Transitional Tourist

It’s funny, the way you know that you really belong somewhere is that you never go and see the things that make that place famous.

If you live in New York City, you just don’t go to the Empire State Building, for example. My best friend lived in NYC for years, and I think the only time she went to the Statue of Liberty or any of that stuff was when a starry-eyed friend like me came to visit.

I never understood that about her, until I moved to London. That first year, man, I went EVERYWHERE! Any chance to pass by Big Ben, hop on a train and go to Oxford, wander around the Tower of London, I took it. Fast-forward a couple years, and I barely ventured out of Camberwell, the neighborhood where I lived. I spent 98% of my going-out time in local pubs just sitting around with friends. When people came to visit, I sent them on their own to the Tower.

We’re in the transitional phase now, in Silicon Valley. Before I get all comfy and this tech / beach / California thing gets normal, I’m going to get out there and have some adventures.

Top five so far:

1. Google campus

2. Santa Cruz boardwalk

3. Big Sur

4. L.A.

5. Wine country

Someday, when I’m blogging about life on a sustainable urban windfarm in San Francisco, I’ll look back on these first several months with a chuckle.

Well, if you’re reading this, Future Me, don’t get too smug. You were a tourist once, too.

 

 

O London!

In a few short weeks, I’ll be off on a new adventure to the Americas.  I don’t want to leave you, London, but let’s not be sad about it.

We’ve had some lovely times together… the Royal Wedding, followed by a new prince, the Diamond Jubilee, the Olympics.

There were dark times too…the summer riots, when you burned for days and days.  Sitting in a pub with the windows boarded up.  Everyone nervous, unsure.  It was a while before we felt right again.

London, you introduced me to shandies, scones and clotted cream, castles, egg cups.  I think I’ve said “sorry!” and “cheers” more in these past few years than in all my years before you.

You put new ideas in my head of how things could be.  You gave me new dreams to dream about.

Remember the first time I saw you?  Emerged from the Underground with my life in 2 suitcases; bleary-eyed, I stood there blinking at impossible zig zags of traffic, cars, black cabs, red double decker buses, people and cameras, union jacks and neon blinking signs, a craggy spine of pubs and banks and possibilities.

That feeling in my chest – that surge of fearful joy as I took it all in, in one breath.  And stepped into it, setting my feet to your rhythm.  Tuning my heartbeat to yours.

Mementos from adventures…London Coffee Festival, Guinness tour in Dublin, Red Cullen brew from Scotland, Royal Wedding commemorative energy drink, German smoking men, medal from the Royal Marines 10k Commando Challenge

Ode to Camberwell

Your chimney-spiked spine

rises from the grimy, paved street.

Brick-faced, blackened with age, window-lined vacant eyes

watching.

Camberwell, you are

huddled masses of black jackets,

grey hoodies, black umbrellas, plastic covered buggies

splattered with rain and red buses with steaming people.

From somewhere tucked inside

your alley, a child cries, the laughing screech of a fox,

music drifts and blends

into sooty, wood spiced smoke.

A siren tears through your street while

vacant window eyes watch.

glorious!

Like any savvy Londoner, the instant I see sunshine I hit the streets.  Because you just don’t know when you will see that sun again!  Yesterday was glorious.  Glorious!  Armed with a treasure map, my friend and I went out seeking the perfect coffee shop.  We ambled over Tower Bridge into Shoreditch, snaking our way through tourists, sucking in every atom of sunshine and dazzling London-ness we could suck.

Shoreditch loves to surprise you.  Rows and rows of respectable Victorian buildings line the alley, the narrow street curves, and then SMACK! there’s a cartoon acid trip or scrabble board painted onto an otherwise reasonable brick wall.

Photo courtesy of Alexia

Somehow we ended up on Brick Lane (do all roads lead to Brick Lane?), found Redchurch St., and THERE, behold! Allpress Espresso.  It’s across from The Painted Lady salon and a gigantic graffiti squirrel, but it doesn’t look hipster.  In fact, its storefront is kind of boring.  The music is chill (acoustic guitary, but not, like, peppered with industrial sounds or whiney folk political rants) and the décor is simple and pleasing.  We slid onto a wooden bench, and sipped very decent lattes.  The sandwiches were toasty and salty, with cool things in them.  Success!

O London!  You gave us not one, but TWO beautiful weekend days!  We forgive you for the past 5 weeks of unholy cold and rain!  We forgive you!!

(Better get off the internet and back outside, before you change your mind.)

self aware

Once you set foot inside the densely-packed warehouse off of Brick Lane in Shoreditch, something in you snaps.  The self-awareness courses through your veins like a shot of fair-trade, Ethiopian espresso (with citrus notes.)   You’re at The London Coffee Festival, and it’s offiical.

You are a coffee snob.  (And dangerously close to hipster.)

That’s right, I went to The London Coffee Festival with a couple of like-minded friends.  We waited in the cold, splattering rain in a queue that wrapped around the warehouse for 20 minutes just to get in.  You can judge all you want, judgey McJudgerson, but it was freaking awesome.  Booth after booth of coffee samples, carefully prepared from shiny espresso machines.  Barrista contests!  Not one, not two, but THREE espresso martini bars.  Places to lounge and sip your excessively delicious sustainably-sourced fifth shot of espresso in bean bag chairs, the live acoustic guitar music mellowing out your electric caffeine high to a pleasant buzz.

My lactose-intolerant friend found a new soya product especially made to froth in her espresso machine.  I almost bought a reusable coffee cup designed to look like a disposable coffee cup.  Is this madness?  Or genius?  I don’t care!  I want it!  We stopped at a booth and waited for 10 minutes for this guy to magic us some coffee I couldn’t pronounce.  We wanted to see what ‘gamey’ coffee tasted like.  Give me 100g of that, that stuff I can’t pronounce!!  It does taste ‘gamey’!  I believe you!  I can taste the ‘hint of apple’, I swear!

Are we coffee snobs?  Yes.  But self aware snobs.  And that makes us better than other snobs.