I have been dying to visit London for as long as I can remember. I’ve always thought it could be my perfect city – it’s big, cultural, European, they speak English, it’s close to other places I’d like to visit, but it isn’t halfway around the world so visiting home is doable. It has a balance of appealing traits that does not exist anywhere else.
I have a friend named Steve who I met about fifteen years ago – he worked at my summer camp I went to the eventually worked at as well. We became friends and kept in touch over the years – he has visited me in Boston and I attended his 30th birthday celebration in Amsterdam when I was studying abroad in Rome. I’ve had a standing invitation to visit him in London for about seven years and never made it happen.
When I decided to take this trip, I knew London had to be one of my stops. Steve bought a four bedroom flat in Stoke Newington, a quirky and up-and-coming neighborhood about 30 minutes outside the heart of the city, and luckily, he had a free bedroom just for me. I made London the very beginning of my trip, thinking that being abroad but staying with a friend would be a nice, gradual way to start my trip. I arrived on a Friday morning via Iceland and was so glad to see my friend and get to finally see this city.
The reality is: I found my week in London to be hard. I felt anxious the entire time, despite all efforts both Steve and I made to assuage it. The city felt both too comfortable and too exotic, sometimes I just felt like I was walking around New York City and sometimes I’d think “it seems like home but it’s nothing like home.” I tried to analyze this reaction many times, during the week as well as after. I think I had exhausted myself before leaving the States with a very busy summer. I think the reality of not having any clear future hit me pretty hard. I think I was overwhelmed and questioning what I was supposed to do with my time – do I want to see it as the locals do or do I want to do touristy things? I was just not sure.
I felt tired, partially from jet lag, and slept for 10 hours a night for a lot of the week. It also became clear that everyone goes out and drinks everyday – for hours and hours. I am not that cool anymore. I get tired and I know my limits, so I found myself feeling like a bit of a party-pooper. I dubbed myself “The Lamest Girl in London” because of this.
All these emotions, hard as they were at the time, made me clarify what I was hoping to do on this trip. I realized a few big things:
1. I am not on this trip to party around the world. I enjoy adult beverages and I’m an extrovert, but I realized that it’s important that I go do experiential things during the day and if I end up going out, that is an added bonus. This point might seem nuts to some people who know me well, but I am a young woman traveling alone. Safety is a constant concern. I have to use my gut to make decisions on a daily basis at this point, so once alcohol and darkness is involved, things get a little less clear. I’d prefer to keep myself sharp and do other things that I can’t do at home.
2. Hitting up tourist destinations doesn’t necessarily make you feel like you know a city. When I was trying to figure out how to best spend my time in London, I bought Steve and I three-day London passes. I thought that doing the touristy things might make me feel more present and more connected to this city. While I don’t regret buying them, I will admit that seeing these places felt more like a formality than a great experience. I was happy to be out and about, but the hoards of people was stress-inducing and both of us sped through things more to check them off a list than to get a real understanding of them. My best memories were the serendipitous moments like stumbling upon an incredible guitarist on the street at Broadway market, where Steve taught me to play Backgammon and we sipped on ciders in the street.
3. I can do whatever I want. I made the mistake of telling Steve about the HBO show “The Newsroom” and we proceeded to watch the entire first two seasons together over my time there. It seems ridiculous that I would go away and spend days on end watching a TV show I’ve already seen, but you know what? I loved this time with Steve, lounging in PJs and hanging out. I don’t have a home anymore so feeling “at home” somewhere else was amazing. I don’t always know why I am doing what I’m
doing, but I think the fact that I’m going to be on-the-go for the foreseeable future gives me license to be lazy, to sleep in, to do whatever feels good. I’m not going to apologize for it going forward – I will experience things my way and they might not be the best way. It’s based on what I feel at the time.
4. It’s ok to want be alone. I was blessed with a host who had unlimited time, energy, and openness to bring to my visit. I felt bad because I was so unsure of what to do all week and kept changing my mind. Once I took a day to myself to wander, write, and explore without having to decide on anything, I felt better. In the end, I felt best when I struck a balance of touristy/non touristy, with Steve/alone, social/lazy.
5. Weather is really important to me. We had about four really gross, cold rainy days in London – big surprise right? Normally if you wake up to a rainy day, you deal with it and it’s fine, but I just hated it. It made me realize that I should stay in warm weather for the majority of my trip. Wet jeans are the worst.
6. The hard parts are good. The fact that I had this reaction was a surprise. As much as I didn’t enjoy it, it did give me clarity and purpose that I lacked going into things. I have to take it all as it comes.
All this being said, I had a really good visit to London. Coming off such a high from Iceland, I just was not expecting to feel the way I did. There were lots of highlights, which will be packed into my next post.