I am not sure why it is, but for the first time in a long time, I found myself really appreciating and enjoying London on this recent trip to my old home. I think I moved from “I used to live here, been there, seen that, done it all”, to seeing it again with fresh eyes. Granted, the weather was revolting but let’s face it, you don’t got to England for the sunshine. It was still as crowded and grey as ever. Still wet. But not as dirty as I remember it … I think the Olympics cleaned it up a bit. But, what I started to really see for the first time since my first visit was what an incredible city London is. The city is literally soaked in history, so much so that it is easy for it all to become background. And yet, of course, it is a vibrant, modern megalith of first world proportions too.
I love the changing skyline of London. The fact that, from the same position on the River Thames, you can see living history in the form of St Paul’s Cathedral (built in 1675), with its rising dome and sense of solid reliability and The Shard of Glass, the tallest building in the EU, a rising monument to modern technology and our love of science (and possibly of showing off). I enjoyed wandering around the narrow alleyways and by ways, between the green-black buildings and under the old narrow bridges of Bankside, past Shakespearean style pubs and modern bars, as we made our way towards Borough Market.
Southbank, along the Thames, has become a veritable hub of gathering (even in the rain) with busy sidewalk cafe’s, food festivals and, of course, an outstanding theatre venue or two. I loved our evening stroll, still light at 7.30pm despite the rain, down the wide streets of Piccadilly, stopping off for a moment in Fortnum & Mason for a giggle, on our way to theatre. Real, west-end theatre, with proper British accents. Even Piccadilly Circus, teaming with tourists at midnight, feels revitalised. The neon signs are modern and gleaming, casting their red green glow onto the wet streets.
Further south, the bohemian slightly bedraggled and vaguely dangerous Brixton has also had a bit of a facelift. Brixton Village bustles with incy-wincy little restaurants offering a range of global food delights, coffee houses, funky clothing stores and pubs that over-flow with cheer. Amongst it all, fishmongers and grocers and bakers have their place and you feel alive and part of something organic and real.
You know, the feeling of London has changed since the Olympics. And perhaps the Queens Jubilee celebrations may well have had something to do with it too. There is a great sense of optimism and positivity in the air, a sense of pride and excitement which has been lacking for a long time. Things are coming together for the old lady of the modern world and I liked how it felt to be part of it, just for a while.