I went to London last week, somewhere that I've not been for nigh unto 20 years. It was...painful, beautiful, exciting, depressing and altogether beautiful.
I first found myself there immediately after graduating from college, in 1996, with a group of my lovely friends from college. And, I fell in deep, lasting love with the city. I fell in love with the history, the architecture, the museums, the underlying pulse and scent of a huge place that has been there for centuries, millenia, even.
I was young, single and college educated. I had the world at my feet and I could do anything, and London is a good place to be when you feel like you can conquer the world.
My trip was important for me for a number of reasons, one of them being that it was the first time in a very long time that I had done something strictly for myself. And, oh, was it glorious. I was there for a couple of months, living in a grubby little flat with 4 other girls, just doing what I wanted. Museums, shows, castles, shopping, food, walking, history, textiles, beauty, travel. I felt completely free there. Free and happy. So, you see, London is a bit of a fairy tale for me. I had dreamt about it before I went, and it lived up to it's expectations.
And, fast forward to now. I hadn't been back to London since, for so many reasons, but, this Christmas, a dear friend was talking about going and it put an idea into my head. By providence or luck, I got a bonus at work, and that, coupled with the ideas that said friend had put in my head, made me jump on the internet. You know, just to see what flights looked like. And I found one. A cheap one. Right after the show at work opened. What did I do? I didn't think, that's what, I just bought the ticket. And promptly had a bit of a freakout. It's a lot of money, buying a plane ticket to England. And I'm so careful with my money. But, despite the website having a 24 hr return policy, I bit my lip and hung on, waiting for the panic to pass.
Suddenly, it was real. I was going to LONDON. I needed a passport, I needed to do a budget, I needed some clothes and some travel accoutrements. So, I hustled my butt and got things done and before I knew it, my trip was here. I wasn't ready, but it didn't much matter, I was going. By myself, which could have been a bit nerve-wracking, except it's LONDON.
I got off the plane, took the Gatwick Express to Victoria Station, ditched my luggage and walked out into the cold London damp. I would be lying if I said it didn't take my breath away. Oh, it did. So many memories. So many delightful, perfect memories. I had a Tube pass, but I didn't want to waste my time or the view, so I walked from Victoria Station over to Westminster Abbey and Parliament, snapping photos of all the buildings on the way.
London is a huge, old city, full of twisty narrow roads and tight alleys. Old buildings and modern office structures. And so, when you are walking about, you might be in a narrow street of Victorian Terrace houses with a modern building stuck in the middle. Or walking next to and between a couple of concrete high rises with only the grey sky above to accompany the grey blocks on either side. It smells of exhaust and cigarette smoke and Indian food and sweat. Then suddenly, you turn a corner and you are transported back. The noise dies away, the traffic disappears, the smells change, because suddenly, you are face to face with history. Beautiful, unchanged, exquisite, real history. And it beckons you on and in. This is what London does to me. It sucks me in, catches me tight in it's embrace and it won't let me go. And I don't want to be let go.
Westminster Abbey, the Palace of Westminster. Complicated, elaborate, overblown gothic perfection. And it sneaks up on you out of this modern, whirling, bustling city, to take your breath away, to steal you out of your own space, to boggle your mind with it's complexity. Well, my mind, anyhow.
London is my happy place, my fairy tale, my dream come true, which in some ways, also makes it profoundly disheartening, because it doesn't belong to me and never will. A trip to London every 15 or 20 years is not enough to make it mine. London has my heart, but I don't have London.