I was in the UK for a week in the May of last year, visiting friends and taking in some moments that only traveling solo can afford. I got off in London from San Fransisco and made my way to Glasgow in Scotland by train. I was meeting my dear friend Ayush after 12 years. We knew each other as teenagers, young adults after which our life paths took us in different directions and to different places. We stayed close, but hadn’t met after 2003.
When I got off at the Glasgow City Central, I was cold and scrambling about sleepily with stupidly heavy bags stuffed with stuff I was lugging from the US (despite having been repeatedly warned about the hazards involved by the husband in SF) So much for being a seasoned traveler. The woeful self loathing broke when I heard my name being called out in a very familiar voice, in the distinct way that could only be one person. Words cannot describe the joys of reuniting with a close friend after so long. Ash and his sweet partner J helped me into the car along with my dead man (as Ash called my luggage) and I was excited to the point of bursting. How truly precious it is was to be there, and all of this actually happening. Me in Glasgow, meeting my friend after eons ! I liked the city already, as we drove along the cobblestoned alleys in the cold, sleety rain. Coming home to Ash & J’s gorgeous hi rise flat overlooking the River Clyde was icing on the cake.
After dinner and having me all warm and cozied up, Ash and I sat down to a late night catch up over his signature masala chai, cookies, chocolate, life stories and lots of juicy gossip. At some point I passed out and apparently woke up only 12 hours later. I guess I “Slept it all off” My dead man almost broke me, you see.
I woke up to a breakfast of homecooked aloo parathas, sausages, eggs, beans and yes a taste of Haggis was involved ! I don’t think I had the palate to appreciate the quintessential Scots meat delicacy. Could be because I don’t especially like offal. But oh, waking up to a big hot breakfast on a cold, wet day over stories from growing up. Delish. So, after talking nonstop for some hours, we finally made our way out the door upon my friend’s insistence that I see something of his adoptive city. A bright lipstick, umbrellas, hats and out the door we were.
I love cold rainy days as much as sunshine-y ones. I have rediscovered my love of the colour grey and admire the generous neutrality with which it’s various tones extend a backdrop to almost anything. Set against Greys, these old structures of this old world city felt precious and mysterious. We walked through the streets of Glasgow, me an inquistive traveler and Ash my cute, suauve tour guide. We talked in the rain on our way to the Glasgow Uni, a place so splendid with it’s ancient with walls and pillars that I swear, were whispering things. The Kelvingrove art museum that I wanted to visit was closed that day, so we just walked on languidly (just the way I like to absorb a city), to the downtown for some old fashioned tea and Scottish cream cakes at the quaint Patisserie Valerie, though I chose and did rather well with my Espresso shots.
Later came alley walks, some unnecessary-but-fun shopping and at some point, Ash insisted that we go get some Scots style chips with curry sauce (yip yip!) at one of his preferred haunts that was situated happily across the art museum. Vinegar, salt, potato wedges skin on and curry spice, deep fried to perfection. Given my weakness for all of those things, I simply surrendered and for once that day, I had stopped talking. In retrospect, I’m surprised at how chatty I was during those days given that I prefer to be otherwise most of the time. The truth is, as I told him, few people know how to extend a side of themselves unflinchingly, and that makes us have so much to share with them. Besides being great friends, of course. We devoured all that salty comfort watching the Kelvingrove museum by dusk and the streaks of light peeking through the clouds. Passers by, traffic et al.
Once home, the three of us celebrated over a pop of bubbles before heading over to dinner at Jamie’s back in the city center. I was in the mood for fresh pasta and was certainly not disappointed with my linguine with locally sourced truffles. We stopped at the pretty, cobblestoned Ashton lane for a quick drink before I gave into yet another weird call of heady sleep. I mean really ? I had only two and a half days in this charming city with my lovely friends and all I seemed to be doing other than talking was sleeping and sleep, my friends, is not my friend. The boys had a lovely itinerary planned for me the next day, consisting of a picnic, a lake and a quaint village pub with a possible stop at the magnificent Linlithglow castle, which I wanted to see very much, given my love of medieval history. Alas, all I did was sleep like I was rescued from a disaster. It was too late to leave when I woke up (my poor Ash decided it was best to wake the houseguest) since the rains had taken over the skies. I assured him that I was most happy was just being there in his company and talking until his ears hurt. And so we did just that before heading off to a sublime French dinner at La Vallee Blanche and more conversations. We walked all the way through the city and the Uni and finally stopped a while to watch the full moon from the steps of Uni’s Chapel, laughed a lot before finally making our way back.
The next morning, Ash & J drove me to the station for my train to London. Parting not knowing when we’ll meet again was hard and bittersweet. Plus I don’t like good byes, so I simply let the happy wanderer inside take over.
Before going over into the London manner of things, here’s a little secret. Ash is an insanely talented fashion designer who makes stunning saris, lehengas and the like. I am a proud owner of two of his creations. See his work here and do indulge ! I have seen him grow as a designer the past few years and am incredibly proud of him.
The journey to London was meditative. I wrote in my journal, structured my thoughts, and felt so blessed for those days, the people, those moments, for all that was in front of me. At the station in London, waiting for me was my good friend Olaf, all smiles and waving away. I know Olaf through photography workshops I had done in the US and we had become good friends over the years, and along with another friend, we even share a wonderful ongoing experimental project between us.
It felt good to be in London after many years. My last visit was in 2007 when I was there to see my little sister who was studying there at the time. Unlike the last trip, my time was limited to about 2 days this time, but I was in no mood for planning and instead chose to do my favourite lazy (good) thing and go with the flow. I was going to simply follow in Olaf’s footsteps and take up on the luxury of savouring all the little details, sounds and colours everything around me. I was enjoying Olaf’s company, and just being there, so it was perfect.
We walked about the city through brick laned back alleys, along the Thames, catching up on life stories, perspectives and our great mutual passion, photography. Olaf is an ace Leica photographer, a prolific writer and the co-founder of The Leica Meet. Most photographs of London in this post, save the iphone selfie, were captured on Olaf’s gorgeous Leica M9, which he let me play with through my stay. Needless to say, I enjoyed every bit of my playtime. I have a thing for rangefinders and dream of owning a Leica someday. For the moment though, my little pet and hybrid Fuji FX 100S will have to suffice :)
It was a glorious day to be out and about in London, with blue skies and puffy clouds setting a happy stage for all life around a whimsical London eye. The Tate was at an easy proximity and hard to resist. We popped by for some good karma and artsy goodness.
Just how can a city be so charming and so vibrant ? the ancient-ness and the cosmopolitan soul so passionately tied together and cohabiting like lovers with lots of stories to tell and well lived lives. The energy, the art *every*where* There can’t be a better way to feel a place like London other than by foot. We walked past lots of little boutiques, quaint shops and Olaf was thinking if should perhaps go over to Camden place and do a photowalk there, by which time we were in Mayfair where the flagship Leica store is located. I was a kid in a precious candy store all of a sudden and time flew by. Thanks to Olaf, the wonderful staff let me play a bit with the latest jewel, the Leica M. I won’t go into the details, but naturally, a girl was smitten and the electronic viewfinder is something else. It was almost evening and felt like rain, so we called it a day. I spent the rest of the evening writing, and watching the rain fall on a typical English spring’s day over some wine and warmth.
The next day, was spent quietly and blissfully at Olaf and his lovely wife M’s sanctuary of a home in Surrey. Set amidst the most verdant english lushness, greens, pastels and beautiful gardens, it is a retreat. We spoke endlessly about our projects, books and watched little foxes and their pups come in from the woods and play about the garden overlooking Olaf’s studio. Such a treat that I was too engrossed to any some pictures. That’s what happens when something with four legs, bright eyes and a bushy tail pops up in front me. I forget all else :) Olaf took me out into the village for some tea, sandwiches and scones with fresh fruit preserves and clotted cream. And that’s how perfectly my sweet little English sojourn ended.
My heart was full and ready to take all of this bounty and inspiration back home to my loves – my puppies, my work and my main man who would be coming home to us soon after. Little did I know how much all of this goodness would add up to helping me get through some difficult months that lay ahead . That’s what travel is supposed to do, no ? Be the therapy that seeps deep into you and works it’s magic subconsciously when and where it’s wisdom is needed.