My only prior visit to London was four years ago, an enjoyable eight days visiting my aunt and cousins (an embarrassing amount of it spent at Camden Market buying enormous boots and various articles of black clothing).
I was really looking forward to seeing them again (my family, not the boots and black clothing). Their house in East Croydon was our next stop when Michael and Sophie dropped us off at the train station on the evening of September 28th, and I gave them a call from the station to try and figure out just exactly where we were going.
My cousin Philip answered, and his voice threw me for a loop. I'd seen Philip not too long ago, and yet the only image of him I could conjure was as he looked years and years earlier, when I'd taken him and his sister Rachel to see the South Park movie. (They were eleven and thirteen at the time, if memory serves, but hey? What are cousins for?) Anyway, the Philip I was remembering didn't fit with the voice I was hearing on the phone. As far as I could guess (I'm notoriously bad with these things), he was somewhere in his early 20s now.
How did this happen to me? When did I get old?
I made Jessica promise that if when I met him I said anything about "how much he'd grown" or how "I rememebered him way back when", that she'd smack me. She enthusiastically agreed. (A little too enthusiastically, if you ask me.)
At East Croydon, we got off our train and made our way into the station, keeping our eyes peeled for him.
"What does he look like?" Jessica asked. (A perfectly reasonable question to ask someone about their cousin).
I shrugged, and admitted I had no earlthly idea. I just hoped he might recognize us. Fortunately, with a giant stuffed pink pig strapped to my backpack, Philip had little trouble picking me out of the crowd.
To the immense relief of my fragile aging ego, it turns out Philip is only 17, and just comes across as older than that. He has a maturity about him I certainly didn't have when I was 17. (I don't frankly know that I have it now.)
He led us back to their house, where my aunt greeted us and offered a nice hot supper and a comfy bed in a room of our own. We would make East Croydon our base of operations over the coming fortnight, leaving much of our gear there while we visited St. Albans, Greenwich, and Leeds. Our time with my aunt and cousins was staggered over our two weeks in England, a night here, three nights there, that sort of thing, but it was just wonderful. Warm and cosy and safe and happy, everything visiting family should be.
My aunt cooked for us every night, and we just had a ball talking with her and with Philip over dinner. (Rachel was living on the other side of London, although we did get to spend a few hours with her one afternoon.) We told them stories of our adventures in South America and in Spain, and they told us about their adventures staying at a youth hostel in Harlem. (Dorm rooms, mind you. They were without a doubt more hardcore than us.)
East Croydon was a great place for us to unwind a bit. The four of us would sit around the dinner table for hours lost in conversation, or we'd recline on comfy sofas in the living room and watch videos together. Jessica and I feasted on the wonderful selection that resided upon my aunt's bookshelves, after seven months of making do with whatever English-language book we could get our hands on. And most of all, we slept. After so long on the road, and in-between the mad visiting of friends in England, we spent a shocking amount of time unconscious in East Croydon. We were a little worried that the two of them might take us for the laziest people on the planet.
And then it was over all too soon, and we were back on the road again. We took the last tube of the day to Heathrow, where we caught a few hours of sleep before checking in at 4:00am. And then we were off to Istanbul.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. First we still need to tell you all about Leeds...
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