All this happened, more or less...

My name is G and these are the true stories of my adventures.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

London, Day 1 -- The Astor Victoria


Some people collect snow globes, some stamps, and some shot glasses. My grandmother collects those little engraved spoons. I don’t know why.

I collect places.

I collect significant places – places I call “home,” even if only for a short while. My newest place is the Astor Victoria Hostel in London. 71 Belgrave. Room 12. Home.

I’d never stayed in a hostel before this one, and kind of like the first doll I ever had or the first boy I ever kissed, I find it strangely irreplaceable.


When S and I arrived, we were struck by how gorgeous the neighborhood was – a long strip of soaring, white columned buildings, mostly hotels and obviously frequented by tourists. Our hostel – number 71 – had a bright red door, a well-polished gold address plaque, and a printout of Fidel Castro on the door declaring “I stay at the Astor Victoria every time I come to London!” We schlepped our luggage up six narrow flights of stairs to get to our third-floor room and claimed the two empty beds opposite the window.

Of course, it is never the place itself that makes a home. Homes are made up of the people we encounter there, the connections we make with each other, the moments that color a place in our memory. We spent that first afternoon in London exploring the nearby parks and shops and returned home in the evening to meet our roommates, a motley crew of global nomads.

First we met the Frenchman, Victor, a dark, curly-headed fellow who spoke little English and went about with a generally haunted air. He probably would have been handsome if he hadn’t given such a strong impression of a startled rabbit. He blushed and twitched awkwardly at our frequent outbursts of laughter, though they were never at his expense. Attempts to stifle the giggles or explain the jokes only exacerbated his discomfort. He quickly gave up, went out, got drunk, and stumbled back in long after the rest of us had gone to bed. The drink must have helped him feel more comfortable around us; when we woke the next morning, he was stretched out on his bed naked as he came from the womb.

Apart from S and I, another American girl – Lauren – was in our room the first night. She was freshly out of college and had been traveling for three months with a few friends. Her body was going home in two days, but her brain had already shipped out. She sat vacantly on her bed while the rest of us got acquainted. She introduced herself but then barely said a word, evidently uninterested in meeting anyone new or having anything like fun. She must have been exhausted.


Anna had the lower bunk by the window, and she was at the beginning of her adventure, traveling abroad alone for the first time. She had no real plan – just a few vague ideas of places she wanted to go, people she wanted to see. When I first started chatting with her, she talked entirely too fast, giggled too much, and was so clearly in over her head that I thought I might drown just sitting next to her. I know the feeling of diving headfirst into the unknown, so I felt for Anna, but I knew too that once she started meeting people, she’d settle in. Over the course of the week, she got her feet on the ground and her head on straight, and by the time we parted ways, she at least gave the impression of being travel-savvy, even if she still had a lot to learn.

Above Anna was David, an Aussie surfer on a working holiday. Like Anna, he was on his own and anxious to meet people and have adventures, though considerably calmer and more confident than she. He was the sort of person who has obviously grown up in the sun – like guys from Florida or Southern California – the perfect roast marshmallow golden brown with sun-bleached blonde curls. And he smelled like sun-burnt skin and salt water and Linx, as all good Australian men should. That first night, he split his gut laughing when S asked him if meat pies really had meat in them. He then tried to convince her that as a child, he had jumped on the backs of wild kangaroos and ridden them to school. She finally realized he was joking when he said you can steer them with the ears and I couldn’t keep a straight face. We call this “cultural exchange”.


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