There are some places that can have a certain effect on you. Some places make you feel nostalgic, or make you believe in magic, surround you in amazement or make the cold chills run down your spine. It’s funny how this works, what your immediate surrounding can do to you – both physically as well as mentally.
London is a special place to me. I vividly remember the first time I was supposed to visit; it was during a school trip just before graduating. Due to two fellow students forgetting their phone, we were twenty minutes late. About five minutes out of the centre, still on the motorway, there were signs by the side of the road flashing, telling people not to go in. It was July 7th and London had just been attacked by terrorist bombers. So my trip to the magnificent London was postponed and it wasn’t until 2012, the trip I did with my mom, that I got to see the city for the first time. It was then that I realised London was very much like a circus, but then the animal-friendly version. I was a kid in a candy store, looking up, left and right, amazed by all the wonder around me. London. London! I imagined myself living here. It was only one day and most of the tourist attractions were seen – the Big Ben, Picadilly, Oxford street, the Thames, Hyde Park… I hoped to return and when I was planning this trip, London was top of my list.
My relationship with London, however, is complicated. This was clearly illustrated during my first day in London and decided to head towards Camden Market, a place I hadn’t been before. I can’t really put to words how I was feeling – it was a mixture of annoyance, of anger, of desperation and sadness. I didn’t know the way and this was bugging me terribly and I felt like an idiot having to constantly check my phone for directions. I wanted to just walk there, like I knew the way. I was angry because I felt like a foreigner – not just any foreigner, but one that has ‘not from around’ tattooed on their forehead. I wanted to fit in, desperately, because that’s what I felt like doing, what I wanted to do. I wanted to fit it. I wanted to belong. I walked passed rows and rows of stunning homes, all with their front steps, high houses, small-looking front doors, and I was overcome with a sense of sadness. Seeing all those homes and imagining owning one of them, picturing coming home after a few days away or a short trip and laying down on the floor, a low sun and coming moonlight as a light bulb, arms spread out and staying there until the night has fully crept in, fully satisfied with wanderlust, yet grateful to be home again.
And there I stood, on the pavement, my day-backpack on my shoulders, dog in one hand, gazing up these homes and realising that none of them belonged to me and I would not lie still on my kitchen floor with a sense of fulfilment and being home. I did not have a home to return to here, yet I wanted one. London is the place where I want to come home to, but London is not home, so I would often leave again too. It’s like a dear love affair, different from the ones you’ve had before, more special because the art and balance of leaving and coming home is so sewed together perfectly that it not only fits, it also makes sense and it’s all okay.
Originally, I only planned to stay for three nights, but I ended up staying with an amazing AirBnB host – R -, the area I was staying in was too incredible (right between Primrose Hill and Hampstead Heath) and I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to London just yet. Hence two extra nights were added and I’m glad that I did.
I had these plans to travel through the country, to see and explore, to wander and roam, but now that I’m here, I feel upset just thinking about having to pack my things. I feel like I don’t have to go anywhere, I’m already here. I am content with where I am right now and that’s a feeling I can’t recall having ever had in my life.
After a few days, the streets become familiar and I expertly make my way around on the tube. We run east and west, north and south, with morning runs in Hampstead Heath or going up the hills of Primrose hill. I fell in love with Camden and am often drawn there, but manage to resist to urge to go there every day. We wander through Hyde park and have improved lunches because it’s so easy to get gluten free and vegetarian and/or vegan food here. We return to Soho and accidentally walk right passed ‘221b Baker Street’. We make our way to Portobello road on a weekday, and thus were slightly disappointed. I was leaving before the weekend and didn’t want to miss it, so it’s the box has been ticked but a return to visit one of the most famous markets during the weekend is on the list.
Twice I managed to meet up with A – a beautiful and wonderful Canadian whom I’ve know for many, many years now. To finally being able to meet her in person was like a gift. Both writers, both poets, both photographers and everything just made perfect sense. We chatted our heads off, enjoyed fresh soups for lunch and drank tea and coffee at Mexican places. A was already an experienced traveller and I felt like a rookie, with only a month and a half of travelling under my belt. But A, this humble being, laughed at me and we joked about it and I never felt bad. It was like nothing really mattered because the moment itself was too good to think about the past or the future.
Coming back to London was, in a way, like coming back home. I have not felt such an urge to settle down since leaving – and even before that. I felt this desire to find a place to call my own, to call ‘home’, find a job and some new friends and go from there. Though I definitely feel like I could fit in with London, it doesn’t match the concept of home I am longing to find. Perhaps my definition of ‘home’ is an utopia. Perhaps it doesn’t exist. Perhaps it’s true that that feeling and sense of being home is only truly found within yourself. I don’t know the answer to my questions, but I do know that London left me confused – a good way, because it held me in a warm embrace that I’ve missed for so long – and after five days, when it’s time to say our goodbye’s to this city, goodbye actually hurts even though we know we’ll be back.
I think that’s a lesson I hadn’t learnt yet.