My favorite vacation wasn’t quite a vacation at all. It was part of a 1994 class trip—a study trip—during my university education. The group of us who went were supposed to be studying 18th century London history and literature. I can’t say I learned much about either while I was in London, though I had studied both thoroughly before we left. Once we arrived, however, the city awed and seduced me, and I had trouble focusing on anything other than absorbing as much of it as I could.
|A typical colorful row of flats |
in Camden Town, London.
With my classmates, I lived in a student housing flat in Camden Town. It’s a funky, colorful northwest borough of London, and it made for a quick Tube ride into central London. Less than half an hour after arriving at Euston Station and then settling into our Camden flat to put our bags down, a group of us jumped on the Tube and headed straight into the heart of the city. We ate jacket potatoes (a.k.a baked potatoes) with exotic (to us) toppings like sweetcorn and tuna in a restaurant that overlooked Leicester Square. I was instantly and completely in love.
There is a palpable energy to London. The city has more personality than any I've ever visited, and it was a character that appealed to me on every level—I loved it history, its busyness, its colors and all its uniquely quintessential aspects, from Big Ben to the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral, to the red double-decker buses that seemed to be everywhere. I loved the smells, the accents, and the variety of Londoners.
Every single day, my classmates and I would venture out to explore London. We’d pick a different area each day. We visited Westminster Abbey, took a boat trip down the Thames, toured around Bloomsbury on a red double-decker bus, shopped in Knightsbridge, ate Turkish food on Baker Street, climbed to the top of dome of St. Paul’s, and the very best day was the one when we got lost.
|Big Ben, shining bright on a London evening.|
I was out with one of my classmates and we’d done some shopping, including a browse around Harrod’s. Rather than jumping back on the Tube, we decided to wander a bit and soon realized we had no real idea of where we were. We eventually discovered we were in Chelsea, a pretty residential area of London. I don’t remember seeing a single window box that wasn’t graced by flowers. Bold red geraniums seemed to dominate and they made a lovely contrast with the bright blue English Heritage plaques that adorned several buildings, indicating they had once been the home of a famous Briton.
|Pere Biart Reading in the Garden|
(1890) by Belgian Impressionist
Henry Van de Velde.
Another fortuitous day we ducked into a building not far from Savile Row in Mayfair, trying to escape the heat on a scorching hot summer day. We were surprised to find ourselves in a small art gallery. They were featuring an exhibition celebrating Belgian Impression, and we ended up spending much longer than intended soaking up the beautiful art. This painting by Henry Van de Velde, Pere Biart Reading in the Garden (1890), made an enormous impression on me. A poster from the exhibition featuring this painting is one of my prized mementos from my first visit to London.
Years later, I was lucky enough to live in London for a bit. Living in a place is a different experience than visiting as a tourist. As a young tourist, I had been free to spend my days wandering London from dawn to dusk. As a resident, I worked all day as a cover teacher (what we’d call a substitute) in various schools around London and didn’t venture far from the southern borough where I lived for weekend outings. My love for London deepened as a resident, but nothing can compare to the initial flush of excitement I felt during my first visit. Twenty years later, I still miss London fiercely, and I can’t wait to visit again. For now, I visit in my fiction, using London as a backdrop for my historical romance stories, like my debut novella, Scandalous Wager.