I think we’re all a bit afraid to meet our idols in case they don’t turn out the way you expect them to be. I think, growing up, I had two idol cities: Tokyo and London. Chalk it up to Harry Potter, later to the His Dark Materials trilogy, BBC Sherlock, or to the Penny Pollard’s Diary book where she goes to England that I read as a child, but London always seemed like this far off, exotic destination to me and embodied something quintessentially other and ‘European’ (insert Brexit joke here).
London was certainly double decker buses, tea, books and old bookstores, but also cosmopolitan and, in many ways, like stepping into a parallel universe of Australia, where everything was just a tad ‘off’ - familiar supermarket cookies with the same packaging but different name, the Queen’s face on coins but the other side was wrong, Australian prices but in pounds (oof), street names just a tad wackier. God bless the Commonwealth and all.
In between my museum and art gallery hopping, I did the obligatories: walked through Hyde Park, walked around the Thames to the London Eye and Big Ben (frustratingly, still under construction), then walked from Covent Garden to Whitechapel. I went to Platform 9 and 3/4, saw the massive line to take photos, and left. I sweated in the Underground and then - in 35C heat - hiked up to Primrose Hill. I witnessed a beefeaters (the official name for the guards who guard Buckingham Palace, ~the more you know~) yell at kids to get away from the fence, and, after an epic battle with my umbrella, Clara and I made it inside 3hrs of Wagner’s The Valkyries at BBC Proms. I could stand 30min of incomprehensible operatic German before giving up and discretely Googling the English lyrics and, miraculously, managing to find where we were at.
And I also lined for 2.5hrs by myself outside Victoria Palace Theatre and snagged a cancellation ticket, then proceeded to whisper-sing along to the entire soundtrack, cried three separate times and then waited at the stage door for the performers to come out. Worth every second.
The other word I kept wanting to use for London was ‘looming’ - there’s something stately, old and large about the way London’s architecture is, which gives you an inkling of just how many people it accommodates. I don’t think I fully appreciated the meaning of an ‘international’ city until I was walking past Ethiopian street food vendors on my food tour (incidentally: highly recommended), into a Bangladeshi restaurant, then to a French cheese shop. Sydney is multicultural, sure, but London is larger, literally and figuratively.
I had always had this resolution that London would absolutely be my first European city. It was not and, in many ways, I’m glad it wasn’t because I think I needed to spend time in other European countries to appreciate how different London is.
And still consider moving there.
I know, I know.
(insert closing Brexit joke here).