Tue. Jan 25th, 2022

London – a city thriving with life, rich with culture, and itself, a historical landmark in which much of 21st century American society can find roots. London is the most populous region, urban zone, and metropolitan area in the United Kingdom. Like New York, London maintains a busy lifestyle (but comparing London to New York on any other level just doesn’t do either city justice).
Names like William Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, are writers who either who began their careers in London, or who spent a large part of their lives living in the city. London has also been the setting for such common tales as Oliver Twist, Peter Pan, V for Vendetta, and of course, much of the Harry Potter films.
London attracts more than 15.3 million international visitors every year. They come for museums, popular attractions, and to have their pictures taken in a red phone booth. But hopefully, if they’re lucky, they leave having found a little piece of themselves within the threshold of history, and having left behind a historical imprint of their own.
This past summer, I was fortunate enough to visit this marvelous city with my best friend, Colleen Cummings. We spent three days in the city together, and I spent an additional four days by myself. I arrived in the city first, and with a few hours to spare, I decided to walk towards the Thames River and go on a boat cruise. Here, I saw for the first time, Big Ben and the Parliament Buildings. As the boat slowly drifted to the dock and allowed us to get off for a closer look, I couldn’t help but leave my mouth gapping at such a spectacular sight.
The structure, now officially called the Elizabeth Tower, houses the largest four-faced chiming clock in the world. Completed in 1858, the tower has been one of the most prominent landmarks of London and all of England. The tower is so hard to capture and do it justice by camera; I didn’t take one picture that first day, but spent the time just staring and enjoying its beauty. The architecture is so detailed and intricate, one really has to stand up close and stand still to fully see the magnitude of the structure’s beauty. The experience was comparable to staring up at the night sky and allowing your eyes to adjust to the darkness; if you pause long enough, you start to see even more beautiful pieces that were hidden due to a mere quick glance. The building was like nothing I have ever seen, or am likely to see again.
When Colleen arrived, we spent the evening swapping traveling stories while sipping wine and eating pasta at a local Italian restaurant where the service was friendly, the food was absolutely amazing, and the company, even better. After finishing our meal, we were waiting for our check for about 45 minutes before finally asking for it from our server. When we said: “check please,” the server looked confused. Then he politely corrected us while laughing: “Oh, you mean the bill?” We found our American accents to come in handy more than once, but that’s for another story! I remember being anxious for part of that night, thinking that we were missing something in London, that we weren’t experiencing London fully just yet. But I figured by the next day, I would feel more at ease once we started seeing some tourist attractions.
We spent our first full day in the city running around, desperate to do all the touristy things together during the short time we had in the city at the same time. We visited Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, the BBC building (where we were subsequently kicked out for not having an ID badge – oops!) a few museums and gardens, ate fish and chips, and drank a London Ale; we even rode the London Eye all in one day. London is an expensive city, so we decided not to buy bus tickets, but rather just walk everywhere we went. Needless to say, by the end of the day, we were exhausted. The whole day though, I remember thinking: “Where is London? The real London?” I was worried I had missed something. Was this busy, hustle and bustle, and double decker buses all there was to the real “London Experience?”
We were finished with our agenda in the early evening and had plans to go out that night with some new friends from our hostel. With a few hours to spare, we bought some ice cream, and finally sat down in a small garden area beside the Thames River and laid out in the grass among the throngs of other exhausted tourists and relaxing locals.
Across the walkway, a young aspiring Paul McCartney sang and played guitar for passerby’s. We dropped a few pounds into his open guitar case and giggled when he winked in our direction. We were near Southbank, a place where local teens and young adults come to skate and hang out. Many aspiring artists take their musical talents to the streets and spend their days entertaining those around them. We walked back to our hostel by crossing over the Hungerford Bridge. From this bridge, we could see various levels of history for miles. On our left, we could see Big Ben keeping watch over the city (no pun intended), we could see Saint Paul’s Cathedral, the London Eye, and the new young part of the city. On our immediate right was a violinist that played the soundtrack to this moment in our lives. We exchanged smiles and I realized something: London cannot just be understood by its historical roots. We make history while we live it, and we are now a part of this city, even if only for a moment.
I could see the London Tower to my far right, just beyond the violinist. The London Tower is one of the oldest pieces of London’s history that houses the crown jewels. Leading to it is the London Tower Bridge. I’ve seen these landmarks already, but somehow in that moment, they changed. They no longer defined London for me, they were mere pieces of the London Experience. Understanding London, or any new city, is so much more than landmarks or museums; despite its busy and populous environment, London maintains an open and somehow calm atmosphere for the average stroller. But if you’re busy running around and trying to find London, you’ll probably miss it.
Laura Wayne is a fourth-year student majoring in English literature with minors in international business annd technical writing. She can be reached at LW738484@wcupa.edu. 

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