London holds a special place in our hearts. We met in London in 1995. We both worked for a tour operator, and Tanja was already working in the London office, and Ørjan got a surprise posting to London as a freshly trained tour guide. No freshly trained tour guides ever got posted in London as their first destination, so fate intervened, and we met in the offices of Star Tour in Bayswater, London, in January 1995. We had our first date in Aphrodite’s Taverna on Hereford Road in Bayswater, it is still there and still serving the best Greek Cypriot food in London. And almost every day after work we had beers and cider at the Prince Edward pub.
To live in London in the mid nineties was fantastic. London was a bit grittier back then, but not too gritty, it was the height of “Cool Britannia” the mid 1990s celebration of youth culture. It was the summer of Britpop with Blur and Oasis at their heights, it was house music at the Ministry of Sound and it was Sunday morning clubbing at The Church. We got to see many legendary concerts in venues that are now gone like the London Astoria, torn down to be replaced by the new Tottenham court road station. We went to Brixton Academy and saw one of the first Foo Fighters gigs in 1995, the Red Hot Chili Peppers with Moby as warm up, Radiohead with Flaming Lips as warm up, legendary. In the historic Royal Albert Hall we saw Eric Clapton in February 1996 start his set with The Badge and play classics like The White Room, Sunshine of Your Love and Tears In Heaven. We travelled up to the old Wembley Stadium (torn down to be rebuilt in the early 2000s) on a scorching warm summer day and with 70 000 other music fans we saw Bon Jovi play a legendary set, the audience sang so loud we could not hear the PA, it was epic. And perhaps the most epic concert of them all for us was Jimmi Page & Robert Plant at Wembley Arena on 26th July 1995 where they played every legendary Led Zeppelin song from Ramble On, No Quarter, The Battle of Evermore, Whole Lotta Love, Black Dog and Kashmir backed with a full Egyptian orchestra. The day before Ørjan met Jimmi Page on the streets around Covent Garden and got a chat and an autograph, that was some concert and some meeting of a legend.
Talking about meeting legends, we lived quite close to Kensington Palace where Lady Diana lived after leaving prince Charles in the dust. One day Tanja was getting her hair done at the local hair salon, she sat next to a small boy, in the corner sat a mum and another small boy. It was Lady Di and prince William, and Tanja sat next to a young prince Harry getting his hair cut!
On the weekend we used to visit one of the markets around London. Just down the road from our flat was Portobello Road in Notting Hill, a long street lined with every kind of vendor with bric a brac, vegetables, clothes, and other useful stuff, it has changed a bit with the upscaling of Notting Hill since the late 90s and is now more of a high-end market compared to when we frequented the stalls of Portobello Road on Saturdays in 1995. The other major market was, and still is, Camden Lock Market. Started in 1974 the market developed into London’s trendiest hangout on Sundays by the 80s. In the mid-90s there was drum n bass, the smell of weed in the air, and still a very bohemian maze of stalls and shops every Sunday. We bought second-hand clothes and incense, the food was legendary and under the railway arches there were some of the coolest interior shops we have ever visited. In 2008 a major fire ravaged the old market, and it was rebuilt in a more modern and stylish way the following years. Now there are around 1000+ shops and stalls and around 28 million people visiting the market every year, making it one of the most visited attractions in London. It still is very cool, slightly chaotic and an attack on the senses in every way.
We only lived in Bayswater a little under 2 years, but those formative years of our youth made great impressions on us both. When we decided to get married, the only real option was to do this in London we felt. It was not as easy as we had initially thought, no churches or Norwegian embassy could wed us in England. After looking some more, we found that there had been started a new project in preparing for the passing of the Civil Partnership Act (passed by law in 2005) that created civil partnerships to gay couples. It was not a marriage; this law was not passed until the Marriage Act of 2013 where same sex couples were given the right to marriage. We contacted one of the three councils in London that did the ceremonies and had a meeting where it was stressed that they “did 99% same sex commitment ceremonies, and we were that other 1%”, but they were more than happy to do a commitment ceremony for us. We were ecstatic. We invited friends and family to London for a 3-day celebration, and on the 27th of March 2004 we were married in a beautiful ceremony in a grand suite at The Tower Hotel overlooking Tower Bridge, the Thames, and Tower of London. It was pure magic, the happiest day of our lives for sure. Our wedding dinner was of course at our favourite restaurant, The Aphrodite where we had our first date, and the party was just up the road in our local pub The Prince Albert. Happy days!
There is a saying “If you are tired of London, you are tired of life” and we could not agree more. Since we lived in London more than 25 years ago, we have been back at least once a year. We also decided to give our 3 nephews Jonas, Elias, Marcus, and niece Nora a trip to London as their 8-year birthday gift, and we hoped that they would feel the special atmosphere that you can only get in a city like London. They all enjoyed their visit immensely, and still talk about the stuff they saw.
It still feels a little bit like home, and the sights and the sounds are still familiar to us. Landing at Heathrow or Gatwick we are immediately transferred back to those halcyon days in the mid 90s. Falling in love in London is a fantastic thing, and we fall right back in love every time we go back. Having a pint of beer and cider at a pub is something we enjoy every time we visit. And we do of course go back to Aphrodite’s every time we visit; the food is still awesome!
The cool thing is that London is so vast, so big, that we never run out of areas to see and explore for the first time, even after 25 years of visits. London will for ever remain in our hearts and in our souls.