Leaving London

“[London] was a city in which the very old and the awkwardly new jostled each other, not uncomfortably, but without respect; a city of shops and offices and restaurants and homes, of parks and churches, of ignored monuments and remarkably unpalatable palaces; a city of hundreds of districts with strange names – Crouch End, Chalk Farm, Earl’s Court, Marble Arch – and oddly distinct identities; a noisy, dirty, cheerful, troubled city, which fed on tourists, needed them as it despised them, in which the average speed of transportation through the city had not increased in three hundred years, following five hundred years of fitful road-widening and unskillful compromises between the needs of traffic, whether horse-drawn or, more recently, motorized, and the needs of pedestrians; a city inhabited by and teeming with people of every colour and manner and kind.”

–Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere

I sit here in my mostly-empty dorm room, once again listening to the sounds of the traffic outside my window. I’m going to be on a plane in a few hours and theses sounds and the grey sky that illuminate my keyboard will be gone, off to live in my memories of London.

God, I can’t put into words what this experience has meant to me. I’ve done things that previously only existed in my dreams. London was always the city of my fantasies; this fantastical place of fiction that I longed to see in reality. I’m lucky, I know that, to get this chance to not only visit but live here.

The stalls of Borough Market in sight of the Shard.
The stalls of Borough Market in sight of the Shard.

Yet there’s so much I didn’t do, didn’t see. London is infinite in its complexities. There’s always something new to explore, to find. I love that about the city. Sometimes it gets tiring and overwhelming, but other times I appreciate the constant excitement of discovery. But it’s hard when your time is limited, and you’ve got other things (like classes) on you plate.

For example, my friends and I went to Borough Market yesterday, the 1,000 year-old, foodie mecca located right outside the City of London and underneath the shadow of the Shard. It had been on Zoe’s London bucket list since the beginning, and we only just now were able to go. It wasn’t the best time really. It was after our finals; we were starving and tired, and Zoe was mopey and nostalgic. The food was fantastic, but we all wished that we had more time to come back and savor the experience.

Will I ever come back? Back to crazy, fantastical London? I don’t know. I had exchanged my British pounds back into American dollars yesterday too–£60 for $90. It felt good, and oddly I started to get excited that I was going back home, back to the familiar.

Currency comparison.
Currency comparison.

But when I was looking at the uniform 20 and 10 dollar bills later that night, the American currency looked weird and wrong. It wasn’t the right shape or the right color. I recognized it, but it still felt strangely foreign. Maybe I was just tired. I do know though, that going back to the land of the “free and the brave” will be hard. I believe they call it “reverse culture shock.”

I’m grateful I had the chance to come here. I’m grateful that London no longer solely lives in my fantasies or in the words of my books (like in Gaiman’s wonderful description of the city). I know I want to come back someday. When? I have no idea. For how long? I have no clue. But someday. Someday.

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