From my seat on the Eurostar coming into St. Pancras station from Paris, my eyes widen at my first glimpse of London. One of the largest stations in London, St. Pancras/Kings Cross can be a bit overwhelming. Equal parts historic and modern, it seems to dwarf the many rail lines that run into its open arms. The first characteristic I notice is how clean everything is – all is pristine and well-kept, and the feeling of efficiency almost hums in the air.
Phillip and I are funneled through the correct channels and into the main station with the rest of the crowd, only to join a long line of visitors waiting to purchase an Oyster Card, the most practical and easiest way to ride the Tube. After our time in Paris, the sight of yet another long line made our spirits drop, but we were soon to find that London is quite different. The line moved forward quickly and before we knew it, we were heading for the Tube lines with travel cards in hand.
Whisked quickly to our hotel in Victoria, we checked into our hotel and tossed down our bags before heading back out to explore. London is often portrayed as gloomy and rainy, plagued by a seemingly constant fog, but as I stood on the Westminster Bridge listening to Big Ben toll in the brilliant sunshine, that image was completely out of sight. The Thames flowed beneath us with a brisk benevolence, and the London Eye made its almost indiscernible circuit nearby, entertaining the tourists with stunning views of Parliament and the City.
Making our way through town, we kept a stiff upper lip at the houses of Parliament, basked in the cool hallowed shadows of Westminster Abbey, and gazed with morbid curiosity upon the ramparts of the Tower of London. Though typically a city of cool temperatures, London was experiencing what the locals referred to as a “heat wave” during our stay. In their terms, temperatures in the mid-80s are quite hot and almost unbearable. Being from the sultry South as we are, we were fairly comfortable and thankful to be spared the insufferable heat of home as we enjoyed our time in London.
As we walked down a street crammed with small specialty shops in Covent Garden one afternoon, I realized what it was about London that was so different – everyone was dressed to the nines. Every single person on the streets and in the Tube, whether male or female, was decked out from head to toe with the latest fashion. And this wasn’t just any fashion – it was classic, conservative and lovely, the kind of fashion that never goes out of style. In comparison, I felt downright frumpy, but that didn’t stop me from gazing with admiration at all those around me, wondering what their daily lives were really like.
Over the course of our few short days in London, I realized that this city is truly stunning, and is filled with beauty – the clean streets and lovely historic architecture, the attractive and stylish residents, and the friendliness that pervades the culture here. After 2 weeks of traveling through Europe, it was wonderful to hear English spoken once again and to experience some of the similarities in our two cultures that remind of home. What a wonderful way to end our travels through Europe, and to get that familiar itch to see more that keeps us coming back!