My Quiet London Love Affair

My Quiet London Love Affair

“Shall we walk home through the city?”

Beverley and I had been out for lunch on a sunny Sunday in London’s Southbank, treating ourselves to burgers and beers beside a window that curious tourists kept peering into.

After wiping up the last of the ketchup with our remaining sweet potato fries we headed outside to the river, where London’s weekend population were exclaiming over the bright blue skies and the glinting windows of far away skyscrapers. And for once, I couldn’t help but do the same.

My Quiet London Love Affair

Being born and raised in London affords you a certain sort of arrogance about this city. I’ve often debated whether or not I truly love living here, but there’s no doubt that I’m proud to be from here – and it feels like the years of night buses, tube strikes, overpriced drinks and crowded streets have afforded me the right to be flippant and dismissive about London’s foibles when they rear up.

Yet London’s constant draw for millions of people the world over has often passed me by. This city is history, pure and simple: it’s the place where life has kept on living for two thousand years, since the Romans built their first great wall and deemed the area within it as ‘Londinium’.

And if you look closely enough, those very first foundations are right there in front of you.

My Quiet London Love Affair

London’s tangible history

It’s fascinating to think just how many people flock through central London on a daily basis. In the office hours of Monday to Friday, it’s predominantly office workers in those glistening tower blocks who flood the train stations each evening on their way back home. On the weekends, they’re replaced by selfie-stick wielding tourists who wander open-mouthed down streets which are usually thronged with business suits and the tapping of fingertips on iPhone screens.

But these tourists are onto something. The tiny, tight-knit Financial District of London was once the nucleus of the city itself: all twisting lanes and jostling neighbours, with bakers and washer women and silversmiths working in candlelight while the rats scurried underfoot.

My Quiet London Love Affair

The thought of so many millions of pairs of tramping feet pounding the London pavements over centuries is basically unfathomable. We can’t see their footsteps, and can’t accurately reproduce the sounds, smells and situations that must have accompanied them – but some of the physical locations are still the same.

Despite hundreds of modern high rises and countless floors of glass windows sprouting up all around the city, the occasional tiny glimpses of past decades have remained.

My Quiet London Love Affair

Exploring the empty London streets

On Sundays the Financial District is eerily silent, which added another level of mystery to walking through an area I’d never seen before. Beverley and I kept stumbling across historical marvels which hadn’t simply been left alone: they were stubbornly anonymous, no matter how much we peered at nearby street signs for an explanation.

My Quiet London Love Affair

We tiptoed past tight buildings with dirt stained roofs and ornate architecture which probably survived the bombings of the Blitz. Stared at hand carved statues gazing into the distance while a few teenage boys practiced their skateboard tricks.

It was fascinating enough to simply savour the surreal emptiness of a place that, in my mind, has never seemed to pause for breath.

My Quiet London Love Affair

My Quiet London Love Affair

My Quiet London Love Affair

That day, London felt like a time warp. It was Shakespearian, Dickensian, and Victorian all at once, each period jumping out at us through the past at every street corner.

When we eventually emerged into the still beaming sunshine, it was difficult to remember that busy, modern-day London had been moving along just a few minutes away.

My Quiet London Love Affair

But there were still hints of that old world city we’d seen. On the shore line of the Thames river, mudlarkers still scrabbled between the stones for remnants of Roman living: metal coins, plate fragments, clay pipes and glass bottles.

So many lost moments of history, swirling in the silt below the water.

My Quiet London Love Affair

Looking at my inner London

My entire life in London has been an erratic line of morse code: eighteen years in a straight line then intermittent dots of university summers, winters, spare months and rushed returns to home. It has cradled me in grief and spat me out when I wasn’t looking. Even after two years of being ‘settled’ in the east of the city, I still don’t believe I belong here.

I still don’t believe I truly belong anywhere. Not yet.

Yet the past few months have seen me unpacking my own history into close to a hundred thousand words, and with that process comes an uncanny desire – perhaps even a need – to do the same with other parts of my life. Moving house recently has meant a new workspace now lightened by a large bay window and a view of the park beyond; writing so intently has given new incentives to know my city outside of its normalcy.

Savouring the unfamiliar aspects & parts of it: questioning its corners, its ridges and bumps as you investigate the crannies that you’ve always taken for granted.

My Quiet London Love Affair

I feel loved by London and yet left vulnerable for being too open. This place so easily shutters itself off from those who don’t quite fit a pre-determined mould. Glossy changes come too quickly to areas which, only recently, were feared by outsiders: too gritty, too dirty, too many dangers hiding in the shadows.

I worry sometimes that in my lust for difference, I’ll change too much for London’s own good in the process.

But that’s still to come. In four months time I hand my book manuscript over to a university professor, and with it culminates my two-year-minimum promise to live in this city I’ve loved for so long.

And then? I guess I’ll just keep walking.

My Quiet London Love Affair

Have you ever felt like a stranger in your own city? When do you know that its time to move on?

About Flora

Flora Baker is the founder and editor of Flora the Explorer, where she writes about her travels around the world, her volunteering exploits and her ongoing attempt to become fluent in Spanish by talking to anyone who'll listen. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.

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20 Responses to My Quiet London Love Affair

  1. Kate May 12, 2016 at 11:03 am #

    Absolutely stunning! I can’t wait to visit London!

    Kate | http://www.petiteadventures.org/

    • Flora May 15, 2016 at 12:41 pm #

      Thanks Katie! Hope you get to visit soon 🙂

  2. abcadyz May 12, 2016 at 1:21 pm #

    As a tourist I loved London, and it was one of my dream cities to visit. I was only there for three days and I felt like I could have taken months and still not seen everything. I felt myself wandering through parks and down random streets just looking at buildings too… Thanks for your insights! I can’t wait to return.

    • Flora May 15, 2016 at 12:42 pm #

      So glad you enjoyed your time in London – I can honestly say you’ll never see every part of it though, as there’s just too much happening. Plus it always seems to change..!

  3. kashacapetown May 12, 2016 at 1:48 pm #

    This is such a beautifully written post, Flora! I love reading about different relationships with this city, and I relate to what you say here completely. I’m also unsure of whether London will ever be ‘home’ but I’m ok with being here… for now 😉

    I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year holds in store for you!

    • Flora May 15, 2016 at 3:32 pm #

      I love seeing London through other people’s eyes too, Kasha! And thanks so much for reading 🙂

  4. Natalie May 12, 2016 at 4:32 pm #

    I can completely relate to this post. It’s easy to feel like an outsider in your own city when you don’t fit into the ‘norm.’ This was my whole life growing up. Every time I return and then leave again, it’s an emotional roller coaster. And each time, I find I feel a little differently about the city. I’m currently living in my hometown but part of me knows that it’s not my forever home. I find the longer you stay somewhere and the more you feel like a stranger, the easier it is to move on.

    • Flora May 15, 2016 at 3:34 pm #

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Natalie! Someone asked me the other day where I’d see myself ‘settling down’ and I honestly had no answer. Maybe London, maybe not – or maybe there doesn’t have to be a forever home?

  5. nikitaeatonlusignan May 12, 2016 at 8:14 pm #

    I recognize so many of these emotions, except I feel them for Montreal. Love, indifference, and the feeling of being a bit too open for a rough city.. This was beautifully written, and I can’t wait to see what happens next for you!

    • Flora May 15, 2016 at 3:35 pm #

      Thanks so much, Nikita – and glad you can empathise with the strange ways I seem to look at where I live!

  6. Maura May 12, 2016 at 8:41 pm #

    Great Post, Flora! I was just in England for the last six weeks and enjoyed every day of my holiday except for the snowy ones!

    In answer to your two questions: I always felt a bit like a stranger when I’ve lived in big cities. I never felt like a stranger for long when I have lived in a small town. I moved to my current small town two years ago and I found it much easier to make friends in this little town than it did living in the city of Seattle.There is definitely a sense of community in many small towns that I have never found that in big cities.

    I have moved six times in my life. I tend to move when I am no longer comfortable where I live. Expensive rents, increasing crime rates, traffic congestion, divorce, and fewer job opportunities are among the reasons I have chosen to live elsewhere.

    • leigh423 May 14, 2016 at 8:11 pm #

      That’s interesting…I tend to move (or want to move) when I feel myself getting too comfortable! 🙂

      • Flora April 5, 2017 at 8:50 am #

        It’s an interesting dynamic, I think – in some places, I’ve felt so settled it’s seemed stagnant, whereas I’ve known other places have come to an end for me and it’s time to move on 🙂

        So glad you enjoyed your time in England, Maura! I definitely share your feeling of strangeness in bigger cities rather than little towns – though it seems that finding those communities we so often seek is often a case of ‘luck of the draw’ rather than size of the place!

  7. leigh423 May 14, 2016 at 8:09 pm #

    I would love to go back to London – my first visit was in high school and I was preoccupied with hanging out in pubs. My 2nd visit was on my 30th birthday and I was overwhelmed by the prices, which I hadn’t prepared for, and put a bit of a damper on my visit. I’m ready for redemption, though!

    I’m definitely ready to move on – I live in Chicago – on and off for 15 years – 10 years this stretch – Chicagoans are mostly a die-hard lot – born and bred – and it’s a great city, but I’m ready for something new. Maybe with some hills or mountains 🙂

    • Flora April 5, 2017 at 9:07 am #

      Well, our pubs are pretty world famous Leigh! :p I definitely feel you on the hill/mountain front too – sadly London doesn’t have a huge number of either…

  8. Amy (Two Drifters) May 15, 2016 at 4:26 pm #

    A beautiful post, Flora. London was the first place I visited when I went abroad for the very first time. I remember how excited I was to get there. After all the films, books, and ideas I had built up in my head. London actually disappointed me the first time around. I expected a more….Dickensian experience, I suppose? I expected it to be more like Edinburgh’s old town, at least in appearance. Sometimes, the bigger the city, the more it seems you could be any place in the world. But my second time in London was soooo much better. Releasing myself from the pressure to see the “big sites” I explored the backstreets and the random avenues, and it was so much cosier and more lived in. I guess it shows that all places do need a closer look.

    • Flora April 5, 2017 at 9:09 am #

      Thanks Amy! It’s always amazed me what a superhuman reputation London has for people all over the world – it’s pretty hard to actually deliver what’s expected once they arrive!

  9. Albert May 25, 2016 at 6:04 am #

    Realmente un buen intercambio de información y es un hermoso y sorprendentes fotografías capturadas para Londres

  10. Jessica Festa July 22, 2016 at 8:30 pm #

    This is such an incredible post! How interesting to be able to “tour” London as someone born and raised in one of the world’s most historic cities. This was a fascinating read!

    • Flora July 24, 2016 at 3:33 pm #

      Thanks so much Jessie! It’s definitely quite strange to actively make yourself feel like a tourist in your home city 🙂

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