I recently spent two and a half weeks in London, which is really the longest I’ve spent in any one city that isn’t somewhere that I’ve lived, in a really long time, maybe ever. And it gave me such an appreciation for slow travel, allowing myself to experience a place at a relaxed pace, with no real agenda or timetable of attractions to get to and see. It was truly such an amazing way to see London, and I loved every second of it.
I had been to London once before as a pre-teen on vacation with my family, and I really don’t remember much of the trip (this is a lesson for my future self to not take my kids on vacation until they’re conscious almost-adults) except for vague memories of visiting Big Ben and Parliament, and watching the guards at Buckingham Palace to see if they would flinch at all (they didn’t). Therefore, this was really more like my first time in London, and I wanted to get a real sense of the city, not just hit up the tourist sights. I also was staying with a friend in North London, and this gave me the ability to feel a bit more like a local. I had an apartment! And a kitchen! And local grocery stores at which I shopped to cook things in said kitchen! And a local coffee shop where the barista (I think) had taken a liking to me. If there’s any way to really DO a city, this was the way.
I had been hearing recently–from friends, acquaintances, and work contacts–how great London is, that it’s so hip, so metropolitan, so like New York in a way. So I was excited to be able to explore the city and form my own opinion about it. I spent two weeks doing everything I wanted to do in London, at my own pace: riding around on the tube and the buses (like a pro); visiting different neighborhoods and taking pictures of neat little row houses; eating pub food (and realizing that this was my kind of food! Mashed peas? Flaky, savory pies? Baked cheesy cauliflower? What’s not to love?); doing work in hip cafes; browsing boutiques for things I was not going to buy, because my suitcase was far too full as it was, but liked to think that I might buy; eating way too many cakes and scones and cheesy breads; visiting just about every street market there is to visit–and there are quite a few; spending probably too much time browsing the prepared foods section of the local Waitrose grocery store (which, btw, has a BOMB selection). So you know, really living. It. Up! (Ha, I am old. I don’t party like I used to… )
And it’s true: London is a bit like its Yankee neighbor across the pond. Like New York, it has such an abundance of great restaurants, cafes, and stores on every street, tucked into every corner of the city. You could probably visit a new restaurant every day for a year and you still wouldn’t exhaust the list of places you’d want to visit. The neighborhoods all had a sort of distinct feel as well, similar to how the West Village is distinctly different from the East Village is different from the Lower East Side is different from Soho is different from Hell’s Kitchen. Shoreditch is different from Notting Hill is different from Covent Gardens is different from Marlyebone is different from Crouch End. London’s just as trendy too, with lots of great boutiques and shopping. I saw many a fashionable Londoner in mirrored sunnies, furs, trenches, high-waisted, wide-legged trousers, platform sneakers, and Carhartt-esque beanies–you know, the sort of confusing stuff that people who know fashion wear. London also has world-class museums, all of which were, amazingly, free, and incredible restaurants headed up by some of the world’s most celebrated chefs. And it’s a city that’s super well-connected via public transportation (even if it sometimes is a little roundabout to get from point A to point B).
After just a couple weeks in London, however, it was pretty clear that it was not like New York in one very important difference: It’s just so much more pleasant. London is nicer, cleaner, cuter. I didn’t smell the acrid stench of piss once while I was in London! I also don’t even think I saw a single rat, let alone having one scurrying dangerously close to my feet. I also one time rested my bag on the floor of the Underground train and didn’t think twice about it! (You know, when you’re carrying too many things to rest in your lap or you’re being that person who takes up too much space in a crowded subway car? That distinct unease when you have to put your bag(s) or umbrella on the floor in order to make room for other people? I’m not even that much of a germaphobe, and having to do this on the New York City subway makes my skin crawl because inevitably I will touch the bottom of that bag again, and god only knows what other disgusting things have been on that surface. But–I digress.) Simply put, London’s just less gross. I think that pretty much summarizes why London is a superior city.
But in all seriousness, I quickly learned within just my first 24 hours that the people in London are just so much nicer. Everyone I met–whether it was the [very adorable and brawny] cadets who helped me with my suitcase up the subway stairs, the cashier at the grocery store, the guy who sold me a sim card at the cell phone store, the bartender at the bar that I wandered into at 5pm on a Saturday, or generally anyone who I asked for directions–everyone seemed to be in a rather pleasant mood. No attitude and exasperated looks or snappy responses. Everyone just seemed pretty happy to be doing what they were doing. (NB: I’ve since said this to some Londoners and they were surprised by how nice I found everyone because they seemed to think that Londoners can be pretty grumpy, but perhaps it’s because compared to New Yorkers, everyone truly does seem like they’ve got rainbows coming out of their asses [arses]. It probably helps that they have adorable accents, and don’t sound like the Mob Wives.)
Londoners (Brits on the whole?) also seem to be more orderly. People would wait in a single file line for the bus. They would crowd the stairs on the left (they go down and up the opposite way we do) even when the stairs on the right were empty… just to follow the rules! My experience riding the tube, which I did several times every day, was also very incident-free, which cannot be said of riding the subway in New York. (New York’s subways can be straight harrowing at times. Please reference: every time you’ve had someone actually threaten you or someone else while riding the train.) I also never waited more than 3 minutes EVER for the next train to come, and every station told you exactly how many minutes until the next train! Pure engineering brilliance!
And the big kicker for me: London is just such an attractive city. Even in the rain, and with cloudy skies most days, it is definitely one of the more adorable cities I’ve ever had the pleasure of wandering around. I became a little googly-eyed over just how gosh-darn cute everything is. The squat black taxis, the iconic red phone booths (that I saw people actually using on a couple occasions!), the double decker red buses, the ubiquitous pubs and bakeries and coffee shops that are just oozing Britishness and quaintness, the row houses with shutters and doors painted crisp primary colors, the flower markets, the cobblestone streets–not liking London would be akin to not liking puppies or giggly babies. You just want to pinch its cheeks. Or spend every day wiling away the afternoon on a plush velvet couch in a light-filled cafe drinking tea and eating scones with clotted cream. Everything is just so picture-worthy that you could almost snap a photo of any random street corner in London and it’d be aesthetically pleasing.
It turns out London might be one of my favorite cities in the world. And I don’t throw superlatives like that around lightly. After just a couple weeks of slowly visiting different neighborhoods and wandering around the city on my own, I found myself really wanting to spend even more time there, perhaps even wanting to live there at some point. Giving myself more than just the usual four days to explore it has also given me new appreciation for visiting cities (versus my true-blue happy place, the beach!). So the main question I’m getting at is this: Is there a cute Brit out there who wants to marry a nice, funny, smart American girl who makes a mean avocado toast breakfast in exchange for a visa? 🙂