One thing I’ve come to realise over the past few months, in between sitting on my arse playing Football Manager, watching The Sopranos and waiting to go to Japan, is just how little of my own continent – and more so my own country – I’ve actually seen.
I reckon I’m something of an expert when it comes to backpacking, travelling and sightseeing in Asia, but when people ask me about essential things to do and see at home, I’m really not much use. You could argue that in the two months between finishing my CELTA course in May and leaving for Japan in July, I had the perfect opportunity to get out and about and see my own country.
…and you’d be right.
I did have all these grand ideas of jumping on a boat over to the Isle of Man or Ireland (I can see the ferry port from my window), but in the end this was never really anything more than an idea. Funny really, as when I booked my flight to Japan I wondered to myself: what the frig am I going to do for the next six weeks? That’s aaaaaages away!
Cut to today, and I have just over a week until I leave. Time flies when you’re winning the league on Football Manager.
That’s not to say that I’ve not done anything but sit around killing braincells. There’s plenty to see and do on my doorstep here in Liverpool, and I’ve very slowly started to discover the city and visit the sights. More on that in a later post. However, as part of my impending move to Japan (Oizumigakuen, to be specific) I was handed the perfect opportunity to be a tourist at home…
To be honest, the term ‘visa run’ sends shivers down my spine. Whilst travelling, endless hours spent at foreign embassies and inconvenient trips to other countries just to get a stamp in the passport got a little tiring to say the least. However, when I was informed that I’d need to make a trip down to London to finalise my Japanese visa I was all smiles.
The northerner in me has often ruled my thoughts when it came to London in the past; I was always of the opinion that our capital was too big, too busy and too expensive and whilst this was perhaps the case – count your change from a fiver when you buy a pint – I was still excited to go and explore. In my adult life, my only visits to London were to watch Rochdale lose to teams like Barnet and Leyton Orient, so I was excited to be a tourist and see what all the fuss was about without having my mood ruined by football.
I jumped on a train first thing Monday morning bound for London Euston. This would usually be quite exciting, but I’d actually been there on the preceding Friday and Saturday, as I attended the British Summer Time gig in Hyde Park. Trips to London are like buses…you know the saying.
I arrived in London a sniffling mess thanks to wave of pollen which seemed to grip the country for that week, and headed straight to the embassy. I had been told that the visa application process would take about an hour, but to my surprise I was actually in and out of the embassy within 10 minutes after an almost suspiciously smooth turn of events. I’d have to come back in a few days, which left me plenty of time to discover London.
Public naps and tourist snaps…
I was lucky enough to be in London for the hottest spell of the year and, in all honesty, it actually felt like I was in a different country at times. This meant the tube was unbearably hot at times, but due to the lovely weather I was quite happy to walk everywhere anyway. Yes, I’m aware London is big. And no, it’s nothing to do with being tight.
The heavy weekend and morning of travelling however, took its toll on me and I’m rather ashamed to say I spent the large majority of my first afternoon asleep on the grass in Leicester Square. At least I did it in a famous place that I could tick off the list!
In between catching up with old friends over food and drinks (I didn’t realise how many lived in London!), sleeping on just about any patch of grass I could find, and blowing my nose incessantly, I did do some genuine sightseeing.
My two full days were put to excellent use, and I tried my best to walk absolutely everywhere. When you consider that Buckingham Palace, Downing Street, Westminster, the House of Commons, South Bank and the Tower Bridge were all ticked off amongst many others, I must have covered a good 15/20 miles just on foot over the couple of days! Maybe those afternoon naps were well deserved.
To my surprise, by the end of my visit London was really winning me over. The buzz of Covent Garden and Camden on a sunny day make it almost worth the expensive food and drinks and I was starting to pick holes in my own argument. Yes, it’s a bloody big place but that just means there’s more to see and do. Is it busy? Course it is, but that just means there’s more interesting people around. Finally, to my surprise, pretty much every tourist attraction can be done on the cheap, or even free. Let’s be honest, who really wants to go inside Buckingham Palace? Just grab a quick selfie and get out of there!
Thursday rolled around and after a quick trip to the embassy, it was time to head back up north. I waved ‘sayonara’ to sunny London and said ‘konnichiwa’ to rainy Liverpool – can you tell I’ve been trying to learn Japanese?
It’s not often I eat humble pie, so you may want to bookmark this page as you won’t hear me admit this very often, but I was wrong about London. I still don’t think I’ll ever get used to the price of a pint down there, though.