Day 2- London
The first day after any international flight is always a strange one. Your body is telling you it’s time to sleep but the city is indicating the day has just begun. The cool morning breeze, the bustling traffic and men in crisp suits are all signs of an awakening London.
It’s always a blur, that first day, a combination of an out of body experience and your senses tingling with every new smell, touch and site. A Costa coffee, an introduction to our guides, a bus ride from Heathrow and one Adele album later, we arrived at Wembley to leave all our luggage, power through the jetlag and head on into the city.
London, the metropolis I grew to love without realizing. The first time I visited was at the age of sixteen and I was homesick and hanging on to a crush back home that soon fizzled out. Maybe it was due to my first taste of jetlag, hitting me with full force or maybe it was immaturity, but I disliked London quickly.
Years later, I met Mark and soon came the time to travel alone overseas for the first time in order to spend time with him. And then, without a killer dose of jetlag and hand in hand with a local, it was like I had met city for the first time.
Since then every time I visit it feels familiar and clear. When I step into her, touch her, I recognize her and she recognizes me back. England is so different from where I grew up, possibly the complete opposite, yet I can call her my home, a place I miss and its memories are alive inside me even as time passes.
London is the city where I learned my independence and let my freak flag fly, where I feel capable. London embodies late nights and long walks that are never tiring. It is my seasonal affair and comforting cups of tea. I know the city, the underground maps and I never feel lost or alone in it.
Now, after more than a year, I was back and I was with Mark once again. I hugged him hard and relished the deep sound of his voice as he kissed my cheek, the way he had eight months ago. Even though we hadn’t been face to face for the better part of the year, it always felt familiar and comforting to see him.
But our reunion was cut short when the guides scurried us to the tube, like lost little baby chicks, and we headed to Central London for our first quintessential English experience. Fish and Chips. If you’ve ever had the signature dish before, you know it can go incredibly great –flaky moist fish with a crunchy beer batter exterior fried to perfection- or horribly wrong – soggy, pale looking piece of fish next to frozen, out of the box chips.
Our fish and chips were the latter; a testament to English cuisine the way Taco Bell represents authentic Mexican food. It just wasn’t. But rule number two to beat the jetlag is to eat, preferably clean food, but nonetheless eat. First rule is to hydrate. So we ate as much as we could of the overly oily fish and left the pub.
Luckily we were nearby one of my favorite areas of London, just a few blocks away from the beautiful St. Paul’s Cathedral and for the next hour, we were allowed to just be, walk and let realization kick in. Feeling somewhat self confident of understanding my surroundings (classic British Wanna Be syndrome), I urged my people –Mother, Aunt and Mark- to head down to one of my favorite walks in the city.
After passing St. Paul’s, we took a right and followed the signs that led us to cross the Thames via the the Millennium Bridge and down to the South Bank. I’ve walked over this bridge several times with Mark holding hands and the view of the city and Tower Bridge still surprises me. I can’t help but walk slower, even as the steel bridge shakes and trembles with every step people take.
Even though we are immediately greeted by The Globe Theatre, the reconstruction of Shakespeare’s theatre of centuries ago, I never forget to turn around after crossing the bridge and admire how it peeks out through the buildings and the river.
The view of the sleek metal bridge leading your eye to the majestic form of the cathedral reminds me I’m in a city that has blended perfectly the old with the new. And I think that is my favorite part of London.
The key to curing jetlag is to not trust that shot of dopamine ensued by finally arriving at your destination. That dopamine will turn on you in a few hours and it will be replaced by grogginess, slow motion movement and your brain being invaded with the phrase ‘where the hell am I?”
So we settled for one more stroll through Leicester Square and witnessed a crowd shrieking and waiting in line by the Empire Cinema. Turns out, Katy Perry’s Part of Me was premiering and I managed to get a glimpse of Katy’s bright pink hair as she entered the theater surrounded by five body guards. Bonus, but I’m more of a Lady Gaga kind of person.
After a quick dinner, we decided to quit while we were ahead and we made our way back to the hotel. It had been the first time I’d managed a successful jetlag free day after a long trip. I slept soundly for a good four hours and at around three o’clock in the morning, I opened my eyes long enough to assess my unfamiliar surroundings and mumble ‘where the hell am I?’