What’s Up? (England Day Four)

Monday started off with two hours in the wonderful Mettricks cafe. Their egg and bacon sandwich was one of the best tasting things in all of England. Thick round bacon on a buttery slice of toast served on a black chalk slab. Mettricks was incredibly stylish, a cafe complete with couches, sofas, loveseats, etc, with board games and magazine choices like “Barista.” I mean this sincerely, Barista Magazine was actually a good read, I cared about the articles, and its coffee product advertisements were appealing. So me and my friend had one of many ‘real talks’ that were in store for us this Monday, while we knocked back our coffees of choice. A Cappuccino for me, an Americano for her.

Winchester was our first destination in our week of travel. It was a quaint city that the London Airport Bus drove through on the way to Southampton, so I had an interest in visiting the city before my friend even brough it up. So, Winchester was this very historical, brick-heavy city, with a shopping street that reminded me of Diagon Alley. At the Whittard’s in Winchester I got fifty 1886 Blend black tea bags, which brewed a nice malty black tea (I like my tea black! And smokey lapsang was a treat to drink while I was England).

After the shopping, we headed in the direction of the Roman Viaduct, an artificial river/canal-type thing. We were only slightly sidetracked by the Winchester Cathedral and a lovely garden designed to be experienced by senses other than sight. Flowers and other plants were grown for the way they felt, and smelled, so we were invited to smell and feel everything in the garden. It’s interesting, I feel like most gardens and parks are designed to be looked at–this felt much more special.

The Roman Viaduct was by far the standout feature of Winchester though. The water flowed beautifully from underneath buildings, through alleys, under bridges, and then released into a natural river full of flora and ducks. The ducks, oh my gosh me and my friend might have actually spent a full hour just walking along the Viaduct looking at and photographing ducks. It was easy to be filled with happiness in this place. We found a bench with a fitting inscription: “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

Crown and Anchor
In Winchester we were on a mission for a Fish and Chips dinner. We walked into a seafood restaurant that was open, The Fish Tale yet completely deserted: no customers, no waiters, no welcomers–we saw the bad omen and got the hell out of dodge. Instead we ended up the Crown and Anchor, a nice pub that was kind enough to serve us Fish and Chips even though the kitchens were to stop taking orders in five or so minutes. I had a cider from my friend’s hometown, we endulged in our massive fried cod, and dived head first into ‘real talk’ matters. The Crown and Anchor was obviously a place filled with characters, a place where the gruffiest toughest-sounding Englishmen were ordering Coors Light, oddly enough. Here too, Winchester made me happy, comfortable. At this hour, from our window seat we could see many schoolchildren walking up and down the street, busses, (yes, even the double-decker variety), and the magnificent, mysterious statue at the end of Winchester’s High Street. A man (?) holding a sword upside down, like a sign of peace, or compromise–like “I am armed, but not aggressive.”

What’s Up? (England Day One)

The Flight
To describe what it was like to be in England, and to finally meet a lifelong friend, I have to start at the start. I had never flown Virgin airlines before, and I heard a great many things about their services–so when I took my window seat and saw that I had free movies to choose from, a blanket, pillow, sleepmask, earplugs, and even a toothbrush and toothpaste, I thought “this is going to be an awesome flight.” I imagined myself taking off from New York around 8PM, immediately falling asleep, and waking up in London at 8AM. This was not the case. I did not sleep for a minute of my eight-hour flight. Still, I thought the flight was alright; I enjoyed complimentary cheap red wine, dinner, breakfast, and I listened to a lot of George R.R. Martin on audiobook.

The Bus
When I landed in London, I was exhausted, but too excited to slow down. I made my way to the central bus station, grabbed a ticket to Southampton, waited all of thirty minutes, boarded my bus, and got underway. (I noted that the air outside of London Heathrow smelled clean, felt cold, like ionized air). I looked out of the bus window, looking for some iconic London landmark. Would I see Big Ben? The London Eye? I saw nothing. (I think this must be what it feels like to land in America for your first time, stepping outside at LaGuardia Airport, and feasting your eyes on Queens). But I wasn’t here for London, London was just a means to an ends, I was here for my friend.

Still, feeling antsy, I took notes to pass the hours. I noted every roundabout, the types of cars we passed, the traffic signs, (how accurate Euro Truck Simulator surprisingly is), the beautiful yellow rapeseed fields, the farm animals. Then the bus drove through our first city, Winchester. I noted the “canal-river” which turned out to be a Roman Viaduct, the many bars and restaurants, the historical brick aesthetic. (I don’t think I imagined I would be here four days later, eating and drinking with one of my best friends).

I feared falling asleep on the bus. It was far more comfortable than the airplane. I put on another chapter of A Song of Ice and Fire on Audible and tried to focus on the landscape. “Stay awake.”

The Arrival
When the bus pulled through Southampton, it was funny. I had seen some of these streets before, on Google Maps, back when I was thinking about the trip. I saw the West Quay, I knew what it was. I kept looking at the sidewalks. Was she somewhere around here? Where’s the bus station? Where? Where?!

Seeing her in the bus station was crazy. Just that type of moment where you don’t care how dorky you look to all these strangers, you’re just so happy you’ll let yourself get a little out there. Scream, hug, laugh, just say “Oh my God” over and over again. And, keep in mind, at this point I had been awake for over 24 hours, so the lunacy of sleep deprivation was stacking on top of the lunacy of happiness.

The notes slowed down here, because well, I was just experiencing things. I was wheeling my small luggage through a new town with an old friend. I needed desperately to sleep. So I slept in what would be my modest little bedroom for nine days. I slept a small, good little sleep, then had some breakfast sandwiches and drinks at the Maritimo Lounge, and more drinks back at my friend’s place. My long day ended like that. Familiar vibes of watching YouTube videos over some cider and beer, and a longer, much more needed sleep.