After spending two weeks out in the wild nature of Ireland, I wasn’t sure how it would feel to return to a busy metropolis such as London. The day before my overnight ferry I walked around Dublin with a friend, and the drizzle, traffic and noises aggravated me after the peaceful island quiet. And I was headed to an even bigger, busier city across the channel? How could this possibly go well? I wondered. But London is a must-see and I had to pass through anyways on my overland way to Germany, so onward ho.
I was lucky enough to have a family contact in London, who not only offered me a place to sleep and a key to her place, but who is just as obsessed with delicious noms as I am. Suffice it to say we got along quite well, if for no other reason than we both love stuffing our faces and talking about travel. Her intimate knowledge of London’s food scene and kindness set me up on the perfect foot to dive into London, despite my hesitations about being in such a big city.
And then the food, oh the food! One of the best things about big cities is the array of cuisines available in one place, and London surely didn’t disappoint. We ate Asian noodles and Spanish tortillas and Indian daal and sandwiches from Pret A Manger, a French health-food chain. I spent no more than three and a half days in London, but food-wise, it was well spent. Afternoon Tea and strawberry cake and other sweets here and there didn’t do much for my waistline, either, but I don’t regret one delicious bite. Mmm, allow me to wipe the drool off of my face as I continue.
The tourist sites were beautiful, as well. Huge churches, beautiful parks and elaborate costumes on the Queen’s guards were all sights to see. But of all the things to look at in London, there is one moment I remember clearly; it took my breath away. I was walking down the street and as I turned right onto Westminster Bridge, I was suddenly faced with the entirety of the House of Parliament across the river and Big Ben standing tall. To see such a gigantic, beautiful building come out of nowhere stunned me. Sometime while walking across that bridge is when I really fell in love with London and all of its charm. The Tower of London, while expensive, was worth the cost only because of the Beefeater tour, though the building itself is also lovely. Old buildings, tall as can be, lurked in corners at nearly every turn, somehow hidden by the city around it from other angles, much to my delight as I rounded corners throughout the city.
But one of the things that struck me most about London was how easy it was to travel. I’m not just talking about the language, though not having to navigate and read things in a foreign language was nice. I’m referencing the bus system, which was both efficient and not overly expensive. The Oyster cards that made everything easier and cheaper. The way the city was laid out, with multiple bridges to choose from when crossing the river, meaning no backtracking was necessary to get where I wanted to go. More than anything, though, were the beautiful maps everywhere. I even stopped carrying my own city map with me, which if you know me, is unheard of. (I always get lost.) I simply didn’t need it. Every few blocks stood a post with two maps: one close up and one farther away, so you knew not only exactly where you were and which direction you were facing, but what important landmarks were nearby and how to get there. I never worried about being lost, because if I needed to double check my location, I just checked one of the signposts within a few blocks of wherever I was and all was resolved.
Genius, really. Maps. Useful public maps. Can every city get on board with this, now? (I’m looking at you Valencia, Spain!)
Between the relaxed feeling I had walking all over the city, the happy state my tummy was perpetually in, the lovely company I enjoyed while in London and the ancient beauty lurking in corners, I found London a hard city not to fall in love with. London is easy. London is beautiful. London is fun. Tell me, how could I not want to stay forever?
Have you ever been to London? What did you think? Has anything ever caused you to fall in love with a city within days of arriving?