My last day in London I meet up with Alexia, a woman from Northern Italy who I found on the work-away website. She is looking for someone to help with video editing in exchange for accommodations. Even though I’ve decided I am heading to Spain for November instead of Italy, I figure I can still meet with her and talk about possibly working something out for next spring when I come back through Europe. She is London on business. We meet in South Kensington at 5pm. The meeting lasts about an hour and then I jump on the tube across the street and head up to Bermondsey. I am supposed to meet a cousin of mine at a bar called Woolpack on Bermondsey street. I assume it’s very close to the Bermondsey underground station.
I get out of the station and look around. I’m not on Bermondsey street. I wander up and down. Hmmm. No Bermondsey street. I look at google maps on my phone. Although I never bought a SIM card, sometimes if maps were loaded earlier I can still use them a bit without service. No luck this time. Damn. I finally ask a gentleman that is waiting to cross the street. He is not sure where Bermondsey street is but he looks it up on his phone. He tells me it’s about a twenty minute walk from here. Damn. It’s already 6:30, when I’m supposed to be meeting Tom. The man tells me I can hop on the bus that is right down the block. It should take me up there. I thank him and run to the bus right before it takes off.
I ask the bus driver if this bus goes to Bermondsey Street. He acknowledges that it does. I stupidly hold up my day pass ticket that I had been using for the Underground and ask “Does this work for the bus too?”. The bus driver nods. “Yep”. I thank him and take a seat.
The traffic is so bad that the bus makes very little progress. Minutes tick away. I’m getting later and later and I have no way to reach out to my cousin and tell him I’m going to be late. I hate when people have to wait on me. Finally I decide to ask the woman in front of me for a favor. I ask her is she minds texting my cousin for me (I had his phone number) and let him know I’m running behind but on my way. The woman obliges but her phone has problems and is stuck sending the message. It still hasn't gone through by the time she gets off at her stop. She tells me she will keep trying. I thank her for the effort. Damn. The bus takes for ever. It probably would have been faster to walk!
Finally the bus stops at the corner of Abbey Street and Bermondsey. I jump off and haul ass four or five blocks to Woolpack. I step into the bar and look around. I’m not quite sure what Tom looks like, I only met him once when I was 3 years old or something, but he said he would be with his two dogs, so I figure he shouldn't be to hard to spot. I see a man, standing near the bar with two small dogs on leashes. I walk up to him. “Tom?” He smiles and nods. We shake hands.
“Nice to meet you… again,” I say. We grab some drinks and head to the back patio of the bar. We chat for an hour or so. I call it an early night because I have a bus to catch in the morning.
Wednesday morning I catch the tube from Mile End to Victoria Station. I emerge from the Underground and walk towards Victoria Coach Station. On the way I stop at Pret A Manger to grab a coffee and some breakfast. After that I hit the Station and look for the Megabus desk. I go to check in and pull my passport out. I haven’t even opened it yet or given my name and the lady says “Donald Johnson?”.
“Uhh…” I stammer, “Yeah. How did you know?”
She smiles. “You’re the only American on this trip…”
“It’s that obvious, huh?”
She smiles, checks my passport and hands me my boarding slip. At 7:45 we board the bus. There is Wifi on the bus, which is nice. I get a message from my AirBnB host saying their looking forward to my arrival.
I get to Paris a bit behind schedule because of traffic. I arrive at the bus station about 7pm and head to the Metro. It takes 40 minutes to reach Juan and Francesca’s apartment in the 19th Arrondissement. I climb six insanely strenuous flights of stairs and knock. Francesca answers the door. She lets me in and shows me around the cosy apartment. I’ll be staying on a sofa bed. Juan gets home from class and the three of us chat over a bottle of wine. We talk about travel, languages, and how Cervantes was the grandfather of Post Modern fiction.
The next day I dedicate to the Louvre. I grab a map when I first enter but never end up looking at it, I just wander around. I see so much but know I missed a lot as well. Of course I see the obligatory stuff - Mona Lisa, Nike of Samothrace, etc.
Friday I take the metro into the city centre and roam around. I cross Pont Neuf and walk along the left bank of the Seine. I had packed a lunch so i decide to eat it down near the river. It’s perfect weather: Sunshine with a slight breeze, yellow leaves scattered about. It can’t get much better than this. Later I see the Eiffel Tower and take a Winebot photo. I time it just right and catch a girl doing a handstand in the background.
On Saturday, Juan takes me down Montmartre and we eat at a little Vietnamese joint. I have Bobun, which I’ve never had before. It was awesome. After lunch we head up to see Sacré Cœur, a beautiful basilica on top of the hill. Then we weave through the neighborhood and eventually pass Moulin Rouge. Here I part ways with Juan. He grabs the metro back to the apartment to get back to studying Cervantes for his class.
I continue on southward and come to La Gallerie Lafayette - really a glorified shopping mall. Not my thing. But I head up to the terrace on the seventh floor (Juan told me about this) and get a great view of the city. After Lafayette, I walk down to check out the Opera building.
Sunday, I head out to see the catacombs but the line is insanely long. It’s wrapped around the block almost back to the ticket booth. I opt not to wait in that line. I figure I’ll check it out Monday morning - should be a lot less crowded. I decide to head North to Notre Dame. On the way I pass through Luxembourg park and spend some time wandering around it. I eat my packed lunch there. I had purchased sandwich fixings and been packing my lunch the past few days and saving a lot of money. Wow. I think I’m actually getting the hang of this budget travel thing.
After Luxembourg Park I reach Notre Dame. Again the line is outrageous so I opt not to go inside, but instead just take pictures of the outside.
Later, back at the apartment, I check online for when the Catacombs open on Monday. Damn. They don’t. I guess it will have to be Tuesday morning. Juan and Francesca once again cook dinner and invite me to join them. I feel bad always eating their food so I run down to the market and grab a bottle of wine.
Monday the weather is supposed to be amazing so I had planned to hit a couple parks. Waking up, however, it’s cold, overcast and foggy. Not what they forecasted at all. I head out anyway and walk through Buttes-Chaumont Park. This is one of my favorite spots. The elevation varies wildly through out the park and at the top there is a great view of the city. It’s a nice idyllic retreat from the city. The weather does improve in the early afternoon, so that helps. After that I hit Bellville Park which is nice but doesn’t compare to Buttes-Chaumont.
I head back to the apartment and have dinner with Juan and Francesca again. Francesca fixes an awesome curry dish. I call it an early night. The next morning I pack my bag and head to the airport.
Next stop Spain.