I have a confession to make. I’m in love with London. Have been for years now. And after spending five hours there in ’09 between trains I can tell you I want more London.
Now, seeing all the build up to the Olympic Games which start next week I feel the loss of that brief, but intense five hour affair I had with the city so many years ago. You see, I am an Anglophile in the broader sense and a Londonphile (is this even a term?) in the most narrow sense.
So in the spring of 2009 when deciding what I really wanted to see on my trip to visit my sister in Scotland, even a brief visit to London was a must have. I decided to go to Salisbury, hitting Stonehenge, Sarum, and the Salisbury Cathedral – also U.K. must see places and buffered in a few short hours in London while changing trains and stations, lugging around a small backpack for my long weekend trip.
On the train into the city a very nice woman was sitting next to me and she chatted me up as an American, wanting to know all about New York City. She was determined to see the Thanksgiving Day Parade and was sure this was a highlight she had to see in her life. She was forty questions or more about America and I tried my best to tell her there were other places in my country that she should see as well, not just that big, noisy, dirty, smelly, crowded New York City. There were open spaces, clear skies, farms, stars at night you wouldn’t believe, and beautiful landscapes. I’m not sure I convinced her of that however.
She then patiently answered all my questions about London. What was the fastest way I could get from one point to the other, how long had she lived there, how exciting it must be to live in a city that still retained a small part of the Roman wall and the Tower (how could she not go there every day I wondered?). Like me when answering her questions, I could tell she was nonplussed with the thought of living in her big, noisy, dirty, smelly, crowded city. But answer them all with the politeness of UKers she did. When we got off the train at King’s Cross, she offered to guide me through the Tube to the train I needed to transfer to to get to the Tower. She also gave me some advice about getting to the station for my train to Salisbury, all of which I appreciated immensely as that was my first foray into a foreign city by myself.
I wasn’t intimidated or concerned as I had London on the brain. And when you’ve been in love for so many years and realize you are about to finally have what you’ve been looking for – well, you forget about the fact you’re in a big city, alone, with really no idea about how to get around. You just know you have a list of the things you have to see from point A to point B.
The old Roman wall, the Tower of London, walking across the Tower Bridge, the look on the Londoners face when she told me I’d better get a Tube ride towards Big Ben, it was a long walk, me deciding to walk of course. You can’t have a brief, intense affair unless you feel the ground under your feet. I wanted to walk, to feel the city, smell the city. I ended up getting lost a little, never loosing sight of the Thames, but not sure I was going in the proper direction, boldly asking directions and walking down an old cobbled street which opened out to a very modern building and the huge ferries wheel that sits and reminds everyone that London, while an ancient city, is very modern. I made it to the modern London Bridge and heard Big Ben strike 5pm and had to make a dash for the station and my train.
I could go on and on about that five hours of my life. But like any good affair, some of it is too intense to talk about. The books I’ve read over the years about London – fiction and too many non-fiction to admit- fueled my mind as I walked down the streets and wanted more, more, more. Love was the only thing on my mind that day. I had to come back and see this city again. If offered a job there right now, I’d move.
The woman on the train told me about the preparation for the Olympics and how she and her friends had already made tentative plans to vacate the city for the month of August 2012. In my head I was making plans to be there and spend a month, maybe even six weeks exploring every inch of the city and it’s surrounding area. But, as they say, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and my plan to be there and have a longer affair with London definitely got side-tracked.
So I will sit, starting next week, and watch the Olympics with even greater intensity then I usually do. Wishing every time NBC shows the shot of St. Peter’s behind the Tower Bridge I was there queuing for a track and field event or a tennis event. All negativity about crowds, expense, horrible exchange rate not even an issue. After all, it’s easy to love intensely something (or someone) you don’t really know intimately.