A few weeks ago, the lovely Natalie Walden graced me with her presence for a fabulous weekend in the city of a hundred spires. Unbeknownst to her, that visit ended up being extremely well-timed as I’d just been dealt something of an emotional blow, and she served as the perfect distraction and the first step on the road to healing. That weekend proved important in another way as well: while guiding a friend through the labyrinthine streets of Prague, it began to feel less like a place I was visiting, less like an in-between, and more like my city. It was a good feeling, and an empowering one. I believe it marked a turning point in my time here.
Anyway, I had so much fun with Natalie that I decided to visit her in London. After all, I came to Europe hoping to conquer unknown lands, seize new horizons! Yet aside from a very brief and entirely functional trip to Berlin, I had yet to leave Prague, much less the Czech Republic. So, a few days after her departure, I booked a flight for a four-day weekend* in Limeyland.**
I’d been to London once before during a quick trip with my family in the seventh grade. I fell in love with the city then, so I felt some trepidation about returning as an adult. Would the magic be lost? I did not let this thought dampen my excitement, however, and I boarded my Friday morning flight with a stomach full of McDonald’s breakfast and a smile on my face.
Upon landing, my first thought was how strange it was to actually understand everything—to walk through the airport reading every sign, to communicate with passersby flawlessly—what a luxury! Content, I took a train from the airport into the city and shared a joyful reunion with Natalie in Liverpool Street Station.
Friday was a delight. Our first stop
(after scarfing burritos that we ate OUTSIDE! In DECEMBER!) was King’s Cross Station, just a few blocks away from Natalie’s dorm, where I finally got to live out my dream of having my photo taken in front of a wall with a stuffed owl! With that crossed off the list, we met up with Natalie’s friends and headed over to Oxford Street for a quick look at the lights
(insert heart-eyes emoji) and a jaunt through an Etsy craft market which, much like the website, set my heart ablaze with consumerist lust that my shallow bank account could not satisfy.
In an effort to save our wallets, we left quickly and embarked on a stroll through the city to the South Bank’s Christmas markets, one of the largest in the city. I was blown away by Christmas in London. Every street was decked out in unique and original light displays and each square boasted its own carnival. The lights, music, and laughter delighted me, and for a few hours, I felt at one with twelve-year-old Laurel Ann who visited this enchanted place so many years before.
After a mulled wine and some overpriced chips, we headed back to the dormitory in order to get decked out to rage like all good college students.*** Something about England, whether the warm, humid air or the lack of a language barrier, empowered me, and I found myself acting far more bubbly than on a typical night at the pub. This newfound garrulousness allowed me to stumble into a conversation with a tall Irish man, which quickly turned into an argument when he told me that being an American girl living in Prague is “boring and overdone,” and that I ought to “find a new thing.” This, to me, is equal parts amusing anecdote and frustrating illustration of the mindset of many men that women’s lives are there strictly for their entertainment. But I digress!
Eyes bleary, heads boozy, we greeted Saturday’s sunrise in pursuit of five pound tickets to see Matilda on the West End. The Internet assured us that in order to nab them, we needed to be in line by 9 a.m. at the latest, so of course when we arrived at 9:07, we were the very first people there. No one else arrived until quite a bit later. I didn’t mind much, though, despite the cold and my sleepiness. The streets of London were practically empty, and the still and peace of it thrilled me, like something I wasn’t supposed to see.
Two hours later, tickets secured, we were scarfing down one of the best breakfasts I’ve had since moving to Europe, complete with fat, fluffy pancakes, human-sized refillable coffee,**** crispy bacon, eggs over-easy, and a garnish of unidentifiable fruit. If not for the cringey price tag, it could have been America.
We spent the rest of the morning wandering winding cobbled streets, taking in the architectural clash of Old and New. It was a fairly warm day, but the wind was brutal, and I felt I might blow away while crossing the Thames—Natalie couldn’t even hold the phone steady enough to get a quality snap of the quintessential touristy Big Ben photo, but more than one lucky passerby got a glimpse of her derriere.
We ended up at the Tate Modern in the afternoon. Now, I could write an entire blog post on my feelings about art, and maybe I will someday. But for now I will simply say that I believe it is the most important thing. Art shapes society. It shapes people, and it certainly has had a profound formative influence on me. A trip to any art museum rejuvenates me, and I’m particularly drawn to that which challenges me, as did much of what I saw at the Tate. In recent years, I’ve enjoyed watching strangers, particularly children, interact with art. It’s funny and beautiful and emotional and makes me fall in love with humanity over and over again.
When we’d had our fill of the museum, we headed out into the thick London air towards Covent Garden. At one point during the walk, we passed by a church whose bells were announcing the evening service. The street was nearly deserted, the night was clear, and the yellow lights cast a warm glow on the damp sidewalk. I wish I could describe exactly what I felt at that moment, but I fear that even with my expensive degree in Words, I am ill-equipped to do so. What I can say is that I felt very full, and very lucky to be twenty-two and intelligent and brave and beautiful, to have the world laid out at my feet, mine for the taking.
Then I ate a meat pie.
After dinner, we headed over to the theatre. It was full of children, and their excitement fed mine. The show was everything I hoped it would be, and let me tell you, I’ve been hoping to see this show for a while. There is nothing like a night of good theatre. I ended the night jittery, entirely alive, purely happy.
Here’s the part where I get tired of long-form narrative and turn to what Hemingway and twitter taught me: get to the point already.
1.) Notting Hill. Saw the house with the blue door, didn’t see Hugh Grant. Bought mulled wine and a scarf. Resisted vintage sunglasses. Still thinkin about them tho.
2.) Buckingham Palace. It was there, it was big. Prince Harry did not propose.
3.) WINTER WONDERLAND. While some might find it creepy, Natalie and I felt it was all the joy and love in the world stuffed into the confines of Hyde Park. Big Santa statues, bigger mysterious German man, fake snow pouring from every festive carnival ride. Basically if the cast of Monty Python had built Disneyland.
4.) First night of Hanukkah! We made latkes and watched a Hallmark Christmas movie. There was gelt also.
Monday: Natalie had to get to class so I adventured on my own to the Victoria and Albert Museum, the most incredible and bizarre museum I think I have ever been to. Imagine if the cast of Monty Python had built the Met. I want to live there. Sadly, I had a return flight to catch, so I was compelled to depart. Natalie and I said goodbye over Christmas cupcakes.
In the end, I was sad to leave London. It truly is an extraordinary place, and I know I’ll be back. But I was also happy to return to Prague. From the unsmiling faces of the Czech bus passengers and sickly yellow metro lighting to Kim’s stupid phone snapchatting me as I stepped through the arrivals gate, it all felt just a little like home. And that is what I’ve been waiting for.
*I actually was quite careless and booked the return flight a month later than I'd intended, a mistake I failed to notice until about a week ago when I had to quickly (and expensively) change it. Oops.
**Is that offensive? Sorry.
***Let me pretend.
****as opposed to the mouse cups they serve in Prague