I landed at Heathrow from Sri Lanka. After a long chat with the immigration officer, I vowed to never again arrive at an airport dressed like a dirty hippy. I’d at least make an effort to shower once in the week before my flight.
Waiting patiently on the other side was Ian. It’d been almost a year since I’d last seen him, in a pub on a cold Auckland night. There was a lot to catch up on as we boarded the tube, which was experiencing its typical Sunday fuckery. Every convenient line was closed, which meant we were well on our way to missing the night’s dinner reservation.
Against all odds we arrived on time, thanks to an Uber driver who thought he was auditioning for Formula One. The restaurant was dark and moody, trendy Londoners imbibing on a bank holiday weekend. As the steak and Italian wine arrived at our table, I felt dumbstruck. This was a long way from eating curry served by a sweaty one-armed man beside an open sewer.
Indeed, this was the theme of my time in London: reverse culture-shock. After ten months in Asia, I’d finally come somewhere that reminded me of home. The streets were ordered, churches replaced temples, there were no more bloody tuk-tuks. Everything was familiar, but it also felt so new.
London’s sights flew past my lens. Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, the Tower, were all consumed. There more museums and art galleries than I could count. I saw Canary Wharf’s drudgery, the City’s opulence and Brixton’s decay. Greenwich, Dalston and Wapping were all stamps in my passport. It was exhilarating, yet exhausting. But when would I next be in London?
With this mindset, I had a whole raft of experiences. A drunken amble through Bethnal Green with a Swedish girl in the middle of the night. Watching Liverpool beat Villarreal in a pub while a lonely old man bleated on about the construction industry. Driving around West London with a complete stranger after I locked myself out of my cousin’s flat.
It was not enough time, but after two weeks in London, I’d made rough plans for a trip through Western Europe. Italy, France, Belgium and Germany beckoned. Then I’d return to Asia. After all, I’d mainly come here to get a new passport. It’d been cheaper to get a new passport in London than fly to New Zealand. While I waited for this shiny black document, Edinburgh and Liverpool beckoned.