It was a surreal experience to step out of the plane after an eight-hour flight and see London for the first time. The fact that I hadn’t slept (I can’t sleep on planes) probably exacerbated that feeling. The absence of a break hampered my minds effectiveness in processing that I was in a new country that ran with different customs.
Firstly, the transport system is more complex, yet it still maintains a higher level of efficiency than the TTC. Albeit the cost compared to the TTC is higher, but you pay for what you get. Toronto has a lot to learn.
Although the over ground rail in London has spacious compartments and is considerably comfortable, the underground feels like it was made for hobbits and therefore tends to pack in people more tightly. If you do visit London, I suggest you get an oyster card (basically the equivalent of a metro pass) for however long you’re staying, because it will save you time and money. I had one that lasted me a week and it cost me £58.40. That sounds like a large sum but considering that there are no such things as transfers in London, if you don’t have the card you’ll have to pay every time you enter a new tube line or tram. With the card you just have to swipe it over censors to indicate that you’re entering or leaving a specific service (if you don’t swipe before you enter, it won’t work at the other end, and you’ll be stuck and shit out of luck).
I believe there’s more to do in London than Toronto, but maybe I feel that way because it was just a new experience for me. On the other hand London probably has five times as many attractions as Toronto, especially in the realm of museums and galleries. That fact alone made me consider a move to London in the future. Speaking of attractions, if you do plan on visiting many sites (The Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Windsor Castle, etc.) I also suggest you buy a London Pass Card to save you time and money (it lets you skip long lines since many sites have cues specifically built for people who are using the cards). It will only save you money if you plan on packing your days with visits, but even if you end up paying more for the card than the separate sites totalled up, you will still be dealing with less hassle, and your experience will go over more smoothly.
Another surreal moment was seeing Claude Monet’s “The Water-Lily Pond” in The National Gallery (at Trafalgar square) with my own eyes. A masterpiece was right in front of me, and I felt stuck in time just looking at it. I guess it’s the equivalent of being star struck, since, like celebrities, you hear about them all the time, but seeing them for the first time is unreal. You can call it art struck. One of my favourite paintings that I saw throughout the whole stay was ironically at a modern museum called “Tate Modern”. The irony resides in the fact that I usually enjoy art that takes a considerable amount of skill, paintings that look like pictures, sculptures that capture life in movement, not a canvas painted with one colour and given an extensive explanation, to me that sounds like bullshit. The painting was from the field of realism and was created by Meredith Frampton.
It was fun to experience the traditional pub scene, with pubs sometimes only serving beer, a lot of the time not serving any food, and for the most part closing at 11pm. It felt private, with everyone minding their own business, and just trying to enjoy a pint with some friends after a long day. You can feel how the tradition within the pubs was ingrained over many generations; you could sense a different way of living. I would have to say that it was a refreshing experience, but maybe the alcohol just got to me along the way.
Overall I enjoyed experiencing England’s extensive history, its architecture, and entrenched tradition. Age has its worth in this world, at least in the human mind, and London satisfied that need within me, especially when I was forced to contrast it to North America’s relatively youthful existence. Unsurprisingly I felt comfortable in an acutely European atmosphere (note that Brits don’t like to be called Europeans) and all that carries with it.
The only cons I can attribute to London from my brief encounter with the city, are its cost of living, cramped quarters, and an absence of snow in the winter (although I know a lot of people that would be happy with the latter fact, haha). Of course the UK is a smaller country with a bigger population and needs to fit more people per square kilometre into major cities than Canada, so cramped city life is understandable. Notwithstanding, these facts wouldn’t outweigh the experience of living in London for me (think about it, you’d be two hours away from Paris… by train, that’s less than half the time it takes to get to Montreal from Toronto). Europe’s on your doorstep, while the rest of the world is your next move.
I’m genuinely happy with the trip. Even though I knew I wanted to travel extensively all over the world, that feeling definitely skyrocketed after London. The galleries made me want to learn more about art, and especially its history, a field I neglected to learn about earlier. Last but not least the importance of family became more ingrained in my mind with my sister’s move to England in the summer of 2014. I truly missed her and miss her as I’m writing this.
Consider visiting London, don’t miss an opportunity to travel, and continue to learn while you do so. As London Real says, it’s about the journey.