I’ve been planning to write about my favourite destinations before I’ll be able to resume traveling, but that came sooner than I thought, so ahead of my next trip to London I’m sharing why I love this very cosmopolitan city so much.
First of all, although this trip was planned and paid before
the war broke out Russia invaded Ukraine, I am having second thoughts ever since the news broke. The other day I went to a book launch event of a famous Hungarian writer (highly recommend!) and he shared that he was having second thoughts about the event too: is it OK to hold a book launch event when there is a war nearby? That’s also what I keep thinking: is it OK to travel for fun when there is a war nearby? As I learned, this “guilt” (am I allowed to be well when so many others are not?) is a form of anxiety that many of us feel these days. At this point it seems like the trip is happening, but in the meantime to ease my mind I continue to do what I can to help (there are plenty of ways).
So, to London. I will write a recap of this upcoming short trip afterwards, this post is about everything I’ve come to love about London through some of my most memorable moments there over the years. The very first time I’ve spent there was a longer period, around four weeks, and I was actually contemplating moving there for a while. Even tested myself on job interviews while I’ve been there, but things worked out differently after I had to come home for a final exam at university and stayed. I still wonder what would have happened if I pushed that dream harder.
I love everything about London! The history that just surrounds you walking those age-old streets, the culture, the royal traditions, the people of course, even the weather, evertything! I find it so wonderful that history exists in such a tangible way that those old streets and houses in the heart of The City can provide a background to any costume drama without having to use effects (I know, filmmakers would differ, but you get my point, the history is there, they don’t have to create it).
So, my first ever visit happened to cover the royal wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (the royal wedding of the decade? the century? something like that, whatever). This only means I was in town that day, but didn’t actually care to join the crowds until after the event, late afternoon just to see what’s on the streets of London. This was the first occasion I witnessed how London can celebrate in style!
I only have blurry photos of that day (it was 2011, I only had a 2011 phone to take pictures with), so I won’t share many of those, but fun fact: I still use this Oyster card pictured below to this day. It’s probably a collector’s item now, but that’s what I got then and for me it was and continues to be a practicality.
There was another royal event in London though, that I attended on purpose a few years later, and that was the Queen’s 90th birthday in 2016. I traveled with friends that time and the main programme of that trip was to attend the Trooping of the Colour celebrations on a June weekend. We were at Buckingham Palace to see the royals leaving for Horse Guards Parade, and when they were back to inspect the fly-past from the front balcony of the palace.
Please don’t judge my camerawork, I either concentrate on the events or the camera, never could do both. We weren’t very deep in the crowd either, so I don’t have very good photos of that day, but that wasn’t the point for me at all. Sure, I did spot some royals, but to experience the atmosphere of it all was more precious, and you cannot capture that on camera anyway.
Speaking of the atmosphere, one of my favourite ways to get to London is to be able to arrive spotting my favourite places first thing. When I arrive to Victoria Station, schedule and luggage providing I like to approach the city via a walk past Buckingham Palace, through The Mall to Piccadilly. Many times doing that stroll I ran into the Guards marching and playing.
Again, 2011 video with 2011 technology. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen the Changing of the Guard since, but cannot find any more videos (knowing myself, it’s possible I’ve never took any). Anyway, you can run into such a scene any day and you might wonder what the occassion is? Nothing, that’s just how London rolls on an ordinary weekday.
Now, another event popped into mind when I’ve accidentally spotted the Queen, and that was my very last visit to London (or anywhere) before Covid, the end of 2019. I was there for a live recording of one of my all time favourite podcasts, and it happened to coincide with the State Opening of Parliament after the snap elections that Boris Johnson won. I was actually on my way to the airtport, but I had a little time left, so I wanted to walk through The Mall one last time. Then I saw the groups of schoolchildren waiting for their Queen, so I lingered for a few minutes. And there she was. Not with the regular pomp of this event, as this was the second State Opening of Parliament in a few months that year, but as I learned later, only the third in history that was held in this “dressed-down” manner.
Speaking of politics, I almost forgot. This one’s slightly off-topic, but in May 2011, I was still in London for the state visit of the Obamas. I spotted them two times, the first time by accident, the second time on purpose. The first was when they visited Westminster Abbey, I was nearby when I got curious about the crowds gathering there. When I learned they were waiting for the Obamas, I joined them. Again, it was only a short while, maybe twenty minutes to watch them come and go. The next day I was at the Houses of Parliament when the president arrived to address the British Parliament.
Again, these photos might not mean anything, you can see nothing of him. But for me, knowing what I saw when I took them, brings back the memories of that day. He was actually waving towards us on the first two photos. I was even photographed by an AP reporter, for a proof I was there (capture is via AP).
There I am behind a bunch of Indian tourists with my unimpressed face (I’m pretty sure I was impressed though, I just like to go poker-faced). The guys standing behind me were Americans studying in the UK. I don’t know about the man holding up the sign, though. It was a nice company, I have fond memories of that day.
Side note: it was only a few weeks after the Americans killed Bin-Laden, and something I remember very clearly is that angry and loud Islamic protesters accompanied the president wherever he went.
Of course I’ve seen many things since then, but it was very new to me at that point, I followed world politics intently by that time, but I’ve never witnessed anything like that in person before.
Back to London now, and I probably should cut this short already, although I could go on and on with memories. I won’t even go to visiting the Houses of Parliament, or my favourite museums, my favourite parks, my favourite walking routes, the various cultural and professional events I attended there. These could be individual posts by themselves. I will visit my favourite places on this next trip and write about them then.
During the first lockdown of Covid two years ago when I barely even left the house, sometimes I entertained myself with tracing my favourite routes in my favourite cities on Google Streetview. It’s not even close to being there, but that was all we had then. In the past year though Youtube channels of citywalks came into fashion. That’s a bit easier you see, you just lean back and watch. If you have some time, these are my favourites of London:
Map of Europe – OK, these are not just from London, but many other places in Europe. And my favourites of London are not even the walking routes, but the bus rides, when they take the bus sitting up front on the top deck (my favourite seat), and record everything.
A Lady in London – I’ve been following her blog for a long time, hers are not just walking videos, but she shares some information about the places too.
London Walk by London Socialite – This one’s a new discovery. There’s nothing but walks. In London. I assume there are people who wouldn’t enjoy this kind of stuff, but if you want to retrieve memories of places you know, I guess they are perfect.
I know this is not a regular travel post, but since I don’t intend to be a travel blogger, don’t expect one of those on this space. I still like to share my favourite places and memories, but in my own style. So, what are your experiences with London? Have you been there? What’s your favourite place there? What’s your favourite thing to do when in London? Have you visited since Brexit? This will be my first visit after, so I am very curious whether I will find anything different. I’ll keep you posted.