Every seasoned traveler knows overcast skies greet visitors in London. The city’s black clothes and blank expressions on the Tube scream ‘monotone.’ The herds of people seem in a constant rush, as if taking time was a crime.
As a suburban girl, adapting to a megacity requires persistence just to go outside and embrace the constant chill. The simplest errands require 45 minutes of walking. To shop for pots, pans, and sheets I have to go across the Thames River. A simple trip to the grocery store requires hauling heavy bags 30 minutes home.
When I first moved to London for my semester abroad, the overwhelming smallness I felt now allowed me to notice the tiny details in my excursions throughout the city. The old pubs have arrangements of colorful flowers painting their windows. There are alleyways packed with intricate victorian architecture.
The parks are little havens of retreat. Finding rest in a place buzzing with work proves difficult. Primrose Hill lets you gaze upon the London skyline. Green Park provides plenty of hanging trees to stroll through and a beautiful autumn color change to remind me of the North Carolina maples.
As a lover of good coffee I have not found myself disappointed. Strolling down Charing Cross (also known as Diagon Alley in the “Harry Potter” films) I found antique book shops, art galleries and Notes Coffee Roasters. Notes’ bulb lights and stream of sunshine on wooden tables brought as much delight as pouring my own coffee out of a small glass into a mug; the details were everything.
Other perks of living in London include the ability to gather fresh veggies and fruit from Borough Market or a delicious hazelnut-filled donut from Bread Ahead before heading to Monmouth Coffee tucked into the street corner. I met a barista/comedian at Taylor St. Baristas that let me sample the different filtered coffees before placing my order. At Curators Coffee, I tried a flat white, which must be popular in London considering the amount of people who ordered it after me. They had many sweet treats to try, but my favorite part was that I could have free water and oat milk in my coffee. Oat milk is a new favorite of mine. Unfortunately, many cafes aren’t quiet enough for working, especially since there is no wifi. My speed-walking pace fails to match those around me, but I am now used to the Oyster--the card used for the metro--constantly in hand when getting on and off the Tube in order to avoid being scorned. Using the app Citymapper, I navigate with relative ease. I try to memorize the route without looking at the map to gain a grasp on my surroundings, but also to keep my phone from being snatched from my hands by a motorcyclist--true story. After only a couple weeks, I was able to get around with ease.
Surprisingly enough, British English sometimes sounds like a foreign language. Most of the words I can grasp by context like “cutlery” or “cheers!” Other times, the British fail to understand what I want when I say “storage bin” desiring a storage box and them thinking I want a trash can. Or I say I love “shag dancing” and they respond in laughter as to my flustered surprise shag means sex. I usually repeat myself several times, hoping they’ll soon decipher what I want.
Another wonderful characteristic of the city is its diversity. People from around the globe live there to study, work and play. My flat alone houses girls from New Zealand, South Korea and Germany.
The food is equally diverse. I’ve had some of the best Taiwanese food from Bao. Leather Lane holds wonderful street food, and Dosa n Chutny may produce some of the best Indian food created.
I’ve also gazed at world-renowned painters like Van Gogh, Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Monet all in the same building. The National Gallery is among many museums with free admission, which is ideal for the cash-strapped student. The British Museum held everything from Egyptian tombs to Roman sculptures to Iranian glassware.
At first, finding my fit in London proved difficult and rather lonely as I navigated mainly by myself. But I’ve also gathered a newfound independence that gives me the confidence to live in a new city whenever I graduate from UNC-Chapel Hill. I’m eager to see what this next season will hold.