I had hopped on a plane by myself when I was 10 years old. My mom said I didn’t even turn my head once when I left her at the airport. That sassiness of mine, though, didn’t come into play again until much later when I was attending college.
My first solo trip ever as a college student was to London, the sister city of New York. I barely remember anything from that trip besides walking across the Millennium Bridge in the freezing cold. I was staying with a friend in London and somehow she threw me onto a train to Paris for a day. That was my first time going somewhere completely unknown, without anyone receiving me at the destination. I remember sending postcards to my parents and friends before I got on the train, asking them to rescue me if I never return. Ya, I’m a little dramatic as you may know.
Four years later, I visited London again. The city felt vaguely familiar: I had a faint memory of my previous trip; bits and pieces of London reminded me of my childhood in Hong Kong. It’s quite an odd experience to revisit a city that seemed distant in memory yet familiar in many ways. I was ecstatic to see Gavin and Eric, though! We go way back — from the desert in Chile to Santiago, and then Medellín, now a reunion in London along with our mutual friend Lauren. Come to think of it, I have quite a good chemistry with Londoners on the road. The sister city vibe connects us.
I haven’t written an impression post since Medellín. It’s basically my silly observation of a city. Here’s my second impression recap of London:
1. Londoners are very… too well-dressed.
I’d had the same impression of Londoners even during my first visit. Everyone, from street musicians to office workers, had a very polished look. I wore a hoodie to the city center once and I was sorry for my existence. I should have burned the shameful hoodie after. Maybe people didn’t actually dress that well but just that their British elegance shone through their outfits.
2. Smokers and vapers
I saw someone lighting up a cigarette every time I turned my head. It’s truly a smoker city, but e-cigarettes and vaporizers seemed very popular too. I could find bottles of vape juice in shady corner stores or in supermarkets, wow.
3. People like to stand outside
Well, Londoners always linger on the sidewalks because most of them are smokers. I think it’s also because they don’t get good weather very often. It was a cloudy 17C day and people would go as far as to occupying the entire sidewalk outside of a pub PLUS the sidewalk across the street. My friend and I kept giggling about how the pubs pay rent for their interior space yet people just stand outside anyway 😛
4. Food does suck
London is kinda famous for expensively bad food. I’ve had some decent food here and there but New York’s food scene just beats London threefold. I was surprisingly impressed by Dishoom, an Irani cafe with Indian influence. Everything on the menu was delicious. Not exaggerating.
5. It’s a clean city… or not?
I commented on how clean London looked and my British friends were appalled. Well, New York streets reek of pee but London is not anywhere as filthy! I guess cleanliness is a relative phenomenon.
Some people think London is a cliché because of its popularity as a tourist destination — it’s the world’s most visited city after all. But let’s not forget this is a city with longstanding history, thriving art scene, diverse cultures, and much more. There’s a balance of elegance and creativity in all the stores and coffee shops. Everything is in close proximity as public transportation connects the city very well. I’d live here (when the weather is pleasant) if only I could afford it!
Visiting London as a 25-year-old young adult is a different experience than visiting as a clueless college student. I wasn’t thrilled four years ago, which explains why I remember so little from that trip. I also wasn’t equipped with the traveler mindset to appreciate little things like grocery shopping and drinking on the sidewalk like everyone else.
Revisit a place if you can — it’ll always be a new experience because places change and so do you.