Travel changes you…not only because of the memories and experiences you gain but also because of the little part of you that gets left behind. The tiny void that gets created nudges you from time to time to return and you try to pacify it by looking at the pictures, reminiscing on the time spent, wondering why you miss a particular place more than the rest. That is what London did to me! It stole my heart!
I cannot pinpoint as there are so many reasons that it did but here are the (most probably) main ones:
The British etiquette
With no offence to my motherland at all, three decades spent in India suffered a major shock when I spotted people giving way to each other, stopping their cars to let others go by, queuing up in perfect and orderly lines, stepping on and out of the trains without nudging each other and smiling and wishing people whom they don’t even know. What world is this??? To what extent we are conditioned to the ”survival of the fittest” idiom became evident when my 7-year old rushed inside the train to find a seat for herself and I had to resort to my mother tongue to explain to her that she did not need to do it and she would get a seat. Of course, she did too!
Instead of giving me the ‘look’ on being asked the price of a zillionth pullover, the salesgirl empathised with me that it was indeed difficult to choose. A shopper’s delight!!
Psst, they don’t honk too! Can you imagine that? Not if you are a fellow countryman, no!
The awesome architecture
London is abuzz with chirpy tourists throughout the year and has its fair share of skyscrapers, neon lights and kiosks. Parallel to the shenanigans of the modern world, London has carefully preserved the reminders of the erstwhile times. Buildings like Houses of Parliament near Westminster Abbey, the Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and Tower of London made my jaw drop with awe at the finesse of architectural styles that influenced Britain over the decades- Victorian, Gothic, French, Norman among others. On the other hand, modern architectural wonders like ‘The Gherkin’ and The London Eye left me just as mesmerised.
The eclectic mix left me spellbound!
The tube-Mind the gap!
I have been to Delhi and travelled in the Metro a couple of times and so was very skeptical when I came to know I had to travel by the British version of Metro known as the ”Tube”. But of course, the experience was entirely different. There was no crazy hurry and it did not feel like a rugby match trying to get in and out of the tube even during rush hours. The oyster card (smart cards to pay for travel) system and the tube are so friendly that within a week, I felt confident enough to read the map and travel alone (did not need to though!). The only downside is that the voice recording of ‘Mind the gap’ plays so repeatedly that it keeps playing in your head on a loop even when you are no longer travelling.
Diners and eateries
From the smallest of food stalls I tried in the Winter Wonderland or the finest cuisine I savoured at the renowned restaurants, I loved every bit! I will be quite frank here. Before I went to London, I thought that British food was all about fish and chips, cold sandwiches and cakes. I was so wrong! There is so much to the food scene in London and it is not surprising that I gained (a few is all I will say) pounds during my 3 week stay. Chocolate dipped marshmallows, turkey, crispy duck, salmon, mince pie, mulled wine…I cannot tell you how many firsts I tasted and absolutely loved( except the Brussel sprouts)! I must credit my brother-in-law for the yummy food he cooked throughout the stay lest he refuses to do it the next time!
You can never fall in love with a place where you are not welcome. Although my hosts were a terrific bunch and spoiled me and my family to the hilt, I felt that London and its people exude a warmth that made me feel at ease and not like a stranger in a foreign land. I had read at a number of places that in London, people are not very friendly but experienced otherwise. Whether it was the immigration officer at the airport, the lady at a store or the aged man my daughter indulged in conversation with in the tube, I just met good human beings who were just like you and me. Luck or perspective, I do not know!
Nevertheless, as I said, London stole my heart and I do not know how long I am going to be able to resist going back. Not for long, I hope!
Do tell me which place you love the most and why.