For a born and bred Londoner, returning to visit London after more than 30 years of living in Africa, this was an experience that was like returning to a familiar place. However, at the same time, I felt like an observer and a stranger, not knowing what to expect. After landing at Gatwick airport, the modern and highly efficient train service to the City of London showed me that I must expect some serious changes and in many ways, I got more than I bargained for!
There has always been a vibe in this city, which I believe is generated by an ancient and unique history and now, I wanted to see it through the wide and open eyes of a tourist and not as a place that had for many years, been a part of me.
If it’s your first time to visit London, you’re going to discover a vibrant combination of ethnic backgrounds. In some ways, they are reflected in the divisions of the city, known as Boroughs, usually considered and referred to as being either Inner or Outer. Tourists, in London will usually spend their time and stay in the Inner Boroughs and in neighbourhoods with the geographic names of, the West End, East End, Central London and South Bank, City.
West End – a Shopper’s Paradise
The West End is regarded as the heart and engine of London and that was the first place I made for. Emerging from the underground train station at Piccadilly Circus, I was met by a long forgotten surge of sound and energy that made me stop and take it all in. The statue of Eros, being circled by a never-ending stream of traffic, in turn surrounded by a mass of people, all seemingly in their way to who knows where! Coming out of my almost trance-like state, I decided to go exploring and try to find some old haunts.
Oxford Street is one of the main streets in the West End and if you are a shopper, you will think you’ve been transported to shopper’s paradise! If you visit London during the holiday season, you may find it difficult walking through the mass of people, all eager to have a blast on the credit cards. For fashions that are more way-out, take a stroll to Soho and Covent Garden.
With the hustle and bustle of this alive and dynamic city, I soon recovered my sense of belonging, with a visit to Trafalgar Square, now with its steadily reducing blanket of pigeons, as it’s illegal to feed them, but overshadowed by the famous lions, fountains and the National Gallery. By this time, I was fully into the role of a tourist and there was so much more to come!
St Paul’s and the Tower
To describe everything there is to see, do and experience would mean writing the great English novel; from walking along the streets and oldest part of the City of London (The City), to the still magnificent St. Paul’s Cathedral, which had stood there while the bombs of World War II amazingly fell around it. This was highlighted by that icon of films and television, Tower Bridge and the famous, or infamous, Tower of London. It’s almost as though this city is saying, “you want to know what history and culture is about, well here it is, in abundance.”
The Thames and a sausage sandwich
From the West End to the East End and beyond, I was confronted and tempted by a vast choice of foods. From a traditional bangers, or pie and mash, to exotic Indian, Chinese and various other fantastic dishes, in fancy restaurants, or café’s and stalls under bridges. There is something special, about leaning on a wall of the embankment, gazing at the River Thames, munching a sausage sandwich, listening and feeling the pulse of this city that demands so much attention, but gives so much back in return.
You don’t have to be a Londoner, to know you’re in a very special place!