I got a couple second looks coming through immigration into Europe from Asia. Fair enough. I was slightly, shall we say, well-traveled, with a beard, no job, no real plans, and no transportation booked except for a flight out of Europe in six weeks or so. The lady working immigration at the Stockholm airport looked at my passport photo from eight years ago, looked at me, looked back at my passport, looked at me, and said, "Smile." After lecturing me for not having confirmation of my upcoming flights readily available, she reluctantly let me into Europe. I guess I had a nice smile.
Getting into the UK was much easier. The bloke, as they say, was wildly interested in my plans to hike around the country with my old pal Mr. Tom Groom, aka Selfy, who I met on my Appalachian Trail thru hike the previous year. I suppose it helped that I had a name, a local address, and confirmation of my flight out of London on hand. I was learning. But I did look even more well-traveled. It didn't seem to bother him though, and eventually I was able to get him to stop asking me questions. I was off to find Selfy.
Last time I saw Selfy was somewhere in Pennsylvania, so we had plenty to catch up on. Between the two of us in the last year we had managed to avoid joining the British army again, hiked the worst part of the PCT, led the Marathon de Sables for several miles in Morocco, and held like zero real jobs. Not bad. We hopped in our ride, and many times our home in the upcoming two weeks, and went to find some trail magic in the form of Mrs. Julia Groom and family. I was treated to a comfy bed, a hot shower, proper English tea, great conversation on Brexit and Trump in which we all realized we are all screwed, and I went to my first real pub. I got the fish and chips and a lager - a common theme in the next couple weeks.
Thanks for the trail magic Mrs. Groom!!
The One and Only Tom Groom Tour Through London began my first full day in the United Kingdom. The tour was complete with facts that might be true, facts that definitely weren't true, walking, biking, boating, biking while boating, pubs when we were thirsty, markets when we were hungry, and countless witty, classic Selfy anecdotes. Although it is possible the British accent just tricked me into thinking they were witty. We will never know.
The first day was our walking day. You know what they say about walking, it's like riding a bike. Selfy and I have done plenty of walking together so what better way to kick things off. We walked to the bus stop and rode into town from Richmond. We walked through Kensington Gardens and saw Kensington Palace, which is known to some Americans as Selfy's house. We walked past The Albert and into the Science Museum, where they showcased a lot of American innovations and discoveries. It was as if England was a proud mum and putting all of America's A+ test scores on the fridge. Thanks mum. Love you too.
We walked through the city and past a Wetherspoons. Saw Big Ben, the River Thames, the London Eye, and walked by another Wetherspoons. Selfy told me some history about some of the famous landmarks. For example, he explained that Big Ben was built due to a lack of Italian leather that limited people from acquiring wrist watches. Therefore a clock was constructed in the middle of London for people to see from all around. I like the story too much to look into the history myself.
We also saw the London Bridge... I think. Apparently the bridge that everyone thinks is London Bridge is actually Tower Bridge, and London Bridge is one of the many smaller, not so extravagant looking bridges crossing the river throughout the city. We couldn't exactly figure out which one, so I'm sure we saw it at some point. Probably as we were passing another Wetherspoons.
After all that walking our hiker hunger started acting up so we went to Borough Market. It was a nice outdoor market near Shakespeare's Globe with lots of delicious food. We had lunch and bought a nice cheese for Mrs. Groom as a gift for her generosity. Unfortunately we accidentally never gave it to her, took it with us on our road trip across the United Kingdom, and ate it all. It's the thought, though, right?
We made it back home after some ice cream to relax, have a nice meal with the family, get to bed early, and prepare for the next day of The One and Only Two Day Personalized Tom Groom Tour Through London.
The second day of The One and Only Two Day Personalized Tom Groom Tour Through London Extravaganza was designed to see the city from a different perspective. We headed out on bicycle. You know what they say about cycling, it's like walking but a little harder. We got to the city by a short train ride and headed off to see the changing of the guard.
We arrived just as it was happening. It was kind of like a very short parade. They closed down the street and horses came walking down carrying men in red coats with swords and funny hats. They rode into the gates of Buckingham Palace and performed all kinds of drills and marches. It seemed like way too much celebration for basically just a new shift of security guards coming in to watch over the residence of a mostly ceremonial political position. But I come from a country of a maximum 300 years of tradition, so don't listen to me.
We rode down to the Thames. The Wetherspoons were passing us faster on our bikes than they were the day before. Selfy only took us down the wrong path a time or two, which was way less often than I took him down the wrong path while hiking the Appalachian Trail.
We took our bikes onto a river boat and saw the city from the water. London did not look bad I must admit. The river tour was one of my favorite activities in London. Nice views and a cool breeze on a chilly day. We landed again in Greenwich - as in the Mean Time. I was really excited about this, maybe a little too much. I had spent the last four months in so many different time zones, and now I was at the place of the time zone on which all other time zones are compared. GMT +0.
We saw a big, old ship on land, biked through Greenwich Park, had a lager at a pub (not a Wetherspoons), crossed under the Thames through a tunnel, crossed over the Thames on Tower Bridge, and headed back home. But not before stopping at Burough Market again for a heavy snack. And not before getting more history lessons from Selfy. Such as, you used to be able to go up the towers of Tower Bridge, but prostitutes kept hanging out up there and ruined it for everyone.
There was only one last stop on the The One and Only Two Day Personalized Tom Groom Tour Through London Extravaganza and Fiesta. Wetherspoons. There are around 150 of these pubs in London and just under 1,000 in the U.K. and Ireland. That is like taking all the Outback Steakhouses in America and moving them to an area the size of New Mexico, but with worse weather. A trip just wouldn't be complete without a visit.
It was our last night in London, and we went to a Wetherspoons to celebrate the birthday of one of Selfy's mates. I had a great time at the pub. There were beers and games and British humor. All of which I thoroughly enjoy even if I don't always understand. And the later the night went, the more difficult it was to understand the fast speaking British slang that was being shouted over the noise of a crowded pub on a Friday night in central London. It was awesome.
P.S. If you happen to be a fan of both Blink 182 and Arsenal F.C. please contact Tom Groom. He is always looking for new members to the official club. Thank you.