In 1996 Suede's Brett Anderson famously sang the line "Europe is our playground, London is our town" on a b-side from the "Trash" single. In 2013, I was lucky enough to travel from San Francisco to London for Suede's show at the Alexandra Palace. London certainly is my town.
My only other London trip had been with my parents in August 2005. We were typical tourists vying to see Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Harrods and other landmarks. It was a wonderful vacation and I cherish the memories. But traveling as a teenager with mom and dad is vastly different from traveling in your twenties with friends.
I arrived in London after a 10-hour flight from San Francisco. Tired and desperate for a shower, I found myself being detained by the UK Border Patrol. An immigration officer interrogated me for about forty minutes. I can only assume this was due to the student visa that had been issued when I intended to attend graduate school in Glasgow, Scotland. The immigration officer asked highly invasive questions about my brief period in Glasgow, the nature of my trip to London, my finances and my life back in the U.S. The experience was rather terrifying and seemed completely unnecessary just to enter the country for a week-long vacation. I was relieved to finally be allowed into the UK.
Due to the tremendous jet lag, my first day in the UK was a blur. I met my friend Julia at King's Cross before traveling to our AirBnB flat in Hackney. Having never ridden the Tube, I was very impressed by London's public transport. The trains and buses are very clean and efficient. They certainly put San Francisco's public transport to shame! The next day, our friend Maren arrived and our California trio was complete. We ate dinner at the Indian Veg Bhelpoori House in Islington. The restaurant boasts an all-you-can-eat vegetarian buffet for £5. Our meal was delicious and afterwards we ventured to Stoke Newington for drinks and a show at Babble Jar. The upstairs bar is incredibly cozy and the drinks generous. In the tiny downstairs area, we caught the band Strangers.
The following night we dined at the Pogo Café, a famous vegan restaurant in Hackney. Unfortunately their chef was absent so the menu was limited. Though I am neither vegetarian nor vegan, I thoroughly enjoyed my vegetable soup and garlic bread. The night then took us to Hoxton for a show at the Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen. There we caught Frida Sundemo, Of Verona and F.U.R.S. Julia described the Swedish Frida Sundemo as a "depressed Robyn" but we loved her set. Of Verona can only be described as "post-Evanescence." F.U.R.S. mixed the best bits of '60s surf rock and the Raveonettes.
Friday saw Julia and I meeting our Italian friend Odile for shopping. We braved the massive Oxford Street TopShop before ending up in Shoreditch at Beyond Retro and the legendary Rough Trade. That night we were invited to the Shacklewell Arms, a pub in Dalston owned by Maren's friends. We were treated to a very English dinner of vegetarian pies and mash. From there, our adventures took us to the Rattlesnake in Angel for Lipgloss Club. As a nod to the following night's Suede concert at the Alexandra Palace, it was a Suede tribute. Maren, Julia and I danced around the club to our favorite Britpop bands -- Mansun, the Bluetones and even the much maligned Catch. The DJs' sets were heavy with Suede hits and I must admit how much I enjoyed dancing to "He's Dead." When Brett Anderson sang "With all the love and poison of London," I knew just what he meant.
Saturday was Suede day. We knew it would be a late night so Maren, Julia and I hung out in Hackney before meeting our friend Stephen near his hotel by Bond Street. He had just flown in from San Francisco for the concert. We ate a mediocre meal at Amjadia. Had we been smart enough to check out its reviews online, we would have saved ourselves from suffering the worst service and most expensive poppadum in London.
We finally took the Tube out to Wood Green. There, we spotted buses shuttling Suede fans up the hill to the Alexandra Palace. As I boarded the Suede bus, I felt like a giddy teenager. I've been an avid Suede devotee since my mid-teens but unfortunately they rarely if ever tour the U.S. If Suede weren't coming to me, I just had to go to them.
When we arrived at the Alexandra Palace, we bought our Suede t-shirts (and even candles!) then tried to find decent spots on the floor. Being five foot nothing, I spent the majority of the show on my tiptoes trying to catch a glimpse of the band. The music was nothing short of perfect. Suede's new album Bloodsports had just been released. Their set was heavy with new songs but lengthy enough to include old favorites. Seeing Suede live was truly a dream come true. After the concert, Julia and I used our VIP passes to access the backstage bar. Unfortunately I was too shy to approach the band. After thanking their manager profusely for his kindness, Julia and I left the Ally Pally to meet up with Maren and Stephen. The night was surreal and I often find myself wondering if it really even happened!
On Easter Sunday, Maren and I intended to finish up the last of our UK shopping. Unfortunately due to the holiday almost everything was closed. I never remembered that being the case in the US. It was also quite cold. We finally ended up in Leicester Square at the Coach and Horses. We warmed up with pints of lager and vegetarian bangers and mash. It was the perfect last meal in England. I woke up on Monday morning, collected my belongings and went to Heathrow. After another 10-hour flight I was back in San Francisco wishing I were back in London.
The native Londoners that I met were confused as to why someone would holiday there, especially coming from "sunny" California. Thanks to my affinity for '90s Britpop, London is my spiritual home. I often resisted the urge to break out into songs like Catatonia's "Londinium" while passing certain Tube stations. The next time I have the funds and vacation time, I hope I can return for another adventure. London is my town.