I’m sitting in a north London flat drinking red wine after just grabbing my favorite naan for 1 Quid from the shop that’s between my tube stop and the apartment and I’m wishing that I wasn’t already leaving for Rome tomorrow. My time here is never long enough. It’s like Paris in that way.
Now, my London isn’t of Big Ben, Buckingham Palace or a luxury hotel with to-die-for views. It’s the curry places, the vintage clothes to be sourced in pop-up markets, the artisan coffee shops, the long walls of abundant street art in dodgy parts of town, the places that still sell working-film-cameras, the pubs tourists don’t go in the neighborhoods tourists don’t know about and the little corner outside Kings Cross station that will forever mean something to me which cannot be put into words – written or spoken.
I believe that sometimes travel bloggers concentrate so much on Top 10 Lists and hotel reviews that they forget travel should be about more than ticking off lists and going wherever others recommend. London is one of the places I travel to again and again because I can be traveling but be without some of the burdens that come from always being in a new place and on assignment to report every detail.A few nights back I was in a pub, partly owned by a Kiwi and we were sending off a woman from New Zealand who is leaving London to travel the world for a good while. Australian ex-pats and other Kiwis, a few South Africans and I spent a night really talking about politics, science, education, literature, movies, music … and a little bit of travel. But because I wasn’t actually with other travelers and instead with people who have proper jobs – I learned a lot that night. In several conversations I was forced to similarly trash, or defend – the United States and its politics, my way of life as an American, my choice of profession. I could hardly believe how much I learned about other people that night and even more how much I learned about myself when I was asked questions I am never normally asked. It was the kind of night you can only have in a place that you’re not from, yet in which you’re comfortable enough to let down your guard long enough to get real.
Eating curry here in the UK may not help me learn anything about India or even London. However, it has helped me like curry. For some reason, I was always hesitant to try Indian food in the United States. However, when I was taken to a curry place in Brick Lane – I didn’t want to let my friends down. So, I ordered curry. And I liked it. Now, I love it.
I actually once thought the English only drank tea. Then, my friend Rick kindly took me on a coffee tour of London and I discovered the Flat White. I’ve since discovered I owe my love of that to Australians. I owe my new understanding and knowledge to Rick. To London, I owe my apologies for thinking it could ever be so narrow minded as to not embrace both tea and coffee.
I won’t make you a list of my favorite haunts in this diverse city. I’m keeping them to myself! I want to urge you to travel in such a way that sometimes you slow down and find the spots which you will never reveal, urge you to take time to learn and not just see, even urge you to skip Big Ben all together in favor of making your way slowly through neighborhoods that might be on the far edge of safe. I think it’s when we allow ourselves the opportunity to return to destinations we have visited before to see them in new ways and to really see them, not just race through them, that we do the most justice to the opportunities we have to travel. I did that with London this time. And now, I will head to Rome for a drastic change of pace where every moment will be scheduled, every meal will need to be photographed and my lesson at a Gladiator school may make for a really unique blog post. Or an embarrassing YouTube video (not that I’m a stranger to embarrassing videos). Stay tuned!