And finally, we arrived in London. We took our suitcases to the last hotel, knowing that the next time we packed them, it would be to go home. We arrived late Friday morning, and set out to explore after a quick perusal of the room.
Firstly, in honor of Keith's sole previous experience in London, we went to Euston Station. When I was living in England, Keith came to visit for a week after Christmas. It's a long, entertaining story full of crazy antics and strange coincidences, but the short version is that Keith was only in London for a little over a day (we were supposed to be there for two). In those roughly 36 hours, he probably spent 16 at Euston train station, 10 sleeping, 5 traveling around, and possibly 5 hours in the city. On a Sunday afternoon when everything's closed anyway. It was not a good trip.
Ever since then, we've sworn that the next time we were in the UK, we would go back to London so Keith could actually see more of it than the inside of Euston. And yet, it seemed fitting to start by traipsing to Euston. Keith showed me where he sat on the ground waiting for me, and a security guard thought he was a homeless guy and tried to kick him out. And the food court where he ate all his meals the first day, and the courtesy phone when I called from Birmingham to tell him I was stranded .... it was a great trip down memory lane.
Even better was leaving the train station and actually walking around the city! I think we had a nice mix of standard touristy destinations (London Eye, the Tower, Trafalgar Square), and things off the beaten path (wagamama, Greenwich, Sir John Soane's Museum). I'm not exactly sure whether to consider Greenwich off the beaten path, though. It felt far from London, but it was filled with pushy Asian tourists. NOT that I'm making a broad statement about Asian people in general. I'm just saying that if I'm standing in the middle of a room and reading an exhibit, I prefer not to be elbow-to-elbow with a complete stranger.
For me, London is a different experience from the rest of the UK because I feel like I have very little personal connection there. I mean, that is where I started and ended my volunteer year, and we went there several times for retreats ... I don't know why. I don't know if it's because it's so big, or maybe because I didn't do much touring of the city until the very end of my time in the UK, it still feels impersonal to me.
Some people like the facelessness of London. Faceless in that there's so many different nationalities and cultures meeting in the city, it's difficult to talk about London without getting into pluralities and exceptions to any rule. This is not a bad thing. But I guess I prefer a city that's a little smaller. That offers plenty of arts and culture, but also feels like it has a local identity and roots.