Our group member was on the verge of emotional and physical distress. Finally, he
couldn’t take it. To be honest, we all couldn’t take it. Laying down on a bench by the River
Thames, we all glared at my brother who had decided that “almost there” meant only a
quarter of the journey. Our day, however, starts at Convent Gardens.
The area is essentially a market filled with restaurants, stands, and carts. Attracting
large crowds daily, Convent Gardens is a great place to eat and enjoy the street performers.
Cheap clothes and the occasional knock-off bag can be purchased at the clothing stalls to
the side of the market. Once everybody had their fix, we essentially had the rest of the day
and London to ourselves before our flight early next morning. Our group had decided we
had had enough of English food, and craved Chinese food. I mean after coming from a
culture with such a rich variety of spices and sauces, there are only so many ways you can
season a potato before the tastes seem to blend. Which brings us to our walking expedition
to explore the sites of the River Thames, all in an attempt to reward ourselves at our final
destination in Chinatown.
It was around OXO Tower where the first cries of dissent and “are we there yet?”
started to come forward from the group. OXO Tower Wharf was built as a power station for
the Post Office and later acquired by the Liebig Extract of Meat Company, which
manufactured Oxo beef stock cubes. Today it is a complex of restaurants and cafes. The
main draw of the building is its Art Deco design. It is also located close to other sites on
London’s South Bank cultural area. We passed by the Globe Theatre, or Shakespeare’s
Globe, is an outdoor theatre serving as a modern reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe
Theatre that burned down in a fire. It was interesting to see the older styled Globe Theatre,
after seeing the modern theatre from the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-
Avon. Other sites in the area included the Tate Modern, the most visited modern art gallery
in the world. I never “understood” modern art to be frank; all I know is that one previous
visit to a modern art gallery left me horribly confused as I was standing in the middle of a
room with speakers blaring a monotonous narration to a story projected on torn walls. It
was around this time when the break down of the group came to its climax, but after a
rousing speech of how this journey would be in vain and that it would all be worth it in the
end after some fried rice we soldiered on.
Drifting away from the modern art was the Somerset House, originally a Tudor
Palace and now it houses different institutes of arts and antiquities. The building itself is a
work of art, and depending on the season the courtyard either houses dancing fountains or
an ice rink. Numerous films have used the area as a location, including Sherlock Holmes,
Shanghai Knights, Love Actually, and a couple of James Bond movies.
After one final intersection we could see the lanterns, and the smell of MSG wafting
in the air and welcoming us into Chinatown. We had done it and finally we would get that
bowl of fried rice. At least that was how it was for everyone else. Since we could get enough
Chinese food back home, we wanted our fill of English food and headed over to a pub.
There we ordered fish and chips, various pies, and slightly seasoned potatoes. The day was
winding down and we were on the last train back to our hotel to get some sleep when
tragedy struck. Unsettled by a lack of weight on his shoulder, my brother turned frantically
from side to side searching and searching; searching for his missing laptop. Postulations
from theft to alien abduction were thrown out before finally settling on the possibility that
he had left it at the restaurant. However, the restaurant had closed by then, but a person
had thankfully stayed late and picked up by the phone alerting my brother that his laptop
was still there. My parents gave him some money and a change of clothes in case he would
miss the train. It turns out that one of the people working in the restaurant also worked in
the café at our hotel. He ended up showing my brother various shortcuts he could take in
order to make it back in time. Even though I’m pretty sure we would never cross paths
again, he was a pretty cool dude. As I saw my brother come in towards the gate with the
laptop in hand, I could see that the mission was accomplished and his collection of Rocky
movies was safely intact.
London was a destination I had been looking forward to even more than Italy.
Maybe it was the appeal of finally going somewhere I could speak English and be
understood, but I think it was also because it was the closest thing to home but still
completely foreign to me. At the end of the day though, it’s the moments you remember not
how many destinations you were able to cram in. People may differ on whether traveling
alone or in a group is better, and some may argue that knowing historical facts about a
building is much more enjoyable to trekking in nature. My trip to London defied the city’s
stereotypes: it only rained one day and most of its inhabitants weren’t curmudgeons but
really helpful and genuine people. Sometimes traveling can be stressful, but that’s what
makes it different from a vacation. If you want to relax go to a spa or just lounge around,
but if you really want to travel and experience then accept that there are going to be a few
sweaty brows along the way. Thanks for reading about my travels, and rants on my brother
and physical exercise, but most of all thanks to everybody that came on the tour. Without
everyone who came, this tour wouldn’t have been possible nor nearly as hilarious.