My final London post? Don’t let me tear up…too much…
The last few days in London were super hectic. To catch up Glee-style: we went to Bath and saw the old Roman Baths, which was neat. I spent our last full free day revisiting all of my favorite London sites: St. Paul’s Cathedral, Covent Garden, Leicester Square/Soho, and the River Thames (or at least my favorite stretch of the River). And Saturday, a group of us visited Hyde Park before seeing a fantastic production of Macbeth at the Globe. And then Sunday, everyone flew home.
And for some reason, the tube ride to Heathrow felt so much shorter than the tube ride from Heathrow when I first arrived in May. Maybe it’s because I knew where I was going and wasn’t nervous or anxious about anything, except how long the lines would be at check-in and security.
I’ve been thinking about what to write on this for the past week. It’s
kind of difficult to sum up an entire month’s experiences in one post, in one place. There are a hundred different angles I could take in this, but I don’t think I’m going to follow a specific angle. Instead, I’m just going to write whatever comes to mind, whatever idea pops into my head as I’m sitting here drinking coffee from my Mind the Gap mug and watching my cat chase a piece of string across the kitchen.
My mom asked me the other day if it’s different not being in London. In some respects, yes, it was different, even weird, even after being home for a couple days. It was strange waking up and not looking at a printed schedule and thinking, “where do I have to be at what time today?” I kind of don’t mind it; I was so exhausted when I got home that I needed the freedom to sleep and get back on a normal routine. But I hate being bored, and I was never bored in London, so now that I’m rested and caught up, it’s time to find things to keep me occupied until August. But, as I mentioned in my last post, that shouldn’t be too difficult.
And if you take a notebook and sit in the back corner of a café and just listen and write, chances are you’ll get some of the best writing you’ve ever had. I did. And all it took was sitting, opening my ears and keeping a quick hand equipped with a pen.
I’m still not entirely sure what clotted cream is. Every time I had afternoon tea, I got this little white dish with what looked like extremely thick butter in it. It didn’t look like any kind of cream I’d ever seen before, but I knew I was supposed to eat it on something. I do know that it’s similar to butter, but I highly advise against eating it on its own. I tried that once, before I knew what I was supposed to do with it. Turns out you, to quote a professor of mine, “slather” it onto your scones and top it with some jam. It’s delicious in small quantities, so it goes to say I didn’t exactly slather my scones with the cream.
So it’s kind of like butter, but not exactly.
One of my biggest adjustments–getting there and after coming home–was public transport, namely the underground tube system. When you first look at a map of the system, it looks like nothing short of a tiedyed spider web. And yeah, it’s totally intimidating. But it only takes a few rides before you figure it all out, and the tube routine quickly becomes second nature (or third or fourth, depending on what your second nature already is). Bus maps aren’t much better. They’re color-coded, too, and numbered, but it’s still overwhelming, at least to some degree. I knew which bus got me from my flat to St. Paul’s, and back to my flat, but most of the other bus stuff was over my head.
I discovered that I have a love/hate relationship with public transport. It’s not the process or the fees or the time or anything like that. It’s the crowds. Especially on the tube. Especially during the morning rush hour and from about 10:30 pm until last run at midnight. Especially that night run. There is nothing pleasant about being Panini-pressed among hundreds of people in a filled-past-capacity tube train because we’re all trying to avoid the night buses. But in all honesty, the tube is faster than buses, and when you’re on a time constraint, nine out of ten times, you’re going to choose the tube over a bus.
This is a Central line train to West Ruislip. The next station is Holborn. Please mind the gap between the train and the platform. Change here for the Circle, District, Northern, and Waterloo & City lines, and the DLR.
English town names are really peculiar. Interesting, intriguing, and peculiar. “Cockfosters” will always be funny to me (and Matt and Josh, too, I’m sure). That was the first English town name I ever heard on my first ever tube ride: “This is a Piccadilly line service to Cockfosters.” Matt, Josh and I had just met up at Heathrow and were starting the journey to our flats in Bethnal Green. Almost all trains from Heathrow are eastbound, so we hopped the first Piccadilly line train we saw.
“Wait, this is going to Cockfosters.”
Scattered snickers among three highly mature college kids.
And every time the system announced, “This is a Piccadilly line service to Cockfosters,” the three of us laughed. We couldn’t help it.
“Wapping” is another one. Even the professors laughed at this one. Professors. So I didn’t feel too bad laughing about it myself. “Biggleswade,” although it has less of an ‘immature college kids will think this is funny’ factor, is no less peculiar. You sit in your seat on the train and you can’t help but wonder where these names came from. Then you think it has to go back a hundred or five hundred years, so you continue to giggle and let it go.
Pronunciation is a head-scratcher in certain cases, too. “Holborn” is not spoken the way you’d think. The L completely disappears. I didn’t understand the funny looks I got from the locals on the tube the first time I asked Matt, “We get off at Hol-born, right?” I was so confused when I heard “Ho-burn”; I actually wondered if it was a separate town. It isn’t. “Leicester” Square is another one. It’s two syllables, not the three you might think at first glance. Indeed, it is “Les-ter,” not “Lie-ces-ter,” as it kind of looks. Confusing, I know. I’m still not entirely sure how to pronounce “Marylebone,” either. I think the Y disappears, but I’m not positive. Something like that.
But more than anything…more than the public transport and uncertainty about clotted cream and funny town names and extra strong coffee…all these things blend together to make London the city it is. And as much as I loved being there and wandering and embracing everything, a month was enough.
But didn’t you grow up in Atlanta? That’s a city.
Yeah, I did. Well, kind of. I grew up in metro-Atlanta, just northwest of the actual city. But comparing London and Atlanta is essentially comparing apples and oranges. Living in a city is a completely different experience, and after a month in London, I’m positive I could never live in a city. I like the fast-paced lifestyle and the abundance of coffee shops and fashion and style and theatre and even the train systems (when I’m not stuffed in a train at 11:00 at night), but day in and day out? It takes a special breed of person to do that, and I am not of that breed. I suppose Blacksburg has rubbed off on me; I need my small town and country and mountains mixed in to some degree.
Would I still call myself a “city girl”? Not to the same extent I once considered myself, no. Heavens no. Suburb girl, or metro girl might be more accurate. If I could find the perfect balance of city and countryside…but that’s in a perfect world.
I miss London, I really do, and I would go back in a heartbeat. But for now, I’m happy to slow down, drink my coffee from my super touristy Mind the Gap mug and watch the birds in my backyard while my cat nudges my leg for some attention.