Even if you’ve only been paying minimal attention the past couple weeks, you can probably tell that I am a huge London person. Our love affair began on my first trip abroad at 15 years old. Later I returned to study Victorian literature there and after graduation I came back to work there. The city is so deeply steeped in culture, history and literary landmarks that I’ve never tired of it.
This past week was my first time returning to London since my work visa ran out a year and a half ago. Since then a lot has happened in my life; work, travel, blogging. I was nervous; it was like seeing an old lover for the first time after a long absence. Would I feel the same about the Unreal City? Or had I outgrown the city of my dreams?
This trip I stayed with an old friend who lives in Canary Wharf. This was exciting; an entire area of London I’d never even visited before! This part of southeastern London has been a center of shipping for many years, but only in the past two decades has it risen to become a business epicenter. The look and atmosphere are markedly different from the rest of the city. Skyscrapers loom above the tidy streets (the area has the three tallest buildings in the entire country), and business people scuttle about like ants. Underground many of the buildings are connected in a vast, maze-like shopping center. Although lacking in culture and history, Canary Wharf has a peaceful and orderly quality very different from the rest of London.
Even in orderly Canary Wharf you don’t need to go far to find a patch of green. Located on the Isle of Dogs is Mudchute Farm and Park, the location of last Friday’s postcard . I squealed like a proper city girl at the nonchalant goats, cows and llamas there. The 32 acres here make up the largest urban farm in London. It’s free for visitors who want to get up close with the animals. My favorites were the pygmy goats – they are like regular goats, just more adorable!
We didn’t spend all of our time in Canary Wharf; on Friday night we made our way to the hectic theaters of the West End. I was treated to a performance of Phantom of the Opera, my favorite musical. I know he’s corny, but I love Andrew Lloyd Webber. It was thrilling to see the production in the theater where it first began its run 23 years ago!
We also took some time to experience a London ghost tour. I love a good ghost tour. Whether you believe in spirits or not, the history and folklore gives terrific insight into a culture. The tour I selected was called Ghosts of the Old City put on by London Walks. As a totally unpaid endorsement: London Walks is the final word as far as walking tours of London go. The tour guides are often actors and experts in their field. Over the course of 90 minutes our guide recited poetry, sang, and pointed out many spooky spots around the old city. We saw the old boundaries of Newgate prison, the square where William Wallace was drawn and quartered and a pub wit ha well known poltergeist. Even in the pouring rain it was well worth it.
For my last night in London I wanted to do something I’ve been meaning to do for years. For all the time I’ve spent in London, I’ve never experienced on of its premier tourist attractions: The London Eye. The hefty price tag has always been the major deterrent, but now that I have a decent job and the money to spend I decided to take a chance on the giant Ferris wheel with the spectacular views.
Was it worth 17 pounds? I don’t know, probably not when there are plenty of free views of London to be had. But it was beautiful up on high in the dark night sky. London stretched out like a shimmering carpet of lights, with iconic landmarks glowing brilliantly: the dome of St. Paul’s, the purple and green cubes of the National Theater and the always iconic Big Ben. None of my pictures were turning out well so after awhile I put the camera away and tried to just experience the city all around me.
So yes, I still love London. Samuel Johnson once famously said, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” No matter how I change and grow, there are always new aspects and experiences to entice me. There are the familiar comforts of taking the London Tube, or eating my favorite candy bar, coupled with the joy of exploration around every corner.
And all of that makes for one perfect love affair.