A little dose of reality

Trip Start Aug 20, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Wednesday, November 4, 2009

London. The name conjures up images of Big Ben, double-decker busses, Piccadilly Circus, Tower Bridge, fish and chips and the Tube.  Growing up in a distant colony – these things were somehow commonplace and foreign all at the same time.  These were clichés related to the posh accents of the Spice Girls and Austin Powers that I dreamt about as I sang "Spice up Your Life" and recited “One Million dollars…” repetitively.  Yes, I am a child of the 90's!  If I were older I imagine that the city would conjure up images of the “swinging sixties” and Carnaby Street.  Whatever preconceived notions one arrives with, I can’t imagine how they would leave feeling disappointed.

Most of the cities I have had the pleasure of visiting in Europe have had a similar air to them; the beautiful architecture, the vast squares and a certain elegance that seems to waft in and out of every pore in the city.  London, of course, had all of these things but there was a grittiness that most other places seem to have lacked.  To me, this grittiness equated to reality.  Using Paris for contrast, it is a magnificent and romantic place to come (for a short time).  The beauty and majesty wear off after a while and one is left with a somewhat uptight society where, as an English speaker, your funny French accent never seems to measure up.  London, on the other hand, was more approachable, if cities can have such attributes.  There was no consistency among the thousands of apartments like there is in Paris, tourists didn’t stand out like sore thumbs in a segregated society and personally, the language barrier I have grown so accustomed to simply disintegrated. It was such a discovery for me to be in Europe AND be speaking English.  To be amongst the charms that Europe possesses without feeling like an outsider.  The longer I spent there, the more I swore I would have to move back one day! 

After deciding kind of late that I was going to take the trip, I was forced to take the bus there and fly home.  The bus was as mundane as bus trips can be with the highlight being the trip through the Channel Tunnel.  I thought that we were going to be taking the ferry over and had thus prepared myself to be on the lookout for the White Cliffs of Dover.  But to no avail out giant coach boarded our train-like transport (yes, the bus went on the train) and proceeded on the 45 minute long journey under the English Channel to the United Kingdom.  I couldn’t help but become slightly paranoid.  “What if there was a crack in the tunnel?” – I was under water, in a tunnel, in a train, in a bus.  You see the downward spiral that was occurring.  Thank god for books and iPods! 

I was met at the coach station by my friend Anna, who I was going to be staying with.  Anna came to visit me when I just moved to Paris, so a lot has changed!  Funnily enough, Anna and I actually met on a dive boat in Thailand of all places – so we couldn’t help but dredge up memories of beaches, tropical fish and boat rides!  We spent my first night in London chatting with Indian take-away and at a pub.  Two very quintessential English activities, in a place that calls Chicken Tikka-Masala the national dish!

Anna took me on a bit of a tour the following day.  We followed the River Thames past most of the sights London is renowned for.  The Tower of London where Anne Boleyn was held, Tower Bridge that oh-so-famous silhouette in the sky, the London Eye or giant ferris wheel that was built for the millennium, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Westminster Abby and the Houses of Parliament.  And of course, no tour of London would be complete without a proper afternoon tea.  As we dined on sandwiches with the crusts cut off and scones with clotted cream in a neo-classical hotel, I couldn’t help but think that I had arrived.

After a day of tradition, I felt I needed to delve deeper into the edginess of the city.  I headed up to north London to Camden Town where there was reputedly a big market.  Not knowing much more than that, I was greeted by tattoo parlours, Doc Martin shoe stores, vintage clothing stalls, art galleries and a true eclecticism of people.  I loved it.  It is this panache for all things cool that seemed to be omnipresent in London.  Not uptight, bland, uuber-chic or too couture – it was real.

In keeping with the slightly less pristine theme, one evening I joined the walking tour all about the infamous Jack the Ripper.  Coming highly recommended by several people and being led by the world’s apparent foremost expert on all things “Jack” – it was impossible to miss!  Traipsing around the streets of East London on a chilly fall night, to the very places the prostitutes used to solicit business and drink gin, to the very places that their bodies were found, couldn’t help but pique my morbid curiosity.  I came away actually having learned a lot but being intrigued more – I had to give it to the guide – he was sure compelling (I think it was his accent that made me feel like I was watching a cryptic version of Masterpiece Theatre)  Even eerier – Jack was never caught.

The rest of my time in London was spent seeing a show in the West End, wandering through the meandering allies of Soho, taking the obligatory photos of Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square, shopping on High Street, taking a double-decker bus, snooping through antique stalls in Notting hill, trying to decipher the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum, watching the not-to-be-missed changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace and enjoying modern art at the Tate Modern.  There was so much to do in such a short period of time!

Returning back to Paris was difficult, but exciting at the same time.  I am deep in the middle of planning my home-coming.  Not long now.  I will be home in three weeks to the day and as such, I am attempting to arrange some sort of life all through the magic of the internet!  Jobs, housing, moving, shipping, etc… It is proving difficult to concoct something out of nothing – but when it is done it will be fantastic! Thankfully I have friends and family who are helping me with things – or I am not sure where I would be upon arrival!  The piece de resistance is that I am flying not out of Paris, but out of London – so I get to experience it all again (for one more day that is!)
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