My first time in London in 2013 did not leave a fantastic impression on me. I didn’t hate it, but I wasn’t supercalifragilisticexpialadocious-ly excited about it either. Of course, first impressions can be extremely deceiving and that’s why I try to give everything (everyone) a second chance. I’m glad I did because London did not disappoint. There are some cities with a world famous aesthetic. Like Kate Moss muttering “Get the London look” through her tooth gap, or the Spice Girls, or Kate Middleton, or Burberry with a pair of Hunters. But London actually fulfills all those expectations. So much plaid, so many trench coats, buckets of rain, and a lot of dry, sarcastic British humor when I asked for directions.
Me: Excuse me sir, do you know which tube stop is Camden?
Ticket Counter Guy: Yes.
[long, awkward pause]
Me: So… would you mind telling me…?
I stayed just one night at the Astor Hyde Park Hostel in Kensington (can’t seem to shake UChicago no matter where I go). A bit far from city center but it’s a charming part of London with beautiful royal gardens and several museums (which are all free). For less than two days, I packed in a lot of sights. I must have walked or stood an average of six hours each day, but with so much to see and do, time flew. Part of my B.A. thesis talks about the British Museum so of course, I paid them a visit.
When I was in middle school and high school, I had a phase when I was obsessed with Elizabeth I and the eight wives of Henry the VIII – way before HBO came out with the scantily clad and irresistibly good-looking cast of the The Tudors. So I got a little too sentimental crossing the Tower Bridge and walking past the Tower of London. Just realizing that that hole in the center was the spot upon which they used to spike a traitor’s head as warning, or that this was the exact sight Elizabeth saw when she was sentenced to the Tower on suspicion of plotting against Mary. I feel like twelve-year-old-Wendy would’ve tweaked out over this way more, but twenty-two-year-old-Wendy still got a liminal moment out of it.
Speaking of twenty-two-year-old-Wendy and responsibilities, I also visited the London School of Economics. LSE is a prospective graduate school of mine with a great international affairs program and an even greater dual-degree program with Science-Po. It’s nice knowing that I’m getting more excited about the London half of that program, if I were to attend. I bought a tote-bag and a pocket version of Ovid’s The Fall of Icarus from the LSE bookstore. Fun fact – books are super cheap in Britain because there’s no tax on it. Similar to how there are government subsidies on wine and bread in France, what a country chooses to subsidize or tax can say a lot about where its priorities lie.
London has the posh, classic look, but one can’t leave out the punky, gritty teenage-urchin-child parts. And that’s what Camden Town basically is – tattoo parlors, red plaid, leather with studs, and piercings. And Converse. Converse everywhere.
Though I’ve always thought of England as a little removed from the rest of Europe (it is an island after all), parts of London definitely fit the European mold. Little winding cobblestone streets lined with pubs and specialty bookstores, historic churches in every neighborhood, extremely well-dressed men – definitely quintessential Europe. I guess the fact that I could understand the language threw me off.
London, you’ve been amazing. However, you’re still just a really great one-night-stand in comparison to my soulmate, my delectable muse, mon amour – Paris. She’s just a 1.5 hour ferry ride and 5 hours drive away. Be still my quivering heart…