I actually struggled a lot with this post. It’s not because I didn’t like the city or because I didn’t have anything to offer those wanting to go to London. But because this city means more to me than I can even try to put into words.
My first overseas trip (apart from Australia which I don’t really count anymore) was to Vietnam and it wasn’t out of choice. So when I decided to go somewhere that wasn’t within Australia or New Zealand, I chose England – the land of my ancestors.
Ok, so it’s not really as dramatic as that! I had wanted to go to England, specifically London for as long as I could remember. I don’t even know when it began actually, this desire to go to London. It might have been my love of Paddington Bear as a kid, or when I watched Lady Diana Spencer drive through the streets of London on her way to becoming a Princess – I know I wanted to see St Paul’s because of that wedding that’s for sure. I can’t pinpoint the moment in my life where I just knew I had to go to London. But I knew I would get there eventually.
Four years ago on 31st October 2010 my sister & I flew out of Brisbane bound for London. It was her first time too and she was literally going because of our ancestors! We arrived mid-afternoon into Heathrow on the 1st November and were met by one of our nieces who lives in London. She got us sorted with our Oyster cards and we all jumped on the Piccadilly Line to Green Park. It was in that moment; on that tube ride, before I had even seen anything of the city that I knew. I knew I was home!
My sister and I spent 10 days in London before heading down to Devon for a few days. We spent the first couple of days together in London before splitting off to do our own thing. On our first day, we got the tube from our accommodation in Wembley to Piccadilly Circus Station; we had both said how much we felt like home. I remember our reaction in walking up the stairs into Piccadilly Circus, we were in awe! Neither of us had seen anything like that before. We were in London!!
We did a few touristy things over the next couple days; saw Big Ben, chatted with the Bobbies, and had a bird’s eye view of London from the top of New Zealand House, courtesy of a friend who worked there at the time. But the moment that will stick with both of us, for different reasons, was standing with our backs to the Thames and looking back towards the Royal Naval College at Greenwich.
My sister says it’s because our late father had been in the NZ Navy and it was our reaction to being here at the Royal Naval College. But for me it was something else; something that, even to this day, I can’t quite put my finger on. I have since been back there, to Greenwich, and I had the same reaction. It’s just a sense of home and belonging that I haven’t felt anywhere else in the world.
I recently said to a friend that when I think or talk about London I feel like I’m cheating on my hometown of Christchurch. That is pretty much how I feel. I feel like I shouldn’t love London that way because Christchurch will always and forever be my home. But with London it’s something different. It’s deeper. Almost like I’ve been there before, maybe in another life (not that I believe that kind of thing), but to have these feelings for a place I only spent 10 days in? It seems silly really.
I went back to London in May 2014 thinking that maybe it was just a fluke. Nope! The minute I got back there, it all came rushing back. Those memories of seeing St Paul’s Cathedral for the first time, walking the streets of London and taking in all its history, and walking where royalty and historical figures have walked. I realise that London is everything that I want it to be and so much more! There is so much to this city that I have yet to discover and I can’t wait to go back again and again.
When I first moved to Australia, every holiday I had I would plan to go home to Christchurch. Now? Every holiday I plan the first place I want to go back to is London. London’s pull on me is so strong and I really can’t see it releasing its hold on me any time soon!
London is… my heart and my soul
“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”