couchsurfing.org where you create a profile and when you are travelling and need a place to stay, you can find locals in the area that can host you for the night.
I know it sounds incredibly sketchy at first and you do still need to take appropriate precautions before you put yourself out there and trust a stranger over the internet, but honestly it is the best way to meet locals and see the country properly. Now I'm making it sound like a dating site, but don't worry it's not like that.
To give you a little taste of what its like, last Saturday I knew I was coming into London but I didn't have a place to sleep for the night because one of the hosts canceled on me last minute. So I posted a message on the website in one of the 'London's last minute couches' groups saying that I was coming to London and I needed a place to crash for the night, hopefully in central london since I was leaving by train the next day. A couple of people responded to my inquiry but one guy caught my attention because he did in fact live (close to) central london and he was also coming to canada some time next year and wanted to get a locals advice. Seeing as he was doing me a solid favour, I felt that it would be nice to finally reciprocate and give him some advice on his future trip to Canada since this is what couch surfing is all about: sharing your knowledge.
So i hopped on a train Saturday morning leaving Leamington Spa and heading down to London Marylebone station, which I then needed to figure out the tube system to get to Borough.
I'm not going to lie, the tube scared the crap out of me at first because the Toronto subway map looks like this:
And the London Tube map looks like this:
Yeah...just a tad different.
I was actually surprised how easy it was to take the tube! I would even go as far as saying that it was easier than Toronto, which only has a maximum of four lines, but people keep stealing the maps on the subways so you have to keep your eyes peeled outside or just know where you are going before you get on. Although I have recently been told that Toronto has a new digital version of the map now so that is a definite improvement.
The London tube system is very organized and there are signs practically everywhere so you always know where you are going and it is fairly hard to get lost. When I went to transfer lines, I found out that one of them were no longer in service as they were doing repairs, so I had to navigate my way by bus to get to his place. I'm happy to say that I made it to his flat fairly quickly considering the fact that I did no previous research on the buses. So kudos to me!
When I got to his flat and took my bags up, we quickly got into a deep conversation about films and music and such. It was funny meeting this guy for the first time and feeling like we knew each other for years and were just picking up from a previous conversation.
Then we got into the topic of food and when he learned about my keen interest in the subject (because who doesn't like food?), he told me that we had to leave at this very moment. So we put our shoes back on and went outside. He took me into Borough Market and my goodness, it was extraordinary! There was such a variety of fresh food and sweets, and the place was buzzing with activity. It was definitely one of the coolest places I have been so far!
He made me try this french cheese sandwich, which basically consisted of cheese, bread, onions, and other vegetables, and it was phenomenal! Definitely exceeded my expectations!
Then I had this duck sandwich and after the lady heard that it was my first one, she said that she would do it up properly, and then she proceeded to stuff the sandwich to the brim with duck. Which was delicious obviously .
We then had a cheeky pint and went over to the oyster booth for some fresh oysters. I was a bit skeptical about oysters because although I don't mind them...I don't exactly love them. Also, the last memory I have of eating oysters was a couple of months ago when I took one of my best friends out to a seafood restaurant and they had a deal on oysters so we decided to ordered one each. He had never had oysters before, so he didn't exactly know how to eat it (which involves swallowing and not chewing the oyster). I will never forget his facial expressions while he was eating the oyster... I nearly pissed myself! Regardless, the oysters weren't very good and in his words 'tasted like armpit'. So you can understand my skepticism. However these ones were very good and actually surprised me! Although they still aren't my favourite choice of food, I now see why people can stand eating them.
The atmosphere of the market was so welcoming and cultured, and if that's not enough to make me come back for seconds, the food definitely makes me want to set up camp and live there forever! Believe me, if you get the chance, you have to visit Borough Market. You will not regret it...except maybe the next time you step foot on a scale.
After we stuffed our faces, he took me around the city. We went all along the Thames and took a touristy photo at tower bridge. We didn't stay there very long because we couldn't go two steps without a couple asking us to take a photo of them...so we got out of there pretty quickly.
The rest of the evening involved walking around, grabbing various pints and just chilling. Oh, and I also ate at Nandos for the first time. I still don't understand what everyone is going on about the place, it was just chicken!
Then we got ready for a night out while he mixed us drinks in his private bar, which is something that I must get in my new flat!
The best thing about that day was that everything was spontaneous and nothing was planned...and I wouldn't have changed it for a second. This really shows you a lot about trying new things and being open minded. You still need to be mindful and not stupid, but sometimes when you open yourself up to new experiences, even ones that might frighten you at first, you can be very surprised of the outcome!