21 6 / 2013
A change of scenery, a change of pace. I feel fortunate to have had several opportunities to return to London, and I hope I have many more to come. Every visit is revealing, about the city but even moreso about myself.
The theme of this trip has already emerged like a familiar song, strong and clear. I am embracing my anonymity amongst a sea of 9 million human beings. Taking pause to observe the details, to introspect, to consider my place in this big wide world.
It has taken some time for me and this city to get along. Between our personas, there is friction, opposition, dualism. Since my first days here, and throughout every return trip from then on, London has always challenged me to consider a different perspective, a different approach to life. Often, I have resisted.
But today, I find myself asking “why not?” instead of “why?”
This is a glimpse into my eternal challenge: paying mind to the necessary tension between the extremes of my personality, so that I can move with the tension rather than against it.
02 7 / 2012
Since arriving in London early on Wednesday morning, I feel like I’ve been going at a million miles an hour. I’ve packed my days with so much that I haven’t had much time to sit back and reflect on how happy I am to be “back home”. But so far, it’s all been positive; seeing familiar faces from years ago, catching up on so many lives, visiting my favourite places and enjoying the nostalgia of it all.
As hard as it was to live poor in London, I have well and truly missed this place and these people. I only hope I get the chance to live the London life again someday, and live it gratefully.
23 11 / 2010
03 11 / 2010
20 10 / 2010
29 9 / 2010
If you find yourself in London right now, or happen to be heading there soon, here are a few of my city favourites:
Coffee: It has to be Kaffeine, on Great Titchfield St, only a short walk from Oxford Circus but pleasantly tucked away from that chaotic intersection. An Australian/Kiwi-run business, not only do they brew a splendid drop of that black nectar, but they also sell yummy cafe food (much of which is made in house). Think Portugese tarts, Anzac cookies, super moist brownies, and always fresh and lively salads (my favourite being their version of the Waldorf salad). And they’re always ready with genuine smiles and warm service; I became a regular on my second visit.
Borough Market Brownies!
Food Markets: Over by London Bridge, Borough Market is the place to be for artisanal and just plain tasty foods of all kinds: French pastries, vegetarian lunches, frankfurters and bratwursts, homemade confitures and chutneys…the memories alone are making me hungry! Brave the Saturday crowds for a divine slice of Belgian chocolate tart for £2.00, and definitely stop by the cheese and sausage stalls (in the part of the market next to Southwark Cathedral). Also encouraged: a taste test of all the brownie varieties to be found in the market; there are about four or five different brownie vendors, each of whom claim to make the best in the Borough…at around £1.50-£2.00 a slice, giving into temptation is so easy, so cheap, and so worth it. (You can also pick up fresh fruit and vegies in the main market area.)
Inside my favourite room in Hertford House, home to The Wallace Collection
Museum: The expansive British Museum in Bloomsbury is iconic, and the Natural History Museum over in Kensington is where it’s at for inquisitive minds of all ages. But my favourite is The Wallace Collection, hidden away in W1 (yes, that’s possible) amongst leafy, residential terrace houses. Recommended to me by Peter from Kaffeine (gotta love a barista who shares his city secrets!), the collection features gilded gold grandfather clocks, centuries-old porcelain figurines and trinkets, Rembrandts and a long room full of Dutch Masters, armory and weaponry, even a Marie Antoinette room housing the most pieces from her private collection to be found anywhere in the world. In my opinion, these are the most opulent rooms in London that are accessible by the public for the whopping admission price of free. Yep. Free.
Kensington Gardens in Bloom
Gardens: Hyde Park might be livelier, but walking through Kensington Gardens in the springtime is something to behold. You’ll see all kinds: families, loners, couples, aristocrats, little kids, littler dogs, joggers, all sharing the beautifully manicured greenery. Sit by the lake and pass the time drinking wine with friends while watching the swans, or escape into the heart of the gardens and surround yourself with only trees and grass and silence.
02 8 / 2010
New York was a dream. Los Angeles, somehow familiar with its “standard” American accents and sunshiny winter days. Orlando and specifically Disneyworld, an alternate universe. And then…London. London, the reality check.
After seven weeks spent flitting around the US, west coast to east coast (and a little in between), I found myself in London, cranky from lack of sleep and sad to be leaving the States. But I had little time for sentimental moods. This was a time to hit the ground running. I arrived with hopes of quickly finding a flat and a job to sustain me over the coming months. I gave myself a one week deadline.
Four days in, I landed my first job in London. I worked two days there then promptly quit. The less said about that situation, the better.
About two weeks in, though I had found four walls and a bed to call my own, I remained jobless, and the task of refreshing Gumtree’s jobs page began to wear me down. “I’d be happy to do anything,” I’d told myself and others before arriving in this grand old city. My true thoughts in the midst of the job hunt tended not to flatter me so. “You’d think an Honours degree would be worth something, right?” How pretentious.
And so life went on, meekly; between sleeping hours, my full-time job became scouring the internet, and wandering my local area, looking, asking, applying for anything, everything. Night porter (no response). Street fundraiser (no response). Data entry assistant (no response). With no income, I did my best to live on a shoestring.
The dreadful winter grey hung over the city like an oversized coat. The boredom and restriction was unbearable. I couldn’t help feeling like London was to blame.
Conflict of Ego and Logic
One of many grey days.
I normally think of myself as a positive person most of the time, but every now and then, I let these despondent moods take over. I feel distinctly pessimistic about how my time in London will turn out. I look outside to the lovely blue skies and sunny disposition of London today, and I can’t help thinking how poorly it matches my mood. Quite honestly, it would feel more appropriate for the sun to go away, just for a little while.- Diary excerpt, Saturday 6th March
I like to think I am a fair and reasonable person. And I wanted to give London a fair and reasonable opportunity to reveal its best to me. But my mood and circumstances caused me to view my temporary home rather poorly.
I had never felt further away from home. Most of the soggy Londoners I met did little to impress. Despite their command of all the pleasantries in the English language, their words and demeanor were often sapped of warmth and authenticity. The dragging winter season had me pining for sandy beaches, camping trips, and eating ice blocks on the hot, hazy Australian summer days.
Statue of Captain Cook, British explorer extraordinaire and “discoverer” of Australia (at least, an inhabitable part of Australia). He, too, travelled in search of sandy beaches. Fact.
After a few weeks in London, I landed another job. This time, one I would keep until my summer travels were in sight. The work was in some ways better than my first London job, and in a lot of ways it was worse. Two things kept me there: the people I worked alongside, and the fear that I wouldn’t find another job quickly enough with my limited time in the city. I found myself making an effort to remain balanced, trying to keep my negative thoughts from colouring my whole experience. Suffice to say, I am not always a master of my own emotions.
Then there is that intangible, inarticulable sense for a place. I feel it when I am at home, and I certainly felt it coursing through me in NYC. A mixture of excitement and possibility. Of cultures and communities weaving through each other and oftentimes colliding, for better or worse.- Diary excerpt, Sunday 11th April
My first introduction to this city was soggy and grey. Drab as the colour palette of the beautiful coats hanging off every other Londoner on the tube. I’ve never held romantic visions of London, of foggy days and manicured gardens, of palatial expanses or iconic artefacts of royalty and celebrity. And in the presence of all of these grand monuments and landscapes, I feel more like an observer than I have in any other city yet.
It’s quite entertaining to look back on now, the way I tried to avoid being too critical of London, even despite my daily frustrations. I guess I was holding out some hope that this place, with history beyond my comprehension and charm enough to attract people from all corners, would at some point become special for me too.