For the last couple of years I’ve been trying to do some sort of trip in February. It’s not really high season for a lot of places and it just kinda seems like a good time to go travel. This year, I decided to take a trip out to Europe.
It was a bit of a spontaneous trip so I figured that going to somewhere in the UK would be easy since it’s an English speaking country. And then considering how London is the largest city in the UK, a major transit hub, and how I have a friend living there, it just made sense to go visit.
As a dude from Canada with roots in Hong Kong, London has played an interesting role in shaping my life. Obviously, Canada and Hong Kong would be the two places that have affected me the most and both of them were at one point part of the British Empire.
And considering how London was the capital of the British Empire, in a way it makes it the progenitor of the two countries that have affected me the most. It’s a weird relationship.
Anyways, one of the things I’ve always heard about London was that it’s always rainy and grey. When I first got there it definitely seemed like the case since it was very overcast and immediately started to rain and hail the moment I got on the bus.
But that only lasted for like thirty minutes and after that the skies cleared up and I never saw a single bit of precipitation again for the rest of my trip. It was actually pretty awesome since it meant that it was perfect sightseeing weather.
And there was a lot to sightsee! As a major global city with a lengthy history, I spent a couple days just checking out the classic sights.
My first stop was to Buckingham Palace where I fought my way through the horde of tourists to see the changing of the guards. The amount of tourists in London is kind of insane and it felt like literally everyone was at the palace watching the ceremony.
It was alright. It kinda felt like one of those things that isn’t super interesting but since it’s so famous it’s one of those things that you just kinda have to check out if you’re there. The coolest part was when the band started to play songs and people started to sing along. They even played the Game of Thrones theme song which was pretty cool.
Another popular attraction I checked out was the Tower Bridge, which is not the London Bridge. For some reason I always thought London Bridge was Tower Bridge but apparently they’re different bridges. They also look nothing alike either. Tower Bridge is a pretty unique looking bridge with some cool architectural elements and London Bridge is.. just a bridge.
Actually, this whole thing of me mistaking things was a pretty common theme throughout the trip. To be honest, it felt a bit weird to be in London.
You know that feeling when you walk into a room you’re super familiar with and it just feels different? Maybe someone repainted the walls to a slightly different colour or maybe they changed some of the lights so things are lit a bit differently. It’s an odd feeling where something feels so familiar but at the same time there are obvious foreign elements injected into it.
That’s how I felt about London. A major example of this is the language. Obviously everyone spoke English but it’s a different English to what I’m used to.
When I go to foreign countries that don’t speak English, I typically try my best to at least learn the basic pronunciation of things and places so that I don’t seem like one of those ignorant tourists. In London, I think I just assumed I’d be fine but man, I mispronounced so many things haha.
Like it blows my mind how many words there are there that are read so much differently than what I would expect. For example, I always thought the River Thames was pronounced with a proper “th” sound but apparently that’s not even close. Or how I keep adding an “i” to Westminster because my brain keeps reading it as Westminister.
Or even just stuff like talking to people and saying something like “it’s a couple blocks away” and they wouldn’t know what a block is. I honestly have never been more aware of my Canadian accent and mannerisms more than when I was in London.
This whole “familiar unfamiliarity” business also extends to random other things in the city too. When I’m walking down the streets, so many things are similar to stuff in Canada or Hong Kong so it feels relatively comfortable but off at the same time. You can really see the influence they’ve had on everything from street names to public transit systems.
And I think to me, this was the most interesting thing about London. Of course, London is a great city regardless. It’s a large, modern city with a lot of multicultural elements. But, so is Toronto and so I kept making a lot of comparisons in my head. Yes, London has a lot more local culture and history than Toronto, but they both have a similar feel in some regard.
Like probably my favourite day of my time in London was the very last day when I hung out with some friends and had a day out in the city. We walked around a bit to check out some random stuff but for the most part we did less sightseeing and just went to areas where the locals hung out.
That was fun and really cemented the idea that London is a truly big city and has a lot to offer if you just kinda explored the side streets and districts. I think it’s a bit more authentic and interesting when you do that as well.
Overall, London was fun. Now that I’ve done most of the major sights, I’d totally go back just to explore the non-touristy stuff a bit more. It helps that London is one of the most accessible places in Europe for someone from Toronto too, so it makes it easy to go to other places in Europe from there.
Which is exactly what I did since I went to Norway afterwards! Blog entry to follow.