What is it about London that has me coming back for more?
It doesn’t matter the season or how many times I’ve been. London keeps calling me. Falling in love in the city is easy to do. The historic buildings draped in seasonal decorations, the fast paced lifestyle, bold fashion choices that leave you staring and swinging jazz music seeping from night clubs onto crowded streets. It’s overwhelming in the greatest way. People of varying ages and diverse backgrounds in every state of attire can be found strutting through the streets in their tailored coats and stylish shoes. It may be gray and rainy for half, or even two-thirds of the year, but there is a mood even in that. There is a simple beauty that comes from sipping tea in a cozy café while watching the rain fall.
I fell in love with London almost 2 years ago and have continued to fall harder each of the 8 times I’ve returned since. It was love at first sight. Everything about it appealed to me. Maybe I saw it with rose-colored glasses at first, but over these past two years our relationship has only matured and heightened in intensity.
Of course, as most American females will tell you, the English accent definitely was an appeal. Every girl loves a good accent, especially one that has been romanticized in our movies and media for years. However, I’m picky in the romance department and it takes more than a well-dressed population armed with alluring accents to steal my heart. No, there was much, much more.
The people themselves have a look that I often times only find in larger cities. Men smartly dressed in suits and blazers hastily check their watches as they move towards the tube, grabbing a newspaper from the stack besides the staircase as they descend into the underground. Women in all states of attire from tailored skirts with functional heels to high waist jeans and stylishly cut tops and color coordinated jumpers (sweaters), casually accessorize their outfits to reflect London’s latest fashion. Tall, beautiful people can be seen all throughout the city, lining up at Costa for a cup of tea or coffee to go, or crammed into the many pubs on every street corner. Everyone, whether dressed to the nines or purposefully outfitted to embody a “casual” look, is doing their best to make a visual statement.
Visiting as an adult, the realization that everyone walks or bikes everywhere in London fascinated me. Growing up in the Orlando suburbs, walking was never encouraged, as things were too spread out, with no quick public transportation system. The walking culture of London creates a whole different feeling of community. People are forced to interact while passing each other, even if they’re not consciously thinking about it.
There is even a section in the newspaper called the Rush Hour Crush in which travelers on public transportation can text in personalized comments, appreciation for a good deed, compliments and even requests for dates to people commuting alongside them to be posted in the paper. And yes . . . people actually still read newspapers. In fact, it’s pretty impossible not to spot newspapers littering the floors and benches of the underground each day. Being an outsider to my own generation, in which I prefer an old-fashioned book to a tablet or nook, I find something as simple as reading a newspaper, quaint. With that being said, the simple things may charm me, but I am even more excited by the activities of London.
Coming from a music performance background myself, some of the biggest attractions for me are the bounteous forms of musical entertainment. The London jazz scene drew me in from day one with one of my first experiences being the discovery of Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. It was London that threw me into venues in which my now favorite style of music, gypsy jazz, was being performed. I also quickly learned what swing dancing is all about. Whether you’re looking for jazz, musical theater, classical, pop, rock, etc. it can all be found in all types of venues in London.
The West End is constantly advertising premier viewings of the newest and oldest running musicals, whereas halls in the Southbank Centre host various concerts from the London Philharmonic Orchestra all the way to alternative forms of new music performed by small bands or even poetry readings. Just a hop over the bridge from Westminster and Big Ben and a brief walk away, the Centre hosts more than just music. An entire art community with frequent markets of freshly cooked foods, used books for sale, buskers, active artists displaying their works and just about every activity you can imagine can be found here.
There is always something to participate in. Between the music, arts, nightlife, parks, or history of London, the options are limitless and constantly changing. While it may seem like the fast paced lifestyle never gives locals time to unwind, it’s easy to find many of them enjoying a pint at the local pub closest to their work place at the end of each day. Laughter can be heard coming from the open doors late into the evening. My favorite pubs are the more private ones, tucked off of side streets and easy to pass if you’re not searching for them. There’s nothing better than sitting in a corner with a pint of beer and my notebook, surrounded by soft jazz music and a sprinkle of conversation beneath dimmed lighting from ornate brass light fixtures. I won’t tell you where to go. You must simply discover these gems on your own.
This may all sound dreamy, but I don’t deny the darker sides of the city. As I stated in the beginning, our relationship has only matured over time. I’ve seen the dirty, crime infested sides of the city. I’ve observed the alcoholism and smoking culture that affects a large amount of the population, despite the health risks. I’ve experienced the pretentiousness that comes from people making more money than they know what to do with. I’ve struggled with rerouting myself when the tube workers have gone on strike due to low wages and read the papers as angry citizens who lost their jobs protested they were unable to make it to work on time from unscheduled delays, a byproduct of the strikes. I’ve seen news articles headlining the tragic death of another person accidentally pushed off the tube platform onto the electrically charged tracks in rush hour, or another biker run over by a red bus that didn’t see them in time. I’ve followed the coverage of Brexit and witnessed first-hand the divide among families voting on opposite sides. I’ve spoken to fearful immigrants from throughout Europe in the form of musicians and artists, uncertain of what their fate held the day Brexit was voted in. No city is perfect, just as no relationship is perfect.
Even after seeing this other side, I’m still in love. The darker sides of London create a depth for which art and music can persist to thrive with continued inspiration. Without darkness you have no contrasting brightness or the corresponding appreciations of joy. Humanity needs a balance of each in order to evolve and learn from emotions and experiences. This is what pushes us to grow in our personal development. I have learned invaluable lessons from my observations in London.
I see a city built on the foundation of acceptance; people from all over the world work alongside each other in a harmonious balance. I see a city where music and the arts are appreciated for what they represent, not just for the ways in which they may benefit your health. I see a city where respect is expected, not a privilege to receive. I see a city where healthcare is accessible to everyone, even if it may not be perfect. I see a community driven to expanding their minds and bettering their society at any cost. I see a city in which young adults know and care about what is going on in their world.
Despite a city with history dating back hundreds of years, I feel there is an overall youthful, forward-thinking energy when I walk through London. As I return to London in three weeks for the 10th time, I aspire to learn more from this city that constantly lives in my heart. I may have traveled abroad to many places, but this is still the one that fits me best. The enchantment, the pulsing vitality, calls to me, beckoning to me to return as quickly and as often as possible.