I leave London in less than a week and am full of mixed emotions. One minute I am ready to head to the airport as I picture hugging my loved ones for the first time in months. The next I am anxious about leaving behind a place that has made me so happy. I am going to miss many little things about this city. It would take far too long to write about all of them here, so I’ll just cover what I’ll miss most:
1) My Neighborhood: I live in the West End, but on the South Bank of the Thames a.k.a. the best section of London. I might be a bit biased. The West End is considered the theatre district and where I was lucky enough to see Wicked, Beautiful, and Mamma Mia this semester. Two out of the three shows were only a 20-minute walk from my flat. If I had to describe the South Bank in only one word, I would choose “lively.” The riverside is home to tons of street food and pop-up bars. Recently, a giant sand box appeared there and became the perfect spot to enjoy popsicles from the ice cream truck or mojitos from the Copacabana. There’s a skate park covered in colorful graffiti and teeming with angsty teens. A stage in the shape of a giant, purple, tipped-over cow has dominated the scene, a feature of the “Udderbelly” festival where you can watch live performances while sipping on some Pimm’s. There’s always a used book sale going on underneath the Waterloo Bridge and Wahaca is a great spot for Mexican eats and margaritas. I am forever grateful for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live in this vibrant area of central London.
2) Transport for London (TFL): It is so easy to get around here thanks to the city’s public transporation. The tube certainly puts the T to shame and their famous double decker buses trump the RIPTA any day. I have even come around to the DLR, the futuristic and robotic trains without drivers. Exploring the city was made so much simpler thanks to reliable and safe travel options.
3) Walking: When I didn’t hop on the tube, I walked. A lot. If I could get somewhere in 40 minutes or less on my own two feet, I left my Oyster Card at home. While I was pounding pavement, I realized just how much I miss when driving a car. Focusing on the road leaves little room for observation of what’s really around me. Walking has been the best way to see the city and I’m hoping to bring this healthy habit home with me.
4) Pub Culture: Popping in for a pint or two is a social norm here. If I need a mulled cider to warm up on a cold afternoon or a pint of Guinness to unwind after a long day of class, there is always a pub in sight. There might be a football game on TV and some rowdy fans at the bar. More often than not, though, there is a casual atmosphere for me to catch up with friends. There’s no reason or rush to get drunk like there is in America, just an inclination to sip and savor.
5) Coffee shops: As I picture the coffee establishments I frequent in the States, I cannot help but shake my head. The majority of them are small and furnished with cheap chairs. Many people order their beverages to go and consume them on the run, so there’s no need for homey touches. Here, however, many coffee shops boast comfortable seating, so I can lounge and chat with friends or bunker down to work on assignments. After sinking into leather couches all semester, I cannot fathom plopping down on the metal and plastic seats in Dunkin’ Donuts to read for hours. I am so grateful that my favorite chain of coffee shops in London, Caffe Nero, has recently opened locations in and around Boston. I can only hope that they maintain the ambiance I have come to know and love.
6) Evening Standard: This free newspaper is handed out all over the city at the end of the workday. In general, rush hour is not a pleasant time, but I enjoy the number of noses buried in black and white pages. There is always an Evening Standard employee at the corner of my street so I usually grab one from him before ducking into my apartment building. I like to scan the news while making dinner and I must credit the publication for teaching me a lot about London and a little about its politics.
7) Free Museums: I have strolled through the Museum of London and Tate Modern, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Victoria & Albert, and Natural History museums. I have frequented the British Museum, visiting Cleopatra’s mummy three times. Because I was spared pricey admission fees, I was free to experience and learn more about the art and history I have been studying throughout my college career.
8) Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre: Living a ten-minute walk away from such a famous performance center has been a treat. Because I could get there with tons of time to spare, I scored the front row and literally held hands with one of the actors. I was even offered a beverage by another. Seeing A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Taming of the Shrew were unforgettable experiences. They were also inexpensive experiences. Each show only cost me five pounds! I will miss being so close to a famous attraction that offers top-notch performances for such a low price. My only regret is that I didn’t see a new show every night!
9) The Parks: As warmer weather sets in, there is nowhere in the city I would rather be than outside soaking up the sun. My favorite spot is Regent’s Park where I’ve picknicked among daisies and paddleboated with swans. St. James’ Park is also much appreciated because I can walk there in about fifteen minutes. It’s also right near Buckingham Palace so I can enjoy the music from the Changing of the Guard ceremony at a distance—away from the tourists. It’ll be difficult to leave these beautiful landscapes behind, especially when they are finally in full bloom.
10) My New Friends: The relationships I’ve developed during this semester are remarkable. It’s amazing how comfortable I am around my new friends considering I didn’t know them only five months ago. Now, I am tearing up just thinking about being separated from them. I can’t thank them enough for acting like family when my own family has been so far away. I am beyond thankful for all of the laughs and hilarious stories. I will never be able to look back upon my time in London, or visit this city again, without thinking of them and the fun times we’ve had here.
If said friends are reading this, I’ll just say that there really aren’t enough words to express my endless gratitude to you. Just know that you’ve had more of an impact on me than you’ll ever understand and that I consider you forever friends no matter what happens when we part ways in a week.
Yesterday, one of these lovely friends I speak of described our upcoming transition perfectly. She explained that we’ll simply be trading one home for another. She could not be more right.
Over the course of our lives, we create many different homes for ourselves. None of them are quite the same, but we consider them all home no matter where we are in the world. Well, London, you’ve been a home unlike any other. Thank you for being everything I ever imagined and more.
I’ll be busy admiring every little detail of London in the next few days, so you probably won’t hear from me again until I’m back in the States. Don’t worry, though, I promise to update you on how I cope with trading homes.