No, there aren’t. But it’s hard to know for sure, since we missed the full moon by a few weeks when we made our trip.
Recently I took two trips to two unique European sites, London and subsequently Berlin. My friend Kris and I had planned the London trip for quite some time, whereas my going to Berlin was a much more on-the-fly decision. There is a lot to tell, so I’ll keep this post strictly about London. The idea to go there sprouted from our desire to find a chance to see Queens of the Stone Age play live, one that was almost satiated with tour dates in Vienna, Bologna, and Hamburg. Ultimately, it made the most sense to try and snag a cheap flight to and from London and make a weekend out of it. So, we hopped on a plane on November 17th, which happens to be my brother’s birthday (mine is only four days after), so I made sure to make a post on his Facebook wall. Since our birthdays are so close together and his is right before mine, I’ve made a habit in the last few years to comically post some sort of kids’ birthday themed photo, a la pirate or cowboy theme; this year, I went with the Power Rangers; my brother is 24. Not to get too sidetracked, this was the first time I would be in London, and the prospect of visiting a place where I already speak the language fluently – well, semi-fluently – was a nice perk. We landed in one of the airports north of London, made our way through all the airport protocols, and to my annoyance the woman at customs didn’t like me very much. She was frustrated that I didn’t fill out the part of the special travelling-internationally-first-date-tell-us-about-yourself form that indicated where we were staying. The Airbnb reservation gave us the street address of our lodging, but not a specific address number. I went first, and then Kris told me that she asked him, “are you with that strange man?” I’ve been called a wide range of adjectives pointing out my different qualities, but this one struck me with jealousy, as I consider Kris just as strange looking and strange acting as myself! Why did I have to be the strange one while those two are hitting it off like old friends? Anyway, we took a train into the city, grabbed some lunch at an Americana-esque restaurant, then wandered toward the vicinity of our Airbnb.
It did not occur to me when booking the reservation that the area in which we were staying was the heavily concentrated Muslim neighborhood of East-Central London. This fact stood out to me for three key reasons. First, this was the first time in my European semester where I was able to notice a hint of diversity. In the Czech Republic, and this is my loose estimate to give a general understanding, there are about 95% Caucasian people, 4% Asian people (primarily Vietnamese), and lastly I can say that I’ve only seen about twenty to thirty people with darker skin since arriving in September. By comparison, London was a breath of fresh air for someone like me who prefers life in a more racially diverse community. The second reason that staying in the Muslim neighborhood was an interesting aspect of the trip was that I don’t think we could have felt safer than we did. Everyone we encountered in the neighborhood was very kind to us, showing no signs of any animosity despite living in a country that continues to carry a sizeable anti-immigrant attitude. This didn’t surprise me, as my own experiences with Muslims have been nothing but positive for practically my whole life. Still, it was funny to recognize that the only instances where people were rude to me in London involved bitter old white men. And finally, staying in the Muslim neighborhood ended up paying off a lot more than I anticipated, as I bought two quality sweaters from a vendor at the neighborhood’s local market for a total of only £17! I would have had to drop at three times that amount to get the same quality sweaters in a London shop downtown, so hats off to the nice man that gave me a good deal.
The first night in London we were stubborn about learning the ways of the subway system, which they colloquially and strictly call “The Underground.” So, we walked around everywhere, exploring the architecture of the neighborhoods, talking about life, and slowly making our way toward the restaurant through which I made a reservation. We were about to go see a show at the famous Globe Theatre – the theatre at which Shakespeare’s works were originally performed – at 7:30 PM, and the reservation was for 6:15. We ordered drinks and waited almost an hour for our food before the manager approached us and apologized for the circumstances. Apparently there was a busted pipe in the kitchen that made it temporarily unsafe to serve food for the rest of the night. He kindly offered to pay for our drinks as an apology, and we were understanding, but this meant we had to go to the show on empty stomachs. The play itself, The Secret Theatre, was really well done. A show about Queen Elizabeth I’s spy network, I considered the acting brilliant and the execution intriguing. The theatre was entirely lit by candlelight, making it feel all the more authentic, and having a background in theatre made this an essential part of my London trip. After the show, we frantically made our way to the nearest Nando’s chicken restaurant, a popular Portuguese chain restaurant that to me resembles the Culver’s of adequately-spiced grilled chicken dishes. Beat from a long first day, we stumbled back to our Airbnb and tried putting on Shrek (which is on European Netflix; score 1 for Europe), but involuntarily fell asleep before Smash Mouth’s “All Star” ended.
The next day we were determined to find some more touristy things to do, so we figured out how to navigate The Underground and scooted over to St. Paul’s cathedral, a massive church right in the middle of Central London. Upon realizing that the entrance fee was upwards of £20, we opted to admire the outside of the church and find something with a more reasonable price tag. The museum of London was a great alternative, as it was free. To my surprise, I learned a great deal of information I never knew about London before. I consider myself a big history guy, and it had never even occurred to me that multiple millennia ago, the Roman empire actually stretched into the area of what we now consider London. Kris and I ate at a fancy Indian restaurant that had some of the best Indian food I’ve ever eaten, then jumped on the Underground again to head toward the SSE Arena in Wembley for the Queens of the Stone Age concert. We were worried about the cost of the trip out there, since riding the Underground charges your “Oyster card” depending on how many zones you travel through, and the zones generally act like concentric circles (ie. the further from the city center you go, the more the trip will cost). Fares differ depending on the time of day, with rush hour logically demonstrating the harshest transportation costs. However, our trip to the stadium only cost about £2.40 or so, which came as a pleasant surprise since we were running low on the credit on our Oyster cards.
The concert itself was phenomenal. Queens of the Stone Age is definitely one of my favorite bands, and I was thoroughly impressed at how technically sound they were when playing live. The lights for the show were mesmerizing, the crowd was friendly and like-minded, and it was overall a fantastic experience despite having seats in the absolute back of the pretty large stadium. It was great to have that experience with Kris, because although we share a lot of similar music tastes, my inclinations are more of the Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, and Wolfmother variety, whereas he is more of a Wilco, The Strokes, and Radiohead guy. Queens of the Stone Age is that perfect band that meets in the middle of our musical discrepancies and we both had a fulfilling concert experience. Being past midnight by the time we got on the Underground to head back, a subtle dread set in, wondering how much we would be charged on the late-night subway ride through multiple zones. We arrived back at the station near our Airbnb, winced as we scanned our Oyster Cards, and the display read: £0.10. Ten pence. Huh. Works for me!
On our last day I dragged Kris to a fan tour of Stamford Bridge, the soccer stadium where my favorite club, Chelsea, play their home games. I paid for his ticket since he isn’t a soccer fan (more of a baseball guy, particularly a Cubs fan; gross) and couldn’t care less about Chelsea, but he ended up having a really good time. The people running the stadium tours do a great job of making it a pretty immersive experience to the point where one doesn’t have to be a die-hard fan of the club to enjoy their time. For me, it was next to a dream come true, only coming up short of being able to take a tour and subsequently see Chelsea play on the same day. That weekend, they were away at West Brom, so it wasn’t realistic, but Chelsea won the game 4-0 anyway, so it’s hard to complain. In any case, after we visited the stadium I told myself I had to go back to see a game, so when we flew back to Prague I jumped on the next available chance and will be going to see Chelsea host Stoke City on December 30th!
The London trip was one of the best weekends of my life. I was able to satisfy three major loves of my life – theatre, music, and sports – while exploring a historic city for the first time with a very good friend. This made it easy to rationalize going back.
That wraps up an unnecessarily long explanation of my weekend in London. I’m currently back in Prague and only here for a few more weeks, then I will be bussing to Nürnberg for Christmas, then to Amsterdam for a few days, then back to London through New Year’s Day to see Chelsea and visit more tourist destinations that I missed, then I’ll take two final week-long trips: a lifelong friend of mine will be joining me for a week in Rome, then my mom flies out to meet me in Greece for my last week on this crazy European semester.
I’ll be sure to write a more concise post on Berlin in the next week or so!