I’ve been lucky enough to travel extensively throughout Europe. However, the most formative of my trips was one where I didn’t learn a new language, I wasn’t confronted with unfamiliar cuisines, and where I ended up falling, in an almost clichéd way, in love with a city that 7,000,000 other people call home. July of 2011 wasn’t the first time that I had been to London, but as I stepped past the friendly, smiling customs agent and into the blinding sun, I felt something was going to be different about this week.
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We were in London so my father could teach a course at the London School of Economics. We were lucky enough to be given a flat at Rosebery Hall, which housed LSE summer students. Part of what made this trop to London special was because I really felt like I was living in the city. We were a block from a grocery, and two blocks from Exmouth Market, and all of its restaurants and lunchtrucks. Charles Dickens had lived nearby; the Sadler’s Wells Theatre was just up the road. We were in between the Angel and Farringdon Tube station, and right on the route of the 19 bus, which, it felt like, could take us anywhere we wanted to go.
Of course, we had to spend some time in the famous landmarks riddled throughout the city, like the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey, which did not disappoint. The thought of walking the same floors tread by monarchs and commoners alike for 1,000 years makes history feel much more alive than it ever did in a textbook. What I enjoyed more, though, were the Churchill War Rooms, the secret, underground bunker that held the entire government during the Battle of Britain. Everything was left just as it was when Winston Churchill and his government finally emerged as the war came to a close. In an attempt to beat the crowds, we went to the British Museum in the evening. The museum is open later on summer nights, and, as most of the throngs of tourists had cleared out hours earlier, I was actually able to press my face up against the glass shielding the Rosetta Stone. Being a musician, it was also an amazing experience to see a concert at St. Martin in the Fields, the home of pioneers of classical music recordings.
What was most remarkable about London, though, was the way I could see the entire world in one city. I stood in front of a family from Doha as I waited to go through customs. I passed a store that sells burqas. I saw advertisements in 4 or 5 different languages. When getting on a train to Cambridge, we could have just as easily hopped onto a train to Paris. I had the entire world in 600 square miles.
While I was in the capital of the world, I was steps away from the 19 bus, the famous opening of “Rudie Can’t Fail”, by The Clash, but also just a few blocks from the home of Charles Dickens. Treading the same worn floors as knights and lords, standing in front of the Rosetta stone the way proud Victorians did, walking through the same doors and into the same shelters as Winston Churchill, and then witnessing the organization that revolutionized musical recordings 60 years ago, I felt that I was in touch with the generations of British culture that have influenced the world, as I stood, surrounded by the world.
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