Europe. London. Finally.
There was no real rhyme or reason, I guess it was just the timing an rhythm of life, but it took 32 years for me to finally leave the continent of North America and step foot on European soil. I felt very pulled and called over many years to go to Europe and I'm glad it finally came to pass. In college, studying Architecture at the University of Tennessee, I had the opportunity to study abroad but I did not. Maybe it was fear. My spirit just wasn't ready. I focused on work and moving after graduating. I discovered a passion for Photography and hustled hard for it to grow, so absconding to Europe was not on the agenda. I moved to Los Angeles in 2013 and it would take a while to settle in, but in the middle of 2015 it kept hitting me : I really have to go to Europe.
I had a few visions of traveling abroad, the first was an idea that I should travel to a new continent each year in the first five years of my 30s. Travel to Europe at age 31, South America at 32, Africa 33, Asia 34, Australia 35. I don't know why (God is always the why) but it appeared to me that way. It feels like a solid plan, and I hope it comes to pass. I hope there are multiple visits worldwide in between that structure, for work or for play. I'm not a big fan of the cold, but I'm sure Antartica will happen at some point as well.
I'm a year behind schedule and would travel to Europe in June of 2016, technically making me 32 by the time of the trip. The other vision I had was more specifically about how this trip to Europe would proceed. I thought, "Go to London and Paris for a week total: 2 days in London, 3 days in Paris, and 2 more days back in London." That's exactly how it would eventually go. Some just call it planning, but I still feel very moved when recurring thoughts become reality and go without a hitch. It feels deeper than just a plan, but maybe destiny and manifestation. Our minds are powerful tools, and we really will attract what we think about.
I attracted a week long trip to London and Paris. Why London and Paris? I imagined that London would be a very easy and accessible first location to visit in Europe: no language barrier. And Paris because I love French. Though I'm nowhere near fluent, I studied the language from 7th to 12th grad and for one semester in college as well. It's such a beautiful language and really fun to speak. Paris also...Paris and seeing the famed landmarks and attractions in "the most romantic city in the world" would be a real treat.
Speaking of romanticism, I also have to admit that another exciting motivator in heading to London was the moving Love Actually. Call me a sappy, unrealistic movie nerd, but I shamelessly love that movie. Much like many other films that heavily feature one city or location, Love Actually shoots London very well and romanticizes the city. It was an intentional part of my agenda to find a few of the filming locations from the movie and experience them in person. (I was also hoping to run into Hugh Grant, Colin Firth or Emma Thompson at some point.) Anytime I think about or mention Love Actually, I have to mention my old roommate from after college, Samantha. She is the one that introduced me to that movie. At the time, I was much more sarcastic in nature (shocker, I know) and scoffed at the idea of watching the movie. "You're going to love it," she proclaimed. After one viewing it had melted my cold cold heart and it now remains in my life as a Christmas season feel-good and go-to (alright, maybe I watch it at random times in the year too).
Well, I guess I should just get into the trip and images.
I would fly out of Los Angeles in early June with Passport in hand, clothes, cameras and cash ready to go. The first feel-good moment was heading to the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX for the first time. "I'm going to Europe. Yep. I need the International Terminal. Thanks." *brushes off shoulder. There was no brushing off of my shoulder, but I did enjoy the reality of going to TBIT ("TBIT," that's LAX slang).
It was really cool to travel on such a long flight (11 hours, direct) and experience a massive change in time. Seasoned international travelers probably get sick of it, but I wasn't worried about jet-lag. I just found it fascinating. I would leave Los Angeles at 7:30PM on June 6th and arrive in London at 2:30PM the next day June 7th. All of that said, the next feel-good moment happened on the plane. Sleeping was priority number one for the flight and I was doing a great job. My phone was off and I was just curling up with my next pillow trying to stay asleep but God woke me up for a wonderful moment. I'll apologize in advance for even talking about this because I don't have an image to go along with it. But somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean I saw the most beautiful colors I've ever seen. That not an exaggeration or hyperbole, really the most beautiful colors.
I could not tell you what time it was but clearly the middle of the night somewhere over the Atlantic. There was the soft hum of the plane and I blinked awake, groggy, in that state of just being coherent and alert. I knew I wasn't dreaming. I've found that many times over the years, the Holy Spirit is real and God wakes and puts you to sleep at His Will, not your own, and this was a moment where He said, "Hey I want you to see this..." Outside was a sunrise unlike anything I'd ever seen before. Maybe it was our altitude, but the Earth below was glowing in this magnificent blue, a deep blue with highlights of a brighter shade. I was on the left side of the plane so the colors transitioned from my left to right, and from the deep blue came a swirling purple and as it continued the purple turned to orange, a sige of the sunrise further east. It was pure magic, a soft symphony of color that I've never seen before and it was because I'd never been there before, so high above the Atlantic Ocean. My heart warmed and just experienced it. It's all I could do, just be in wonder.
I'll go there...I've learned that photography/images are my spiritual gift. I do not say that to claim to be a genius of Photography, far from it, but God's made it clear over now 7 years that images come naturally to me. I had a friend once say, "it's like God Himself comes down and into your camera..." I still can't explain it, nor should I try to but, from the reaction of others, not even on my own, have I realized that Photography is my gift or talent. I've learned that my testimony is important, that they way I see the world through the lens of a camera, the way I communicate with images matters and is valued and means something to God and to the world. Color, light and moments, find me, and I find them. It's just a part of my life, and I'm thankful for it. That said, and hopefully it does not sound arrogant, I've learned at times there are images that I will not capture. God so readily and constantly brings images to me but there are times and moments that I will not have a camera, so it will not be documented. But it doesn't change the essence of receiving the moment or image. Does that make sense? I will walk in public sometimes, just doing some errand, and see a moment or light and actually say "click" out loud. I guess it's my way of acknowledging God that I see "it" in the moment even if I don't have my tools with me. I've come to think that God wants me to rest at times, and even when I see images, He may not want or need to me to capture and share it.
I feel like this colorful moment on the plane was one of those moments. Though I described it to you in words, I feel like that sunrise image, one I'll never forget, was one of those moments that God sent me an image, but He was saying, "Rest. This one is just between us."
I feel back asleep and in what felt like the blink of an eye, I was awake again. It was daytime and it was clear that we were over European soil. I'm not sure where in the English countryside we were, but I upon decent, I did take out my cell phone to capture the landscape. We were in England:
There was something natural to me about Europe. It was exciting and mind-blowing, but at the same time oddly comfortable and familiar. It was as if it took all that time and life experience to get here for a reason. I wasn't nervous, worried about navigating London. It was equal parts, "OH MY GOD I'M IN EUROPE!" and "Okay, I'm in London, let's get to the hotel." I would land at Gatwick Airport a few miles south of metro London and I would have to take a train into the city. I was focused on making sure I was on the right trains heading the right directions but was able to snap a photograph at the East Croydon station:
It was about 7:00PM local time, by the time I arrived in London proper. I would make it to my hotel in the Borough neighborhood and settled in a little bit. The sun was still in the sky...let me stop right there quickly...The sunset, or lack thereof in Europe was an incredible phenomenon to witness. I guess because of where Europe sits on the Northern Hemisphere the sun moves across the sky differently. It stayed in the sky much longer than it does in the US, or in Southern California in particular.
I was sitting my hotel room at around 7:30PM and noticed how bright it was outside. I did not have an agenda for the night, I just knew that I needed and wanted to get out and start seeing London. Instinctively, the first thing I though to do was secure an internet connection for my phone. T-Mobile claims to have international coverage so it was time to put it to the test. I couldn't seem to get a correct carrier or connection and did not have any connection for my phone. Then I snapped out of it. "You're here! Just go! Who cares about the internet!?" It was a small moment, but it felt so freeing to just walk outside and onto the streets of London without a map or without knowing where I would end up. I just had to remember my steps and turns.
I wandered the streets of Borough looking at local restaurants and walking by schools and banks, kind of "normal life" stuff. I loved the architecture and history immediately. Then around one turn, I looked to the sky and saw the slightest hint of a landmark that I recognized. It was the top of the London Eye.
I now had some bearings. I knew where the river was. Of course I mean the Thames River, location of many London monuments and attractions. I kept winding and weaving through the streets, making sure to keep the London Eye in view and before I knew it...
I found the London Eye, and was excited. It was only a few short steps to the Queen's Walk. I rounded the corner to the left and...
Walking the streets of London is much like walking around any other city. As I mentioned before it all felt very natural to me. But this moment felt special. There was definitely a moment of pause upon seeing Big Ben. "Whoa. I'm actually in London right now." It felt surreal. I was in another country, on another continent. It was finally sinking in.
I would walk along the southern bank of the river and soak it all in. I was charmed by the outside of the Sea Life London Aquarium...
I kept undoubtedly getting closer to the infamous clocktower and photographing it all along the way. I have to take a moment to mention birds: I've developed a fascination with them during this year of traveling (2016), I've mentioned it on other pages, but 2016 has been a freeing year for me.I made a personal declaration to travel more. I purchased 3 plane tickets to various locations within the first 5 weeks of 2016. Flying and freedom as represented in the bird became a subtle theme of my photography during travel.
Speaking of subjects that I frequently photograph, I've had a long time love affair with statues and Europe took it to a whole new level. I was quickly satiated as I came across the Boudiccan Rebellion memorial. I would later get a good shot of it from across the street:
After crossing the Westminster Bridge to get closer to Big Ben, it's only one block north to Parliament Square Park, where my fascination with the clocktower and statues continued:
I was really in love with this vantage point from behind the Churchill Statue. It's almost as if he's glaring in the distance towards the beloved Big Ben:
As much as I liked the DSLR version of this shot, I also captured a version on my iPhone and with a lot of touching up in Snapseed, I really enjoyed the final product:
As much as I love photographing statues, I've tried to get better over the years of also photographing inscriptions or plaques nearby. Here is the likeness of Jan Christian Smuts: British military leader, philosopher and 2nd prime minster of South Africa from 1939-1948:
A few steps away are statues of Ghandi and Nelson Mandela:
Afterwards it was a few short steps to the infamous Westminster Abbey:
Upon moving closer I could not help but enjoy this great inscription outside of the west entrance:
"May God grant to the living, grace, to the departed, rest to the church and the world, peace and concord and to us sinners eternal life."
I love how the Abbey and I guess England in general celebrates worldwide religious figures, in this case Christian martyrs. When I gazed at the statues above the west entrance, I saw the name "King" and thought, "...as in Martin Luther King?" I looked at the statue and the likeness was in fact of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I guess I was surprised or taken back because his likeness was carved in a pose that felt more "renaissance" in a way, with his hand open. It felt like a very poetic and romantic interpretation of a man I'm used to seeing in a more intense and powerful light. It was beautiful:
I then realized the beauty of all the ten statues in a row. Again, all Christian martyrs of the 20th century. From left: St. Maximilian Kolbe, Manche Masemola, Janani Luwum, Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia, Martin Luther King, Óscar Romero, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Esther John, Lucian Tapiedi, and Wang Zhiming.
[Quick aside: I think blogging will be a wonderful educational experience for me personally. I'm writing this page in November of 2016 though this was all photographed in June of 2016. I can't pretend that I'm an historical scholar by any means. While traveling, I move around quickly. I see things that resonate with me on a visual and emotional level and I shoot. I can't say that I know or understand it all as I'm shooting it. But blogging it later allows me to, or forces me to, learn more about what I am seeing and not just simply saying, "hey look at this pretty thing I shot." As I added these images to this page, I went through the internet and read the stories of each of these martyrs and I have to confess that I am moved and humbled. It's given me great perspective as a Christian. I am on a spiritual journey, trying to learn more about myself and Jesus Christ as time goes forward and reading the stories of these ten individuals shut me up.
At times forget the history of Christianity around the world. I forget that it was and still is not always a positively accepted faith, religion or set of practices. I got to church every Sunday, I read my Bible, or I can look up scripture on the internet or listen to a sermon on the internet and, in public or private, openly worship God and be this person known as a "Christian." Quite bluntly, each of the people memorialized in these statues died because of being a Christian (the definition of martyrdom). In some way, shape or form, their faith and belief in a set of values, the Christian faith, led to their death. That's humbling. So as I read their stories I thought of all the things that upset me or bother me, and the fact that at any moment I have a Bible or scripture at my fingertips that can read to help me feel better...I ought to complain a lot less. The persecution and pain I may feel...is nothing. I've not faced death because of my faith. To these martyrs who all now rest in heaven, thank you:
I took a few more images of the Abbey and the sun slowly, finally started to set. In post processing I decided to add a little more expressiveness to the images. A fun fact/phenomenon about the power of Nikon lenses and Adobe Photoshop that I always enjoy: while editing these images did not "add" any color to them. No extra paintbrush tool or anything. I simply drew out the color that was present in the scene (I will talk about this more later below):
It was difficult to pull myself away from the Abbey but eventually I kept walking north, and would run into the Victoria Embankment Gardens where...sure...why wouldn't there be a fox walking across the park:
I then crossed back over the River on the Waterloo Bridge which gives you a unique view of the Golden Jubiliee Bridges and riverside attractions. (I didn't realize it until I went back and watched Love Actually recently, that this image or view was a filming location for the movie):
The evening ended with a few views of Big Ben, naturally. A really nice introduction and first night in Europe:
Day 2 - north of the river
A new day! Ready to explore London properly! And in case you were wondering, yes, I figured out how to get internet on my phone...
I learned my lesson in New Orleans: make a map, make a plan. When traveling to New Orleans, I had a list of attractions that I wanted to view and would proceed, over the next 3 days, to spend way too much money on Uber rides. I didn't realize certain attractions were nearby to others, so I would go to one side of the city, see something, head to the complete opposite side of the city to see something else...I would then look to see a third attraction only to realize that it was very close to the first attraction on the opposite side of the city...
When I arrived in London, one of the first things I did was ask the hotel for a city map. I took out a pen and circled everything I wanted to see. The better news for London was that I had an unlimited London Metro pass (I still have it to this day as a memento) and all the attractions were really close together. It's not like I was heading way out to Stonehenge, Wembley Stadium or Wimbledon (you have to manifest things, people. I just intentionally said those locations out loud knowing that I want to/will see them in the future.) All the attractions I had in mind of this trip were within a few kilometers of the River.
Starting out this Wednesday, I knew that I wanted to see Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus, Regent's Street and Trafalgar Square which are relatively close to one another. There was no time to waste, I would hop on the Tube and ended up at the Green Park Station on Piccadilly. I was immediately liking the ambiance and architecture:
After a traditional English breakfast at Patisserie Valerie I was in full shooting mode. I looked to my left up Old Bond Street and saw what would be a recurring theme in London: wonderful national pride and a plethora of British flags hanging over the streets:
I love little moments like this; a bus driver noticed that I was trying to capture more images of Old Bond St. but realized that she pulled in front of me right as I pressed the shutter:
I would continue up Piccadilly until I came to the entrance of the Royal Academy of Arts:
A bit rounded, but a panorama of the interior court:
The statue of the first president of the Royal Academy of Arts, Sir Joshua Reynolds. I tried to do my homework but could not discover why he was wearing a garland of flowers:
Afterward, I just wandered the streets towards Piccadilly Circus with my eyes up in full tourist mode:
Traffic is pretty bustling in Picadilly Circus, as this iPhone pano shot shows:
I was then introduced to Alfred Gilbert's Shaftesbury Memorial topped not Cupid or by Eros but by his brother, "Anteros" who was later referred to as "the Angel of Christian Charity:"
It was then a walk down Regent Street towards Buckingham Palace that ended with the viewing of the Crimean War Memorial (featuring Florence Nightingale and Sidney Herbert):
That last image of them above makes you feel like they've posed for a photo together before.
I trotted down Pall Mall and weaved my way to Marlborogh Road, making a left to head towards The Mall/Buckingham Palace. Along the way I ran into another Sir Alfred Gilbert creation: the Queen Alexandra Memorial. It contained a beautiful inscription:
Faith. Hope. Love. The Guiding Virtues of Queen Alexandra.
Directly across the street was St. James Palace. Though it is no longer the official residence of the monarch or Royal Family, it is a structure under the protection of the Royal Guard.
I was excited. The Red Coats :) This was my first viewing of the British Royal Guard. Seeing them at some point was clearly on my London to-do list. It didn't seem like a difficult item to check off the list. I was bound to run into them somewhere. They serve such an important role in British history and in modern day London, but admittedly, the first thought that would come to my mind about the Royal Guard was a comical one. Over the years I have seen countless videos of tourists playfully hassling or mocking the Royal Guard because they are instructed to stay at their post and to be still. Tourists try to make them move or laugh, unsuccessfully, or...they may cross the line and get a good verbal lashing from a guard. I've also seen videos of Guard members in strict formation, tripping, falling or passing out. It's a bit funny. Maybe the big hats they wear play a role in it as well.
But as funny as they may be, I was determined to respect, observe, and tastefully photograph the Royal Guard when I finally saw them in person. It was a good thought....until....
Two guards were stationed outside of St. James Palace, and I photographed one from afar with a bit of the Palace in the background for context. I then approached the closer guard, snapped a shot, looked at the LCD, then did a double take, looking back to the guard. He. was. asleep...
Oh man, are you kidding? I tried, friends. I really tried. I gave them a clean bill of respect, and then this gentleman was asleep at his post. I observed him for a few moments just to make sure. No, he wasn't blinking in the photo. He was catching ZZZ's. Funny or not, the Royal Guard would be incredibly impressive in just a few moments as I approached Buckingham Palace just in time for the Changing of the Guard ceremony.
I made a right turn down The Mall, just at the edge of St. James Park and was greeted by a bustling tree-lined street bursting with national pride:
The Changing of the Guard - buckingham palace
I would eventually be greeted by the angelic vision of the Queen Victoria Memorial sitting just outside of Buckingham Palace:
I can't say that I intentionally timed it, but I arrived at the beginning of the ceremony, and a good crowd had already formed:
Amidst the grand crowd, there is a small clearing in the street just outside of the main gate. If you have your cell phone out and ready, and pretend that you just want to cross the street at the clearing, and do it deliberately and slowly...you might be able to catch a decent clear shot of all the guards:
After the ceremony, I took in the splendor of the Palace gates, and wandered through St. James Park for a few moments, eventually making my way east on The Mall towards Trafalgar Square:
Again, the national pride was astounding (The Admiralty Arch)...
Stand in the middle of traffic for the shot. You bet...
I had always heard/known that Trafalgar Square was a must-see attraction in London. The bustling (that's a recurring adjective, and the appropriate one, so I'm repeating it) public space is home to the National Portrait Gallery, which I would eventually visit. But there was enough life in the Square to keep me busy for a good while:
I mentioned it before, but I had travelled to New Orleans just three weeks prior to this trip and the ambiance of Trafalgar Square was reminiscent of Jackson Square in New Orleans, with crowds gathering to see street performers. In this moment, bicycle artists were stealing the show:
The last two images start to give it away, but pay attention to the sky. Yes, I'm enhancing shots these with a little more contrast, but these images/moments were pretty close to RAW/reality. It was in Trafalgar Square that London started to live up to it's personality/notoriety of being rainy. Clouds came out of absolutely nowhere. It happened so fast...
Here it comes...
aaaaand now we're about to have some rain...
....after the ensuing down pour and purchasing a 5£ umbrella to survive...
I decided not to photograph in the rain and spared my camera and lens the abuse (stay tuned until the end though...) and decided it was best to head back to the hotel for a change of clothes and drier shoes. After getting off of my tube stop in the Borough neighborhood, I walked the streets and felt like it was safe to bring my camera out again.
I will mention it again very soon, but one structure I was looking forward to seeing in London was The Shard. The 1016 ft. (309m), 95 story skyscraper has become a staple of the London skyline and much like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, it can be seen from many parts of the city. It was always a nice marker for orientation. "I can see the Shard. Good. I haven't completely gotten lost in London."
While walking home, I looked to my left and saw it strikingly in the sky. I decided to snap a photograph and...ugh...terrible:
The most dangerous thing for a DSLR owner had happened to me: during the downpour earlier, my camera and lens had taken on some moisture. It was the point where it wasn't just water droplets I could wipe away. Condensation had formed inside of the lens. Put the camera away and pray, Mal. I was at the mercy of time and God that it would dry and still be fine. I would rest in my hotel and change clothes, getting ready for the evening. Thankfully, my camera and lenses would be fine.
It wasn't until returning to the States, and sitting down with the images, that my moisture mix-up would lead to unexpected beauty. This image is dedicated to the power of Nikon lenses and cameras, to the Camera Raw application attached to Adobe Bridge, and to the joy of being able to use these tools in tandem. I kid you not, the colorful image below is the exact same image as the one above:
This is the fun of digital photography for me. The application I mentioned before, Camera Raw, as a part of Adobe Bridge is really special. It's simple, too. You can simply toggle a few sliders and manipulate the various elements of an image (exposure, contrast, highlights, etc.) and create something new. I also give credit to Nikon cameras and their lenses because the clarity you capture in a RAW image allows you to later be able to change it with this much flexibility. I love editing images because it's a fun exercise in discovery. I may never be able to describe it in words, and maybe one day for a post I will make a screen video of how it works, but I take the RAW image and just play with the sliders until certain "wow" moments start to emerge.
Hopefully this makes sense, but, I'm always so wowed because I feel like all of this color and light is already there in reality. I believe that, even if our eyes cannot see it, and the camera does not capture it, the sky really looks like that, but it takes pulling it out of the image to see it. Look again at the first image. The foggy gray and bland sky is what it looked like in reality, and yet this swirl of purple, pink and orange appear later. I never add additional colors to images. I did not think, "a purple sky that transitions into an orange sky would be lovely. Let's paint it." I simply pulled it out or discovered it and enhanced the image to show it.
Side by side, before and after, just for fun:
new friends and rendezvous
I cannot blog about my trip to London responsibly without telling you the story of Flora. Too cool. I've mentioned it a few other times in this blog, but for a good while I have driven for rideshare apps in Los Angeles to keep my budget from floundering and allow me the time to work on improving my Photography career behind the scenes. You meet all types in Los Angeles. Really, all types of people from different walks of life. Rideshare driving stories alone deserve a full blog.
On August 6th, 2015...that was a Thursday, I was out driving with Uber like any other day. I don't know how many folks use Uber but they have the "Uber Pool" feature which is essentially carpooling. They will link your ride with another passenger whom is heading in the same direction as you and in the end you pretty much split the fare with that other passenger.
I live in Pasadena, CA but driving with Uber takes me just about everywhere in Los Angeles. On this Thursday afternoon I was in the Valley, in Burbank, and picked up a Pool fare. Two passengers hopped in the back seat, like most riders do. A few moments into the ride, I was alerted that a Pool match had been made, and that I was supposed to pick up an additional rider. The name came up as "Flora." If my memory is correct, the pickup location was The Smoke House Restaurant, on the corner of Olive Ave. and Lakeside Dr. in Burbank, not too far from Warner Bros. Studios.
Flora quickly hopped into the front seat, next to me, and we began to head towards Hollywood to drop off the first passengers that began the ride. I won't go into it too much, but when I'm driving for Uber, I have a thing about people sitting in the front seat. It's not too much of a thing, it's just....you don't know who you're going to get and what they'll be like. Honestly I've had incredibly nice people sit in the front seat, and I've had not so incredibly nice people. Either way, it's like..."Hi stranger, I'm nearly in your face, definitely in your space, let's sit next to each other for a while." Admittedly, it's me. Most of the time, the person that sits in the front seat is perfectly nice and I get along with them. When I've been in LA traffic for a few hours, I can get restless and grumpy, so I'll take the blame.
(If Flora ever reads this, she'll think that I hated her at first. I did not/do not hate you, Flora.)
In this circumstance, with the Uber Pool ride, Flora did not have a choice of where to sit. Two people were already in the back, so of course, she sat up front. It all worked out in a great way. Flora and I would strike up conversation, and the first thing that I noticed was her British accent. I quickly found out that she was from London, but worked in Los Angeles from time to time, this week being one of those times.
The next thing I found out about Flora is that we had an uncanny ability to make each other laugh. She insists, to this day, that I was simply laughing at her accent. British accents are charming and that was part of it, but, Flora, is in fact, hilarious. Thanks to Los Angeles traffic, after dropping off the other passengers in Hollywood, Flora and I would drive for a little over an hour to her office near Culver City. In that time, there was much laughter and contemplative conversation about life and purpose. She was fond of my creative work in Photography and yearned for a creative outlet of her own. I was fascinated by her life in London and impressed by her international working/travel lifestyle. I always enjoy when the universe puts good people in your path.
During the ride, I shared with Flora my desire to travel to London. She was supportive and told me of great attractions worthy of visiting. At the time, August 2015, I had not a single dime saved, flight booked, or hotel reserved, but I spoke prophetically that I would be visiting Europe soon. At the end of the ride I thought to ask Flora for her information. It seemed odd to do, again considering I was no where close to actually booking the trip. But in her friendly nature, she gave me her card.
The following day I sent her an email saying how nice it was to meet her, and thanking her for the words of travel encouragement. We traded a couple of emails, and the tone remained in the realm of, "Well when I figure out the time and money...maybe see you someday in London."
By January of 2016, I finally did something! I booked the first leg of plane tickets for my Europe trip. I had a ticket TO London. I did not have a return flight yet, so I couldn't celebrate too much. Once I officially had everything booked I reached out to Flora. By then we had become friends on Facebook, and I messaged her excitedly. Fate and timing had it that she was in London during the week I was visiting. Then, she revealed herself to be just beyond the sweetest and hospitable person; not to say she wasn't before. She was very fun when we met, but upon hearing that I was actually making the visit, she sincerely asked about and figured out my schedule to see how we could meet up. Too sweet.
The best timing turned out to be Wednesday night. After a full day of seeing Buckingham Palace, and surviving the rain (all the images from above), I followed Flora's instructions to meet her at the Peckham Rye Station located in the neighborhood of the same name, Peckham, which is about 2 miles, 3.5 km south of where I was staying Borough. She arrived after work and I was again floored that she made the effort to meet up. She was intent on showing me some local London vibes, things I may not find as easily on my own.
She informed me that we would be heading over to Frank's Rooftop Bar. *insert smiley emoji. "Rooftop." Sold. Furthermore....and it was not for my benefit, but it made the experience all the more awesome...Flora got in touch with a couple of her friends (one of whom was her cousin) and corralled them to meet up at Frank's as well. Flora and I had a drink, and in a few short moments her friends were joining us. Introductions were made and everyone could not have been more sweet. I loved every second of it. (Flora if you're reading, it was NOT just because of your British accents. You guys are great.)
We talked about life and London over a few pitchers of beer. Too perfect. They were so sweet and asked about my Europe trip, and gave recommendations for France which was upcoming. I learned about them, and remembered a few fun details like the chicken coop one couple had on their property. In addition, what made this moment literally glow was the view. Frank's Rooftop Bar lived up to it's name and did not disappoint.
I reached for my phone and manually created a panorama shot of the scene. By manually, I mean that I did not use the "pano" feature, but took multiple shots incrementally across the sky (it cuts down on a spherical look later). I'm pretty shamelessly proud of this shot, and man, London is beautiful:
Flora would point out all of the landmarks in the skyline and my favorite was the one she described as "The Pixar building."
You know the one with a funny shape, like it belongs in a Pixar movie.
She was right, naturally, and the skyscraper she was referring to was 20 Fenchurch Street. Funny fact she taught me: because of the building's concave curvature at the top, it actually set a car on fire once. Yes, the sun's rays reflected downward off of the building and focused to the street, burning the car. It has since been fitted with shading, but it's was still very hilarious to learn.
After rooftop drinks it was on to food. Before we left Frank's, in the stairwell, Flora thought the pink wall behind us had a nice look to it so we stopped to take a selfie. I smiled weird in this one..but she looked really nice in it, so it's the right photo to share. Here's a face to the name, my friend from the UK, Flora:
I'll have to go back and ask her where we ended up for dinner that night (I'll become a better travel blogger), but our group of 6 ended up having a great dinner and conversation over burgers and more beer. We talked politics, as the EU Brexit vote was coming up (it was only 15 days away), and at the time I was apologizing for the bombastic rhetoric and noise that Donald Trump was making during the Republican primaries.
Again, I'm writing this in late November and this all took place in early June. How....crazy. Britain left the EU and Donald J. Trump became the president-elect...I'll always remember that conversation and moment in London.
That's the story of Flora :) and I guess proof that Uber can bring people together all over the world? No, I love the fate and timing of things in life. God brings people to you for a reason and I couldn't have been more thankful that Flora took the time to hang out and introduce me to her friends/family. Sincerely hoping that it's the first of many hangouts with Flora. She's a delight.
Let's stay on the theme of thanking friends for rendezvous in London...
I also have to tell the story of meeting up with my friend, Jessica, while in the UK. Jessica and I grew up in the same hometown of Stamford, CT and were one year apart in school (me being that year older). We have older siblings whom are the same age and they have been friends for years. Similar to Flora, I reached out to Jessica before heading to the UK, and she sweetly agree to meet up for breakfast on Thursday morning. She could have easily given me the "I'm so sorry. I'll catch you next time," because she was actually heading to the States that afternoon to meet with her family for a vacation. But she agree to meet up. I arrived, via the Tube, in her neighborhood in Soho. . Before she arrived to meet me, I took some time to do a little street photography...and I'll talk more about that later...but I'll share these two in the meantime: a silhouette of the Sherlock Holmes statue, and why not, grab an image of the iconic "Underground" station sign:
Jessica arrived and we had a nice breakfast at a local diner in Soho. It had been a few year since Jessica and I had seen each other. We laughed remembering that the last time was randomly running into each other at a grocery store in our hometown. Jessica has lived in London for 6 years and we had a wow moment about that fact. We made the most of our time and enjoyed a short walk around Soho making sure to, of course, take a selfie along the way:
Jessica and I walked back to where we first met, at the Baker Street Underground Station and said our goodbyes. Again, she had a flight to catch later in the day and I had a train to catch heading to Paris. (Look at us, so grown up and traveling internationally…)
Brain farts. They happen. For some reason, I thought I had a few hours before my train…Not so much. It was about 11AM and I was just piddling around Soho doing some more street photography and was thinking, “what am I going to do with the next 3 hours?” For some reason, I thought my train was around 4PM. My mother, may she rest in peace, always used to say, “…and then the angels told me…” whenever she was thankful that she remembered something or went a particular way to accomplish/find something. I had an “angels told me” kind of moment, or maybe my mother herself was my angel in the moment, because something came over me to re-check the time of my train to Paris. It turned out to be a 12:24PM train. Not 4PM. It was a little after 11AM and I was 40 minutes away…almost 2 miles away….and btw I had not stopped by currency exchange yet to get some Euros for Paris.
Panic mode. A little bit. Exercise is a good thing. Let’s jog. With a camera bag and overnight bag. Yes. Good. Good.
After the currency exchange office politely did not accept my American debit card, running to a local bank to an ATM for cash, then back to currency exchange, grabbing a few hundred Euro, then racing up the remainder of Euston St. I cooly arrived at St. Pancras International station. No. Big. Deal. *gasping for breath.
How is stunning is this:
Once inside, after going through security, I knew I was going to catch my train so I could relax a bit and capture a couple of interior details before boarding the train:
There is a rather large bronze statue in the middle of the terminal at St. Pancras entitled "The Meeting Place," by Paul Day, which shows two lovers in an embrace. It's huge. Really huge. To be honest it freaked me out a little bit, so I did not photograph it. It's at a large enough proportion to be scary. It's not small enough to be relatable or "human" and it's not so large that you have no choice but to be in awe. It's juuuuust right. (If being terrifying was the goal, then it's just right.) I'm not trying to be mean, I just have a thing with large faces. They rattle me.
[You can check it out here if you'd like: The Meeting Place statue]
At it's frieze is a series of pretty cool sculpted vignettes. They depict various scenes of social interaction aimed around the theme of transportation, naturally, railway transportation. The scenes have some pretty racy things going on, but its edginess is appealing. Are those prostitutes soliciting to commuters? I...uhh...I think so, but overall it was worth capturing:
There was no more time to waste. Time to get on the train. I was Paris bound...