August 18-20–An American Slug in London

view from our Mayfair flat

When I got off the plane in London, the first thing I noticed is that there is no air conditioner. In fact, now that I’ve been here two nights, I can say that almost no where in London has air conditioner. It is quite unfortunate.

Those rumors that London is foggy and cold all the time? Not entirely true. You see, London is, in fact, situated on an island. The weather here is just as unpredictable, if not more so, than Santa Cruz, California itself.

My first morning here, I woke up to sunny skies and 80 degree weather. I went to take a shower, only to find out upon finishing that during the 20 minutes I was away, the sky turned gray as a wolf, howled with thunder and lightening, and then burst in rain. Of course, by the time I was done, the sun had mostly returned, and the temperature remained warm and muggy the rest of the day.

But while I am not a huge fan of mugginess, my opinion of London has only gotten better with every moment I become more acquainted with it.

We arrived at 4:00 pm on Saturday, August 18. I came a few days earlier than the official start of my program with my lovely mother. I am extremely thankful she came with me to help me settle in; I know I would have been an emotional wreck leaving everyone in my family otherwise.

My mom rented a flat for us in the Mayfair district of London. I, of course, knew nothing of this district before coming here, and so did not know what to expect. However, after walking around a bit, it became very clear that we were residing in the shopping district of the extreme upper class. Only the most internationally well known designer’s names line the streets and the only places to eat are bars attached to flashy hotels.

example of a shop at Mayfair

As we searched for a place to eat, I felt more and more uncomfortable. Though I would say I’ve lived a charmed life, I’ve never lived among such high class people. I suspected that everything I said and did appeared low brow, and I grew paranoid that I was sticking out in a bad way. As I went to sleep that night, I couldn’t help but feel a little uneasy about my new home.

The next day (the day with the crazy weather), my mom and I decided to get the lay of the land by taking a sight-seeing bus tour. We left the flat around one and didn’t come home until 10:30 pm! We saw many of the biggest landmarks in London, such as Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the London Eye (that huge Ferris wheel thing), St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the Tower of London.

probably my favorite building

The most striking thing about seeing the city in this way is that it makes you realize the extent to which London is simultaneously an ancient city and an extremely modern one. The architecture ranges from castles that are 1000 years old to super modern shards of glass pointing into the sky like a thorn at over 1000 feet.

The Shard is the tallest completed building in Europe

We also found that while London is a pricey city, there are some areas that are much more affordable that aren’t that far away. We had both lunch and dinner at nearby Duke Street at two different reasonably priced Italian restaurants. Then, right off of Duke, we visited Oxford Street, the most well-visited shopping destination in the city. Here we found a Forever 21 and an H&M, as well as my new favorite store ever, Primark (It looks like H&M, has the same trendy yet classic styles, but the prices are more like TJ Maxx).

Really, what all of my observations seem to point to, is that London is a city of extremes. It contains as many multitudes and contradictions as Walt Whitman himself. It is also, without a doubt, the most diverse area I’ve ever been to.

I expected to become extremely acquainted with British accents here in London. But while those obviously exist here, I’ve been hearing so many different accents and languages, that I don’t really feel that any one sticks out.

There’s this really cool photography exhibit in a store window on Oxford Street that showcases 204 Londoners from 204 different nations around the world. My mom pointed out to me that I have the opportunity to be able to meet people and learn about experiences that I simply wouldn’t have access to in California. It’s a little daunting at times, since I’ve always been so shy, but very exciting at the same time, as it presents an opportunity for change.

To be honest, I often feel nervous and a little afraid of this journey. However, after seeing the city as much as I have these past couple days, I know that even if I end up being the shiest person in the program, it doesn’t matter. The very experience of living in this vast, beautiful, diverse, contradicting city is enough to make everything worth it.

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