The only thing I can really say about London, is that I can't believe I've never been here before. Seems ridiculous, really. London is the centre of Great Britain, and the centre of an awful lot of other things — once upon a time, it was even technically the political centre of Australia. Anyway: apart from crazy prices, god-awful weather, and an insanely neverending mass of people, it seems like a great place. If anyone has a message for Her Majesty... well, then I'm sure she has a Hotmail account or something, so you can send it to her yourself.
My departure from London marks the end of my time here in Europe. It's been short, compared to my long stint in Latin America that was the "big boy" of this world trip. And it's been wildly different: modern, sophisticated, cultured, and pricey. But no world trip would truly be complete without a visit to Europe. It's the quintessential backpacker's destination. What's more, it's still wildly popular with tourists from all corners of the world, and in every level of the glamour spectrum from backpacker to millionaire. I've mainly confined myself to Western (and Southern) Europe; but even in that relatively small geographical area, there's an awful lot for me to wrap up. So here goes.
This evening I said farewell to Europe at the same place where I first greeted it: London's Heathrow International Airport. A bit different to Luton airport; and flying Qantas again is also totally different to (and a welcome relief from) flying with Ryanair. So long Europe; Thailand, here we come.
I met him a long time ago in Mexico. I saw him again in Peru, and ended up travelling with him for two months straight (making him my only real travelling companion on this trip). And I last saw him four months ago, back in Argentina. Today, I had yet another reunion with my buddy Chris: only this time, it was here in London, on his home soil; and since we're both going to opposite sides of the world very soon (and staying on those respective sides indefinitely), today's reunion really was our last (I'm serious this time — I swear). But before we parted for good, Chris and I had time for one last lunch. And since the food was some of London's finest Indian cuisine, there really wasn't anything sad about it at all.
I was bored this evening, so I went to one of the many cinemas in London's Leicester Square, and watched "Michael Clayton". This is a new George Clooney film, and it's based on the true story of a lawyer's battle to bring down an unethical agricultural company. I don't want to give away any more than that. This is very different from Clooney's usual style: he seems to be increasingly moving away from his traditional "action man" and "romantic thriller" genres, and chasing down roles of more serious, intellectual substance. This is a deep movie, and not one for those seeking a quick laugh or a constant blast of gunfire. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I highly recommend it.
Lovely, sunny England is where I began my sojourns in Europe; and so too is it where I'm concluding them. Sunny — yeah, right; as usual, it's cold and wet and miserable here! I'm not exactly ecstatic about being back in England: especially after Spain, with its pleasant weather, its exotic vibe, and its upbeat spirit. But sadly, I booked London as the departure point for my flight out of Europe (many moons ago); and so it's to London that I had to return. In retrospect, I should have tried to fly out from somewhere else — anywhere else — on the continent.
Piccadilly Backpackers is fairly similar to both the other hostels that I've stayed at, here in London: it's big, it's impersonal, and it feels awfully similar to a prison. Three tries, and still no budget accommodation with character in this city: I guess it's just a London thing. Anyway, Piccadilly Backpackers is at least in an excellent location; and putting the rest of the enormous complex aside, the hostel's small lounge and common room is quite charming and very friendly. Good place to stay if you need to crash in London for a few nights.
It was a long evening, getting out of Barcelona and back to London tonight. A long bus ride to yet another dodgy Ryanair airport. A long wait once at the airport. And an extremely long delay once we'd arrived back in dear old Inglaterra. Exciting, ridiculous, and heated at times. But most of the way, just long and extremely tedious. Travelling in Europe during the Christmas-break rush, and getting stuck right in the thick of that rush, simply ain't fun at all.
Before I scooted off out of England this afternoon, I managed to duck into one of London's big bookstores, and to stock up on some literary resources that I'll need for Italy et al. For my planned trip to Sicily, I grabbed a copy of the Nat Geo Sicily guide, as well as a detailed (as in 1:200,000) map of Sicily, and another map of Southern Italy (from Naples to the tip). Additionally, I threw in the LP Italian phrasebook; and for my journeying in Central Europe, the LP German phrasebook. Hopefully, all that will get me through the next few months in Europe.
This morning, I just managed to fit in two things that I really wanted to do, before leaving London. I visited the British Museum — one of the largest museums in the world, holding some of history's most famous artifacts — and I caught up properly with Jack (as last night, the music and the beer were so good that we didn't have a chance). I'm very glad that I've done both those things: although really, one morning in the British Museum is a bit of a joke — you could wander around it for a week, and still only see a quarter of it.
I haven't been to a huge amount of live entertainment, thus far on my trip. But tonight, I was in for a treat: Max and Joel took Jack and myself out to a club in London's West End, which is famous for its all-star line-up of Monday night jazz music. Apparently, the place is crowded and sleazy (and the music sucks) on other nights. But every Monday, they have this setup where a great band — comprised of some of England's best-known jazz musicians — play for an hour or two; and then, they hand over the floor to amateur musicians, which is anyone who's walked in the door (with their instrument, preferably), and who is willing to get on stage and to join in, improv style. No cover charge, either. This is a great show, and it's also clearly a huge opportunity for aspiring musicians to get themselves heard. Anyone's welcome, but the night is certainly first and foremost "by musicians, for musicians".