The day we arrived back to London for our brief visit also happened to be my 32nd birthday. I felt so blessed to be on this journey with my wife, best friend and partner in crime, and I was looking forward to more adventures. Definitely felt a bit melancholy, as you do 🙂
Our friends Caroline and Ivan had agreed to offer us a place to stay during our time in London (we’re still really grateful for that gesture!). After we arrived at their place in east London, not actually that far from where we used to live, to drop our bags and ‘freshen up’, we had originally planned to head back to town for my birthday dinner at Mildred’s which is my favourite vegetarian restaurant in London (serious veggie or not try it). In reality we were still pretty jet lagged and couldn’t fathom the energy to get our asses back onto public transport. If you’ve ever been to London, you’ll know it’s a wide spread city. It takes time to get places and going out meant at least an hour commute there and another hour back on various modes of transport. Instead we settled on a little Thai restaurant within walking distance from the flat to have a nice dinner. It was good meal and I had one entire cocktail, mmmm party animal, it was all I could handle 🙂
The next day we had an early-ish start as we headed to the bank to get some documents needed for the visa application, then off to the South African embassy’s visa agency. We were both quite nervous about Triin applying for a visa because we had already booked the tickets and was due to fly in 13 days!!!! No room for error plus we’d already been badly burnt before. So we handed in the documents and hoped for the best.
It felt extremely strange being back in London and being a tourist. We’d only been gone for four months and yet after living here for over a decade we felt like foreigners. Even more so, being a South African and an Estonian. I felt so disconnected from my old home, yet happy not to have to deal with London living, which is usually rush rush rush. It was a glorious August day, so we spent the rest of the day leisurely walking around, saying hi to the London Eye, Big Ben and sitting by the Thames at SouthBank, drinking Pimms. Foreigners being very British, ha. We had sushi for dinner which, sadly, left much to be desired – already I missed the sushi we’d enjoyed in the USA.
The next day as Triin decided to do dome shopping and relax, I spent time with my good friend Maibritt from Denmark. We used to work together at a private ambulance company in London. We met up in Covent Garden as she was selling the bicycle I had given her months ago. Maibritt was leaving London after working and living here for a year and she was planning to go backpacking in Asia before moving back home permanently. It was good to see my friend and also good to say bye to my old trusty bike that had been like a friend to me for a few of years.
We ended up having lunch by the Thames, eating and catching up, then rented Boris Bikes to cycle back to her flat. Ironically (because we used to work for the ambulance service) whilst cycling, we came across a man that had been hit off his motorbike by a car. Maibritt instinctively got off her bicycle and went to assist, I was more reluctant, seeing that the guy looked conscious and ok. In London there is a trend of ‘where there is a blame there’s a claim’ hype, and you start recognising the signs. I did get off my bike and took my handbag with (still the South African in me), we helped until the ambulance came and then handed over the patient. I was happy to leave and was reminded that even though it was one of the most interesting careers I’ve had, I didn’t miss my old job at all. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy the medical field, the learning and helping people, let me explain.
London, just London and not the UK, gets over 5000 calls a day and being part of the private ambulance staff we usually get the less serious jobs. Sometimes your 12 hour shift can be filled with sprained ankles, small scraps and cuts, drunk people and people who don’t know how and when to take a paracetamol every 4 hours. Of course, we also get the cardiac arrests, violent mental health patients, cancer patients, COPD – which are the emergencies we’re there to help with, rather than the minor stuff people think they can call a ambulance for, just because they can. I have met many who didn’t need a ambulance and I have met people who should’ve called an ambulance a week ago as they were on the verge of death. Ok, rant over.
At Maibritt’s flat we got ready to go out for her leaving drinks at a pub with friends and work colleagues, she made the world’s fastest cupcakes to take with. It was nice to see a few familiar faces and meet people she had spoken about, it was a good evening and I was sad to say bye to Maibritt again (I already said bye 4 months ago). Triin met us at the pub after a day of shopping at a nearby mall. She told me that she, too, had been reminded of the ridiculous side of London, having been stuck in the Tube at rush hour for about an hour because of some delay – something she hadn’t missed at all since we left. On top of her annoyance with public transport, she had forgotten her mobile phone in Istanbul so convenient apps like Uber weren’t available either. Oh the drama.
The following day we were heading out of town for a few days, to Battle near Hastings to stay at our friends’ house whist they were away. Our friends kindly let us stay there whilst they were in Australia on business. We had stayed there before, so we knew the place well and were looking forward to peace and quiet of the countryside. We picked up our Fiat 500 rental car and squeezed into it. Haha! It was definitely not the SUV we’d for over a month in the USA. We had to put some stuff on the backseat because the boot was too small and I felt like I was sitting on the steering wheel. I reckon if these are the problems I’m faced with at the moment, I’m doing more than ok. As a side note – music on the radio in London is much much better than anything we heard driving across the States.
On the way there we sent a text our friends reminding them about us staying at the house, to which they replied that someone would be there as well. It’s a very large house that was used at a retreat, so we wouldn’t have thought it a problem. Arriving there we quickly realised that the lady hadn’t been told about us and she wasn’t impressed at all. After the akward meet, I decided that after months of travel, I was going to do exactly what I had set out to do there, which was to relax. We had an amazing time there cooking awesome meals and had numerous lovely conversations with our new friend. What can I say, people love me. One of the days there we walked a couple of kilometers to the beach and had a monster of an afternoon tea at the pub. There were quite a few looks from the other customers having there pints and there’s me and Triin with afternoon tea and champagne haha.
My friend Claire from Ireland who I also used to work with at the ambulance service met with us in Sevenoaks for a quick catch up. We went to Emmett’s Garden – a beautiful large Edwardian estate garden and had a lovely walk and had time to catch up. I was truly happy to see Claire, we started our training together at the ambulance two years ago. We bonded pretty quickly and it’s not just any friend you can call and talk about your first cardiac arrest step by step or the first time you deliver a baby. It’s a pretty nice connection to have because you are learning all the time and you know they aren’t gonna look at you the way my wife does when I tell her gory details of a job. I clearly remember another friend Sean with whom we both trained, being so unhappy with us pestering him with questions on his first delivery of a baby. We were having a beer at the Christmas market in London and wanted to know every detail and he just kept saying it’s gross and that’s that, haha!
The next day we returned our rental car to London and rushed to the South African Embassy to pick up Triin’s visa….Hooray!!!! We went straight to a pub to celebrate. In the evening we met with Sean in Liverpool Street at a pub called the Dirty Dicks. Despite the name it’s actually a nice pub. Sean and I once went there as a joke because Triin said she never want to go in there due to the name, but after a drink realised it’s actually nice, haha. We later went to an fancy bar called the Old Bengal with good cocktails and a bathroom hidden behind an entire mirrored wall.
On our final day in London we went to the Namibian embassy for another visa. The Namibian embassy only take a day to grant you a visa, that is if you have all your papers, so we handed it in and had to wait. What shocked me was the visa was literally 4 times more expensive then any visa before. We paid the £125 – ouch – and spent the rest of the day walking around in Central London waiting to pick up the visa. For lunch we went to the restaurant we were suppose to go for my birthday – Mildreds in Soho. I love it so much so instead of having a main course we ordered 6 starters (savages) and polished off those plates. MMMMmm happy us. We then picked up the Namibian visa and went back to the flat to spend our last evening with Caroline and Ivan. I felt so guilty because we had so much to do whilst in London and still they graciously let us stay there. Caroline, a fellow vegetarian, made so many yummy meals that I was literally stealing recipes with my eyes to make them later.
The next day it was off to Istanbul again, where we would be flying to South Africa after a few days. The initial idea was stay in Istanbul with our friends for a week before flying to South Africa, but due to the visa issues we had to forego some of our planned Istanbul time to spend in London. It all turned out ok, but we were just very tired from all the flying and really had looked forward to spend some time with Muge and Scott.
This time we took bus ourselves, such adults, from Istanbul airport to Taksim, which is quite simple, funnily enought the taxi was the problem. They say they know where you want to go when they don’t and they charge you so much more when you don’t speak Turkish, it’s an absolute rip off. We didn’t want Muge to fetch us at Taksim because last time we took a very long time to get through security and to collect our baggage this time however it was all done within 30 mins, typical. But happy to be with our friends again we had a quick dinner and went out for a couple of drinks.
The following morning Muge made my beloved menemen (scrambled egg, onions, paprika, peppers). I love the Turkish style of food and don’t think I’ll ever get over it – the variety, the smells, the flavours. I remember meeting Muge when I was about 19 years old in London, and until then I’d only known South Africa and South Africans. I used to live with 4 other South Africans, we all worked at the same hotel, barbecued on weekends, watched rugby and drank springbok shots; it all had become too predictable. When I went over to Muge’s house where she handed me an empty plate and I could help myself to the array of food spread out on the table, I remember being extremely confused. Usually my mom would dish the food and I had to eat whatever was on the plate, usually really yummy food. But I loved dishing food for myself, like a tapas meal, and Muge showed me this style of meal for the first time. I experienced a different culture and become hooked.
After breakfast Muge and Scott took us to the Hagia Sophia. It used to be a church and then a imperial mosque and was the largest church in the world for nearly one thousand years until the Seville Cathedral in Spain was completed in 1520. It’s a truly amazing building and what made it even more interesting was the graffiti in a effort to vandalize the church because it wasn’t a mosque. After we explored the area, we decided to go for an early dinner, I had falafels and actually enjoyed it, I’m usually not a fan. After we walked to Karaköy Güllüoğlu Üretim Tesisi which is a famous baklava coffee shop, the oldest in Turkey in fact, and found it absolutely buzzing with people. The counters were filled with a variety of mouthwatering baklava. We were very lucky to get a table after standing around for a while, the tea and baklava was obviously amazing and super sweet, so sweet that we decided to walk home on this sugar high. The city was all lit up and beautiful at night and the long walk home gave us some time to catch up with our friends.
The next day we braved the Turkish roads and Scott drove us all to the mall as he needed a new suit and we needed some things as well after living out of our backpacks for four months. Armed with new flip flops, jeans, a bottle of vodka and food we headed home. I made a gigantic (oops) watermelon and vodka punch, it was yummy though, but Muge and Scott actually had work the next day and we had a flight to catch. So whilst drinking punch Scott and I played some poker and half listened to the Netflix in the background as Triin watched Louis CK. I’d never heard of him before and have to say he is pretty funny, after the show ended Scott recommended another comedian but warned us that he is quite offensive.
So we watched some of this other guy’s show and after about 10 minutes we’d had enough. Rape isn’t funny to me, the end. When Triin went to the bathroom Scott and I started a debate why certain jokes would be more offensive to someone then another offensive joke. It is a rather curious thing if you think about it, something might offend you and not someone else, does that make the joke offensive or not. Unfortunately the conversation started with the show and ended up with tempers flying and everyone went to bed upset.
The next morning Muge worked from home, we got a few essentials and returned home, finished packing and had a beer. I was still upset that our last evening together had turned sour so quickly and I was also quite nervous going home for 3 months. Later Muge helped us get a taxi to the airport and we were on our way to South Africa.