London’s Enchantment

London is more than high fashion and history. The culture and people have permanently settled in my heart.

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.

The Conundrum of Happiness

Freedom comes with the realization that your reality is your own doing.

What makes you happy? I work hard to ask myself this question every day. Sometimes I ask myself multiple times a day. It doesn’t always have to be the same answer. In fact, in my case, it’s constantly evolving and changing altogether.

The thing that shocks me is that somewhere along the way in this jaded world we live in, happiness became second in importance to things like stability, the acquiring of certain possessions and making money. Western civilization has become greedy, yet even knowing this to be true, it doesn’t change the focus for many people.

My definition of what makes me truly happy has been changing over the years. Change isn’t a negative thing, but rather a sign that I’m listening to myself as I grow into a person shaped by places I’ve been and experiences I’ve had. Sometimes happiness came in the form of a person, other times a genre of music and other times still, a place. However, even with all of the transformations, I can’t say I’ve ever put much focus in material things. I have my parents to thank for grounding me with this wisdom and freedom from a young age. Things were simply things; replaceable, nothing more, nothing less.

So what is my secret to happiness? I’m known for being a pretty optimistic and upbeat person and I get asked this question more often than I care to admit. Sometimes it saddens me that the answer isn’t as clear to everyone else as it is to me. Now of course, everyone must seek out their own version of happiness. There is no cookie cutter answer here, but I will share with you what I’ve learned and what brings me the most joy.

This will sound extremely cliché, but the blanket answer is that I listen to what my soul craves. The more specific answer is TRAVEL. In fact, it’s incredibly hard for me to sit still. Back when I first discovered how amazing it was to go abroad, I was enjoying the world and everything it had to offer so much that I knew I had to shape my life around it. The day after I graduated college, May 2015, I boarded a Virgin Atlantic flight to London Heathrow with my University’s Chamber Orchestra. My closest friends all happened to be in the orchestra as well, so we expected to have a few amazing adventures, but I had no idea how much these experiences would affect me. After three weeks traveling through England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland my fate had gripped me. I’d met some fascinating individuals along the way and I returned with a new excitement of the world.

6 months later I was a flight attendant. Now a year and a half into the job, I’m hardly in one place for long. I love the people I work with and I now have the flexibility of flight benefits to go anywhere I want on a whim. Often times I feel like I’m starring in my own fairytale. People tell me I’m lucky, living a charmed life, but it has nothing to do with luck. I knew that I needed to keep traveling in order to answer the calling of my deepest desires. I simply persevered until I found a solution.

I truly believe traveling is the most important gift you can give yourself. I don’t just mean taking a road trip up the coast of whatever country you happen to reside in. I mean losing yourself in another country, another continent, another language and culture entirely different from your own. It is not until you see how others live that you can step back and evaluate your own way of life. After a trip in which you’re exposed to another way of living you may sit back and think “oh, maybe having the latest Michael Kors bag isn’t as important as I thought it was.”

I know you’re thinking that I can hardly speak in such a generalized way, seeing how I’m a flight attendant with a far from normal life, but let me explain. My airline doesn’t do layovers. I don’t have the novelty of stepping off a plane in Paris or Rome at the end of my work day like the larger airlines. I’m home pretty much every night after many 14-16 hour doubles, usually back to back. I work insane hours in order to take off as much time as possible. When I get to the end of an intense few weeks of work, I take a month off and leave the country. My point is that if travel is your passion, then no matter what industry you work in, there’s no excuse not to find a way to take at least one trip a year. If you want it badly enough you’ll make it happen.

Travel is my vice. I’m hungry to learn how other people live, I crave the foods that are grown without pesticides and I’m thirsty to figure out how to blend into each culture I find myself in the middle of. The people I’ve become friends with throughout the world have completely shaped my ideologies and philosophies on the way I try to live my life. Some of the most wonderfully open minded and thought provoking conversations I’ve had thus far have come from musicians at a gypsy jazz camp in Samoreau, France. Almost a year later, I still keep in touch with these people via social media and various forms of messenger. I’ve even visited a few of these people months later in their native countries.

Everywhere I go, I strive to open myself up to meeting new people, learning new things and trying different foods. Most importantly I hold on to the lessons I’ve learned from those I come into contact with, forming friendships across borders that have no boundaries. I remember to remind myself that I can’t expect to develop my mind without the provocation of alternative angles of insight.

This lifestyle makes me passionate about living. Every day that I wake up, I’m excited for the next adventure on the horizon. Life is never stale or redundant. Maybe I don’t make much money, but I make enough to support myself and the whimsical lifestyle I’ve fallen in love with.  In my eyes, I’m the richest woman in the world. My energy harbors a flame for exploration that is too strong to be extinguished.

Now I challenge you to ask yourself, what makes you happy? How often do you ask yourself this question? Most importantly, are you shaping your life in a way that places you on a path to enjoy life in this way as often as possible? If you struggle to answer these questions, it may be time to reevaluate. Sometimes the fear of letting go of the safe way of living inhibits you from diving into a new start and a new you. Encourage yourself to take the leap, jump off the bridge and swim upstream to the waterfall of your desires. It may be upstream at first, but the view from the top of the rocks may be the most beautiful one yet.