London | spontaneous solo travel

June 9 +10//London, UK//Canon 5d

For years, London had been the dream. The dream. Growing up, I devoured any books set in England-not just Harry Potter and the Chronicles of Narnia, (although those two, esp. HP, played a pretty big part in it) but the Secret Garden, Charlie Bone, Saffy's Angel…and then, later, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights and various Austen works. As I got older and entered that i'm different phase of adolescence, it got worse-an iPhone full of british indie music, doc martens and posters of those iconic red buses on the walls. I knew the geography + counties, dreamed of cottages and phone booths and pints at the pub.

As I grew older, my obsession with the commonwealth cooled. I still dream of open moors and cliffs and Kensington row houses, sure, and yeah, i have an unhealthy obsession with Masterpiece Mysteries, but I also dream of Berlin graffiti and New Zealand landscapes. I found that gushing about England put me in a specific demographic of American girls-the anglophiles, I'll call them-who didn't exactly represent how I felt about the country. I abandoned the idea of studying abroad there when I realize how expensive England and London actually is, and decided I wanted the challenge that living in a country that didn't speak english would give me. I didn't even plan to visit London on exchange; if I was going to Great Britain, I was going to do it right and see it all.

But then in June, my dad called and told me he was going to London on business for a few days. And the first thing that crossed my mind (sorry, Dad) was free room? free dinner? in London? So, without further ado, I booked an overnight bus from Amsterdam to London and prepared myself by brushing up on my slang (fancy a cheeky nandos?) and setting aside my Primark budget. Dad wanted to eat fish + chips, sit in a british pub, and to go to the rotary made famous by National Lampoon's European Vacation and say those iconic lines-"Look Kids! Big Ben! Parliament!" I wanted to hit up the free museums, shop at the Camden Markets, and wander around the picturesque west london neighborhoods. Everything was all set, until three hours before I left for Amsterdam, when my father's trip was cancelled. Suddenly, I was plunged into panic-I wasn't going to see my dad, my trip was in shambles, and I had to figure out how to cancel + refund all of my tickets.

But then I thought to myself, why cancel? I had just spent the last four months gallivanting around Europe; if I could handle Budapest without a map and Luxembourg with no french, I could manage spending two days in a country where english was the native language, right? I booked myself a hostel, and, two days later, hopped on a bus that drove through three countries before boarding a ferry and taking me to England!

I started my day by crossing off one of my dad's wishes with a trip to the oh-so-famous rotary, where I spun around recording myself whispering look kids! big ben! parliament! which caught the attention of a few drunk Irish guys on the lawn-we chatted, which was such a novelty in itself, as I had spent the last five months in various places where english was not really heard on the streets, apart from touristy areas. Everywhere I turned, there were conversations that I could understand. It sounds like a strange thing, but it was so amazing.

Since I was up early, I crossed off all of the "touristy" things-Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and Parliament-before ten a.m. I napped in my hostel and headed over to the V + A museum, and then Camden market, which I crossed off my list, where I ate some fish and chips, for my dad (and for myself). I wandered around Oxford Street, wrote in Kensington Park, and went to bed early.

I wasn't sure about how I would feel about traveling alone, but I can say now for certain that, with the exception of dinnertime, I love it. Because, quite simply? I can do whatever I want, whenever I want. I can sit in a cafe with my coffee and plan my day, and take as long as I please; I can make plans to go somewhere and then spontaneously change them-I can walk down any side street. I can look at one painting for two hours and then skip four more rooms because I don't like that type of art; I can sit in parks and write (I seem to do this a lot). And sometimes, it's nice to be quiet and to watch everyone around you.

My second day in England was perfect. I stopped by St. Paul's Cathedral, walked over the bridge and went to the Tate Modern, where one of my favorite artists was displayed-lunch was at the Borough Markets,and then I went to Primark, where I promptly plunked down all my money and walked away with half the store. I had an early dinner at a burger place,  and then I started to wander. I kept walking, and then something magical happened; I stumbled upon Portobello Road. Ladies and Gentlemen, this is one of those beautiful, serendipitous travel experiences that I can't believe actually happened, because it doesn't really sound real. It is, though, and I walked around in a daze, ducking into mews and taking so many pictures.

London is still one of my fondest trips. It was such a perfect way to end exchange, and validation that I could travel alone and be okay. These pictures are some of my favorite from the entire five months, because they look exactly how I had always imagined London to look like, and the tones are just exactly how I saw it. When that happens, it's magical. And I know that I end every post by promising that I'll be back to whichever city it is at the moment, but London-England-Great Britain-I'll be back. Promise.

guide coming soon. 

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