When I was a teenager, I was obsessed with England. I have to admit to you now that part of that obsession stemmed from a British boy-band (Busted fans where you at?!). But boy-bands aside, the idea of England glowed in my imagination. I knew that it was full of history, culture, and was a source of some of the world’s greatest literature. There was something proper, refined, and appealing about the idea of Britain, the supposed birthplace of modern America. I imagined streets filled with bookstores, tea shops, and historical sites. I wasn’t wrong.
When I visited London a couple of years ago on my first international trip, it was like a dream. A friend of mine and I arrived by ferry from Dublin and got a train through Wales and into London proper. Stepping out of the train station was like walking into a corner of my imagination. The streets were filled with well dressed people, kiosks of souvenirs, and stone buildings that stretched into the sky. After checking into our hostel— which was not so great, to be honest— we made our way to the London Bridge. Yes, the London Bridge. I was stoked. One of the only pictures that I truly love of myself is one that my friend took of me hugging the bridge, because I will always remember that as the first true moment when I realized that my life would never be the same. The travel bug had bitten me, hard.
London was a dream. Of course, there is a reality behind London. But in my couple of weeks there I explored endlessly and felt like I had never even scratched the surface of London, truly. We paraded in and out of bookshops, had tea with a dear friend of mine at Waterstones, visited all sorts of historical monuments, and even stumbled— completely coincidentally— into the Queen’s 90th birthday celebration outside Buckingham Palace. I cannot say my experience is like everyone else’s, but London won my heart.
I have seen some other places in England as well, including Bath and Ipswich, which were both lovely. Bath was dainty and beautiful, somewhere between being a little village and a world renown tourist destination. It is where the Roman Baths are (hence the name Bath), and they also hold a Jane Austen festival there every year. Ipswich was much more down to earth than London or Bath, but still beautiful. That is where I first saw traditional Shakespearean-styled buildings, with beams that look just crooked enough to be intriguing but not enough to startle you. These were wonderful adventures that I enjoyed, but I feel that I learned the most from the famous city of London.
Here I will share three of the (many) things I learned during my time there.
There is always something happening in London
I suppose this could be true of any large city, but as London was the first massive city I ever visited (Dublin being the next largest) this was amazing to me. Every single day that we left the hotel there was something exciting happening somewhere in London— plays, musicals, festivals, shows, celebrations, and on and on. Coming from a small town where most establishments close by 5 pm, it was almost shocking to see something always happening anywhere you went. This was one of the things that made me fall madly in love with this city.
It’s very cosmopolitan
Once again, this may have been obvious to other people, but for a girl from the middle of nowhere with a limited amount of information about the world as it actually is, I was in awe. I often judge the diversity of a place by the kinds of restaurants you can find. London had almost everything I could think of— Jamaican, Chinese, Italian, Lebanese, Indian, Thai, and the list goes on! Granted, the unfortunate history behind much of this diversity was based in colonization and slavery, which is not to be overlooked, but London was one of the first places where I didn’t feel truly out of place. I felt like I could blend into the multicolored crowds on the subways and in the streets, and I embraced that sort of anonymity.
The British just get it
Okay, this may be super vague, so let me explain a little. Much of what I appreciated and learned about London came in the little things. For example, when passing a library I was shocked to see people drinking coffee inside! The library actually had a café in it, where people could look at library books while enjoying a warm beverage. This seems so simple and sensible to me and yet where I come from drinks in a library is completely taboo.
When going to the grocery store I noticed little hooks outdoors where people could tie their dogs while they were in the shop. (I learned that this is popular in multiple places in Europe but had never seen it until my time in London.) This makes, once again, such sense, and yet would be completely unimaginable where I come from. Also within the grocery mart, I noticed that some of the cashiers had seats! In much of America, if you are not standing and losing feeling in your feet, or hunched over a computer in the case of an office job, you are not seen as really working. How sitting would impede the progress on a position where you would be simply standing at a register swiping groceries is beyond my understanding.
There were many moments while in London when I couldn’t help but think “So people actually think here!”
I spent about two weeks in London, and in that time I visited London Bridge, Westminster Abbey, Borough Market, Foyles and Waterstones (bookshops!), the original Twinning’s tea store, Buckingham Palace, and had wandered down a hundred streets and passed through a dozen underground stations. London is where I first saw what a monarch can mean to her country, what it feels like to run through the infamous British rain, and what it was like being in a city that made you feel like literally anything could happen.
P.S: I’m sorry for the terrible quality of the photo, but it is the one I referenced previously. This was the moment that I realized I would always want to be a world traveler. <3