Wednesday, March 26, 2008

LONDON, LONDON, LONDON!!!!

You may know what happened. You may have heard. Maybe you didn’t.

I woke up on Thursday morning feeling drowsy. As I laid in bed staring at the ceiling I was confused. The metal shutters on my balcony shielded even the faintest ray of sunshine from grazing my visage- and I was disoriented.

What time was it? Was today the day?

And as I rolled over to check my clock, my assumptions were confirmed. Today was the day I would leave for Rome. I was excited, but I felt apprehension in my heart. Not apprehension with regard to my intent---rather, I had that sinking feeling in my stomach. The feeling that something wasn’t right.

Instincts are rarely wrong.

I gripped the blinds cord and pulled open the shades tentatively, applying just enough pressure to peek between the thin white metal curtains. As the light streamed into my room I slid onto the balcony. I sensed it. Chaos in the air. To be completely honest, I didn’t need a sixth sense to tell me that unrest was gripping the city. People spilled onto the streets, large stacks of trash dotted the forseeable future in a multitude of colors. Cars swerved and stacked on the sidewalk, an unruly braid of metal and glass.

Today was the culmination of weeks of protest- Greece’s workers are in unrest over pension disputes. The buses are on strike. Herds of people are walking in the street hoping to find a taxi that’s has enough room to justify one becoming a temporary contortionist. Good thing I did my yoga yesterday.

Personal space or a ride to work? It’s your choice.

It was 12 pm and the airport is 15 minutes away. Our flight was at 3 pm. Plenty of time on a normal day. Every taxi we hailed (the ones that bothered to stop) rejected us.

“ Tha ithela pame sto areodromio para kalo” (We would like to go to the airport please)

“Ohee, then pao sto aerdromio” (No, I’m not going to the airport)

x 20

By the time we actually found a taxi to drive us, Byron and I were squeezed in the back seat of a fuel-efficient mini cab between two decrepit Greek ladies who insisted on talking to one another through us. They shouted right though our chests as if we were transparent. Let’s not even mention the old man in the front seat who kept turning around and bridging half of his body into the backseat to tell the women to SHUT UP. He was on edge. A little bit too much Greek coffee this morning?

For a brief moment all was silent until the crackle of the radio injected unintelligible Greek into the cab, igniting conversations again.

Try to keep up- there are six people in the cab including the driver who is dead silent (and who I’m sure is pretty much just charging arbitrarily at this point). Not only was traffic the worst I’ve ever seen it in two months, but so was the tension level. A chorus of off-color horns rattled and echoed off the pavement like improv jazz. Everything would have been mildly entertaining if we were not becoming increasingly late for our flight. Not only did we have to drop off the odd trio, but we still had to get to the airport ourselves.

I was getting nervous. I had never missed a flight before.

Well long story short: I did miss it. By six minutes at that. I was distressed because I lost out on the $350 ticket to Rome- they couldn’t refund me since it was a discounted flight. Well that was that, no complaining. Nonetheless, I had a very long weekend and I was determined to travel somewhere rather than sitting at home all week. Byron felt the same way. So I immediately started searching prices and found a ticket to London for just under $500. Obviously this blew my budget to hell, but considering they were last minute tickets, the price was reasonable. Here’s the clincher: I knew I would have free lodgings in London. A good friend of mine from high school, Yomi, just happens to be studying abroad in central London this semester. So I Skyped him in the airport. The conversation went like this:

Dan: Hey Yomi, we’re coming to London Gatwick tomorrow at 4:30 pm. You have room right?

Yomi: What….? Uhm, yes,

Dan: Good, see you then.

Yomi: Ok, bye.

Fast forward to the next day (Friday) and I was in London. I couldn’t believe it. I was actually in London on a Friday night. Consider this: I live in another country by myself and I fly myself around the world at my leisure. Sometimes I really feel that I have absolute control of my own destiny.

London is so cold. And windy. And wet. When we arrived I felt the chilly air stabbing me through my thin cotton longsleeve. Bear in mind that I was actually hot wearing this in Greece. It is always nice to see Yomi. We have known each other for 6 or 7 years now and we are on the same wavelength. We’ve gone through a lot of the same experiences during our formative periods so there is naturally a myriad of things to talk about. Lo and behold, Yomi and some of his roommates had prepared sort of an Easter weekend feast. We came just in time. It was the best eating since I’ve been in Europe- mostly because I’m barely eating in Greece. Everything was homemade: Fried chicken, barbeque chicken and curry chicken. Mashed potatoes, rice, shrimp, veggie stirfry and fresh baked brownies. Oh and Bacardi. LOL. The meal was great! What a great welcoming gift. Then we headed off to Picadilly Square to check out the club scene. The Square is beautiful at night, thousands of people and just as many glittering, glowing lights contrasting the traditional Gothic architecture. Quite a sight- definitely reminded me of Times Square, but with a distinctly English feel.

The club was disappointing. Besides paying an arm and leg for drinks, the music wasn’t that good. Techno. It was awkward to dance to, although the Brits seemed to be enjoying it. Oh- I should add that we got rejected from the first club because I didn’t have an ID with birth date/. I had my international student card, but my passport and license were in the bags back home. I’m not used to carrying them because there is no age for..well…anything in Greece. The club was ok, but we were all tired and cold. By the end of the night we were sitting on the benches waiting for Yomi to close the deal with some girl and get the number. 45 minutes later I found him back on the floor dancing and I was pretty pissed because we were ready to get home. So I gave him the stink-eye that said, “Get your shit together and let’s GO”. Haha.

I have to say, his apartment is SO nice. I mean genuinely nice for a 30-40 year old, not a student. Hardwood floors, crown molding, a huge panoramic view of the city, three bedrooms, stainless appliances and two huge marble-layered bathrooms. I felt pretty bad about my unmistakably student quality living in Greece, but on the whole London is a much nicer city than Thessaloniki in terms of housing, so I can’t complain. I also want to say before I forget that Yomi cooked for us every day, several times a day and he’s a damn good cook. Different types of meats, really good veggies, rices, pancakes and eggs for breakfast. The works everyday. I tried to warn him that when he comes to Greece my lack of cooking isn’t for lack of love, it’s just that we don’t really have the means in terms of space and lifestyle factors to cook like that. Greeks basically don’t eat anything but pastries, and the grocery stores reflect that for sure.


Saturday was exciting- we knew we were going to do the whole tourist bit. Yomi helped us navigate the intricate (but surprisingly well organized) London subway system known as The Tube. We visited Buckingham palace, Picadilly Square (which is equally beautiful in the light) and London Bridge. We also saw Big Ben, the River Thames and Trafalgar Square. It was surreal, I couldn’t believe I was there. I have always dreamed of going to London- I dreamed so hard that I thought maybe London WAS a dream. But there I was, standing in the flesh, looking at these beautiful and ancient monuments. The pictures can’t do justice, but they are interesting. The link will be posted at the end of this blog.
One thing that I can say truly changed my life forever was the Dali Museum. It cost 12 Pound to get in, but it was so worth it. I realized he is one of my favorite artists. I realized that if I had real wealth, I wouldn’t buy stupid jewelry or cars, I would buy art. There are pictures of that as well. It was a good night- we went to the club again that night. This time it was much better. The club was called “TigerTiger. It was huge- about 6 floors with different themes. Much better than the first night.

Sunday was Easter and we got up early to go to Yomi’s uncle’s house- the trip was abouth an hour and a half away on the tube. It was nice to be with a family, anybody’s family for Easter. We ate Nigerian food- it was really good. Stewed tilapia, rice and sweet plantains. I enjoyed it. When we rode back late that night we were exhausted.

Monday and Tuesday.What.A.Blur.

We got lost in the London underground, sipped coffee at quiet cafes in the heart of the city and generally enjoyed ourselves. I couldn’t have asked for a better time.

As I look back on the experience (although it is in the very recent past), I can say with conviction that although England was nice, I definitely made the right decision to study in Greece. Besides the beautiful weather of the Mediterranean, I must confess that the people are generally nicer in Greece. And while London certainly has a rich history and a deep past, it lacks culture in general. I feel like it is a superfluous extension of the States. And the accent gets old. Quickly.

Now I am on the plane back to Thessaloniki. London was amazing. I can check it off my life’s “To-Do” list. But I will be happy to go home. Or, “home”.



EDIT**Pictures to come soon!

1 comment:

Angela said...

A minimal amount of prep would have prevented all of this...

But no consequence, when you run out of money - you just call home...

Nothing else spells i.n.d.e.p.e.n.d.e.n.c.e