London was the first stop on our trip. Tom and I originally had no intention of traveling here, but we found a killer rate (less than $550) for a non-stop flight from LA to London, so we added it to our itinerary.
With so much shared pop culture and a common language, we thought we would be bored by its similarities to the US. And there were a lot of similarities, but the subtle differences in our language and cultures delighted us. Peter, our gracious host, insightfully joked that the US and England are “two nations divided by a common language” (quoting George Bernard Shaw).
As we did a little pub crawl one evening, we felt at home at a fantastic little pub, Lamb & Flag, that opened out the backside to a small cobblestone walking street used as a patio. We stood there, Tom enjoying his cask ale, and I, my cider, surrounded by young professionals mingling over a pint after work. We eavesdropped on their conversations and marveled at how an English accent made even the most crass comments sound sophisticated and smart.
The food was okay. Meat and potatoes are not exactly exotic to us, but I have to say they have conquered the art of making chips (or as we say in America, “french fries”). And boy do they love their chips.
At one restaurant, I scoured the menu for an option that included fresh vegetables only to find that the options for my side dish were chips, crisps, or jacket potatoes. Which translates to potato, potato, or more potato.
So with the exception of Borough Market, an outdoor market brimming with beautifully displayed organic meats and seafood, fresh produce, hot paella, artisan cheeses, warm homemade breads, and gourmet chocolates, Tom and I chose to eat for nourishment, not tourism in London. We made the ales and ciders our British culinary treat instead, and they didn’t disappoint.
Other than the pubs, we trekked all over town (over 10 miles each day) to see the London Tower, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and many of London’s other glories. The party hats even made an appearance on a few of the bridges. And when we looked down long enough from the famous sites and attractions, we found an abundance of beauty in the ordinary details of the city.
While crossing one popular foot bridge, we were tempted to keep our eyes on the astounding view of St Paul’s Cathedral, but thankfully we looked down. A man nearby was painting and his canvas was a piece of old chewing gum stuck to the sidewalk.
He wouldn’t reveal his name; he only called himself the chewing gum guy. Below is a picture of one of his tiny pieces of artwork. Apparently, he does this all over London.
However, while all these adventures and corky observations are wonderful, I don’t believe this will be what we sit around and discuss two years from now, five years from now, and certainly not fifty years from now.
But I am certain that the names Peter and Solveig, our hosts, will roll off our tongues time and time again, because, from Peter and Solveig, we humbly experienced true hospitality.
I say “humbly” because there was absolutely nothing we could do for them in return. Peter and Solveig are closer in age to our parents than to us. They are well-established in life. And while a warm, healthy home-cooked meal, a ride from the airport, and a free place to stay means the world to two backpackers, they will never need our help (although we would welcome the opportunity to give it to them).
It is humbling to need someone when they don’t need you back and to accept undeserved favors from a stranger to which you can’t repay.
We did not know Peter and Solveig before this week. We were introduced to them via email through one of my work associates. So, when they originally agreed to have us stay with them for the week, we were just grateful for a soft place to lay our head at night. But we got so much more; we got two new friends.
Peter and Solveig picked us up from the airport, cooked us dinners, shared their wine, engaged us in conversation, and took an interest in us, and our story.
Someone once described to me the difference between entertaining and hospitality. Entertaining is about your self, putting on a show and a certain appearance, but hospitality is about the other person, making them feel welcome and comfortable.
Peter and Solveig showed us true hospitality; so much so, that when we returned to their house after a few days in Wales, it felt like coming home.
One evening, over one of Solveig’s tasty meals and a glass of Peter’s red wine, we asked why they were willing to take in two strangers like us. Solveig explained that several American families had been hospitable to their sons when they traveled through the States and this was an opportunity to repay, or should I say, pay forward, the kindness of those American families.
This sentiment struck Tom and I. We decided that, while there is not much we can do to repay Peter and Solveig for their hospitality, we can seek out future opportunities to open our home, rearrange our schedules, and give up some privacy in order to make people feel welcome and treat other travelers like family. We anticipate our opportunities to pay it forward.
Although, I’m not sure we have to wait till we get back. I’m not convinced hospitality requires a home. Through conversation, grace, assistance, and simply putting others first, we can practice our own form of hospitality on the road and we look forward to the opportunity to do so.
9/7/2013 12:55:18 am
Hey there guys! Miss. You. Tons!! But I absolutely love this blog on London & you 2 new friends! I am so glad you guys were taken in by great peopl & you are enjoying your time thus far. Can't wait to read about the next stop! XO
9/7/2013 01:52:13 am
What a wonderful way to begin the trip. These people sound extraordinary and I would love to meet them someday.
9/7/2013 02:03:44 am
I absolutely love this and am so happy you enjoyed your stay. It sounds like we can all learn something from Peter and Solveig! Love the party hats!! Xo
9/7/2013 02:07:07 am
Love your blogposts, your photos-especially the gum artwork, and your insights along the way.
9/7/2013 02:39:14 am
I enjoyed this posting so much and your idea of paying it forward in hospitality, even on the road! Giving grace to others is always a good way to live , no matter where you are! Keep it up!
9/7/2013 04:44:47 am
Jamie and Tom! We already miss you so much. This heartfelt and beautifully written post only served to remind us of how genuine and thoughtful you are. We are so happy you found such amazing hosts to show you the art of hospitality. Absolutely love the idea of paying it forward. What a moving post! Looking forward to more.
9/7/2013 06:53:52 am
Great start! Sounds to me like you experienced some form of grace... a gift received but never earned. How refreshing it is in a world of wages and rewards. Grace is neither! Love your posts!
9/7/2013 09:47:42 am
If your two new friends should ever come out here I too would love to meet them. I always believed that whatever you do for others will come back a hundred fold. Sounds like you are reaping some of those benefits:) Stay safe.......Love and prayers
9/7/2013 01:46:03 pm
9/7/2013 05:19:27 pm
Hi Tom I heard that you were going to take this year trip. How exciting for both of you. Whatt an adventure. Enjoy this time and cherish every moment.
Mike and Linda
9/8/2013 10:18:34 am
Thank you for the updates. This is a great experience for us and we truly appreciate the way you describe your travel "events". Please keep these coming.
9/9/2013 02:16:29 am
What a beautiful reminder that the most valued things don't necessarily have a monetary worth!
9/12/2013 07:37:12 pm
How wonderful that there are such giving people still left on old planet earth. So remember don't believe the hype there's still lots of love and kindness in the world...more than enough to go round. As you two have already found, you just have to look for it and share it.
11/27/2013 11:29:43 am
So overdue with this...... loving the reading of your adventure....
12/12/2013 10:33:41 am
the first time sue and i were in London we were taken by the fact that in that huge, busy city you could still get milk delivered to your doorstep in the morning in glass bottles! tradition! i hope you got to bunhill fields and evensong at westminster abbey or st paul's any evening of the week. when we were at westminster abbey the minister introduced evensong by saying that "people have been gathering here for prayer, song, praise and scripture every evening for eleven hundred years!"
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I'm Jaime. My husband is Tom. Suburbanites, backpackers, and expats...we've been them all!