A feeling of awe, perhaps mixed with relief, came over me as I lugged my suitcase off the EuroStar and onto the platform at St Pancras Station in London, it’s brick facade at the far end of the platform. Finally, I thought, I’ve MADE it!
High off my trip to Paris – yes, I might’ve gotten emotional on the train when we pulled out of Gare du Nord – I was still looking forward to going to England, the one place I feel like could be home. It was this feeling to begin with that brought me here – I’ve always felt such a strong pull to England, and if I was going to be only two hours away in Paris, I would’ve kicked myself if I hadn’t gone.
After topping off my Oyster card and bidding adieu to my new friends and EuroStar travel companions Van-Anh and Fatih, I navigated the Tube – at rush hour! – to my hotel. The Tube was much like the Parisian Metro, a maze of tiled halls, stairwells, and very clear signs, but so much busier. It also reminded me of a cleaner, more efficient MTA but with smaller trains. (Also- did I notice that the colour of the interior of the trains coordinated with the colour of the line?!)
Once settled, I took to Hyde Park, which was just a block from my hotel. The sun was dipping low into the sky as I began to meander through, coming across a gorgeous garden equipped with a wide array of flora, multiple fountains, and a small ice cream stand operated out of a vintage white Rolls Royce. The rest of the evening was spent sightseeing – passing by the Marble Arch, walking down Oxford Street (I thought of it as Fifth Avenue, on a smaller scale, yet somehow busier), visiting shops (Primark; Selfridge’s – cue the music!), and finally eating somewhere in Marylebone after I nervously walked by too many fancy cafés and busy pubs with handsome men in nice shirts downing a pint on the pavement.
Again, without boring you on every little thing I did, I’ll summarize the sights: Chinatown, Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square (sadly cordoned off in advance of a concert); I walked across Westminster Bridge and down the South Bank; finally saw Big Ben (hearing that famous bell clanging across the Thames was surreal); had an amazing visit to the Victoria&Albert Museum; passed by the Royal Albert Hall, the Albert Memorial, and caught glimpse of Kensington Palace across the Hyde Park green, with rays of light piercing the clouds above it. I also swept by the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge, both awe-inspiring in their own rights; and had a lovely night out in SoHo hopping from gay bar to gay bar.
In the end, London felt very, very comfortable. In fact, as noted by my friends, it was very much like New York in a way – big, crowded, diverse, balanced historic and modern (I’d say London does this better than New York), and corporate yet artsy. Perhaps it was this comfort level that lead to my feeling less in ‘awe’ of everything. Paris provided so many ‘wow’ moments, where London provided less of those, to a certain degree. Maybe it was also my familiarity with all things English, and to finally see certain things with my own eyes wasn’t that far-fetched or surreal. Oh, yeah, Tower Bridge, mmhmmm. Trafalgar Square? Nice!
Part joking and part serious, at every bar we went to in Paris, Stephen asked ‘So, how has the trip changed you? Have you figured it out?’ Well, Stephen, I still don’t know if I can answer that… but I will say that visiting London (and Paris) has confirmed that I can (and probably will) live in a European city with ease, and be happy there. London’s short trip left a lot more to uncover, and I long to explore the countryside and other UK cities, to see if any of those prove to be my happy place. For now, my happy place is in those memories.
// Hyde Park, London, UK; 21 June 2017.