“Please mind the gap between the train and the station. This is Hounslow Central. The next station is Hounslow East. This is the Piccadilly line service to Cockfosters.”
It was 5 degrees, 8 pm and the month of December when I got off at Hounslow – dark and quite. I pushed off the underground carrying my suitcase and a backpack and took off to the street. I knew no body, saw barely any people, barely any shops and with google maps found a hotel and checked myself in for 2 nights. I was a student back then and was on budget travel. It was also the first time I was travelling alone to London. I have been here before, with a few friends, but this time it was different. I was more responsible, more self-aware, and more alert to my surroundings. As I entered Days Hotel, I saw a big noisy gang of old men with friendly smiles and liquor spread across their tables. It seemed like they were celebrating something. I didn’t ask. I walked up to my room – a comfortable king size bed with a coffee maker on the bed side. Placing my luggage on the holders, I walked to the wall length window and peeked outside just to find a huge bunch of young boys and girls (probably undergraduates) walking to the train station. I was sure they were all heading for a party at the M.O.S (had overheard a chap)! I cozied up into the warm bed on that cold night all by myself, started some music and crashed in no time.
The next morning I knew where to go, I had the entire Underground map registered in my head (also some help with the google maps! Wink wink). I headed straight to my favorite spot throughout London just to enjoy one of the best hot-chocolates in the city – The Zen café- right under the London eye. I took the underground got off at Westminster. I have my stories of this particular venue. I had been to this same place over 5 times in the past 2 years and it still seemed to connect to me in a way no other place in London ever did. Yes, it’s ‘The-place-for-tourists-from-around-the-world’, but for me it was about the chirpy voices of kids I didn’t know, the wide eyes of the old men and women I adored, the patience of men and women queuing up on the ticket counter. For me it was about my favorite hot chocolate made by the French guy I crushed on with hazel eyes. For me it was life. Seizing the beauty of that cold day with my eyes, I started toward this striking hidden beauty called ‘the-little-Venice’ of London. Although this place is most lively during London’s summer months, I decided to give my eyes a treat of its winter’s beauty. I started my walk from Warwick Avenue to the little Venice, and although I wasn’t as delighted as I was looking at the pictures of the place online, it still remains at the back of the mind. The dry leaves of that winter morning, the cold moisture that layered in the air, the colorful boats and the small street side pubs and cafes was what the place was all about.
Post ambling around the beauty of the little Venice, I walked to Camden town and took an underground to Oxford Street to indulge in some retail therapy. I am a little brand conscious which makes me forget all my problems and fall in love with the entire stretch of what oxford street is. One can find all sorts of brands here – premium, mid-range, local – this place has it all. By 7 I was exhausted, literally. My backpack filled with all-things-shopped, my shoulders started to drop but I just couldn’t end my day without a final ‘english’ feel. I walked 10 minutes past the street to ‘Newman arms’, a traditional family run pub for a quick drink-and-chips session. I met a beautiful man there, 30 something years, and that place was no longer about drinks or the food, it was about the story that man shared with me and the sudden connection you feel with the unknown.
I wrapped my day with some takeaway food and traveled back to my hotel. I read this quote inside a book my neighbor in the underground was reading and I can connect the most to it – “Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
That was how I spent one day in the city that enthuses me to feel free. Many people I know say I exaggerate what London really is. I just say ‘You don’t see what I see; you don’t feel what I feel’!