Two Days in London

There are many reasons to find yourself in the European epicenter at the conclusion of the summer; maybe you have an extended layover in London on your way to the coast of Croatia. Perhaps you are flying into Heathrow to catch a quick train to Amsterdam, or perchance like me, you were twiddling your thumbs at your local coffee shop, got an instant familiar itch to travel, scoured the web for deals, and scored a dirt cheap flight that departs on Friday… did I mention it’s Tuesday?

Day One:

Upon landing at London Heathrow and briskly walking through immigration, I was able to purchase a round-trip ticket on the Heathrow Express train from an attendant standing just outside the exit with a hand held transaction device. It was as if he was there precisely for me and my needs alone. I was immediately impressed by the underrated simplicity of organization that the city offered. The Heathrow Express was 34 pounds round-trip and within 20 minutes you are in London proper. After arriving at Paddington Station, I promptly turned on my data roaming and allowed Siri to guide me on a scenic walk through Hyde Park that is positioned directly in front of my hotel.

I was able to snag a room at the historic Grosvenor House hotel, which is situated in the popular West End area. Being centrally located on a quickie trip is vital and will save you time when you are attempting to indulge in every sight the city has to offer. I arrived before noon and was kindly given a key to my adorned suite, which allowed me time to take a power nap before I began my incomprehensibly, spontaneous adventure.

I arose hungry and couldn’t decide exactly what I wanted to indulge in, so I opted for everything. I headed over to Borough Market via the tube London bridge exit. Borough Market is a renowned international food and produce trader that boasts hundred of vendors selling cuisines from all over the world. I was able to munch on Argentinean empanadas, authentic Spanish paella, Caribbean soul food, Greek olives and Ethiopian ingera, all under one incredibly large tent.

After people watching and observing the Londoners in their natural habitat at the market, I headed over to the National Portrait Gallery Museum to view some still life. The museum is free to enter and to my surprise offered many American inspired exhibits showing portraits of everyone from Johnny Depp to Robert E. Lee. The portraits were an evolutionary walk through time, and offered the chance to put a face on the historically prominent figures that we wouldn’t recognize as easily as the public figures we know today.

Next I head over to Shoreditch and instantly fall in love. Shoreditch is the perfect mix of culture and cool, with mural filled walls and friendly hipsters that quickly tucked me under their wings and on a voyage through numerous bars in the area. The locals in this neighborhood are artists and trendsetters, that serve as the pulse of the city’s youth. I was taken on a journey of vintage eats met with fashionably organic cuisine and cocktails.

All of the establishments and food trucks offered airy dining areas paired with mixed genre DJs. Before I realized it the sun had set and time had disappeared as quickly as my third pint of cider. Most of my time was spent dancing and toasting with locals on the patio at the Big Chill bar located on a secluded narrow brick road. Outside of the posh accents, I would have thought that I was back home in Williamsburg, Brooklyn saluting to the weekend.

The best thing about traveling alone is the number of new friends you will meet along your journey. A group of locals adopted me (despite being American) and took me to The Eagle, the original gastropub on the ever-busy Farringdon road. I’m not sure if I was more impressed with the food, or the unique layout of the establishment. Set in a triangular format, the room had no particular décor, but the mixed-matched tables, chairs and plates, felt like they were used in a former London life.

We ordered our reasonably priced food at the bar that fronts an open-galley kitchen, and it was delivered to our table. As we shared tastes of every order around the table, nothing was a disappointment, and my fish and chips were superbly executed. Needless to say, we all indulged in an array of European crafted drafts by the pint.

The only way to end a Saturday night abroad is with dancing. My newfound comrades and I drove over to the Clapham, located in South London and nestled right into the middle of the dance floor at Aquum nightclub. The vibe of sophistication and pop make for the perfect equation needed for a fun filled nightcap.

Day Two:

After climbing out from under what seems like a sea of pillows, I make my way down to the book room for a spot of tea while I map out my day. I hop on the tube and decide I want to see all of London in less than 30 minutes. The only way that this is physically possible is to take a ride on the London Eye. This is a must see for a quickie trip because it satisfies your adrenaline rush and your desire to see Buckingham Palace. It’s important to arrive early before the rush, or you can simply purchase tickets ahead of time online.

After my stomach settled from the elevation of the ride, I make my way over to one of the city’s oldest pubs, The Spaniard’s Inn. If you are a fan of Dickens, you may remember him referring to this romantic haven in his work The Pickwick papers. What I adored more than the Scotch eggs that I consumed was the charming country escape that this restaurant offered in the middle of the bustling city. The beer garden is ornamented in delicately growing vines that hug the stucco walls of this darling villa. As I sit and admire, while enjoying local ale, I can’t help but imagine the great writers, such as Keats, that sat in my very seat, and wrote their way into the minds of readers all over the world.

A few lads around the city encouraged me to visit an annual Jamaican street festival that happened to be taking place while I was in town, called Brixton Splash. Brixton is a predominantly Jamaican populated district in South London that is being rapidly gentrified. In an effort to retain the cultural essence, Brixton Splash was created in 2006. I was able to see locals in their most vulnerable artistic forms, reciting poetry, monologues and performing original music. Brixton Splash hosts hundreds of traders, crafters and most importantly, authentic Jamaican cuisine.


In an effort to stimulate the economy during the late 1940’s England sailed the Empire Wind Rush to the West Indies to promote mass migration that allowed over 500 West Indian natives to become citizens. This explains the large Jamaican population in greater London and especially why the jerk chicken was spiced to perfection. I danced and shopped, and danced and ate, and danced again. There were different DJ’s on every corner playing different tunes on the overcrowded roads of Brixton. The levels of excitement that take place when you stumble upon an unexpected street festival, is euphoric.

I retreated back to my hotel to rest my feet before I decided to take one last evening stroll through Trifalgor Square, around to Leicester Square, and over the River Thames via Westminster Bridge. If you are as lucky, you will find a beautiful local to accompany you on your walk. This enchanted city is most beautiful when viewed beneath the moon’s opulence.

Dance freely, eat fish & chips and wander aimlessly. This, my friends, is how you conquer LondonTown in 48 hours.

The original link for this article can be found on TravelNoire.com 

-SB



Italia-The Land of Lovers

I had only just met him a few weeks prior, but I couldn’t resist when he offered to take me to Italy, to meet his family.  Although, I was perplexed, I agreed with a shoulder shrug and an indifferent, “Sure.”  Notorious for dating foreign men who have problems communicating their thoughts in English, I thought I had found my soul mate as we drove through the winding hills along the Amalfi Coast.  Surely, this must be what love feels like.  Wild herbs growing endlessly beneath the lemon trees that delicately pollinated the air with their citric aroma; you breathe in deeply to hold a piece of its beauty within you.

What does it matter that he can hardly pronounce my name? Most men have problems communicating anyway; at least the language barrier makes it easier to tolerate.  Besides, I dare anyone to travel along the Amalfi Coast with a lover (even if his name evades you) and not be ready to elope once you have arrived at your bed & breakfast overlooking the Mediterranean.  It’s the return flight that you have to worry about.  As you sit buckled into your middle seat, smiling as you all flip through photos of your adventure, and that beautiful man, with his endless chatter, is suddenly starting to annoy you with the way he completely disregards consonants.

Monte di Procida We started in his birthplace, Monte di Procida, a charming little mountain-top town overlooking the beautiful island of Ischia.  The town is only a few miles wide and gives an authentic insight of the rural Italian lifestyle.  The main road littered with prostitutes as many locals struggled to generate income through the few establishments in town.  There was a simplistic beauty in the way that the locals conducted their daily routines.  The mornings were for the fishermen, who would go out into the sea with their makeshift boats and bring back the catch that the town people would purchase fresh daily.  Most of the restaurants were closed during the week and could only afford to open on weekends in order to accommodate their staff’s wages.  The men would congregate in the square or at the coffee bar and shout at one another using aggressive hand gestures that I found disrespectful, only to find out is was only friendly conversation between peers.  While the men stood around the square talking in alarming tones, the women were home preparing their husbands lunch, sometimes in groups, to talk about their husbands of course.  Once the men returned home, they ate lunch, and proceeded to their ritual midday naps.  The women proceeded to preparing dinner before the children arrived home.  Once school was released, the streets began to swarm with young unattended children, who walked themselves home, without the fear of being kidnapped by a stranger luring them to a car with candy. In Monte di Procida, no one was a stranger. Everyone looked after one another’s children as their own, peering at them out of the open shutters of the kitchen as they chopped, peeled, and oiled the pepperoni for dinner.  Though this town is not overcome with wealth and modern conveniences, it possesses an invaluable asset… peace of mind.

Vesuvius As we continued south, through poverty-stricken Naples, we exited off of the main course and began driving up what looked like a mountain.  When we reached the top, he looked over at me in the passenger side and smiled deviously, “You are now on Volcano.” We hiked for 20 minutes, up the volcano, following the subtle fumes to the wide-mouthed crater.  I’m not sure what was more invigorating, the fact that I was at the mouth of the most dangerous volcano in Europe, or the view overlooking the Bay of Naples, Capri, Ischia, and The Amalfi Coast.  Being able to stare into the mouth that had destroyed all of Pompeii in 79 A.D., while getting a glimpse of what would come to follow, was the perfect inception to our excursion.

Sorrento As the co-pilot, I was in charge of the music, and I was exhausted with my favorite Italian pop hit, Sotto Casa by Max Gazze, that played four times an hour. We ascended along the coast to Lauryn Hill’s Can’t Take my Eyes off of You. It was nearly dusk when we pulled into our bed and breakfast, which appeared modest from our parking spot.  After walking up a few short steps that led to the courtyard, our eyes widened in astonishment.  Le Terrazze at sunset was breathtaking, as the sun left splashes along the sky until it disappeared beneath the ocean.  I did not know what else was ahead, but I wanted to stay there, feet firmly planted and gaze. Our room was a dual story loft, accompanied by a small kitchen equipped with fresh potted basil and a patio overlooking the sea.  We watched the fireflies weave in and out of the hills until we faded softly into the night.

Positano We woke early the next day and continued our journey along the coast, stopping at numerous street vendors along the way.  We gathered lemons the size of melons, fresh cherries, and jars of pickled peppers.  As we drove past the simplistic white wooden sign that read “Benvenuti a Positano” I began to possess the anxiousness that a young child demonstrates as they drive past the golden arches of McDonald’s.  I insisted that we park immediately, and walk through the small town so that I could properly receive its beauty.  We began at the top of the hill and worked our way down to the sea, moving past the cute little shops that sold mostly white linen and intricately designed Italian furniture.   Following the vines that tightly embraced the small, close-knit collection of stucco buildings; we were greeted by the palpable magic of the city.  We had lunch on a terrace that balanced briefly above the sea.  Ristorante Covo dei Saraceni served a variety of Mediterranean seafood so fresh that you could taste the sea between your teeth.  The panoramic view of the cottages, that looked as if they were stacked in a staircase fashion towards the sky, was more enthralling than the squid.

Ravello On our way to Ravello, we passed through an arched Roman tunnel on a sharp road, and pulled over to enjoy the view.  The steep mountain gave the illusion that one wrong step would land you at the bottom of the sea.  We went inside a nearby hotel for wine and did not want to leave, or even blink.  The Locanda del Fiordo was perfectly positioned between Positano and Amalfi, and its most magical feature is the narrow staircase that leads you down hundreds of feet to the deep blue sea. After sun soaking on the platform at the bottom of the staircase, we continued on to Ravello.  The most charming town of them all, Ravello’s city center courtyard welcomed us with a warm familial embrace.  The curves and finishing’s were delicately displayed, in cooperation with the vines that grew along the bodies of the buildings.  The pinnacle of the town lies within the gates of Villa Rufolo.  An architectural masterpiece, that stands itself as a work of art, filled with the perfectly balanced combination of sun, sculptures and flower gardens.  Erected in 1880, Villa Rufolo has served as inspiration for many artists and is the home of the internationally recognized Ravello Festival. Strolling through the uncovered walls of the villa was the perfect summary of the exquisite detail and historical journey of the Italian culture.  The enchanting arches spoke of the Roman history, while the robust smell of herbs in the garden told the story of tradition, and the Mediterranean Sea, with its demanding beauty, tied it all together.

Our relationship didn’t last much longer after we returned to the states.  The romanticism created in Italy did not exchange as well as the currency.

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Wannabe..

Maybe if I was African

 I would get more respect

But I’m just a black girl

one generation removed

from the projects

So, I’m considered a wannabe.

Yea, it’s true.

I wanna be an African Queen

I wanna dream of bigger things

I wannabe more than what money brings

I wannabe praised for my mind and not for my thighs

I wannabe high off life and good times,

Not alcohol and swine.

I wannabe adorned by my King

and wear happiness not rings

I wannabe

I wannabe

I wannabe

 

So because I wasn’t born beneath the trees of Somali

I mustn’t behave like royalty?

Since my mama wasn’t cultivated on the sands of Egypt

then my worth is disintegrated?

But my daddy didn’t use his hands in South Africa to fight off the man

then I’m forced to accept your verbal destruction?

 

I’ll continue to sing the hymns of queens

Wear confidence

Not rings

And walk with roses beneath me

I’ll sway my wide hips

Broad nose

Bronzed skin

Full lips, to the sky

Wear my afro 10 miles high

As stares in disbelief continue to wonder why…

 

Because I wannabe.