Though it was more than twenty-four hours long, there was a lot to like about our travel to London. A very early departure gave us a chance to say goodbye to Mexico City at dawn, a time of day that offered a decidedly placid alternative view to the city’s usual hubbub. The airport process was a breeze, and we relished the final simple exchanges we’d have in Spanish (for a while) with the baggage handlers and airline crew.
A few hours after our first take off, we landed at Chicago O’Hare, bracing for the shock of returning to the U.S., albeit very briefly, after more than three months away. We didn’t route ourselves through the Midwest intentionally, but it turned out to be a blessing: the Chicagoan ground staff gave us nothing short of a friendly midwestern welcome ‘home’ as we transited between terminals to catch our onward flight, and we didn’t really have a thing to complain about (try as we may have to find one!).
Next stop, Toronto!
Though our itinerary between MEX and LGW was impressively inefficient, this second stop en route was more than worth it. First of all, the approach to YYZ is great: the Toronto skyline appears suddenly across the very flat southern Canada landscape, and we watched small planes land and take off from Billy Bishop Airport, which is right in the middle of the city (and one of our shared favorites from a previous trip to this city). A love for all things airplane/airport aside, the real treat was this:
Our dear friends Yasir and Sonali came to meet us in transit! They too are veterans of UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design, Yasir having studied planning with us, and Sonali earning her degree in urban design. Yasir is now earning his PhD in planning at York University, and carrying on with institution-based activism – work which was partly how we become friends at Cal. Sonali is doing what sounds like super interesting master plan and public realm work at a design firm downtown. They are the proud new parents of an adorable dog who we did not meet, bur look forward to getting to know someday soon. For all you readers who know and love Yasir and Sonali, we are pleased to report they are well, and doing a bang up job fighting the man north of the border (where, much to our dismay, it appears there is very much a man to fight, and work to be done. Is nowhere sacred?!).
After too brief a visit we said goodbye to our friends and proceeded through our final security check point, boarding our final plane across the pond! Twenty-two hours in, we landed in London’s Gatwick airport with plane hair and sticky eyelids, but still thoroughly excited to be in the land of double-decker buses and nationalized healthcare.
Our first trip through the city – via two commuter trains and a tube ride – was mostly a blur, but one that gave us a few tantalizing tastes of exploration to come.
We finally emerged at our destination station just as a little English drizzle was beginning to fall, and as the wheel of our overstuffed roller bag gave way. Each taking a handle of the bag, we lugged its heavy contents the half mile to our destination, and arrived with our sights set on a shower and a snooze.
Our first home in London was a small apartment in Forest Gate, a lovely row-house neighborhood northeast of the city. We were there to house sit Mephy the cat and T-Rex the gecko. As part of our scheme to save money in our travels, we registered with TrustedHouseSitters.com – a website that lets people request and provide house- and pet-sitting services (apart from an annual membership fee for sitters, no money is exchanged). We’re grateful to Aneta and Daniel for taking a chance on us as newcomers to the site, and really enjoyed our three days with these quirky animals! The neighborhood was also a peaceful introduction to London, with beautiful walks in the Wanstead Flats just across the street, and a few terrific pubs around.
In addition to caring for the animals and adjusting to a new time zone, our broader agenda for London was pretty clear: drink a bunch of tea and sample a bunch of ales, ride the aforementioned double decker bus, scope out the site of the John Snow pump, and buy some bikes! All that and more, coming soon to a blog post near you.