It is difficult to chat about my experiences in the big city without bringing up the pleasant surprise that i encountered while walking down Kensington street.
It was, i think, my second week in London and i was still living in that hostel in Earls Court. Massive thing with a zillion bunk beds and a common room that allowed alcohol consumption. It was pretty horrible. The weather failed to help, as it did not take long for me to realise that what i previously considered to be “cold” and “chilly” fell under the standards that i had shaped as a citizen of Greece.
Plus it was dawning on me that finding descent accommodation would not be a straightforward task.
To be honest, I was slowly trying to get myself comfortable with the idea of sharing a room and, much like opening the fridge repeatedly in hopes that something worthwhile will magically appear ( only to have your hopes throttled with each miserable glance), it became apparent that i would have to settle with the housing equivalent of a sandwich bread topped with a thick layer of French’s mustard.
Still to this day i think very fondly of Kensington.
Perhaps because at that time i felt a longing for the familiarity of a busy high-end street, with it’s wide pavements and it’s bright lights.
I believe that if i stared long enough through squinted eyes i could convince myself that i was back in Syntagma Square and, although it might seem like a rude thing to say, all of those beautiful winding roads, the private gardens and the spooky yet incredibly charming cemeteries* had set me up for massive disappointment.
My two year room sharing journey would be taking me from an apartment in Edgware Road ( two minute walk from the tube station) all the way down to Camberwell Green ( a horrible gang infested neighbourhood** that made me pack my bags and fly all the way up to Edinburgh)
With hands burrowed deep in my jacket’s stretched out pockets i allowed myself to warm up to the festive shades of red and green that decorated the glass store-fronts. November, after all, was slowly coming to a close, and those angel shaped lights must have been hanging above the busy street for quite some time now.
In a few days Edgware road’s crowded shisha shops will be greeting me with their thick vapours and their over-priced falafel, and it will not be long before i find some justification in the claims that willed Kensington to be one of London’s most upper class neighbourhoods.
And...as a parting gift...it offered me the most unprecedented surprise.
It was a cavernous structure that had no place on a commercial high street that buzzed with Christmas cheer.
Double decker buses buzzed up and down the High Street.The Savoy, The London Palladium, The Apollo Theatre...both sides of the towering red masses where plastered with warm invitations to all the upcoming seasonal events. Reminding us of their limited availabilities, prompting us to reserve our early bird tickets and promising us an unforgettable Christmas experience.
I recall a florist near by. For some weird reason i vividly recall him sitting on a three legged stool and wearing one of those really long coats that go all the way down to your knees.
His bright and colourful wares did a fine job fending of the dusty grey, but they still had a hard time distracting a gaze which was bent on finding more about the urban cave that lay before it.
The closer i was to discovering all that was hidden behind the winding pathway, all the more clear where the soft-spoken hymns that poured from the unknown.
I froze and wondered if that Whole Foods still existed right across the street. What about the black cabs? Where those still racing by? The soft breeze could not answer, neither could the stone courtyard that unravelled before my feet, and the door that towered above me creaked with each gush of wind, gifting a sombre note to the chants that echoed in the distance
I would be spending the rest of my evening in St. Mary Abbot’s church, half asleep and half trying my best to watch the congregation prepare for December’s demanding schedule. Something that i was swift to relate to, as resting on that wooden plank(as uncomfortable as it might have been)was a brief moment of bliss. At that time covers where slowly building up, and there are few things more chaotic than being a chef in Central London during the Christmas season.
The main entrance loomed over me as i reluctantly made my way towards the lights that creeped behind the corner, and i did my best to savour what appeared to be a little pocket of British countryside neatly tucked away from the clutches of modernity.
*Brompton cemetery is ideal for walks and nothing you can say will convince me otherwise
**Sorry not sorry Londoners