Walking around, getting lost, and finding a new place in London
Chapter 1: The pregame
Ten hours of sleep! In the previous three days combined (Sat, Sun, Mon), I believe that I slept for about three hours. Fortunately, I had my last final Tuesday night, finished all of my essays beforehand and was a few beers in going to sleep on Tuesday. I wake fully rested at 10am and am ready, for the first time in a while, to start my day. After a trip to the gym (humblebrag), the time for my adventure into the unknown is here. It was then that I receive a text from my friends to get lunch at a pub in Camden. I’m not going to say no to a drink and sandwich. I should probably be full before this trip anyway.
After taking the Northern Northbound to Camden, we end up dining at the Elephant’s Head on the corner across from Camden Locks. I have a Darkfruit Strongbow — strongly recommend — and a chicken sandwich — bleh. We then eventually head back to the Underground. We say our goodbyes, they get on the tube for King’s Cross and I decide to keep on going towards the North, with no real destination in mind. According to my notes, the tube is way too hot with plenty of open seats. I have my headphones in while scanning the overhead map, trying to select a location. It is Golders Green that speaks to me. I’m still not sure why, but it has an interesting name and I now knew where I would explore.
Chapter 2: Where the hell am I?
Golders Green is not the London that I have become accustomed to. It kind of reminds me of New Jersey. There are shops, markets and restaurants; one can find plenty of nice houses and apartment complexes. I essentially entered the suburbs. This is not what I had in mind, but this is where I picked. Time to go find something to do. I begin to walk through a nice neighborhood, filled to the brim with Mercedes and cars of the same ilk. I take pictures of the beautiful homes, probably setting off a security system that will eventually tack me down and throw me in prison. It is then, on this stroll, where I receive some group messages from friends back at my university in the states.
Time for a tangent. Am I supposed to state that I’m going into a tangent? Whatever; I can do what I want. It’s my journal after all.
I was extremely nervous to go abroad: be in a new place, meet new people, take classes with professors that sound like they’re from a Monty Python sketch. You know the regular fears. But, the one thing I didn’t expect is how much I’d miss my friends from home. It’s really tough keeping in contact with them. They’re obviously really busy and the five-hour time difference doesn’t help that matter. When I wake, they’re about ready to go to sleep. My time to hit the hay directly coincides with their getting ready to go out and drink to forget classes. It’s honestly tough waking up to group messages where people talk about what happened the night before and new inside jokes that I’m not privy to. This is the life I’ve chosen so I have to make the best of it, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not hard sometimes. Well…moving on.
Chapter 3: Park it
I am beginning to regret choosing Golders Green; this is just a collection of fancy townhouses. However, I carry on and eventually reach Golders Hill Park. I look at the diagram of the park and marvel. Can this park really be this big? How far back does it go? This isn’t Central Park — nothing else is — but it’s impressive nonetheless. I enter the park and take off my earphones.
Truthfully, I can’t remember the last time I walked somewhere alone without my earphones. Between the cavalcade of podcasts and music on my phone, walking in silence often feels like a mistake, however since I’m trying to get the full travel experience, I put them in my pocket and carry on.
This ends up being the right decision.
I carry on into the park. I pass a garden of flowers (pretty), statues of dinosaurs (odd) and a few old people powerwalking with their arms flailing about as if they are trying to fly.
It is here that I set a few ground rules for myself.
1. No earphones
2. Don’t spend too much time making a decision about where to turn; just go
3. Stay away from the mud
Rule number 2 ends up being the most important. It would be easy to stall and try to look ahead on where to go next, but where’s the fun in that. Just keep on walking. If there are two turns, pick one quickly and just see where it takes you.
I’m not sure where I am, but the sun is shining, the grass is bright and I’m using a lot of adjectives, so all is well.
Here’s a bit of history I found out about Golders Hill Park through in-depth detective work and Google.
It’s part of the parkland and commons near Hampstead Heath, managed by the City of London Corporation. There is a house on the site that was bombed during WWII (which we’ll get to later). And, there is live music on Sundays here over the summer, probably not Kanye West or Taylor Swift but I’m sure they’re fine.
Chapter 4: Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Gardens
Continuing through the park, I make my way to Pergola and Hill Garden. I don’t really know how this differentiates itself from the rest of the park, but I’m here, so why not enter?
Immediately, overlooking the garden I find a set of benches reminiscent of the bench in “500 Days of Summer,” where Joseph Gordon Levitt talks to Zooey Deschanel about her impending marriage to another man. Luckily, I’m not in his position, so I’m feeling much better. I see that the bench is for Ernest Raymond. I’m not sure who Ernest Raymond is but I’d like to think that he lived a nice life, had a big family and loved the park, thus a bench was put there after he died. He also could have just been a friend of the local bench maker or a guy who paid a lot of money for benches to say his name, but I’d like to believe the first option. Anyway, I sit on the bench, pretend that I’m Joseph Gordon Levitt — very fun to do — and move on.
Chapter 5: No. Really? Where am I?
I’m here. Where exactly? I can’t say. I have found an old building: possibly abandoned, possibly the ruins of an ancient alien colony. I’m assuming this is the WWII house identified before in my deep dive of the property. I like how everything’s symmetrical. The flowers are evenly split on both sides and the stairs look the same from the left to the right. This looks kind of like an area where there would be a spiffy wedding during the summertime. Put some flowers here, some chairs there, throw in a bride and groom. And voila, you have a wedding ceremony. Oh, cake too. There needs to be cake.
Around the corner of the building, there seems to be an impromptu modeling session underway. There’s some music playing; I try to Shazaam it but since when has Shazaam worked when I needed it to and there are girls in dresses taking pictures of one another with an old camera that can best be described as that camera that even your grandfather didn’t want to use because it was too old.
I keep on walking, because I’m sure they don’t want any onlookers and this partially feels like the beginning to a horror movie.
It is then that I walk deeper and deeper into the woods, up some steps and right into civilization. It’s too early to get back to the cars and streetlights, so I turn around, find another path and carry on.
Chapter 6: Tangent about texting in the woods
Texting is the worst. I don’t mean to act like an “old soul” who hates what the kids are doing nowadays, but texting sucks. For the last 30 minutes or so, I haven’t texted anyone and it’s so, so nice. I hate having to wait for someone to reply. Maybe I said something stupid and they hate me and will never respond again. I have enough worries to stress about texting, but it’s the digital age so it’s here to stay.
I really like walking around without checking my phone non-stop. I’m only using it at the current moment to take pictures and that’s fine with me. Okay, back to the walk.
Chapter 7: Is that an ostrich?
Yes, it is an ostrich. Somehow, this park has a mini-zoo inside of it, with ostriches and deer and a pool for swans and geese. I really don’t know how I got here, but I’m okay with it.
There’s a little boy trying to reach into the ostrich cage — probably a bad idea — but his mom stops him just in time. This is a good thing, because I don’t think I’d be very useful helping this child as he lost a hand. I couldn’t even dissect a frog in Mr. Eisler’s seventh-grade science class. This would have been too much for me. I do however see a bunch of dogs playing in the grass. This is much more by speed. One of them keeps on trying to pick up a branch twice his size. Needless to say, it doesn’t work out well.
The zoo is obviously small, but somehow free and open to the general public. This is a pretty interesting place to accidentally find.
Chapter 8: Back to Civilization
I think I’ve reached the end of the park, perhaps there are spots I haven’t seen but I think this is enough for the day. Now, I have to find the way back to the Underground. This is where CityMapper is clutch. I walk through streets chockfull of extravagant houses and apartment complexes and make my way to where I think the Underground will be.
I realize that my CityMapper is taking me back through the park, all the way around. This doesn’t seem like the right approach, so I turn it off and go back the way I think I should.
I just follow the cars, hoping that they will lead back to the main road and eventually the underground station.
I find it myself, no thanks to my phone.
Chapter 9: One more drink
As I make my way too the Underground, a realization hits me; I need a full circle ending. I started my day with a drink. It seems only right that I finish the trip with one.
Since entering the UK, I’ve learned that people in Britain love to drink. There’s a pub at every corner; you have my truest admiration and respect. Alas, I seem to have entered the non-alcoholic section of England. I can’t find a pub to save my life. I walk blocks and blocks. Nothing. I don’t get it. Walking to classes, I’ll pass ten or so, however when I want to find one…nada.
This is truly an unfortunate event. I wanted to get that drink, but it seems that the drink does not want me to have it. Ultimately, this is probably a good thing because I’ll have to write up this experience later tonight. This may have been a bit more interesting of an essay were I a bit inebriated, unfortunately we’ll never find out. A little sad and with some money in my pocket, I make my way back to the tube.
Chapter 10: Reflections
It’s time to look back at the day.
Is this where I expected to go? No.
Am I happy with where I ended up? Yes.
Somehow, I found a beautiful park, an abandoned open building, a zoo and plenty of pathways to walk along. It was sunny the entire time and not too chilly that my light sweatshirt felt like a mistake. It all worked out.
I think I’ll come back here at some point; hopefully I’ll recruit some others to join me. Everyone likes a park and if they say they don’t, they’re just lying to themselves.
So…Golders Hill Park, thanks for the good day.
See you soon.