It’s been over two years since I away moved from London and although I’ve been back for the odd day or 2, last month was the first time I stayed for a few days in an Airbnb near where I used to live. The apartment was in-between Kings Cross and Angel and when I got off the train the first day my reaction was hilarious. The train of thoughts in my head was like a transcript for a children’s book called ‘Country Bumpkin Goes To The Big Smoke For The First Time Ever.’ I’d lived on and off in London from the ages of 18 (when I came for uni) to 29 when I left for Sydney. Yet my reaction last month was this:
‘OMYGOD THERES SO MANY PEOPLE AND SO MUCH NOISE AND EVERYONE IS TALKING AND I CANT FIT ON THE PAVEMENT AND WHAT IS THAT SMELL ITS MAKING ME HUNGRY AND WHERE ON EARTH IS THE NORTHERN LINE BANK BRANCH.’
So for anyone who is visiting London for the first time or revisiting after a few years away here are a few things I forgot that you may need reminding of:
How complicated are the tube lines? I used to know the routes I took most by heart so would just instinctively know where to change, which way to walk along the platform and whether I was eastbound or westbound on the Circle Line. But just 2 years later all that old knowledge is lost. Suddenly I was the tourist trying to find the single tube map on the station wall, studying it to work out if I want the Bank Branch and change at Euston or do I go to Bank and walk to Monument and if the Central Line is part-suspended shall I just give up and get a taxi?! I have a new-found respect for tourists who attempt to take this system – the tube map looks like a tangled web to the uninitiated.
There is no mobile network on the tube. You get wi-fi at some stations (if you can handle the fiddly sign up process) but are pretty much cut off for the duration you are underground. I’d forgotten to grab reading material for my first journey so sat there twiddling my thumbs. T’was odd.
It costs how much to pee at Waterloo? 30p! Seriously. If you’re fresh in the city and yet to take out cash, producing 30p to have a wee wee is not an easy feat. I borrowed 10p from a stranger in order to empty my bladder and then found the toilets were terrible anyway. If I’m paying to wee I at least expect some loo paper.
A quid to shit? I thought the Waterloo toilets were taking the mick and then I went to Covent Garden and found they take the biscuit. The only loos accessible to the public in this tourist and shopping mecca cost £1 to use them. And there’s only 3 so there’s always a massive long queue on the weekend. They do play pretty music in the cubicle though.
Overheard snippets. My gosh I earwigged on so many conversations in London. I don’t know if it’s because there are more people in closer proximity or because I felt an affinity to the cockney accent but I found myself earwigging on so many more conversations in London than I come across in Sydney. I could write a post just about the snippets I overheard on the benefits of a free market, why art is not always meant to be understood and what Dave got up to last week in Ibiza.
Put an ear-plug in it. About 3 days in to my London stay I remembered why I never used to find London so noisy before – because I never listened to it. I never used to go anywhere without my headphones in – thus blocking out the catcalls, clatter of the dustbin men and chatter about what Dave did on his weekend. I loaded up the Kisstory app on my last day in the city and suddenly the streets were much more appealing.
How brave are the cyclists? There was a time when I used to cycle from my home near Highbury Corner to office on the river past London Bridge. For those familiar with the city that is basically one end of it to the other. Admittedly I had worked out a route that was a little roundabout as it took me along roads with cycle lanes and not as many hills but still I rode it and it blows my mind that I never died! Now I watch cyclists weave in and out of buses – whose stops interrupt the cycle lanes – and wonder how I, who is completely unroadworthy, ever did it. I guess when you live in London you feel a braver about being on its roads.
Polite beggars. To be truthfully honest I had forgotten how many homeless we have in London. I know there are many charities and organisations hard at work helping those on the streets but I also encountered beggars using their eloquence to help themselves. “I don’t mean to interrupt you,” said one on the tube,” or make you feel guilty or ruin your day. But I really need some money for a bed for a night. I’m not a druggie, I just want a bed.” Lies or not it’s hard to ignore someone who asks so nicely.
So many eating options. I genuinely don’t know how I ever chose what to eat and where. Just around where we were staying in Islington you could find almost every cuisine from around the world, Beanhunter recommended at least 20 award-winning coffee shops within walking distance and M&S and Sainsbury’s were every 10 steps if you just wanted to grab something to have at home. I miss these options and conveniences so bad.
Fitbit Goals. How easy is it to nail 10k steps a day in London? I’d get halfway to goal just by walking to the nearest tube, but that may be because we were staying in a period building with no lift!
A colourful city. When people speak of somewhere being colourful I usually think they are referring to ethnicity or language. But now I know what makes London so colourful – it’s our clothes and hair colour. It was so refreshing to be in a city where people dress how they please regardless of age, sex and heritage. One day I passed a women, who I’d guess was in her 50s, sporting the most incredible sharp purple bob. I wanted to tip my metaphorical hat to her.
That Friday Feeling. London is so good at given you the feelings and not just on a Friday. When work finishes, when the sun is shining, when anything remotely good happens in the world of sports – Londoners know how to celebrate. Seeing people spilling onto the streets on a warm evening, pint glass in hand, suit jackets slung over a chair, gives me such a nostalgic happy feeling. Sure the sky was grey and gloomy for my most of my visit but if you can bottle that feeling you get when the sun’s out in London I’d sell it and be a very rich woman.
How fast things change. The skyline looks different (hello cheese grater and walkie talkie), my favourite pub is now a Five Guys and where have all my mates gone? One of the best and worst things about London is how fast its rate of change is. I loved my visit back to the big city but it didn’t half make me nostalgic for the London as I knew it.
Have you lived in London? What do you miss about it?
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