Since moving abroad I’ve returned to the motherland on a number of occasions, mostly for family events, but on my most recent visit I was sightseeing in the UK. I spent most of my time in London, seeing the sites, tasting the foods, living the life.
Night Terrors On The Night Bus
Any time I want to catch a flight from Tokyo I have a choice to make; ¥13,000 for a comfy three-hour train ride, or ¥7,000 for a ten hour overnight hell bus.
It’s more like eight hours …
I do try to take the Night Bus to Tokyo instead of the Shinkansen whenever feasible. While they’re not quite on par with aeroplanes or the Bullet Train in terms of comfort, they’re still a far cry from the rotten stinky coaches I grimly recall from my youth. In fact the seats recline much further than any plane I’ve ever been on; almost horizontal. The down side to this setup is that if the person in front decides to fully recline then one may well find an おじいさん (old man) snoring intensely from around one’s crotch region.
On this particular trip I was accompanied by three others; my girlfriend and her parents. It was to be her parents’ first trip to an English-speaking country. So it was we four that hopped onto that long bus ride and far longer flight.
After a quick stop over in the land of clogs and tulips we touched ground at London Heathrow. It was rapidly getting dark so we made our way to our accommodation via a quick march. We’d opted to rent an apartment for the duration of our stay. It worked out cheaper than a standard hotel and allowed us the freedom to cook our own meals. It was also useful having all four of us within reach of each other as this made planning and organisation easier.
We arrived at the apartment, weary but charged, at eleven in the evening. There was only one hour to go. One hour to a whole new year. We had flown in on December thirty-first. With little to no time get fully crocked this was to be my soberest New Years Eve since I turned eighteen.
Our apartment was near Monument tube station and we reasoned that it might be possible to see some fireworks from London Bridge. We made our way there, the streets flooded with that nostalgic yellow glow (streetlights in Japan are white, and in rural areas there are very few of them). The Bridge was buzzing, people jammed into every space, policemen aiding traffic in squeezing through the masses. We found a spot near our end of the bridge where we could partly see the rest of the city spreading out from the Thames. The thick redolence of weed hit my nostrils; I wondered if any of my companions recognised the smell, the likelihood being that they’d never been close enough to snuff the stuff before. I kept silent, not wishing to worry them unnecessarily.
We viewed some of the far off sparkling of fireworks and as a collective we, bridge loiterers, counted down to January first. After a spot of cheering and well-wishing I led my tiny Japanese fellowship back to our lodgings.
Sightseeing in the UK – Families in London
After a fitful night of jet-lag ravaged near-sleep, I arose to find my girlfriend’s mum already in the process of making breakfast. She had come well prepared for our first morning. After breakfast my family were scheduled to come and meet the rest of us. This would be the first time that my parents met her parents. I knew that everyone would be friendly and welcoming but still I was concerned over language barriers and cultural fences.
Thankfully, it all went smoothly. There were hugs and smiles and laughter all around. Gifts were exchanged, compliments given and gratitudes presented. Subsequently we embarked on a joint family outing for the day.
First we walked along some of the route of London’s New Year Parade. The parade itself was incredibly varied.
There were giant balloon characters.
There were exotic dancers from around the world.
There were Disney characters.
There were horses.
There were no good places left to stand.
So, after a few sessions of peering over peoples’ heads we decided to move on to the next planned activity: Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland.
Having been to many a German winter market in my day I was especially excited about this place. Upon seeing the immense scale of the place my excitement grew exponentially. It was massive! There was plenty of old-timey German themery around, some more tacky than others. At least fifty percent of the place was rammed with “classic” carnival games and rides; the garish, multi-coloured kind that blare out dance music, each one using more power to stay lit than the Burj Khalifa. It was like a Bavarian hamlet and a drug-trip from the 90’s stepped into a matter-transporter at the same time. The result was a queer beast, but not unpleasant. The highlight for me was getting some traditional winter fest grub such as a hefty bratwurst in a crunchy roll and a cup of toasty glühwein.
A photo posted by Where? There! Teach. (@wherethereteach) on
That eve the lot of us piled into a dimly lit tapas restaurant. This was a bit of a tricky experience for the Japanese members of our party as Greek food often has hidden spiciness and the Japanese pallet is not always well equipped to handle extreme flavour burns. Thankfully, after a few puzzled minutes I think everyone managed to find something of interest. I myself was far too busy to assist with any communication issues as I was salivating over the burger sliders I’d ordered. These tiny, heavenly taste pockets were so delicious they were almost sexual.
The next day had a bit of a slow start. We eventually dragged ourselves out to the British Museum, which I had never had much interest in before but this visit really blew me away. For a mostly free experience the British Museum is totally stunning; there’s so much to see! The only complaint: not enough audio guide d￼evices. We waited for about fifteen minutes before giving up – my minimal-English companions opting to make up their own back-stories to the various wonders contained in those walls:
The next time both families met up was for a special dinner that evening. We went to a place called The Medieval Banquet. As a keen observer may have already deduced, it was a Medieval themed restaurant. The main dining area was in an underground chamber filled with candle-like lighting, faded tapestries and large wooden tables tucked away in red brick alcoves. All of the staff were decked out in authentic period costumes, a chubby fellow was suitably lavished in kingly gear, and for a minor fee we diners were able to rent similar outfits for the evening. The food was equally thematic – big wads of bread, simple soup, sizeable chunks of chicken served from weighty iron pots. Despite my simplistic sustenance summary it was actually really tasty and I was happy to vacuum up any stray leftovers.
As well as the fancy clothing and atmos there were some other Middle Age shenanigans thrown into the mix. For instance, whenever calling for a waitress the accepted utterance was ”WENCH!” Now, although this was expected (at least it was expected to be accepted, and accepting so led to expecting) every time I loudly bellowed to my table’s wench I always felt compelled to suffix a soft, near-whimper of
… sorry …
There was also an abundance of singing and various performances, from juggling to contortion to sword fighting. The fighting was my favourite part and I heartily joined in with screams of bloody murder as our table’s champion went up to bat. He battled valiantly, and although he did so nearly triumph he was destined to fall. Ah, Sir Longish-hair-stubbly-beard-guy, I shall ne’er forget ye.
The evening made for a great experience and I think we all had a lot of fun, however jet lag was steadily tightening it’s drowsy grasp on us so as Henry VIII bid us a good eve we quickly scuttled away to our soft apartment beds. My dreams that night were of wenches, mead, fat kings with surprisingly good singing voices and green sleeves.
Our time sightseeing in the UK was off to a rocking start and on the next day, we were set for a different adventure …
We saw plenty more while in the UK, including Stonehenge, Windsor Castle and … Poundland.
For all that and more check out Part 2!
Thank you for reading! For more travel tales, check here.