London - The first time you're a tourist, the second time you're a traveler

The following is an excerpt from a blog I wrote on my personal blog. Then the blog continues with my second experience in London.

In London I felt strangely comfortable and I think it was mostly because of now being able to hear English everywhere I went. I wasn’t being stared at while being here, however I was heavily reliant on the people around me to get me to where I needed to go. I was reliant on my best friend for navigation and for plans mostly because my phone was unreliable but also because when I travel I have things I want to see but I like to follow the plans of others. When I travel I don’t like to be fixated on a plan because I know that plans change and to just be in an environment, eat the food, observe the culture and talk to the people is enough for me to have a good experience. We saw everything though and I am so happy that we got to experience this place, however, I don’t think I would go back. I saw what I needed to see and it’s not necessarily a place that calls to me.  We saw everything while here.  We saw Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, parliament, the london eye, the millennium bridge, Kings Cross Station, platform 9 3/4, Buckingham Palace, the crown jewels, rode in a double decker bus, took the tube and ate in some cool pubs [...] We also did the Harry Potter experience and it really brought back my childhood and tears to my eyes [...] Everything you’re supposed to do when in London.

"Everything you're supposed to do when in London..." when I read this back I cringe at the idea of needing to do anything when you're anywhere. I also cringe at the fact that I was so pathetically useless in navigating or planning the trip with my friend. Now when I travel, I like to have a loose plan, and some cities really do require a plan. I cringe even more at "I don't think I would go back." It's so silly to me that this city didn't really have any meaning for me before but now I have a best friend from there and I would go back countless times just to see her.

The second time I went back to London was to spend winter break with my best friends. I had just spent Christmas with my relatives in Vasto, Italy and I took a bus to Rome and then flew to London to spend the next days up until New Years with my favorite people on this planet. Seeing the city again was magical, and not only for the Christmas lights, but the atmosphere of the city even seemed to be a little different. It was now familiar. This is not to say my first experience in London was bad, on the contrary it was wonderful I just wish I had taken the time to appreciate everything a little more. I wish I took more time to relax and see the city with different eyes.

This time we ate crumpets, pulled Christmas crackers, and explored what I now consider the quiet capital. I even tried marmite, it was very salty...I didn't enjoy it. But the most beautiful thing was wandering the streets of a city now so familiar, staring at all of the christmas lights illuminating every street and pathway...Laughing with the people who mean the most to me in this world and creating memories in areas that I never would have noticed before if I hadn't taken the time to walk without a destination; to get lost without needing to be found.

It was an inspiring day to say the least. I urge whoever is about to travel and see the world to really take moments to go off the beaten path. To sit in caffes and libraries and pubs and chat with those around you, or even quietly observe. I don't know anything more beautiful than the quiet stillness of noticing the people around you walking, exploring, chatting, eating, doing normal daily things in a city that you've never been before. Even if it's a city that you have, it's the beauty of noticing that not every thing needs to be rushed. That's why for me, what was once thought of as a crowded and chaotic city will forever be the quiet capital to me. As if the old walls and streets were sucking up all the sounds and releasing them as a mummering whisper into the air.

If I leave my readers with one thing it will be this - words of advice from my best friend on that same day. "If you're looking for a sign, this is live your best life and take a risk."

London, you changed my perspective. Thank you.

The Localist Abroad
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© Ashley Nicole Weimar.