And so it begins! Nearly a year after my first visit to this anglophone capital, I have returned to London, this time with a raucus band of Marseillais. I reunited with my French cheri and his very French friends (the irony does not escape me that London also effectively marks the debut of an intensive French immersion, I hardly spoke any English there). On my last trip to London I was with Anna, my steadfast travel companion during our time abroad in France (I missed you this time around, Anna!). Indeed, my third day in London, was the one year mark of my depart for France the year before. Needless to say this visit was a little bit different in comparison, read: revelry of english tea and endless hours in museums, replaced by debauchery in english pubs, and taking to the streets for New Years celebration for music and fireworks. In the place of terribly obnoxious German adolescent bunk mates from a hostel, we slept 5 to a bedroom, in an apartment 9km outside of London, thank you our hosts, Greg and Marine!
In spite of a somewhat different approach, the city had the same effect on me. London is a city that has made me dream from my first visit. It fills me up with ideas for the future: plans, projects, and wanderings. I can see myself here, for a year of studies, a year of work; the reason itself remains unimportant to me, what counts is really having the time to really absorb this city for its daily rythms. It is a city that excites me with these daydreams for the future. The only drawback, if I can even call it that, London is huge which means endless hours on the underground, the train, or the bus to navigate the city. It was at least an hour commute into the city from Greg and Marine´s apartment and I was tired of public transport after the week.
All in all, it felt fitting that this New Years in London I found myself much more oriented towards the future, rather than in reflection on the past year. Later, plus tard, when I did take the time to reflect at least a little (it was New Years afterall..), I realized that the best resolution I could formulate would be to continue living as I have been in many ways, with continued curiosity, excitement and opennness at all this life has to offer and teach, to revel in the things that may be the most simple and not to fear the beauty of things that are more complicated, to learn as I go and to invent as I see fit. The past year had brought my semester in France and the return to Harvard when all I had learned became so evident. I finally felt at home in this institution, relaxed enough to make of this experience what I wanted and to enjoy, yes actually enjoy, this process. It was a year where I loved my studies, I loved my friends, new and old, and I loved life in general. I relaxed into a new type of travel; I accepted and even enjoyed the messy parts, when things go wrong, since in the end these are really just opportunities to find a new friend.
This became especially relevant upon my arrival this year in London. I was exhausted after the flight, especially since I hadn´t slept the night before, due to a missed flight I had spent the night driving to New York from Washington, arriving just in time for my early morning flight. And then, Remi wasn´t there... I double checked the message he had sent me the day before, Victoria train station, I was sure that was where we had agreed to meet, I had the message saved in my phone that proved it was true. I had already accounted for his lateness, previous meetings (Remi. is. always. late.) had prepared me for that, but when he still hadn´t shown up by 10:30, 3 hours after my plane had landed at Heathrow, I knew something was wrong. The search for wifi was useless, all the cyber cafes were closed and there was somehow no public network that I could access. It was only in striking up a conversation with a local Londondien who lent me her phone that I could have seen Remi´s message about the changed meeting place. The couple that I met while I anxiously waited in the line to buy yet another underground ticket did me more good than they could have possibly realised. My nerves frayed, exhausted from lack of sleep, it was their friendly words that got me through that line. And I made it! The night I thought would never end finally came to a close; I found him at a bar at Hammersmith, I was more relieved than mad (he had been on time afterall, he just hadn´t realized I wouldn´t have received his message in time). For me, one of the most beautiful aspects of travel is that it renders you in need of other people, and therefore open to so many encounters that you might otherwise avoid, or at least not actively seek out.
After this misadventure, the rest of time in London passed without calamity to speak off. We visited Buckingham palace, a huge tourist site, but a must see, and we got pretty silly in the presence of all this royally (excessive) monument.
Another favorite of mine was the Bogough Market, although I didn´t eat there, the smells alone seemed to comprise a meal: cheese, suasage, sandwiches and I did sample some hot wine, which was surprisingly delicious. Or not? Heated wine throws me off my game, I wasn´t quite sure what to think. Turns out its about the same idea as hot cider. If you haven´t tried its worth a shot.
We also visited Covent Garden, which was a first for me. We got an impromptu opera sampling, thanks to a woman singing on the street. The christmas decorations made for a really festive ambiance, which almost made up for the terrible London weather.
One other lasting highlight: on our last day, Remi and I visited the Tate Museum which is now among my favorite museums. THe modern art was stunning, and in constrast to the surprisng (at least to me) collection of more historic (classial? art terms escape me at the moment) art on display. I found many new artists to my liking and a few I recognized. Visit if you are in London!! We were lucky as well; we visited on a Friday and the museum exceptionally stayed open until 10pm, (22h for those who prefer).
The next day we were in the plane, god bless you RyanAir for your shitty quality and affordable fares. Next stop: la France.