London: Mind the gap, not my breakdown
Updated: Jan 19, 2020
Here’s the thing about London: I didn’t love it.
That doesn’t mean I didn’t like it, and it doesn’t mean I couldn’t ever love it. It means that I wasn’t jumping for joy every time I woke up and remembered where I was. It also means I've been putting off writing this post because it's not going to be glowing and sparkling like some of my others. That, and changing cities every four days means thousands of photos and not enough energy to write as consistently as I would like...
Initially, I spent a few days in London ambiguously wondering why I felt down, and after a call to Mom (is there anything a call to Mom can’t fix?), this was the main thing holding me back: I was too focused on the trip not being what it “should” be. Which...what does that mean anyway? For me, it was that I wanted to be doing things that were worthy of people's attention after I had done them. Was I taking the picture-perfect snapshots? Was I hitting the major sites? Was I missing out on something? Would I be able to say "yes" when they asked me later if I did such and such?
Who has time to actually experience and enjoy a city when they're caught up in all that? Those worries, plus a couple of loud, dirty hostels, and an overpacked bag too heavy to maneuver in the street, was an unfortunate cocktail of distress and a quick lesson in problem-solving and reframing! I mailed home a box of stuff to lighten the load, I prioritized private Airbnb rooms over crowded hostel dorms, and practiced letting my trip be what it was going to be and not what I thought it "should" be...especially before it even was.
That said, let's get to what I actually did manage to do while in town Oct 26 - Nov 2. My flight was a red-eye, and I landed at Heathrow extra early, took a train to town, and dropped my bags at my hostel. I essentially wandered, parked myself at a coffee shop to journal, and killed time until I could get my bed and nap after 26 hours awake. Once I woke up, it was raining - shocker - but I did some exploring anyway, got food, and that was Day One. Thrilling.
Day Two was leaps and bounds better because I got to reconnect with an old friend from college, Sam, who has been living in London for the past two years. We met north of city center and walked along Regent's Canal until we got to the Columbia Road Flower Market, only open on Sundays. It was the most beautiful day of my entire time in London, so naturally, I took basically no photos and definitely none of myself and Sam. But when I'm in the moment, I'm pretty bad at taking out my camera, and it was really nice to see Sam. She is one of those friends I've always felt instantly comfortable around no matter how much time has passed. Her flatmates were equally welcoming, and we ended up spending the whole day together. We got plants, a pint, Sunday roast, "met" actor/performer Layton Williams in an elevator, hung out at Soho House, and returned to Sam's flat for a movie.
Once the week started, so did my six to 10 mile-a-day walks. That's my go-to in any city. I start walking. Maybe I join a free walking tour, maybe I plan my route slightly, but mostly I just walk. Turn down whichever side street my heart desires, consult Google Maps periodically to orient myself, and walk.
Please enjoy some photos of things I saw and places I walked, in no particular order. Highlights include Borough Market, where I ate fudge, fish 'n' chips, and donuts; St. Paul's Cathedral; the Tate Modern; the British Museum; Wicked; filming of "The Crown," and plenty more.
On my last weekend, I headed a few short miles outside the city center to stay with family friends, Robert and Carole, and their kids, Alex and Kate. Robert's grandmother was my mom's godmother (there's a blood connection in there somewhere that we could never entirely suss out), and his family took care of my mom's sister for a time when she was younger. They were wonderfully warm and welcoming, I had a queen-size bed and a washing machine at my disposal, they cooked comfort food, but more than that, they offered some solace when I was feeling all out of sorts and overwhelmed.
I tell people that this trip is both better and worse than I expected. The first leg was a practice in being away from the comforts of the US, of my native tongue, of the responsibilities of work (but not of self), but still with a home base and "family" in my friend, Emily. This second leg flipped the first on its head and took me a few cities before I acclimated. Visiting a new city roughly every four days is...an ordeal. It's exhausting and exhilarating, overwhelming and humbling, but it also reminds me how resilient I am and makes the world feel smaller. There's nothing like going from my first steps in a new city to eight hours later; the first moments where nothing is familiar and everything is a question mark to having some semblance of my surroundings and a general understanding of how to get from point A to point B. That's what I was adjusting to in London, not feeling like I could emotionally settle when I knew I wouldn't be physically settled again for another seven weeks. And that's what Robert and Carole gave me for two days. A room to myself, a home environment, and a family connection to ground me for a minute. I have been able to take the mindset with me since.
On my last day in London, Alex showed me around to a few spots I hadn't visited yet, and we met up with my friend from San Diego, Gabby, and her boyfriend, Andres, who have both been traveling even farther and wider as they recently transitioned to a fully nomadic lifestyle. I leave you with pictures from that and a promise that the rest of my posts will be no less introspective but much more upbeat.