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LONDON… My Favorite BIG City in the World!

L O N D O N - E N G L A N D - 2001

If you gave me 10 seconds to name my favorite BIG city in the world… I’d answer LONDON in less than 5 seconds. Primarily for it’s magnificent history, unbelievable entertainment, fantastic culinary efforts, unparalleled cultural diversity, and arguably the BEST people watching on Planet Earth. I can’t even imagine what London’s going to be like for the 2012 Olympic Games coming up this Summer. Where else can you see 10 people from 10 different cultures in 10 minutes? OK, maybe New York City or Singapore; but, I think you see where I’m going with this… LONDON IS ALIVE! And I LOVE it!

The London Eye

When you’re as sarcastic as I am… it becomes quite difficult to take someone serious when they ask you a question that inevitably would be best answered with a smart ass answer. Living in Texas for the past 30 of my almost 42 years of life, and British by birth (England from birth to almost age 12)… if I had a $1 US Bill for every time somebody said “ENGLAND? Have you ever been to London?” I’d have enough money to buy a plane ticket from Austin, Texas to London, England. I was born in a place called Leicester, England about 100 miles North of London in The Midlands. It’s not pronounced “Lie-Chest-Er” either. It’s pronounced “Less-Ter”. Not sure why. It just is. Anyway, I’m not a grammar student and don’t even pretend to be one on TV, so we’ll move on. Hey, so guess what this blog is about? Yep. You guessed it. Czech Republic. Just kidding.

The Union Jack - British Flag
Union Jack - British Flag - 2004

For the 7 of you (or is it 8 now?) who follow my blog, I can honestly say that I have traveled to some fantastic places and built incredible memories across this vast globe; but, hands down, one of my favorite places in the world to return to over and over again is LONDON. I find it difficult to comprehend that there are people who would travel to England and NOT see London. While downright outrageously expensive… It’s a must see on any travel “Bucket List”. Up to this point, it has been very difficult for me to construct a substantial blog about my love of London, and I still don’t think I’m prepared to do it any justice. There will be criticism and opinions; therefore, the best thing I can do is tell MY story about London. Basically… London epitomizes my Austin GlobeTrekker blog slogan to TRAVEL | EXPLORE | DREAM | DISCOVER.

Chad, Mario and Jason (me) - Tate Modern Museum - London 2003

Story time…

On October 3rd, 2001… my grandad died. On October 4th, 2001… I lost my job in Austin, Texas and became unemployed. Less than a week later, I found myself on an airplane with my family to Mandeville, Jamaica for my Grandad’s funeral. Do I need to recap what happened a few weeks prior to all this on September 11th, 2001 in New York City? Didn’t think so. Bottomline, it was one of the lowest points of my entire life with a wealth of opportunity for me to to do the only thing I knew how to do… Keep getting up. Keep fighting. Stay positive. Be optimistic. The glass is half full. Don’t give up! Who invented liquid soap and why? We all know the cliche’s. All sounded a bit cheesy as I sat there on a beer crate in my grandfather’s backyard, drinkin’ a Heinekin, eating curry goat with rice ‘n peas, while sweatin’ my ass off in a black suit in the middle of Jamaica at a funeral reception. I know… you’re wondering “Why weren’t you drinking a Red Stripe?”; but, if you’ve been to rural Jamaica, you already know… Jamaicans LOVE Heinekin!  If you haven’t been to rural Jamaica… Jamaicans LOVE Heinekin!

Picadilly Circus - Jason (me) and Cousin Jules - 2004

My Dad came over and sat down with me. He gave me one of those “Fatherly Lessons” that I will never forget. He basically told me “When we get back to Texas… sell what you can, get out of your apartment lease, move what you want to keep to our house, pack a suitcase, buy a plane ticket, and go see your cousins and family in England. The world is uncertain right now, and nothing is going to happen between now and 2002. In fact, don’t be surprised if we go to war after what happened. It’s coming. Texas is your home. So is England. You can come back when you’re ready. For now… you need some time away from all this.” He won’t remember it. I do. And always will.

St Paul's Cathedral - London, England - 2003

Keep in mind… this is the same brother that had these wonderful “words of wisdom” a few years back during a conversation with my wife:

Anna (wife): Hey! What is that he has in his mouth? (referring to our son Cameron when he was 18-20mo old)

Dad: Huh?

Anna: You’re supposed to be watching him! Oh my gosh! Is that a bottle cap?

Dad: Oh my! How did he get that? No worries. It will help sharpen his teeth.

Wife: Sharpen his teeth? He’s not a WOLF!

River Boat Cruise on The Thames - London, England - 2003

Nevertheless, I took my old man’s advice back in October 2001, called my Cousin Roger in Northampton, England, bought a plane ticket, and jumped on a plane from Dallas, Texas to London. Quite possibly the most difficult time in the entire world to travel overseas. Security was beyond comprehension. Soldiers with guns. My greatest frustration and anger was that now WE had become the victims of terror. Cuz yeah… I was scared. I knew from that day forth… travel would NEVER be the same (and it hasn’t been).

"The Lion" - Trafalgar Square - London, England - 2007
"All about details" - Westminster, England - 2007

My only saving grace that day… Shaun. I can’t remember his last name. What I do remember is this… He was an Irishman, living in Australia, heading to London to meet his family where he was going to move his successful ice cream truck business across England. How bizarre is that? We had originally met at the airport bar in Dallas, Texas during our 2 hour layover to New York and quickly realized we were going to have a LONG day of travel together. We drank Heinekin.

"The Gate" - The Houses of Parliament - London, England - 2007

I’ll never forget flying into New York and not seeing the World Trade Center; but, more specifically FEELING the absence of the towers. CHILLING. HORRIFYING. SAD. We had an almost 6 hour layover in New York, so Shaun and I spent our time in yet another bar talking and drinking. Heinekin. By the time we got on the plane to England, Shaun and I realized we had stayed up the entire duration of the flight, talking until the flight attendant on the intercom said “Welcome to London Gatwick”. This was Day ONE of my London 2001 Adventure.

"Kids on a Double Decker" - London, England - 2001
Double Decker Bus - Oxford Circus - London, England - 2001

It had been just over 2 years since I had been back to London (May 1999); but, the feeling was the same. Home. The simple goal: TRAVEL | EXPLORE | DREAM | DISCOVER. Each and every day I would get up and do something different. Pretending to read a magazine while people watching in the middle of Victoria, King’s Cross, or St. Pancreas Train Stations because it’s FUN… and FREE. Striking up a conversation with a stranger over a pint of Boddington’s at a pub while catching some live music in Camden Town. Waiting patiently at 11:59am in Westminster for “Big Ben” to strike 12 times at NOON. Sitting on a park bench and eating a sacked lunch in Hyde Park. Tasting the best Indian food and curries in Europe and the Americas (arguably the world). Underground clubs, private parties and ultimate nightlife in SOHO with my Cousin Joules. Riding the RED – Central Line from end to end – because you have the time.

The London Eye from Thames River - London, England - 2003
"Stroll along The Thames" - 2004
"Look kids... Big Ben... Parliament" - London 2003

Walking along the Thames and watching a crew practice. Lining up at Busaba Eathi off Wardour Street (two days in a row mind you) to eat Thai food. Yes… it’s THAT good! Standing outside Buckingham Palace and watching the changing of the guard. Eating the best English breakfast with bacon, beans, sausage, toast, and a cup of PG Tips tea in a small dive around the corner from Euston Train Station. Observing a protest outside an embassy. Taking a London black cab absolutely anywhere in the city just so you can witness the fact that they are the BEST cab drivers in the world. Learning and traveling every route on The Tube (aka London Underground). Getting lost for hours in the Natural History Museum (my favorite place as a kid). Shopping on a Saturday morning at Portabello Market in West London. Chilling at a coffeehouse in one of my favorite places – Covent Garden listening to my first taste of Washington DC based Dynamic DJ Duo – Thievery Corporation. I could go on and on boring you. EVERY DAY something different. Something new. I was actually LIVING for the city and truly appreciating my environment. I LOVE LONDON.

"Coffee and Pastries in Covent Garden Market" - London, England - 2007
"Through the Gates" - Big Ben - London, England - 2007
"Controlling the Situation" - London's Finest - 2007
"No To Mugabe - No To Starvation" - Peaceful Zimbabwe Protest in London - 2007

My best days in London…

Just being a TOURIST. People really shouldn’t go so far out of their way to avoid being a tourist. There’s a reason you’re supposed to see certain things in a city, and London is definitely one of the best cities in the world to be a TOURIST. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve jumped on and off the The Big Bus Company – London sightseeing bus tour. Quite frankly, it’s the best way to see London. Especially if you only have a few days. Me? I’ve had years of multiple visits to London, and I still enjoy it. How else do you get an opportunity to see the cliche tourist sites like Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, Tower Bridge, Picadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral, and The London Eye? WOW! Sometimes I take for granted and forget how many wonderful sites there are in London. Don’t be afraid to be a tourist.

Tower Bridge - London, England - 2003
"Beefeater" at Tower of London - 2003
The Infamous British RED Phone Booth
"Guarding The Crown Jewels" - Tower of London - 2003
"Marching Armed Guards" - The Tower of London - England 2004

I could write forever about London. Contradicting my earlier statement about going to England and NOT seeing London… is almost as bizarre to me as going to London and NOT seeing England. One of your best itinerary plans for a vacation to London are the DAY TRIPS outside of London. Just one more thing that makes London such an awesome city to visit. Saying that London is England, is like saying that New York is USA. It is a must see; but, there are plenty of amazing “nearby” places to soak in and enjoy like Oxford, Cambridge, Leeds Castle, Canterbury, Stratford Upon Avon, Warwick, Salisbury, The Cotswalds, Dover, Stonehenge, Windsor, and my favorite day trip… Bath. All definitely worth planning as excursions from your hotel base in London; but, we’ll save those tales for another blog. This one’s getting out of hand.

STONEHENGE - England 2003
Leeds Castle - Kent, England - 2004
The Grounds at Leeds Castle - 2004
Leeds Castle - Kent, England - 2004
Canterbury Cathedral - England 2004
The Cathedral - Bath, England - 2004
The Roman Baths - Bath, England 2004
Roman Baths - Bath, England 2004
Windsor Royal Station - Windsor, England
"Bobby & the changing of the guard" - Windsor Castle 2003
The White Cliffs of Dover & Dover Castle - England 2004
Birthplace of William Shakespeare - Stratford Upon Avon, England 2004
Cutty Sark - Greenwich, England
Warwick Castle - England
"Doorway to the Past" - Cambridge, England - 2004

In Summary…

My time in London/England during the 2001 late fall/early winter season was one of my life’s greatest blessings. It helped me learn a LOT about who I was. A genuine catalyst for my appetite to travel. Bottomline… The city inspires me. It was in London that I discovered my favorite quote in a small Notting Hill bookshop:

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page” ~ St. Augustine

So what ended up happening? I spent a week in Amsterdam, The Netherlands before heading back to England, and then inevitably came back to Texas for Christmas 2001 to be with my family. I had job offers to stay in London; however, Austin, Texas was where I was supposed to be and have since resided. Now I’m married to a wonderful woman with 2 adorable kids and have been working at the same high-tech company for the past 10 years since I returned from England. But that’s what travel is all about. Getting out there. Why? Because you never know. No regrets.

L O N D O N - E N G L A N D - 2001