Looking back, the first time I arrived in London still sits as one of my most cherished experiences. I remember cruising in on the Qantas 747 and looking down on the Thames, spotting new landmarks (the London Eye and the Millennium Dome – well, they were new at the time) and old (Tower Bridge, St Pauls, Big Ben).
History and reality all mashed together in one ideal place. So far from home and yet already so familiar.
Twelve years down the track I still remember my first impressions so vividly. Something as frustratingly mundane as an extended wait for the hotel shuttle was not a problem. Maybe it was the travel weariness (the first time I’d ever come close to travelling that far) or maybe just that I was so drunk on the experience. It was, strangely, good fun.
The first touristy thing I ever did in London was ride the London Eye, and this was back just after the turn of the millennium when it was brand spanking new. What a view. I’ve been up there several times since and it’s always better than I expect.
My first day on the tube was great, childish fun. Emerging from the ground at our first destination, Baker Street Station for Madame Tussauds, was strangely satisfying.
Wandering around the south bank of the Thames, between Westminster and the Tower Bridge, you come across some pretty cool stuff. I remember checking in to The Clink. Eleven years later, on the way to a business lunch at a restaurant called Roast I stumbled past The Clink against. There wasn’t any time to have another look, though, just time to reflect on the past…and have a little smile.
Probably the greatest single experience of my first London visit was the whole day of my first English Premier League match – Spurs versus Wimbledon (when they were still called Wimbledon). Getting to the ground, via tube, bus and foot, sucking in the pre-game atmosphere, getting into the ground way too early, then watching Spurs win 2-0 (with goals to Armstrong and Anderton, just in case you needed to know) was the fulfilment of a life goal. I’ve been back to my shrine several times since, both to watch matches and also just to wander around the ground, but there’s nothing like the first time, as most of us who have been in love (or lust…) know pretty well.
I could go on forever here but I won’t. This would only end up sounding like a tired old travel journal. You know the sort of thing: “I did this, and then I did that, and then I went here…oohh, it was sooo much fun!” So I’ll spare you that. For now. I’ll, no doubt, touch on my London experiences in future posts, however.
Maybe the reason why this was such an impressionable experience for me was because I left it so late to make my first visit. I was 28 when I touched down at Heathrow for the first time. That’s crazy, if for no other reason, when you consider my long-term support of Tottenham. But the wait made it extra special.
That first visit to London was part of the first major overseas holiday my wife (partner at the time) and I took. That’s also why I have such fond memories of London and why the good stuff is amplified and the bad stuff (was there any bad stuff?) is gone.
I’ve been back many times since, travelling for both business and pleasure, and every time it almost feels like going back home. London is a gloriously situated hub and I take every opportunity to stop off for a few days…just to catch up. The familiar landmarks, the tube, the pubs, the County Hall Travel Inn, White Hart Lane. I love to spend hours just walking around soaking the place up, something that is also good for my aging, less than perfectly fit, lungs.
Would I ever live in London? It’s hard to say. Like any big city it probably has many dark secrets lurking ready to cut down my idealistic vision. But that’s my healthy scepticism coming out. One of my dreams (actually, given my history, I guess I should turn that dream into a goal) is to be wealthy enough to be able to live in London for an entire football season. So yes, I would like to live there, but on an extended vacation rather than forever. Yeah, that would be cool.