accepted his invitation. We said our farewells, and parted ways. There was still time to kill before I checked into to my AirBnB. So, I decided to do a little shopping and explore Westminster. My mind had been set on shopping at Zara and Topshop since I boarded the plane in Charlotte.
Although it was a Monday morning, Westminster Square was quite crowded. I suppose that was to be expected considering it is such a draw for tourists. I viewed the typical sights: the Palace of Westminster and her northern tower, Big Ben, Westminster Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Parliament Square, and, of course, Buckingham Palace. I heard that Parliament Square was a popular place for protesters, but, to my disappointment, no one was out “fighting the power”. As I was walking around, I notice that there were crowded double decker tour buses everywhere. Curious, I asked someone how I could get a ticket for a tour. The gentleman smiled slightly, and told me that those were regular city buses not tour buses. We laughed about it, and continued the conversation.
He turned out to be from Israel, but now found himself couchsurfing throughout Europe. He was very much a free spirited, open-minded man, who somehow made his way by doing odd jobs for little money. Apparently, he was a “freegan”, which meant that he adhered to a vegan diet unless the food was free. We vibed so well that we ended up walking around for the better part of the afternoon. He showed me Chinatown, Trafalgar Square, and London’s National Portrait Gallery. He took a bunch of pictures for me, and told me where the best party spots were. Eventually, we talked about more sullen matters, like the wars in Israel. The way he talked about the bombings made it seem like they were as regular as the sunrise. I learned about compulsory military service for the first time ever, and thought about how much of a culture shock it would be for me to experience forced military service. By the end of our excursion, it was nightfall, and I was ready to call it a day. We exchanged social media info, and parted ways. I sent a message to the professor from the plane asking to reschedule our evening dinner until the next day. He obliged. Then, I took the Tube to East London to a neighborhood called Hackney, and impressed myself with how well I navigated a metro system in a foreign city. When I arrived at my destination, I checked in with my AirBnB host, and fell asleep while daydreaming about the day’s events.
When Tuesday morning arrived, I skipped breakfast, and headed back over to Westminster Square to witness the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. While viewing the military choreography, I happened to meet a nice woman from St. Lucia. She was taking in the sites with her husband and son, and we casually began chatting. Apparently, she worked as an electrical engineering contractor while running her own hair salon on the side. I was impressed. She mentioned that her sister lived in Paris, which was such a coincidence because Paris was one of my next destinations. She insisted that I meet her sister once I arrived in France, and we exchanged contact information.
That night, I met the professor and his partner at an Italian restaurant called Princi. Our conversation was pleasant, the food was delicious, and the drinks were pure bliss. I had such a great time. After dinner, we ventured over to a bar called The Yard, and I found myself to be very popular amongst the crowd there, which added to the fun. At the end of the night, I said my farewells to my two new friends, and made my way back to Hackney to prepare for my trip to Amsterdam the next day.