Waiting for the very last train home after a night on the town, the quiet underbellies of Westminster Station had never looked so beautiful. Brushed steel and glass, a cavernous network of escalators and staircases engulfed us as we descended down. Why hadn’t we noticed the scale of this place before?
Place is so strongly defined by time in London. A platform that just a few hours earlier had been hot with the chaos of Friday’s commute suddenly transformed into a sensual escape for two. Even the lights held their breaths as stolen kisses echoed in the breezy tunnels.
After a dinner out with friends last Friday, we decided to walk home from West London all the way to London Bridge. It’s an hour long stroll along the riverbank and is probably my all-time favorite thing about this city; the walking.
London is the only place that I’ve lived where you can wake up on a Saturday morning, walk to breakfast, walk to the park, walk to coffee, walk to the museum, walk to dinner, walk to drinks and walk all the way home all in one day. If you’re blessed enough to have the opportunity to live in the center, this weekend walk will encompass some of the most beautiful landmarks that the city has to offer: the Tate Modern, Saint Paul’s Cathedral, the Millennium Bridge, Tower Bridge, Big Ben etc.
This is what old Europe can offer that no North American city (barring NYC) can: a walking culture amidst small cafés, hidden green spaces and old buildings. Every day is a history lesson.
A friend once told me that you can live a thousand lives in London and still not discover every nook and cranny of the place. Sure enough, I was reminded of this a few days ago after a work meeting when we wandered into Shoreditch, a too-cool-for-me neighborhood in East London.
There’s a new, industrial, hole-in-the-wall ad agency around every corner, and boutique shops and coffee houses with patrons that look like they’ve come straight out of Rolling Stone magazine. One minute you see a punk-rock ballerina with blonde hair, pink tank and polka-dot tutu saunter across the street and the next minute a mirror image of Lucille Ball from I Love Lucy walks outside to have a smoke, curlers still in her hair. And every single time I land in this borough I can’t help but feel like I don’t quite belong. Actually, I feel like a fish out of water. But that’s what London is. A city full of surprises.
I’m in London for the next few weeks and it feels like deja vu from last summer. August in this crazy city I used to call home. It feels different these days; a stronger hint of violence in the air, a little more crowded and chaotic, people less available and more hurried than before. It has changed. Or maybe I have changed.
A few days before I flew out, I was having lunch with a friend who had the opportunity to transfer here for work for six months. We mused about London as if it were an old lover, our voices laced with desperate longing as we spoke about our old haunts, past friends, and the pure, addictive energy of the place.
I lived my twenties here. The weeks were novel and sleepless. I’ve never played and worked so hard in my life. There was always a new friend to meet, another new destination to visit.
These days, I meander the city with a quieter peace inside me. Sometimes I can’t decide if cities shape people or the other way around. I feel like I’ve experienced it both ways. Today, I see past the big monuments, touristy red phone booths and new hipster hangouts. These days, I notice the subtle beauties that sit quietly on the fringes.
This wall, for example, sits behind Guy’s Hospital near London Bridge tube station. I think it’s meant to hide the hospital boiler room. I’ve walked by here countless times during previous visits and hardly noticed a thing. How great is the texture of this wall? And how amazing that it sits in an anonymous street in the back alley of an ugly old hospital? So great.