I often think how sad it is that I’ll never get to experience London as a tourist.
It’s the most eclectic, multicultural, amazing city I’ve ever been to. It’s just so varied, full of culture, heritage, sightseeing opportunities and iconic landmarks. That being said, I love being a Londoner. This is something that has come to my attention more recently, showing international friends around the city I know and love so much…
I was born in the London Borough of Bexley- with the rate that London is growing and sprawling more and more, i’m sure one day Bexley will be considered more central than peripheral- But I grew up with it very much on the edges of the city. Close enough to the feel the buzz and experience the benefits of being a Londoner (better public transport, refuse collections and regionally inflated wages for my parents) and far enough out to feel comfortable and suburban.
The local train station, just a few minutes walk from my parents house, where I lived from the ages of 7 to 18 (and still frequent as a cheeky visitor) is in Zone 6. That probably won’t mean much to you unless you’ve spent some time in London. The transport network in London has its very own authority (Transport for London, or TfL) with the London underground and overground, privately owned regional train providers and vitally over 700 red bus routes serving the capital. It’s really so easy to get from one place to another, though not as cheap as other international transport links, it is quite efficient when you think about how much of a gargantuan operation it is to move London’s 8.64 million inhabitants everyday, (plus the 31.5 million visitors we see every year (that number was from 2015 alone)!!)
When I moved to provincial Guildford and the lush Surrey countryside for University three years ago… the lack of buses every 4-9 minutes hit me hard. What’s more, the need to carry around small change or risk the wrath of bus drivers when you sheepishly wave them a £10 note… and pray they let you ride!
When I moved to Frankfurt last summer, I was struck by the lack of ticket barriers… HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT EVERYONE HAS BOUGHT A TICKET?! The truth is you don’t… and Schwarzfahren or freeloading/riding is pretty damn common. That is something difficult to reconcile with my will to be a good person… do the right thing… and pay for a ticket… and the overwhelming temptation to see if I can get away with it. The only deterrent is a 60 euro fine if caught, which isn’t really enough to dissuade many people, though it’s definitely worth buying a week or month pass if you travel often because they are far cheaper than the fine. What i’m getting at with that point though, is that London is my yardstick for everything.
I frequently find myself saying “Oh this would be atleast twice as much money in London” (in the case of most food/drink I buy in central Europe) or “Goodness, you could get two of these for this price in London” (In the case of beer in Iceland– which is really saying something, as beer in London is not at all cheap by international standards!)
I see a ferris wheel and think… “that’s cool, but it’s no London Eye.”
I see a river and think- “that’s lovely, and much cleaner than the Thames!”
I see a clocktower and think of the Queen Elizabeth bell tower/ St. Steven’s tower (Big Ben is the name of the bell inside, actually!)
I find myself thinking- “The air is so clean here I can run without choking… must be far from home!”
As with most things in life, the place I grew up in is my imprinted scale for comparison when I travel.
It’s a blessing and a curse, having London, a great, influential sprawling city for a hometown.
Whenever I’ve been away for a while, even just in Guildford, I get a wave of relief from Heimweh I didn’t even notice I was suffering from, wash right over me as I see the skyline pulling into Waterloo.
I took a really cool photo from the window of an aeroplane back from Frankfurt a few weeks ago and the guy next to me asked me (in German) if I was going on holiday to London too. I just smiled and told him something like, ‘No, i’m just going home. But it never gets old.’