There are plenty of people out there that have turned travel into a lifestyle. Endlessly wandering from destination to destination for the best unknown restaurant, hidden alley, or secret spot. These are the people that get offended if they’re called a tourist instead of a traveler- because they’re on the road for something bigger than passport stamps and pictures of Big Ben. These are the people that will offer advice to newbies like us: travel slowly and get off the beaten path. Seems cliche.
But we ignored that advice in London. We walked for hours and hours around to every big site in town. We walked down the South Bank, through the Tate Modern, and sat under the London Eye. We ate our way through Borough Market, stuffing ourselves with smoothies, lentil soup, a roast beef sandwich, a duck confit sandwich, and topped it all off with Turkish coffee and baklava. We went on the hunt for fish and chips and lounged around Trafalgar Square people watching and dodging pigeons. And we drank beer at an old English pub.
We followed the guidebooks in London and all I got were sore feet (and I think I did something to my hip too). I was left feeling like Lonely Planet must be missing something and those well-trodden travelers must be right. The best parts of a trip aren’t written in a guidebook. They are the easily missed, random encounters, and hidden experiences you’ll find by just wandering around. By going slowly.
As it turns out, my favorite memory of London isn’t found within any of the above mentioned excursions. My favorite memory of London was a string of serendipity that happened on the first day we arrived.
Jet-lagged on our first day in London we spent a few hours lounging around the Round Pond in Hyde Park waiting for our room at the hostel to open up. There are stacks of chairs for people to use for a lunchtime picnic or afternoon nap. So we took a seat and just sat there. Watching people walk by, kids running around laughing and playing, and lots and lots of bike riders.
While Kris was busy snapping photos of the lawn chairs, I saw him. The most British guy I’ve ever seen in my life. A slightly rounder Mr. Bean with his brown suit and combed over hair. Perfectly shined shoes, a messenger bag, and scarf, riding his matching 30 year old bike through the park. With no one else as witness to this British spectacle, I felt alone in my amazing British experience. Until later that night . . .
Because when we got back to the hostel we loaded up pictures of the day. And there, as we were flipping through pictures of pavilions and lawn chairs, was Mr. Bean. In perfect alignment and perfectly timed, staring right at us. We’ll never get a better picture by chance.
We were so, so lucky on this pleasant, sunny afternoon in London.