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A Pinch and a Punch, First of the Month!

Written on: Saturday August 1st, 2009

As my trip was nearing its end, the only remaining country that I absolutely wanted to visit before returning to the states was Ireland.  However, after checking through my facebook account, I learned that a travel mate from ten months ago had recently returned to his home in Essex, England, just outside of London.  Checking ticket prices, I realized it was cheaper to fly into London anyway, so I sent him a message stating that I would be in town for a few nights, and hoped we could get together. 

The 737 touched down at Stansted Airport later than expected.  Unfortunately, my mate, Brad, was out of town on a job that night but would return the following day.  That left me on the tube headed toward the Generator Hostel in St. Pancras.  This place was mad.  An eight hundred bed dorm with full pub, dance floor and game room.  Fortunately they had vacancy, and booking the room online versus paying at the desk saved me 17£.  Sweet!  But despite the unlimited potential for a crazy night spent meeting fellow travellers of the world, I opted to crash early, as the journey from Cyprus by now had taken its toll.

Despite being woken at 4:00am by the drunken stumbling of a dormmate, I rose from bed refreshed and ready to take on the day.  The first task to check off the list would be bagging a couple caches in the area.  As always, geocaching allowed me to explore parts of the city that I otherwise would have missed.  I went through obscure neighborhoods and parks, content to people watch and take in the sights along the way.  A quick stop in a pub for fish and chips provided ample energy for the activity.

Brad was one of my travel mates in Borneo.  We, along with two other British mates (John and Rich), partied in KK, climbed Mt. Kinabalu, trekked the jungles, and dived the shark and turtle infested waters off Sipidan.  It was a fantastic part of my trip that I was looking forward to reliving with Brad.   He even invited me to stay at his place, well, his parents' place, for the next couple nights that I was in town.  As he was still returning home from his construction gig, he instructed me to hop on the Hammersmith and City line to its end at Barking, where I would be met outside the Spotted Dog Pub by his father, Andrew.  It all seemed a little double-oh-seven to me...setting up a rendezvous with an unknown guy in a sketchy part of town...but it turned out brilliantly!  I heard a horn beep and turned to see my man smiling and pointing out the window of his convertable BMW.  After shaking hands and hopping in, we chatted away during the 45 minute ride to his home. 

Brad arrived at the house shortly after we did.  It was great to see him, even if I didn't recognize his short and brown hair!  We sat out in the back garden and drank a couple beers as Brad's mother, Jackie, returned home.  It was wonderful to meet his folks and I instantly felt comfortable staying with them.

That night one of Brad's mates was having a birthday barbeque nearby.  We purchased our supplies and headed over.  It was good fun to meet his friends and hang out, but it really made me think about my own return to the states and having a similar event.  The honeymoon, as it is called in travellers jargon...that period when you return from months or years abroad to those who mean the most to you, laughing, sharing and enjoying life.  Yes, I was thinking of home.

Waking from an absurdly restful sleep, I walked downstairs to chat with Andrew and Jackie.  Brad had to work again today, but they invited me out for breakfast.  The proper English breaky at an outdoor cafe did not disappoint!  From there they were kind enough to take me on a bit of a tour of the Essex coast.  We drove to the sea, past the ever-popular amusement park where people watching was taken to a whole new level.  Similar to Wisconsin Dells but significantly smaller, the party had apparently started by mid-afternoon when we arrived, and showed no signs of slowing down.   We next drove over to Old Leigh, a quaint little fishing village that had that oh-so-cosey English feel.  It was very enjoyable to walk around this town, taking in the restaurants, tea shops and even a worthy fish market.

By the time we returned home, Brad was back and ready to get rolling.  Tonight our plans were to go out in London.  We took the tube into town and immediately filled our gullets.  The pub grub satisfied our cravings before heading off to check out the one tourist attraction I wanted to see.  Having been to London before, I had already seen many of the highlights, but the Tower Bridge fascinated me greatly, and I wanted another look on this trip.  As we walked over I realized how much the city had changed since 2000.  Many new buildings existed, some of which were quite impressive in design.

With the brief city tour behind us, we stopped for a pint at Hung, Drawn and Quartered, an appropriately named pub as its location was the site of the last public hanging in the city.  A quick tube ride over to Leicester Square set us up for the remainder of the evening.  We had a few pints, reminiscing of our time together in Borneo and trading travel stories since then.  Brad had just returned from fifteen months on the road, so we both had a vast collection of tales to tell.  A last second catch of the last train toward home guaranteed our safe return, after which we popped in a pizza and continued the conversation until sleep overtook us.

My final morning in England further proved what outstanding connections can be made via travel.  Jackie cooked a delicious breakfast for us all, once again demonstrating her roll as the perfect host.  After using their internet for a final check in for my upcoming flight, Brad arranged for one of his mate's to drive us to the airport instead of having me take the one hour train ride there.  It was a gesture that was greatly appreciated. 

So that was it...I rode with Brad and his mates to the airport, where we already began planning our next meeting, hopefully with John and Rich.  Whenever and wherever that happened, it was destined to be one helluva get together!