Archive for the 'Western Europe' Category

The Trials of Trying

DSCN3637I´m learning to become a travel writer—which has a lot more to do with learning to travel, and travel differently, than it does learning to write.

Sure, it´s its own genre, a new craft to negotiate. And, yes, it involves hours hunched over a notebook or a computer, weaving images and experience and attempting to capture the whiffs of a place, the strange sentiments it evokes—those vague stirrings that Viriginia Woolf lamented go “fluttering through the nets” of even the best writers.

But, for me, the tricky part has been the first half of the phrase, the “travel” part of “travel writing.” It means traveling in a different way, pushing myself more beyond my comfort zone and inherent shyness in order to experience more—more interactions and more adventures mean more to write about. It means forcing myself to follow those little nudgings, those whispers to, say, delve into that shadowed medina alleyway or say yes to going out on the town when I´d really rather sleep. Fuller travels equal richer content; everyone wins.

I knew on the on-set of this trip that it´d be different for me—my first long trip since getting serious about travel writing. And I set out blazing—tromping around, joyfully holding hands with serendipity, taking feverish notes and spending long hours at cheap internet cafes, searching for punctuation marks on foreign keyboards. I was feeling positive, productive, learning more each day to let go and follow my hunches, the random doors that open.

Then came Lisbon.

I loved Lisbon. Maybe that was the problem. Maybe its bittersweet melancholy sunk in a little too deeply. It´s hard to say. But I spent my last morning woefully walking its steep streets, ruing in a mosaic of regrets not too dissimilar from the sidewalk stone designs.

Vibing well with my hosts, I´d stayed a day longer than intended, and still felt like I´d wasted my time, hadn´t used it well enough—missed out on a chance to go to my first football game, didn´t make the trek to a huge experimental design expo, didn´t go inside a cool-looking vintage toy store that probably would have made a killer (and sellable) story. I´d dropped so many balls, as my friend Katie would say, you´d think I was trying to dribble.

I´m not sure why I fell off so steeply, as precipitous as the seven hills of the city (at least I´m making some anaolgies out of it). It´s possible I´m just being hard on myself. I´m a person that always feels like I should be doing more, working harder, being better. I´m excellent at rallying, at pushing myself—working six days a week for months, saving money to travel. I told myself that for every place I visited on this trip, I´d come out with at least one story. This didn´t happen in Lisbon, and I think there´s a lesson somewhere in there.

I arrived in Lisbon tired. Exhausted, and it wasn´t just the six hours of broken sleep on an overnight bus. I´d been power-traveling for over a month, never sleeping in the same place for more than three nights. My clothes were filthy, my chest blossoming in a recurring stress-related rash. I´d had on-and-off-again diarrhoea for almost two weeks, but hadn´t had a period in over six. My last day in Marrakesh was emotionally draining, and I was ready to relax. To hang out with fun people, to eat pasteries in a shady park and watch trashy American movies. Which is what I did. Rejuvenating? Yes. Fodder for great travel writing? No.

There´s no use in wallowing in regret; all I can do now is try to learn something from it. And while I need to continue to push myself to take risks while traveling—to push open those cracked doors, to go into that toy shop—I also need to go easier on myself. Working as hard as I could got me sick for a month with summer (with swine flu, a whole ´nother story); similarily, traveling as hard as I can will burn me out. It´s tough, cause my time is so limited and my resources are so meager, but I need to move a little slower. Schedule in down time. Take moments to breathe.

Of course, it´s a spiritual challenge as well as a travel writing challenge, a lesson I´ve had to have beaten into me repeatedly. Maybe this time, I´ll finally learn.

Lisa, the Beautiful

DSCN3627Tiles and terraces and tired-ass legs: it´s my third day in Lisbon/Lisboa/Lisa, and she´s working her charm on me.

Portugal´s an intriguing country: it feels overlooked, almost forgotten to me, hanging on to the edge of Iberia, of Europe, like fluttering laundry. I never hear much about it, tucked away down there, in the shadow of both Spain and its dominating former colony. (Prior to my arrival, my only two words of Portuguese were Brazilian: “caçhaca” and “caipirinha.”) A small country, it´s hemorrhaged emigrants for decades, leaving the country a little empty and a little lonely. It´s bittersweet, and so far, I love it.

I´ve spent my days in Lisbon rather lazily, sleeping late, hanging out with my Couchsurfing hosts, lunching and napping and strolling slowly. It feels like a city to be taken in slowly, to be savored, and I´m doing my best to oblige.

My hosts tell me that Lisbon is the most underrated city in Europe; they´ve seen more than I have, but I´m going to venture to agree. They live in a comfortable flat with smooth hardwood floors and modern appliances, in the heart of the city—“In no other city in Europe,” my host told me thoughtfully, “would this be possible.” Rents are cheap, and abandoned buildings with boarded-up windows and cracked tiles line streets that in Paris or Barcelona would be bustling, booming, and demanding rents at least twice as high.

Lisbon is a humble city. Though complete with all the usual big-city stuff—busy metro stations and graffiti and honking snares of traffic—there´s a certain quiet underneath it all, a kind of yearning in the gleaming stone streets, the zig-zag of rust-colored tiled roofs. She´s filled with a brave nostalgia, this Lisa, with the rattle of yellow street cars that young boys cling to the sides of, hooting and yelling, sharp limbs hanging in a bravado that feels old, a relic from another time. Her seven hills rise and fall sharply, like breath; steps are carved into the sidewalk. The hills don´t slope gradually but seem too reach, almost hungrily, for the water, too bright and sparkling for blue eyes to bear.

DSCN3639Today I wandered around Alfama, the old Moorish neighborhood, a European version of a medina—tight alleys that twist and angle and dead-end into the sides of terracotta buildings dripping with flowers and bushes and colorful plastic streamers. The streets are so narrow that old women can lean their full arms against the wrought-iron railings and gossip between the buildings, between the lines of laundry, laughing and shouting in their flower-patterned aprons. In little squares, trees jumble the black and tan stones that have been worn smooth—by Romans and Moors and Crusaders, by my thin-soled Toms that make me slip from time to time, lose myself amid it all.

It sounds sentimental, and it kind of is. It´s a city like that—with soul. And tonight, I´ll go to hear the sound of its melancholy mourning, its bittersweet longing, its Fado. I think Lisa´s prepared me well.

On the Edge of Continents

Flying over, on the way back

Flying over, on the way back

A languid, palm-fringed town perched on the edge of worlds feels like the perfect place to end the Spanish leg of my journey.

English derives the word ¨tarif¨ from the town Tarifa, a port city and entryway into Europe for thousands of years. The city occupies the wind-swept space between places: the end of the Atlantic, the lip of the Mediterranean, where two continents nearly kiss. Instead of the edgy instability of a lot of border towns, Tarifa lazes comfortably in this in-between space. It´s not unlike any other beach town: surf shops and gently weathered buildings, sniffing dogs and barefoot children, blown-out tattoos and sun-bleached hair. The surrounding skies are populated with the cheerful kites of windsurfers, punctuated with the horns of the Tangier ferry. Just across the azure waters (for all its hype, the Mediterranean is truly gorgeous), vampiric African mountains crest hazily—¨vampiric¨ because, despite seeming so touchably close, they´ve eluded all my photography attempts. The narrow passageway of streets in Tarifa´s historical center tell the town´s history like lines dug in a palm: an old city wall, a crumbling castle, the remains of abandoned structures stretching lazily into the waters. And always, in every part of the city, a persistent wind rushes through, a transient resident itself.

DSCN3205I can´t think of anything better than to spend a chilled-out day wandering the streets, sitting at the beach, reading, catching up on writing (and sleep), and generally getting ready for tomorrow´s ferry embarkment. The 35-minute ride will deposit me at sister city Tangier, another meeting of worlds, where I´ll begin my Moroccan odyssey.

Europe is a pleasant, lovely place to travel—it´s clean, safe, everyone speaks English, buses arrive and depart on schedule and people generally leave you alone (even construction workers refrained from cat-calling this afternoon). It´s almost too easy, to be honest, feels like something other than traveling (vacationing?).

The real challenge of Europe is the punch-to-the-kidneys expense. I´ve done it about at cheaply as possible, and am still woefully over budget. Transportation costs took me by surprise. My last European adventure rang in at €36 per day; however, the Eurail pass I prepurchased meant I didn´t pay anything in travel between destinations. Of course, I anticipated Spain to be the most costly leg of my journey, so Morocco and Portugal should even things out, if I behave myself.

Here´s a wrap-up of my Spanish travels:

Number of days: 10

Number of cities: 4

Number of nights in a hostel: 2

Things I liked more than I expected: Flamenco, Madrid

Favorite new travel accessories: hat, spray hand sanitizer

Travel accessories as-of-yet unused: sleeping sheet, laundry detergent

Biggest travel splurge: a universal adaptor from El Corté Ingles (€18, adaptor I brought was busted)

Budget Break-down (frighteningly, I keep this scrupulous of track of my finances even at home…)

Daily average: €45

Transportation: €130.5

Food: €170

Lodging: €46

Entrance fees (museums, attractions): €21

Internet: €21

Coffee and sweet treats (gotta have my indulgences): €26

Other (laundry, adaptor, etc): €31.5

Red-Door Flamenco

DSCN3201The drama and thunder of it—


when the notes sing sadly,

seem to pluck themselves

from weeping fingers,

when the wails of passion

get inside the hips,

become the bend of wrists,

the fistful of ruffles—

how unapologetic

the stomps are,

the throbs

of a furious pulse,

the exactitude of hands

that don´t stop clapping

until the blood reaches

its final fevered pitch:

a pose of breathlessness,

a sculpture gasping

with life.

BYOB Debauchery: Spanish Botellónes

DSCN3177The roar of voices rose from between the trees, out of the darkness and dirt. Scooters swarmed, freshly broken glass glittered in the dim park lights. Young girls teetered in impossibly high heels and boys stumbled, leaned their faces against the sides of walls as they pissed. And every person clutched a plastic cup.

When Spanairds sigh in disapproving despondency about ¨kids today,¨ they´re talking about botellónes. In a culture of late-night fiestas,  these youth-ridden BYOB binges stand out as particularly debaucherous.

Bottelónes take place in public, on the streets and in the parks; teeangers and early 20-somethings gather to drink, flirt, cause trouble, and leave a mountain of trash in their wake. Increasingly the subject of public controversy, Seville´s bottelónes are known to be especially raucous.

We passed one as we trod through Parque Maria Luisa on Friday during a once-a-year festival of museum open houses and cultural performances. (How Spanish is this?: museums are free to the public from 10pm-3am, and completely full the whole time.) September is festival month in Seville, when residents have returned from August vacations and the oppression of the heat has subsided; it´s also the beginning of botellón season. My couchsurfing hosts and I were walking over to Museo Artes y Costumbres Populares, where we saw a killer flamenco show, and the adjacent Museo Arqueológico, where a classical guitarist´s exaggerated facial expressions were more dramatic than an old guitar-playing friend with Tourettes (RIP, friend).

We passed what I was told was a typically trashy Friday night bottelón. It was like a rave minus the pulsing lights and techno music, like a sideshow minus the cars and firearms. Hundreds of kids filled the open space at the park´s entrance. Teenage girls were dressed to the nines to attire revealing even by Spanish standards, while boys puffed their chests and tried to impress each other, even in curiously effeminate clothing. My hosts spoke of the trash, piss and vomit the parties left in their wake, the shards of glass and tell-tale crushed plastic cups that city workers scurry to clean up the mornings after. (The next day, I passed through the carnage of another botellón, down by the river, and had to say, it was pretty gnarly.)

I smiled to myself as we passed by. I couldn´t help but feel that, if you swapped the heels for combat boots, and blush and blow-drying for heavy eyeliner and multi-colored dreads, it wouldn´t have been too unlike the Rocky Horror Picture Show or Gilman Street of my adolescence. Instead of being out in the open, though, we were relegated to the sketchy corners of the city, to alleyways, public restrooms, the stairwells of parking garages. I wondered if having to hide it—the violent pursuit of oblivion—somehow served to make ours worse, more seedy and powder-laced, more self-destructive and apt to end in institutions and death.

From between the park gates, I spotted a girl hoisted up by two friends, her arms drapped over their shoulders. Her head hung at a sharp angel; her heeled feet scuttled, dragged in the dirt lifelessly. Whether it´s a plague to Spanish culture or kids just being kids, I felt mighty glad not to be a teenager anymore.

The Jugular of Granada´s Street Art

DSCN3131Down a deserted stairwell in a steep tangle of stone streets, I stumbled upon the best street art in Granada.

Literally, I stumbled. The precarious passageway of unleveled rocks made walking an ankle-twisting, sole-bending venture. The vacant lots, abandoned mattresses and wafting bits of urban debris didn´t make the footpath a particularly picturesque one either. But I didn´t care; it was what covered the cement walls and old stone wells that fascinated me. Color-swarmed, vibrant and thoroughly hidden, I´d discovered the best street art in Granada.

This isn´t a difficult feat. The ancient city of intricatly carved Islamic monuments, mammoth cathedrals and labyrinthic streets is, in its modern-day incarnation, also a college town. Chicken-scratch tags and idealistic political statments irreverently adorn any paintable surface; Granada writers have a particular penchant for anarchy symbols, replacing ¨a¨s with the symbol at every opportunity. A crayon box of every imaginable color, the city is swarmed in adolescent scribblings that somehow add to the o ld-world ambiance; they seem to fit.

I decided to take a morning walk through Albaicín to the city´s center. My couchsurfing host, a thin Spanish girl in a black raincoat, had a quiet apartment in the Sierra mountains, a simple tiled space that´s view from the balcony was like a prayer. The building was  just outside the old city wall, a half-crumbled mass that arched down the spine of the steep terrain. Just on the other side was the city´s old Muslim quarter, cascading down the hillside towards the city center. Crumbling buildings mixed in with modest modern architecture, lining the zig-zag of cobbled streets with walls tall enough to block the wind and let in only a bit of the morning sun.

The layout of the streets is utterly random and unintuitive, so I gave myself a couple hours to wander the mile downhill. Small plazas punctuated the skinny streets, most of which were closed off to anything by foot traffic. It was a functioning neighborhood that gave a gentle nod toward the map-clutching, steep-grade-panting tourists that trcikled through: a couple stores sold postcards in addition to fruits and food staples, an internet cafe´s doors were locked for Ramadan. People bustled about their business—old men smoked and the women gathered in an arm-crossed group at a plaza´s market—and us tourists smiled pleasantly at each other in passing.

I maplessly meandered my way to an impressive mirador directly across from the Alhambra, where people posed for photos and looked out over the vast  city view. A slight grumble in my stomach inspired me to move towards the city center. Directionless, I decided to just make my way downhill until I hit a promising-looking street.

DSCN3134The streets I wandered got starker, more litter-filled than people-filled. Abandoned buildings and dirt lots suggested that restoration efforts weren´t the trend in this forgotten corner, perched on a precipice between well-visible, touristed neighborhoods. A steep stone footpath lightning-bolted its way down the hillside; I followed it.

I passed one of the old, gated-up wells that fill the Albaicín neighborhood. This one was covered in slightly different bread of tags, filled with crude characters and comical creatures. Turning a sharp corner, a mural-filled walls of air-brushed portraits and abstract colors stretched out in front of me. A stencil of George Bush with a blood-red clown nose appeared next to a telling tag: Albaicín Crew.

I walked up and down a bit, taking pictures and smiling at the refreshingly creative vibrancy. In one litter-strewn, forgotten footpath, tucked into the secret flesh of the city, I´d found the jugular of Granada´s street art scene.

Granada Fragments

DSCN3127Granada got me all literary…

Bus ride: Sheets of rock like shoulder blades, knobby fingers  pointing skyward in an arthritic ache.

Granada: A town that still rolls its clattering shutters down for siesta, where people lean on bars at lunchtime, where crayon-colored graffiti makes the edifices seem all the older, and more opulent.

Outskirts: Tatiana lived on the outskirts, the broad chest of the Sierra, where  grey blocks of buildings stood stoicly, white-washed walls and flat stone streets filled with people coughing, crossing their arms as they walked to bus stops beneath rain-streaked towers, windows crying mascara tears.

Thursday: It was a moody day, a voluptuous pout of wind and clouds.

Balcony like a prayer: The rain thins, the clouds ascend, and the city sharpens like a reflection in an unfogging mirror—tiled roofs that arch along the spine of the mountain, the grey domes of grey cathedrals, the red crane of steel-boned construction. The birds chatter invisibly from the inside of trees, like children at recess, high voices rising above the thunder of the drainpipes.

Boy at the party: It was the way his shoulder moved beneath his tshirt, how his sneakered feet would pigeon inward, the way his veins vined around his forearms like twine, down, down, to the thick fingers that, unlike yours, were uncalloused and clean.

Kimmo´s Culinary Quest in Madrid

Shopping for produce

Shopping for produce

Kimmo sighs a cloud of smoke and looks into his half-full pint glass. ¨I told her one and a half months, I´ll try it. Then,¨ he shrugs and manages a smile ringed with worry lines.

It´s one am, and we´re washing down the 4th night of Doña Antonia´s grand reopening at an endearingly tacky Irish bar in the cobbled heart of Madrid. The red plaid wallpaper and grime-covered Guiness mirrors seem to agree with Kimmo, who looks 10 years younger out of his white-starched chef´s jacket.

Kimmo, Matt and I at one time all worked for the same 5-restaurant company that encompassed, at varying times, 3 SF-Chronicle Top 100 restaurants. That is to say, we´ve all been well-indoctorinated with the Alice-Waters-inspired culinary philospohy of organic, locally sourced ingredients. Ours paths have crossed for one heavy-skied Sunday in Madrid, where Matt, some friends and I feasted on the kick-ass creations of Kimmo´s new menu. It was one of the best meals I´d had in awhile.

But, apparently, Madridanos don´t share our American enthusiasm.

¨Madridanos,¨Matt tells me, ¨aren´t very discerning diners. It´s more about atmosphere than the actual food.¨ Kimmo nods in semi-forlorned agreement.

A recent transplant from the Bay Area culinary scene, Kimmo´s been trying to reconcile his California-cuisine sensibility with Madrid´s affection for over-salted sameness. It´s been 6 months, 3 restaurants, and so far, it hasn´t gone splendidly.

Listening to Kimmo´s qualms and Matt´s frustrations, I begin to realize that culinary values and expectations in California are wildly different than those in Spain.

Matt, an ex-bar-manager turned handle-bar-moustached vagabonder, has been frustrated with Spanish service and quality for the past 7 months. Kimmo, a sweet-faced Scandinavian socialist who´s vowed not to die in either the US or Finland, has been struggling against the low standards and unadventurous expectations of Madrid´s diners and restauranteurs. A chef by trade, he´s been hired as the head chef and sole cook of the newly reopened Doña Antonio near Plaza Santa Ana.

Kimmo´s creative menu includes untraditional dishes like mussels with chorizo and garbanzo beans, a sort of inventiveness valued in the Bay Area. Put the same old things on the menu there, and you can bet on your clintele steadily plummeting. In Madrid, it´s the opposite. For the 4th consecutive night, Kimmos´s watched nervously as potential diners sip on coktails (he insisted on expanding the beer and wine bar to include mojitos and caipirinhas), peruse the menu, look confused, and leave without ordering.

¨When it comes to tapas restaurants, the kind younger Madridanos go to,¨ Matt says, ¨I usually don´t even have to look at the menu. They´re pretty much all the same.¨

The increasingly anxious owner of Doña Antonia wants a more typical menu; in the previous day´s blow-out, Kimmo conceeded to including bravas and croquetas on the menu. ¨She tells me,¨Kimmo says of the owner, ¨ ´You can do them your way.´ But no one in Madrid wants to try lemon aioli. And they haven´t even heard to romesco!¨

Another problem Kimmo´s encountered is that modern Madridanos seem to have no familiarity with the Spanish cuisine he learned in the States. Filet of fish with romesco? No go. Paella without seafood? Won´t fly. Additionally, the organic craze has far from set in. An almost nauseatingly hip trend in the US, the inherent taste superioirty and sustainable sensibility means nothing in Spain. ¨There´s no idea that you might want to spend more for better ingredients. I can´t say, ´The meat is expensive because it´s organic.´ They won´t care; they say, ´Find it for cheaper.´ So I have to try to cook with rubbery arugula, carrots that don´t taste like carrots.¨

Kimmo´s decided to give it 6 weeks. He´ll do what the owner wants: put the typical dishes on the menu and try to make the best of less-than-optimum ingredients. Will he eventually conceede and adapt to the Madrid way of dining, or will he maintain his high standards and continue the seemingly impossible struggle to raise diners´expectations, lower their inhibitions and up the ante of the Madrid tapas scene?

There´s no way to know, not now. But tonight we can kick back in the thickening smoke creeping through the psuedo-pub as the crowd thins and the evening grows damp and heavy, and let it all go. Afterall, tomorrow´s Monday, Kimmo´s one day off.

In Search of Banksy: 30 pounds and 48 hours in London

DSCN2994There´s nothing like a good ole map-less search for illegal art through the streets of a foreign city to get you off the tourist track.

Call it my guide to ¨spending less and seeing more¨: extend your flight connection from an hour and a half to 48, crash with a family friend in Brixton, and set out on a scavenger´s hunt through one of world´s most expensive cities for illusive works of a notorious street artist. Arm yourself with nothing more than a transit day pass (5.6 pounds), a scribbled scrap of notes from a Banksy locations website, no guidebook or map, and a long-time London resident down for the quest. You´ll trapse through the heart of the city, through 2 ethnic neighborhoods, 2 gentrified hipster havens and an unabashed tourist trap; take 4 tube rides, 3 buses and walk an estimated 5 miles; pop into 2 galleries and 1 museum; sip cappuccinos on a roof-top cafe (2 pounds), munch on Jamaican patties at an Afro-Carribean market (2.5 pounds), and down some killer dal at a Pakinstani restaurant (17 pounds, with hella leftovers). You´ll venture down abandoned tunnels and crumbling back alleys as you tour the city´s sweet, tender underbelly, swollen with bright colors and pealing wheatpaste. And all for less than the Lonely Planet shoestringer budget.

Bristol-native Banksy has become synonymous with street art, his satyrical, subversive large-scale stencils offering poignant and humorous statements on politics, culture, capitalism. While his pieces have popped up in cities around the world (an apparent traveler himself), London is one of the hotbeds. The ephemeral nature of street art makes finding his work a kind of wild goose chase.

DSCN2972New Zealand native, world-travler and 30-year London resident Dave served as my gracious host and personal guide extraordinaire. We began at the Waterloo tunnel, once a Eurostar passageway, once abandoned, now a designated graffiti area. None of Banksy´s work remains, but lots of other bright colors and politized stencils fill the surprisingly clean, un-urine-smelling underground area. We rambled along the brown, gurgling Thames to the Tate Modern, sister museum to the Tate Britain, one of the museums hit in Banksy´s guerilla art hanging. We checked out the excellent Futurism exhibit (which warrants its own post), making use of Dave´s free +1 entry.

Our search took us through two once-funky, now-trendy gentrified neighborhoods, the Angel and Old Street areas. We passed a crosslegged girl working on a legit piece on the exterior of a hip nightclub, a one-time poppin gay bar that was ¨the perfect mix of seedy and interesting,¨ Dave sighed in bittersweet nostalgia. Amid the antique stores and vintage shops of Angel, we at last found a Banksy. Preserved under plate glass like the Mona Lisa, I posed next to the children pledging a Tesco shopping bag (of course, I forgot my camera cord at home, so you´ll have to wait for the proof).

DSCN3006We found another Banksy on a quiet sidestreet off of unabashed tourist trap/hipster hangout Brick Lane. The first half of the blocks we walked were wall-to-wall Indian restaurants, with pushy male touts outside jostling for patronage; I think they´d find more success if they employed the Latin American method and used smokin hot girls in skimpy clothing. The street morphed into uber-cool bar and pub land, and that´s where we found the most street art of our mission. My favorite was a collage of corporate logos composing the now-commodified famous image of Che. The Banksy we found was several blocks from the hubbub, a painter sitting next to a large yellow flower. The words ¨vandals found vandalising this vandalism will be prosecuted¨ appeared right beside the large spray of paint covering the stencil´s face.

One of my visit´s sub-missions was to find one of those Cockney ATMs; while that searched proved unfruitful, it did bring us to bomb-ass Tayab, a Pakistani restaurant doing a cafeteria-style smorgasborg for Ramadan. I wisely stocked up on minced meat pastries for my next day´s flight, as well as enough leftovers for a spicy breakfast.

DSCN3018Another culinary and culture highlight was our next morning´s stroll through the Brixton Market, the pulsing heart of the Afro-Carribean Brixton neighborhood. African flags and fabrics, produce-selling mom and pops, Bob Marley tapestries, Obama t-shirts, Rasta onesies and pot-leaf-adorned everythings filled with multi-block indoor/outdoor bazaar of bad-assedness. There wasn´t a single corporate logo in sight, and as I sipped on a Buffalo-milk cappuccino and watched passerbys, I couldn´t help but feel my 48-hour powertour had provided me with a pretty good glimpse of the London in which locals live, graffiti-adorned, cumin-scented and throbbing with life.

Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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