There are some places that can’t be explored in a day, or a weekend, or even a week. In some places, you could spend your whole lifetime trekking the paths, finding new streets, entering museums and seeing the sights – and still, somehow, you wouldn’t have seen it all. Somehow – you’d still be left with more to do, to see, to learn. You’d need more like three lifetimes, and even then, the city would change so much you’d have to start all over.
London is like that.
And so, even though we’ve visited four times in the last two years, we’re always left with a feeling of incompleteness when it’s time to board the plane and head back home.
We’ve been to the Victoria and Albert Museum and traipsed around Trafalgar Square. We’ve had high teas and Sunday roasts and explored Kensington, Chelsea and Notting Hill. We’ve taken the tube to Piccadilly Circus and shopped the gorgeous Liberty London department store.
We’ve walked through the east side of London, imagining ourselves in the footsteps of Jack the Ripper and visited the house of Charles Dickens, gazing wonderingly at his writing desk. We’ve walked across London Bridge, Tower Bridge and snapped photos of Big Ben. Kensington Palace to Buckingham Palace, St. James’s Park to Hyde Park, we’ve done our darnedest to see the whole place. We’ve walked thousands of steps, smelled many strange things on the underground and found ourselves in the backseat of many Ubers, and recently had to strap a baby seat into those vehicles to keep the adventure going.
But, we’ve still barely scratched the surface. We have relatives in London and each time, we meet them in a part of town we’ve never heard of. We have friends in London and every restaurant or pub we end up in isn’t one that’s mentioned in a guide book or has hip photos that have come up on our social media. We stumble upon stores that sell handmade this or local that and all of the items seem to be exactly what we would like to spend our money on at that moment.
We’ll think, for a moment, that we have London nailed down. After we traipse through a museum or two or spend time at some landmark or another we’ll smile smugly and think we’ve got it defined, and then we turn a corner and there’s a church that’s been converted into a perfumery or an old haberdasher that now is a vegan cafe selling the best brownies you’ve ever had, even without the milk and butter. Suddenly, we realize that we haven’t a clue what London is, and that even though we’ve spent the last week exploring, we haven’t seen anything at all – or we only saw what we wanted to see and we have much more to discover.
London isn’t simply history or the setting for a regency novel or tea and crumpets and all the “Upstairs, Downstairs” episodes we’re accustomed to. It isn’t just home to castles and museums and the royal family and gallons and gallons of tea being drunk with pinkies extended. Those things definitely are part of it, and yes, other big cities have complexities – but, London is different. It’s like multiple tiny cities or countries all hodgepodged together by the underground and black taxi cabs. It’s history and future and conservative upper-crust bastions of the way things were, hand-in-hand with the future and millions of people who aren’t English at all, but came up to the northern city for opportunity they didn’t have at home. It’s old, it’s new, it’s familiar but strange and somehow, we still haven’t seen it all.
I suppose another trip over is in order.