London has always been a city I’ve loved from afar. When I was 12, my grandmother (Grams) took me a on a cruise that stopped in (unexpectantly) the Azores, Fatima by the way of Lisbon (Portugal), Paris (France), Southampton, and finally London. I was 12 and tired of food I couldn’t pronounce and ate chicken dishes for 2 weeks. In London, I begged for McDonalds because it was the first familiar land mark I had seen since leaving the States. Grams was less than impressed with my insistance.
This trip for me was round 2, a chance to actually know places I wanted to go with the ability to go on my own terms. We had a complicated relationship with London, though. We arrived, we left, we came back, we left, we came back again, then headed home. We tried to fit as much as possible into the few days squeezed between other obligations we had made for ourselves.
As you can imagine, this is not the best way to travel. It accumulated into my 2 near-breakdowns (1 public on a street corner, 1 in our Chilworth Manor hotel room), both of which I was gently coaxed out of by my patient, loving fiancé.
We decided to not push ourselves to see everything, and to focus on spending time casually getting to what we could.
We strolled through Kensington Gardens and ate our breakfast on a bench in sight of the Kensington Palace. Around us in the cold morning air parents and their children strolled by, joggers moved from the paved walkway to twisting dirt running trails, and other tourists took it all in with their cameras in hand. I wasn’t aware just how large Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park are until an hour later when we were still walking through them.
Making our way through SoHo, we stopped for lunch at a vegan restaurant I was excited to try: Wild Food Cafe. It was amazing and I insisted on going back there nearly every day.
Winding through narrow, bricked streets, we found ourselves outside of the British Museum. I hadn’t previously looked into their special exhibitions, so I was thrilled to learn upon entering that they were showing Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds. I had watched documentaries and read articles about the rediscovery of these two cities, Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus, where Greek and Egyptian trading occurred. I had followed divers’ progress and news reports, living vicariously off their exploration. Photos weren’t allowed in the featured exhibit, so we just took our time and enjoyed it. Videos of divers finding statues and relics were displayed next to the statues and relics themselves. It was completely surreal.
Strolling along and admiring buildings, we found ourselves suddenly surrounded by people, lights, and shops everywhere we looked. I checked where we were: Oxford Street. This street boasts over 300 shops. We ventured in and out of stores from the British Museum all the way to the edge of Hyde Park before going back to our hotel.
The days ahead of us consisted of breakfast at the Borough Market, wandering through Tate Modern (where I unfortunately got a migraine and had to call it quits not even half-way through the museum, but toughed it out for the observation deck), and exploring more of Shoreditch such as BOXPARK and Brick Lane.
If there were ever a place Matthew and I would frequent, Shoreditch won us over.
We dragged our heels when it was time to leave to the point where we had to run to catch our plane. That they were close to needing to hold for us…and it’s not the first time Matthew and I have been dashing through an airport to catch our flight home.
Obviously we have some time management skills left to learn.
The more I travel, the more I learn, the more I grow, and the more I care about the world around me. If ever you get the chance to dash off into the unknown, take it. You’ll end up learning as much about yourself as you do about your new surroundings.