It's time to share a little about my two weeks in London. But first, let me back up and properly explain the past few weeks.
My travels began in mid-December with a Christmas trip through Germany and Austria. I've shared bits and pieces, like the Mercedes-Benz museum Michael and I saw in Stuttgart, the medieval town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, and the small village of Detwang (all in Germany). And then there are two German cities that we visited which I haven't even touched on yet: Cologne and Munich. The holidays came next. We made our way to Seefeld, Austria to celebrate Christmas and then to Madrid to ring in 2014. Two and a half weeks later all said and done and it was time to settle down in London for two weeks.
I love London and was looking forward to having lots of time to discover new things about the city and revisit favorite places. But London caught me at an odd time. I was just not quite myself.
Two realizations became apparent. I was deeply homesick for Paris. And more shocking (for me), I was so museum-fatigued from the previous weeks that each day I had less and less of a desire to set foot into another museum.
The homesickness was hard to shake as I couldn't help comparing everything to Paris. There were no cafés lining the streets. The Thames river was much larger than the Seine. There were a bunch of skyscrapers dotting the skyline. I was ready to go back to my own apartment, my neighborhood, my friends, my routine. Walking around London kept reminding me that Paris was a long ways on the other side of the English Channel.
The plan was to shake the homesickness by busying myself in museums. Michael was working for the two weeks so I had full days to take on the city solo. I like museums (especially in the winter months for indoor entertainment) and was looking forward to the alone time. I'm the person who goes through the museum reading every plaque and listening to every last word on the audio guide while my patient husband finds a bench to sit on. I thought I'd take advantage of the situation, crawling through London's museums at a snail's pace. That was until I landed in Heathrow and had a sudden allergy to museums.
The time in London started off a little rough. I had to reorganize my plans and try to re-frame my attitude. I was in London after all, not Paris. I had to remind myself that each city has its own merits, and set out to explore the city and see it for what it was, not for what it could never be.
As I started to settle into the apartment we rented through Airbnb.com, I was left mulling over some what-ifs. About a year before we decided to move to Paris, we had the opportunity to move to London. It was one we didn't take, but this visit felt like a glimpse of what might have been. What would life have been like if we did move to London? If I was able to fall so in love with Paris, a city that was challenging to adjust to at first, could I have loved London just the same? Or more?
Looking back at my time in London, the hardest part was not having a schedule and routine. The idea of being unbound from normalcy sounds freeing, but when it comes down to it, I think so many of us crave a rhythm to our weeks. I know I do. It hit me hard, so my response was to seek comfort at all the markets I could (since I was really missing the markets I frequent weekly in Paris). My itinerary morphed to less museums, more markets, more of the outdoors, less of the indoors.
I love to travel because I believe it changes you. Sometimes it introduces you to new cultures, new ideas, new people. It can give you space to relax and rejuvenate, or time to explore and adventure. London taught me to slow down, see and feel the world around me without drowning it out with distractions, and to open my eyes to the beauty around me. Like "street art" in puddles:
There were things I had forgotten about in the city. And new corners to discover.
I started getting concerned about myself because I had no desire to go to the National Gallery (one of my favorite museums in London, and a free one at that!). On my last day I finally did make it there. My attention span was still diminished, and I found that I enjoyed looking out at this view from the National Gallery on a rainy day as much as standing in front of a painting I love - Botticelli's Venus and Mars.
A few years ago I thought a big part of visiting a city and learning about it involved spending time in its museums. While I still enjoy doing that, this trip reminded me that there are many ways to learn about a city, from art museums to stopping for a leisurely pot of afternoon tea. Whether you prefer to explore a city through its museums, streets, food, or nightlife, all offer facets of life and culture.
This visit gave me time to experience by day what it's like to be a solo traveler. After I got over feeling self-conscious eating and walking alone, I began to embrace the freedom to go at my own pace and think in my silence.
And this is only the first look at my time in London - there is more to follow (I haven't even touched on a good third of the trip, dedicated to eating Indian food).
But today I am going to sign off on a thankful note for what London gave me - space to slow down, silence to be comfortable wandering alone, and new perspectives on how to visit a city.
Why to do you travel / why would you like to travel? What have you learned along the way?