I’ve got a confession to make, I don’t love London. I don’t even like it, not even a little bit.
A quality that I’ve recently grown to admire in travel bloggers is the ability to tell the truth, I’m not talking about just saying somewhere is a little on the touristy side, or that a hostel is too grubby, but honest, often quite painful and embarrassing truths, the things that we would rather not admit to in order to seem happier and more together than we might actually be. Ashley from Ashley Abroad is an amazing example of this, I admire how candid she was about not really falling in love with Asia, her frankness about struggling during her time there, how much she missed home. Her honesty inspired me to write this post.
Anyone who reads my blog may have noticed that I haven’t updated it in over three months, and that’s because London has drained me. Emotionally, physically and financially. I can’t ever remember feeling so exhausted, uninspired and generally fed up. I’ll admit that I counted down the days until I could pack my bags and leave.
Rewind three months, back to September when I left Sheffield to move to London in order to complete an internship in PR. This post isn’t about that, though I’ll say it was a great experience, and that I learnt a lot. This post is about my struggles with feeling at home in the capital.
I promised to blog about London, about its interesting sites, fascinating heritage and quirks. I told myself I’d explore the museums, the best in the world, that I’d sample the bewildering range of restaurants serving food from every corner of the earth, that I’d get lost in Portobello, Borough, Brick Lane and Camden markets, that I would do the tourist thing, that I would get caught up in the buzz of this vibrant, diverse, twenty-four hour metropolis. I loved Bangkok, Berlin and Barcelona didn’t I, surely it was a certainty that I’d fall for London?
In three months I barely left my room. When I did, it was to escape to Glasgow on the weekends (a city that I do really like – more to come soon)
Why? Because London leaves me cold like no other city. I’d go as far as to say that out of every capital city I’ve ever visited, London is my least favourite by a long, long stretch.
I’ve spent a lot of time pondering why I couldn’t click with London, and came up with a few conclusions:
It’s outrageously expensive
London prices make me want to cry. The city is regularly ranked as one the most expensive places on the planet to live, so living on £50 a week expenses from an internship was always going to be difficult. When a small glass of wine costs £5, and a single tube ride £2.10, that doesn’t go far. So I shunned the tube and walked to work everyday. I lived on basics. I didn’t go out. I got so sick and run down that I was asleep most nights by 9.30pm. I developed a hacking cough that I couldn’t shake for three months. London does have some world-class free attractions, but there are only so many times you can visit the Natural History Museum, or look at the Houses of Parliament.
It’s unfriendly, and everyone is always in a rush
Everyone in London is in a rush. Including me. I realised I’d become one of those people who’d charge past the Shard, head down, avoiding all eye contact, not even glancing at Tower Bridge, rudely shoving tourists aside in my hurry to get where I needed to be. Just sitting in silence on the tube, with rows of miserable looking commuters made me long for the friendliness of smaller cities.
There’s no discernible centre
Anyone who’s been to London will know the city is an endless sprawling mass. Walking anywhere is near impossible. I like to have a central point – something which anchors me to the city. I couldn’t find one. It sounds silly, but London is just too big. I never felt like I knew the place at all. It’s somewhere that can swallow you up.
I’ve lived in various towns and cities in England, and I’ve never really had a problem meeting people until I moved here. I found a lot of Londoners to be unfriendly and stuck up. I know that’s a gross generalisation, but it was certainly my experience. I missed the ‘How are you duck?’ that I’d always receive in the shops up north, rather than the robotic service and absence of smiles that are so common in London.
I tried explaining my dislike to people. That I just couldn’t fall for the city. That a grey cloud had descended on my London experience and wouldn’t go away, however hard I tried to fight it off. Almost without exception people would look at me as if I had sprouted an extra head, before trotting off the old chestnut, ‘If a man is tired of London, he is tired of life’ (Damn you, Samuel Johnson, for the pressure you put on people who are seen as boring old fuds for not fawning over everything LDN) but I’m not tired of life. I’m just tired of London.
So London, there have been some nice moments, but nothing that makes me want to return to you.