As the months whizz by here in the USA and we’re on countdown to return to the UK, I become more curious about what it will feel like.
Small. I think it will feel small.
Old. I think I will notice the ‘oldness’ of England.
Strange. I think my life will feel strange as I try to settle back in.
I’ve asked a few people who’ve returned to the UK this year to share their impressions of spending time back there.
This is my American friend Jenny’s story about her visit to the UK, having been a student there a few years back (1980s).
Return to London
One of my fondest memories from college is the semester I spent studying in London. I was on a humanities program through what was then called Beaver College (they’ve since changed their name for obvious reasons). We studied literature, theater, history, art history, and architecture, but what we really studied was London. We went to plays and art museums; we walked neighborhoods and chatted up locals in pubs; we travelled to Cornwall, Salisbury, Bristol and Bath, and we even spent a week in West Berlin. We were housed in a gorgeous rooming house in Bloomsbury, and I imagined I was walking in Virginia Woolf’s very footsteps.
Poppies at the Tower
As college students we had no money – but we did have Underground passes – so a regular activity was riding the tube to random remote locations and getting out to explore; my friend Stacy and I often entertained (or annoyed) other passengers with improv games or songs. I loved being in London – eating Weetabix every morning, drinking tea with warm milk from the college canteen, snacking on digestive biscuits and Cadbury’s, and, of course, fish and chips – although, to be honest, we generally could only afford the chips.
Needless to say, when my husband needed to go to London for work last month, I jumped at the chance to go with him. I do agree with Thomas Wolf that “you can’t go home, again” but I’m here to tell you that you can go back to the city abroad where you studied in college – and it might just be even better!
Oxford St lights
London is a gorgeous city – teeming with tourists from all over the world. I was there for Remembrance Day (we call it Veteran’s Day) and got to see the amazing installation of ceramic poppies at the Tower of London – more than 880,000 poppies, filling the moat and spilling out of the windows – one for every British life lost in the 1st World War. It was amazing! The crowds were enormous and constant for the entire week, but everyone remained calm and patient as they waited their turn for a view and stopped to take photos. I’ve never been in a crowd like that here.
The London Underground is still one of the most efficient subways I’ve ever been on, and while I didn’t just ride around for entertainment, I did enjoy my rides, and I also appreciated the beauty of some of the stations. There’s been restoration work done on a number of them, and they’re just gorgeous. When I was a student in London I desperately wanted to fit in and not appear to be a tourist. I avoided anything that seemed touristy – but now I’m in my forties, and who cares?! I downloaded Rick Steeves’ podcasts and walked all over the city gawking away and learning fun facts that only Steeves can make amusing. I explored parts of the city I’d never really seen before – like the financial district, full of new and quirky high rises, the East End, now a hipster haven with loads of street markets selling lots of used vinyl and leather jackets as well as some of the best South Asian food I’ve ever had, and the South Bank now home to the beautifully rebuilt Globe Theatre and the Tate Modern and restaurants galore. Speaking of restaurants, it’s great going back to London now that I can actually afford to go to restaurants and now that there are so many choices. Sad to say, I had no fish and chips, but I did have amazing Indian, Pakistani, Malaysian, Spanish, Italian, and more! And, while the tea in London is still outstanding – of course, I was thrilled to discover that coffee has moved in as well – really good coffee.
It really was a bit like a mini-return to my semester abroad – I saw plays, visited art museums, walked neighborhoods, and chatted up locals, but this time with the eyes (and budget) of an adult.
Ah, London! Oh yes, when I read this, Jenny, I know I’ll be ready to return, even though I won’t be based in London. I have to remember, after living in the USA, travel is the way forward. #lovelondon