Full disclaimer: I’m a huge Anglophile. I watch mainly British television (sometimes so much that I accidentally say some words with a British accent – I’ve been called out on it before by English friends, I’m not lying), listen to a shit ton of British music (just saw the Arctic Monkeys for the first time in Madrid but can’t wait to see them again in a smaller setting), I love the accents (OK, I know I’m not even remotely alone here) as well as the sayings (I think ‘taking the piss’ is my current favorite, meaning ‘mock/joke, be unreasonable’); I even wrote my undergraduate thesis about Anglo-Saxon burial practices (the medieval occupants of England). So it’s truly amazing that I still hadn’t managed to get there until this year. I have this stupid hangup of doing things 100% when I really love them; I didn’t want London to just be another stop on a Eurotrip or just a weekend trip from Madrid, I wanted to do it ‘justice’, staying for at least a week and then continuing on to travel throughout England, going to all the archaeological sites I had studied as well as places I’d been seeing in films and series for years. (BTW, that’s still the summer plan, stay tuned for extreme nerd posts starting in about August).
HOWEVER, when I was left with 5 extra days by myself at the end of traveling in Poland, Belgium, and the Netherlands with my boyfriend (stay tuned for more on our awesome trip!), I knew I would want to look forward to something after he went back to China to finish his English teaching contract there. Buses from Brussels to London were 44 euros, and I had friends to see and stay with in London. I thought it would be only fitting to start off 2014 with a trip I had been wanting to take for so long. I took the plunge, treating those five days as only an introduction to London so as not to get overwhelmed. There’s still so much I want to go back and see (that’s what this summer is for!), but what I did see made me fall in love.
I never got that wide-eyed, excited, ‘first time in New York’ feeling before, frantically looking around exclaiming, “I’ve seen this in movies, oh my god, it’s really like that!” But now I totally understand it, because that was me in London. Walking around by myself on that first day after an overnight bus from Brussels (which I highly do not recommend), I must have looked ridiculous, as I was working on two hours of sleep but still insanely giddy, snapping photos of everything while murmuring to myself, “I’m in London, I’m in London…” It was love at first sight.
I always think to myself, ‘Could I live here?’ when I visit a new place. I could see myself doing stints in Krakow, Amsterdam, Prague, Budapest, but not on the long-long term. Even Madrid, where I’m currently living, is not a place I could see myself living for more than a year or two. London was the first city I’ve visited that I could see myself living in for a long time. So much in fact that I was already daydreaming not only about when I was going to return (if is not even a question, it’s when) but about how I could live there (I may have visited University College London’s campus, where I’ve been hallucinating about attending – I say hallucinating because the price tag is not cheap). It was a guttural reaction that I wasn’t entirely prepared for, even though I should have been. Also yes, I’m sure a decent part of this was the fact that I was in an English-speaking country for the first time in three and a half months; even though I have no problem getting around in Spanish, it’s not my native language.
But it wasn’t just seeing the beautiful skyline or visiting the iconic sights and all the nerd hot spots (entire post coming on that next, sorry not sorry) that made me start daydreaming of buying some good rain boots and settling across the Channel (seriously that would be my first purchase, I thought I was going to get trench foot walking around in rainy and finicky London weather). It’s not like I would be living at 221 Baker Street and working in Knockturn Alley. London is a mecca for BBC worshiping nerds like me, but it’s also so much more. The level of diversity in its people was amazing, especially after coming from less diverse countries (Poland, Spain). Restaurants packed together – sushi next to Thai food next to Indian food next to a cozy French cafe. Heaven! I became ridiculously excited in Camden, the alternative neighborhood and market in which I wanted to buy everything (I had to be dragged away).
London had everything I had been missing in Madrid: constantly in motion and alive, no infuriating siesta, and a huge, albeit expensive, metro system that actually made sense and could get you to where you wanted to go fairly easily, even if I couldn’t pronounce the names of all the stops-Southwark seriously threw me for a loop (fellow Americans, its Suthark: see this super helpful list). The cosmopolitan nature of the city reminded me in many ways of New York, but with a more complex, deeper history and without the ever-so-helpful grid system that it’s easy to take for granted in New York. Nope, this was completely absent in London, not to mention that streets seem to have an affinity to change their names every few blocks, as if they are amused by seeing tourists bumble around in circles.
Place has always been pretty much the first thing I think of when making big decisions; I chose my university based on its location in New York, I moved to Madrid based on the location in Spain, not the job, and I dreaded applying to graduate schools in places I didn’t want to live for the 8-10 years it takes to do a PhD in the U.S. (jury’s still out on this one, the U.S. application cycle has ended for this year without a single application sent in from me).
I want to live in a place that makes me excited every day to be there, which was New York for me, and I know would be London as well. Yeah I hear what you’re all saying, ‘but you were only there five days! And as a tourist! That’s not enough to know if you want to live there. Besides, it’s expensive and would be hard to live there.” WELL. People move to cities they’ve never been to all the time (I’d never been to Madrid before moving here), and the energy I got just by being there is enough to tell me that I need to spend more time there. People idealize living in New York all the time, and I’ll admit it was difficult to live there and that it’s not for everyone. But when you love a place enough, you’ll try everything to make it work. I’ve already got practice living in another hugely expensive metropolis, so I think I’m good to go. Besides, I’ve already moved to a country where I wasn’t fluent in the language, so London would be a piece of cake.
That and the fact that my flight back to Madrid was the first time when I wasn’t excited to get on a plane. Maybe it was the anger still seething inside me at Ryanair’s ridiculous fees (don’t even wanna talk about it), but I really REALLY didn’t want to get on that plane and leave London. Normally, take-off is one of my favorite feelings ever. The rush as the wheels leave the ground and the knowledge that you’re going to be somewhere else (relatively) soon is an addicting sensation that makes me shamelessly grin every time, even if I’m going somewhere I’ve been. It means change. Sometimes it means seeing friends and family I haven’t seen in a while, sometimes it means a new country. I’m almost sad I don’t remember my first flight and my first experience with this wonderful feeling.
However in the early hours of a Tuesday when I had to be working in less than 7 hours, trapped inside the bus that is a Ryanair flight, the only thing I felt was melancholy (and residual Ryanair fueled anger) as I stared out of my tiny plastic window, silently whispering a ‘See you later’ to London.
In Belgium, we met a Flemish woman who was a few months away from picking up her life and moving to Argentina indefinitely. After a week in Buenos Aires five years ago, she fell madly in love with the city and returned a few times in the following years. She knew she had to move there, that visiting wasn’t enough, and began the plans to open her own BnB there. A few years later and she is now on the cusp of moving, and couldn’t be happier. She said to us, “I’ve only got one life to live, so I’m going to go live it.” Which are wise words to live by, no matter what the topic, but I’m gonna apply it to London. Why shouldn’t I move there in the future? I’ve got one life to live.
Does place matter a lot to you, or is it more about the people or your job (obviously a balance between all three is the ideal!)? Have you ever fallen instantly in love with a place? I know I’m not alone, tell me where!