The Final Chapter

Trip Start Nov 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 21, 2006

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Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Friday, November 24, 2006

My final four days of the trip in London turned out to be a bit of an anticlimax. Over the course of my trip I made so many friends who were either from London or would be working in London that I thought four days (even with the week I spent earlier) wouldn't be enough to make the rounds. As it turns out, the only thing more unreliable than backpackers checking their email is backpackers returned home or working in a foreign city checking their email. I found enough people to still make it a full weekend (barely, as we'll get into).

The final leg started with the only part of the weekend I had planned in advance, a night out with Gordon and Lucy, the British couple I traveled through Lao with. They were the prototypical perfect couple to travel with; so comfortable and secure in their relationship that I could hang out with Gordon and Lucy wouldn't feel abandoned or I could hang out with Lucy and Gordon wouldn't feel threatened. It would be interesting to see if they were different in their home environment. The one thing I was concerned about was, if Gordon had shed his "Asia beard," would I be able to recognize him. Sure enough he had chopped it off to look like a presentable member of society, but thankfully I sort of stood out with my double-barrel bags that it wasn't an issue.

Meeting up with Gordon and Lucy turned out to be a very rewarding choice. The three of us and another couple had dinner at a pub outside Leicester Square, and they would hear nothing of me paying for my meal or drinks. Gordon was of the backpacker school of "paying it forward." Basically, when you travel long enough, whether you seek it out or not, you find yourself benefiting from the kindness of strangers. Whether it was Kiwi Scott taking me in sight unseen for close to a week in Hamilton or the numerous friends who took me in, showed me around and gave me one-in-a-kind experiences, these sorts of things happen all the time. Very rarely do these people expect any compensation in return. This is because they know they were or will be the recipient of such treatment themselves, so it's just a continuous cycle of putting up people and helping them out with the unspoken idea that the next person would do the same thing. I knew more than a few people who'd be coming through New York shortly after I was getting home, so I would have the opportunity to pay it forward myself. After dinner we also got a free movie at the theater Gordon worked at (no, he wasn't a ticket taker), which apparently boasted the biggest screen in Leicester Square, which may or may not make it the biggest in England.

The following morning I got some good and bad news. I had to be up at 8 in the morning when the two had to be out to work, but at least I wouldn't have to deal with my bags because Gordon could store them at his theater. I couldn't pick them up until 6, so had 10 hours to kill in London, as well as 10 hours to figure out where I'd be spending the night. From Gordon's place, I walked through Kentish Town into Camden on to Regents Park. Naturally, as soon as I got right smack in the middle of the expansive park, the best of English weather arrived and it started pissing it down. Nothing like getting soaking wet to kick off 10 straight hours of roving a city. I eventually made it to a Tube stop to get to the Natural History Museum, Gordon's leading suggestion to kill most of the day. Not only is the museum massive, it's free, which meant I could go in, peruse one section, leave, walk around the city and come back. The highlight of the museum was its dinosaur section, which not only had one of the most extensive fossil collections, but also included a completely random Denver the Last Dinosaur reference. In between museum tours I walked through now-sunny London to check out Knightsbridge, also Gordon's recommendation. I really only knew of Knightsbridge by listening to the Rolling Stones, but Gordon thought it would be fun for me to check out the hoity-toitiest section of London. I stepped into Harrods, but after drawing some curious stares and upturned noses I realized my kind wasn't tolerated around these here parts.

I got back to Leicester in time to pick up my bags and for it to start raining. Perfect. Especially since I still had no place to stay. I did make plans with Sarah (the Aussie from Balmer's in Interlaken) for Saturday, but that didn't much help me tonight. Eventually I headed back out to have a couple pints at Kevin's local. He couldn't put me up, but at least I'd have something to do for a little while. I also found out, that I had let Kevin know I'd be in sooner, he could've gotten me tickets for that weekend's Arsenal-Newcastle match. Considering the one main thing I didn't get to do that I really wanted to was attend a Premier League match, this was a bit of a downer. Finally Jimmy and Lloyd came through for the weekend (the sketchy couch situation was covered in the previous London blog). They weren't going out, but they were fully taking advantage of their access to a bar full of free booze.

Saturday I met up with Sarah and her boyfriend James at the Camden Markets. I had been hearing a lot about these, so it was a good choice. The markets are funky, and definitely a representation of the neighborhood. It was more fun to look around than actually buy anything, which makes it a pretty typical market. That night, Sarah and James were invited to a party, so I got to be the token American to tag along. This night, my sleeping arrangements would the crawl space in their massively sweet apartment under the stairs where they kept a mattress on the floor. I was just like Harry Potter. If I had magical powers. And if Harry's parents also stored their porn collections in Harry's rooms. At least I was greeted in the morning to one of Australians' finest traditions: the post-pissup fry up. We spent the morning swapping stories from the road, including Sarah's conquest with an AFLer (of which James was incredibly proud) while having our bacon, eggs and toast.

The rest of the day consisted of taking advantage of the unseasonably warm weather playing soccer and other ridiculous games the twins had created during their time living across from a park. My final day was disappointingly quiet. You always envision going out with a bang. But as it turns out, when you're not in a hostel, and instead staying with friends where Monday night means little more than there's work the next day, there's not going to be a whole lot going on. Instead of a massive party with like 30 friends, I just had a couple quiet drinks with Jimmy and Lloyd at Belushi's. The next day, I packed my bags and headed on the Tube to Heathrow. It was surreal. A year (well, a week short of a year) after shaking my dad's hand outside JFK and boarding a plane for LA and on to Auckland, I was heading home. It was a good three or four months later than when I expected to be doing this when I first started. And while it would be great to return to friends and family, and the creature comforts of a regular bed to sleep on, dresser drawers, dry towels and not having to recycle clothes, all I could do was fantasize about where I could be going next instead. It was an amazing year. I created more memories than I ever could have imagined and made more friends than I ever would have expected. I did things I never would've dreamed of or even realistically I could have expected myself to pull off. I changed in ways that were so unforeseen, it almost felt like an outer-body experience, like I had instead created a special backpacker persona. It felt like I had been gone a lifetime. And yet it all went by in the blink of an eye.
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