Thursday, August 8, 2013

An Ode to London

Back in June, I celebrated five years of living in London.  I came here (and to Europe) for the first time in January 2007 for a semester abroad, and I cried the night before I left because I was so afraid that I would hate it here and wouldn't be able to do anything about it (I may or may not have control issues).  Turns out my fears were completely ridiculous - I was hooked as soon as I arrived.

What amazes me is that, five years on, I'm still just as hooked on this incredible city that I am proud to call home.  Maybe it's due to my recent anniversary, maybe it's due to the fact that my life has settled a bit lately, or maybe it's because I will soon be applying for a settlement visa, but I hope that my constant appreciation for London will be something that I always feel.

No matter how my day is going, for better or for worse, I find myself in the quiet moments feeling grateful that I am able to live in this amazing city and remembering to step outside whatever has me wrapped up that day.  I will never get sick of passing over Waterloo bridge, with the skyline of St Paul's, the City, Canary Wharf and Southbank on one side and the London Eye and Parliament on the other, the wide expanse of the Thames connecting them, and I think its because the view gives me the greater sense of the city - how vast and varied it is but also how connected everything feels.  Something that I have always found surprising and welcoming about London is the feeling that we're all in this together - whether its a collective moan about the weather or the public transport situation or collective joy from the Royal Wedding, the Olympics, the Jubilee, British sporting triumphs or just a warm summer day.

I will stop waxing lyrical and leave you with some photos of London that I've taken over the past 6 years - as the constant tourist - and a list of 10 things that I love about London.  These certainly aren't the top 10 things - that would be an impossible list to make.

10 Things to Love about Living in London:

1. Each neighbourhood seems to be greatly different from the others and its individual quirks will be both immediately apparent and take years to reveal themselves to you

2. The parks and green spaces - Regents Park, Hyde Park, Richmond Park, St James's Park, Hampstead Heath, Primrose Hill, Greenwich Park, Kensington Gardens, Kew Gardens, and all of the squares, commons, fields and gardens in between.  London puts Central Park to shame.

3. The food here is excellent, despite the poor reputation, and not just the British food and not just at fancy restaurants (see London Guide for further details).  It's all here and most of it is excellent (I'm tired of defending London on this one and get quite tetchy about it).

4. British English.  You would think there would be many more similarities between American English and British English than there really are (e.g. you'll notice I used "tetchy" in number 3; US read: irritable).  With all of the idioms, colloquialisms, regional and class slang, it is hard to keep up.  After living here for five years, I still learn something new on an almost-daily basis.  Learning how to spell things with an added "u" and "s" instead of "zed" was the easy part.

5. The River Thames.  A wide, winding river that cuts through city and divides opinion as to whether North London or South London (i.e. north and south of the River) is best - some people actually rarely cross this divide (out of choice).  I, myself, am a north-of-the-river advocate.  You can find a pub on the river at almost any point in London and spend hours staring out at the Thames.  There are annual boat races in many forms, and the Thames has recently brought us the Jubilee boat pageant and the delivery of the Olympic torch.

6. The people - a hugely diverse mix from around the world. Londoners are renowned for keeping themselves to themselves, following strict, unwritten social guidelines about interaction with others (e.g. stand on the right; quiet on the Tube; always say you're sorry, whether you bumped into them or the other way round, etc.).  However, Londoners are also quick to come out of their shell (e.g. rushing to the aid of anyone during the Olympics, a rare display of patriotism for the Royal Wedding, etc.).

7. The architecture, particularly the mix of old and new.  They speak for themselves.

8. London is full of markets, from the very small to the very large and selling almost anything you could imagine - Borough, Portobello Road, Camden, Spitalfields, Brick Lane, Alfies Antique Market, Broadway, Covent Garden, Columbia Road Flower Market, Greenwich, all of the farmers markets - the list goes on and on and on.

9. It is so easy, and relatively inexpensive, to travel anywhere from London.  The rest of the UK is easily accessible by public transportation and Europe is only a train ride or a short flight away.  I've seen more of the UK and the rest of Europe than I have seen of the US, as a result.

10. The work-life balance.  While London is a Western city, driven by capitalism, it maintains a good sense of the work-life balance.  It isn't continental Europe, which is often much more focused on the life side of things, but it also isn't America.  I had to leave America to understand how much American culture encourages an individual to work as hard as he can to obtain as much as he can.  Working life in the UK accommodates the rest of an individual's life, as well (e.g. at least 4 weeks paid holiday leave per year for everyone and statutory maternity leave of up to a year), and people understand the importance of that.

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