Friday night, what can we do? We didn’t want to go out clubbing. We thought about a pub, but we didn’t want to pay the higher weekend prices. So, what else is there? Don’t worry, it didn’t take us long to decide on something. This is London after all. You’re only bored if you want to be.
In the end, we choose to go to Soho. We’d heard good things about it and decided to check it out. So, we hopped on the Tube and got off at Piccadilly Circus, the closest station. The station shares its name with the intersection it’s located in. Now, I’ve also heard a many people talk about that place.
“It’s the Times Square of London,” they said.
Well, they weren’t wrong. While it is relatively smaller and less ostentatious than Times Square, the resemblance is certainly there. The place smelt of exhaust fumes and asphalt. Several screens twisted around one major building, advertising everything from Coke-a-Cola to Samsung and lighting up the street below in harsh, white light brighter than the full moon. The noise was immense as thousands of people and cars squeezed past each other and everyone tried to negotiate the messy cross-section of streets. Further down the lights of famous theaters shone with all the might of international show business. We walked around gaping like the lost tourists we were as others pushed past us or took selfies.
Yup, just like Times Square.
There were even some of the same stores. Besides the biggest souvenir shop I’ve ever seen (you have to check out Cool Britannia, the place is crazy), I spotted an M&M World, a TGI Fridays, a Bubba Gump Shrimp, a Ripley’s Believe it or Not, among others things. The plays being advertised at the theaters were the same as the ones in New York City: The Lion King, Wicked, Jersey Boys, etc. I was simply amazed at how Americanized it all was.
We soon got away from the tourist madness and strolled towards Trafalgar Square. It wasn’t exactly on our way, but I insisted. I had an urge to see it.
I read a book three years ago called Blackout by Connie Willis, a well-known British sci-fi author. The book and its sequel, All Clear, centered on a group of time traveling historians stuck in London during the Blitz. For some reason or another, the people and places of the books have stuck in my mind, especially one place: Trafalgar Square.
I forget the exact roll it played in the plot, but I do remember it being important for at least being the sight of the VE celebrations. I remember the lions in particular. You see, in the center of the plaza is a memorial to Admiral Nelson (who died in the Battle of Trafalgar during the Napoleonic Wars) and surrounding a grandiose pillar and statue of the man are four, bigger-than-life, bronze lions.
When we got to the square and saw the lions, I freaked. I mean literally jumping up and down, squealing with excitement. My friends looked at me, trying to understand my sudden and intense burst of enthusiasm. They had never heard of the place before now, and they couldn’t understand why I was reacting the way I was.
I didn’t respond this way when I first saw Big Ben or the London Eye the second day I was here. (Seeing them from the plane was different.) But that’s because they didn’t feel the same to me. Unlike those famous landmarks, the lions felt more real. I’ve seen the other sights so many times in photos and movies that they didn’t seem like they could possibly live outside the world of fiction. Trafalgar Square and its lions, however, were just on this side of reality for me to believe my eyes when I saw them. Having them in front of me, really brought home the fact that I was in London, and I was ecstatic.
We eventually made it to Soho, but I’ll never forget seeing Trafalgar Square for the first time. The lights of Piccadilly Circle were nothing to the quiet grace of the lions guarding Admiral Nelson.