Londontown

This time last year, I was on my way to London.

It was a study abroad program, two weeks in London and one in Oxford.

It was graduate study abroad, so it wasn’t like what I hear undergrad semesters abroad are like. It wasn’t fluffy lectures and BS homework. It was an intensive, hands-on course in Multi-Modality in education. It was great and I learned a lot, but it didn’t leave too much time for exploring.

But we made do.

And it was enough for me to fall in love.

Boston is where I’m from; it is my family, my childhood, my foundation.  New York is where I live; it is my personality, my soul, my very being.

London is where I dream; it is my heart. It is history and beauty and magic; mystery and intrigue, friendship and love.

I loved everything about London. I loved the weather [though I was told it was atypically beautiful the few weeks we were there], I loved the sites we saw, the people – even the Underground.  It was like a cleaner, friendlier version of New York.

If I wasn’t so close with my family, if I thought I could bear only coming home for Christmas in the span of a year, I would spent at least two years there.  I would pack up my things and head straight for Heathrow while I was still young and untethered.  Maybe I still will someday – someday when I can afford plane tickets more often than once a year.

At first I wondered if it was just the new-ness of it all. If it was the draw of a new city, where even the elevators had the accent I adored so much.  Then we went to Oxford for week and I knew my love for London was pure. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Oxford. It was a beautiful old town, graceful and majestic.  But I knew I would never want to live there.  The week we spent there was perfect, the Oxford campus and dorms were gorgeous, but it wasn’t a place I’d be able to be long-term.

It’s really hard to articulate what the differences are, exactly, between London and Oxford that makes me think – no, makes me know – that I would thrive in one and not the other. It’s the same as New York vs. Boston, to some extent. It’s just the atmosphere, mostly.

One thing I loved about London and Oxford alike was that the people were just so friendly.  Sure, they had their jokes and stereotypes about Americans – and we lived up to some of them – but they all seemed genuinely interested in the answer to, “How are you?” and never hesitated to make small talk while you were waiting for your sandwich. We made new friends everywhere we went, and laughed nearly non-stop.

I know a lot of what I loved about those three weeks had to do with the people I was with, but my love for the city was real. I spent a little bit of time wandering around on my own, and I could feel the excitement coursing through my veins.

Another thing I loved about England as a whole was that they break for tea. Every day. I think that has a lot to do with why their overall disposition was more pleasant than ours. They take the time to relax. It’s just a few minutes every day to sip on some tea and have a biscuit.  Just a moment to clear your head before diving back into whatever it was you were doing.

It’s wonderful, really. Something I think we should all partake in.

Ironically, last year I spent the Fourth of July in England. On our first day, the man who was giving us our international cell phones and phone cards was chatting with us and asked us to remind him what we celebrated on the 4th, because he forgot.  “Our independence…from…well, from you.” We all had a good laugh about it. We were the only ones cheering like buffoons for our country that night – the patrons at the bar we were at were entirely nonplussed by our enthusiasm.  But they gave us snakebites anyway.

I can’t wait to go back – I wasn’t nearly through exploring when we had to leave. I still feel an ache in my heart when I think of it. I have a friend who spent a semester there in undergrad and she feels the same way – we miss London the same way we miss a person.  It’s not the same kind of feeling I have towards anywhere else. I’d love to go back to Costa Rica, and I have a fondness for my memories of the time we had there, but I don’t miss Costa Rica.  I miss London.

I had to change the radio station the other day because this song came on that made me nearly dizzy with jealousy. I drink in the background shots of movies and TV shows set in London with a thirst to catch a glimpse of the Tower Bridge or the London Eye. Random things will remind me of the city and it’s like someone threw a pebble at my heart.

For example, at the 53rd and Lexington subway station, when you’re transferring to the 6 train, you have to go on this impossibly long escalator for what feels like hours.  This is how most of the Underground is in London. Sometimes we would be on escalators or elevators longer than we were on the actual train. Once, while waiting to be squashed into a lift, we noticed a winding stone staircase nearby.  Many of us had lived in walk-ups in New York and, just living in the city, were no strangers to walking, so we decided to take our chances.  We headed up, ignoring the sign that said “Warning: 175 stairs”.  About halfway up, we started to regret our decision.  We made it – and felt quite triumphant, I might add – but decided to take our chances with the elevator next time. Those trains are DEEP underground.

I could go on for days about London, Oxford, and the time I spent in each city. I could show you a thousand pictures and write a million stories.  But I think that’s enough gushing for now.

Boston, you will always be in my heart. New York, you’ll always be my dream come true.

London…I’ll be back for you, someday. I promise.

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~ by Valerie Anne on 07/02/2011.

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