London After Seven Years

Posted by on Aug 4, 2007 in England | 4 Comments

Now that I’m in London I’m a little overwhelmed. Not by the city, I’ve been here before and know my way around. It’s the little things like price tags and the fact that the sidewalks have a gentle slope where they meet roads so one doesn’t need to climb up and down high curbs when walking down the street. There’s also an awful lot of white people here, more than I’ve seen in 14 months. It was quite funny to see them sunbathing in Hyde Park today.

People are staring at me and at least one man said “oh my god…” when I walked by today. I had my arms and feet decorated with black henna in Zanzibar and most people in London appear to think it’s tattoos. It’s not just the henna either, I feel like I look like a homeless person. I gave away as much possible clothes in Kenya and am left with a few t-shirts and some ugly pants. I see that the 80′s revival in clothing has continued in my absence and all the girls seem especially “girly.”

When I arrived at Heathrow the other day I realized that the so-called “airbus” that I was instructed to take into town hasn’t existed for years and finally decided to take the tube. There was an express train to Paddington Station that would have saved me about one hour but at 15 pounds it was no bargain and I would still have to transfer twice. Instead, I took the blue line until it’s connection with the line I needed despite having to backtrack a bit. With two large bags, my carryon full of heavy electronics and a mailing tube I decided the least number of transfers the better.

I haven’t been here for seven years and there are a few obvious changes. I have seen no old buses or taxis and the neighborhood I’ve always stayed in seems a little more classy. My hostel room was full of young travelers with limited English abilities. Traveling in the third world necessitates speaking the local language or English and I haven’t met so many poor English-speaking travelers in a very long time.

My main goals here are to see the Tate Modern, built since I was last in London, and re-visit all my favorite museums and neighborhoods in town. Even though I won’t be paying for any big “sights” just eating fish and chips tonight cost me twenty dollars.

Posting before I left Africa turned out to be difficult and despite writing most of my Zanzibar story I was faced with firewalls and a constantly-busy hostel computer. Since it’s not safe to walk around Nairobi after dark I was confined to the hostel because I refused to pay for cab rides just to use the internet. Before I left I did a lot of shopping, filling an extra huge duffel bag with souvenirs and gifts. My sister and mom had specific requests, which I was happy to meet after getting my brother much better presents along the way (he got a sheesha, aka hookah, from Egypt and hand made knives from Kashgar).

Leaving Africa wasn’t hard and I was in the air before I realized I was leaving for good. East Africa was the least interesting culture I visited on my trip, excluding Ethiopia of course. I feel bad saying that and I wish I could compare the over-touristed countries I visited to places like Mozambique, Malawi or Namibia. I suspect that I will eventually visit West Africa and have high hopes for something more fitting my interests.