A First Look at London

I suppose three weeks is a reasonable enough amount of time for a person to settle into a new city and organize one’s thoughts enough to sit down and write about it. Except, it somehow feels as though I’ve been here in London for something like two months now, so this all seems to be far more after-the-fact than it actually is.

Touching down in Heathrow already feels like a lifetime ago, and I suppose between slogging through jet lag and being forced to become acclimated to a new country and university at break-neck speed, it only makes sense that my sense of time would be a bit jumbled. Aside from the slightest bit of jet lag, I have to pride myself on basically hitting the ground running here in the UK, and though I keep hearing that homesickness and culture shock will catch up with me eventually, I remain skeptical. Having previously lived overseas, and having lived out of state for college the past two and a half years, I wasn’t expecting too many curve balls in moving too London, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised that the transition has gone even smoother than expected.

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Sure, looking the opposite direction when crossing the street, and having to convert pounds to dollars in my head without audibly gasping at the pitiful conversion rate and sky-high price of everything in London may take some getting used to, but for a city I’d never previously visited, London sure feels a lot like an old friend. For a capitol city, a metropolitan hub, a home to millions of people who are (seemingly only) thin, fashionable and successful, London has a comfort, an easiness to it, making me feel simultaneously like I’m on a glamorous vacation and visiting home for a holiday.

It’s hard to generalize a city of 8 million people and counting, but I can count on one hand the number of rude people I’ve met or unpleasant experiences I’ve had since I arrived. Everyone here has an air of good humor and easy-going sensibility, and aside from testing locals’ patience by taking a bit too long to fumble through coins in sizes and shapes that confound my brain, most people have been more than willing and helpful to play along with the dumb American.

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It’s crazy to realize how quickly I’ve felt myself pass through the tourist phase to something else entirely. I suppose studying abroad is inherently sort of a limbo between tourist and transplant, not quite a local but eager to shed the stigma of being a visitor. I’ve asked and been asked for directions, seen the touristy sights and ventured off the beaten path.

London isn’t exactly what I expected it to be, but in the best way possible. It’s astoundingly historic and mind-blowingly modern, with centuries-old churches dwarfed by spiraling glass sky-scrapers and iconic red telephone boxes outfitted with WiFi. It’s impressively clean (for a city with hardly any garbage cans and no recycling bins,) surprisingly non-rainy, and serviced by one heck of a public transportation system that I can already see giving me withdrawals when I return to the states. I haven’t missed the freedom of having a car at all, and in fact the thought of driving here both terrifies and confuses me, as the roads seem to be constantly clogged with cars and yet parking lots and garages are as rare as Pret-a-Mangers are common.

It’s a hip city, but not in an intimidating way, and its population leans younger, but not in an obnoxious way, either. I’ve been able to get my fill of hipster coffee shops (though usually without iced coffees, an American establishment that hasn’t quite caught on here yet,) low-key pubs, independent book stores and cheap clubs that pander to tourists while still being fun, though I’m still looking forward to exploring more of London’s music, theater and art scene in general.

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These past few months, whenever I told people back home that I was leaving for London, I usually drew questions as to why I didn’t seem more excited. In part, I’m a worrier, and I told myself I’d be excited when I got here. And I am, but I suppose it all still somehow feels a bit unreal, like it hasn’t quite sunk in that I get to call this city my home for a while, that I’ll be spending the next 6 months of my life in Europe, that so many things I’d hoped and planned for these past few years have actually come to fruition.

Just the other night, after seeing a theater show in London’s West End, walking home over the Waterloo Bridge, crossing the Thames River illuminated by a full moon with St. Paul’s Cathedral to my left, Big Ben and the London Eye to my right, I couldn’t decide if this all made things more real, or more surreal. Part of me still feels a bit like one of these mornings I’m going to wake up from this dream, but as long as I keep dreaming on London time, I think everything will turn out just fine.

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All photos taken and edited with Samsung Galaxy S5. For more of my travel photos, check out my Flickr.

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