Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Old Man in the Prince of Wales Pub

I had been in London for about 5 hours, intentionally trying to get lost and had more or less succeeded when I happened upon a little old pub in Chelsea. Satisfied that it was time for a pint, I walked up the steps of the Prince of Wales pub at the corner of Old Brompton Road and Empress Place. I tried to open both of the entryway doors to no avail. Just as I turned around to find another pub, and old man, whom I hadn't yet noticed told me that it would only be a moment or so before the pub opened. I'm sure he used a much more whimsical and creative phrase but it has since escaped me.

Shortly after, the doors were opened and the old man and I walked in. I found a seat at a table by myself and ordered from the bartender who was doubling as my waiter. After a few minutes and half of my first pint I wandered over to the old man who was sitting a few tables over. Eager to engage in a conversation with a Brit, I told him how impressed I was with the little bar and we engaged in some great chit chat.

The man had some serious health issues. Probably in his 70's, he had difficulty walking and spoke with a soft voice. I was still trying to get a sense of Londoners and wondering what they thought of me. After speaking a little bit about our respective countries' interest in "football" the man provided me with some insight into his existence. He said that his doctor had told him that if he didn't quit drinking and smoking he would die. To that, he told me. "This, this fag I can live with out but I'll be damned if I don't die with a pint in my hand". It was a simple quote but one that was more endearing than you can imagine.

For me this little anecdote sort of encapsulated my London experience, especially because all of my pictures were deleted. While most trips have pictures, this one is only memories. My adventure in London is now all in my head. I'll never forget that bar, nor the old man who sat outside with me waiting for it to open.

Because all of my pictures were deleted it was important to me to find the pub where I had such a fond memory. When I returned home I took it upon myself to find my favorite London pub. Despite walking around the city, lost, for just shy of 11 hours, I had a fairly good idea of where I had gone and I didn't think it would be hard to find. This goes to show that with a good sense of an areas geography and direction it's hard to ever really be lost. I recognized many of the places I went while I looked around London in Google Earth. I knew the pub was near Brompton Cemetery which, despite forgetting the name (as was the case with the pub) was easy to find. I looked everywhere to the north and the east but couldn't find my pub!

It was more than a year later before I happened upon the Prince of Wales pub in Chelsea in Google Earth just to the southwest of the cemetery. I've included a picture from Google Earth Street View below.

Prince of Wales Pub

It's a very special place, very far away. I hope you get the opportunity to go there someday.

I enjoy hearing other peoples stories about travels. The personal side to trips are usually the most interesting to read about. I encourage you to write stories of your own travels on your blog. Be sure to let me know by leaving a comment. Check out some great take aways of Catholicgauze's trip to Saudi Arabia.


  1. Great post there, chap. In fact, wonderful blog! As a displaced yank living in London and a fellow geographer/cartographer/world traveler, I can relate to your experience. Probably one of the great experiences of the UK is the pub culture. I truly love walking into a pub and engaging all kinds of conversation with locals. Whether it be about football, british gangster movies, WWII, American life, or global politics every single time is a story that I can remember. In fact, just two nights ago, I stopped by this little countryside pub for a quick pint or two and had a great conversation with this old bloke. I mentioned how one of my favorite English villages was Whitby and Robin Hoods Bay, and the gentleman happened to be from that area of the coast. This spurred into a long evening of discussion of all kinds of crazy talk, not to mention more pints. I know I'll be back and I know he'll remember me when I do. As a world traveler and geographer, I always try to immerse myself in the local social setting. Whether it be sitting down for hours drinking tea with a carpet salesman in Peshawar, haggling with fishmonger in the fishmarkets of Jakarta, or sipping pints of real ale in a pub in London you will always come away with the most valuable cultural experience and usually a fantastic story!

    Keep up the great blog! If you ever stop thru the jolly ol London, I'd love to grab a ship in full sail and chew the fat. Cheers.

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