Autumnals and Anniversaries Part 1 – London

I’ve taken an “autumnal” trip for the last six years. I was 23 when I first escaped the lack-luster Texas fall for the brilliance of the Berkshires and the company of my best friend.  The next year it was Washington DC. Then Tennessee. In those first three years, more than one person snickered at my annual getaway, another of my indulgent little habits.

I have a lot of indulgent little habits, apparently, and in my early 20’s it was wisdom-chic to tell me that I would not be able to carry on in such fashion forever.

To those who doubted my resolve, I say this: do not underestimate my wanderlust.

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In 2010, I conveniently married Lewis McNeel in October, thus replacing my invented holiday with a tradition even the most strident money-manager will recognize: an anniversary.

This year for our anniversary, which doubled as a babymoon, we decided to take some good friends up on their invitation to visit them in Sicily. Becca, Elliott, Lena, and Gil Garber have been in Sicily for two years (well…Gil’s been there for 8 months, but he’s also been there his whole life). It was high time we paid them a visit.

And you just can’t cross the Atlantic without a good multi-day stopover in the best city in the world, my personal favorite, London. It’s been six years since I left, and I had been dying to show Lewis around (and indulge my own nostalgia).

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And that is how Anniversary #3 (or Autumnal #7, however you see it) came to be.

London was almost exactly as I left it in many ways. In others it was like a whole new city. That’s the secret to London’s success, I think. Curated evolution. New skyscrapers dotted the landscape. The blocks around my former residence on the fringe of Bankside were now startlingly posh. The Olympic Park exists. We visited a new Zaha Hadid designed space in Hyde Park.  And yet…there was the Swan. Covent Garden. Spittalfields. Brick Lane. I was able to give Lewis directions for a running route along the Thames without wondering if the landmarks had changed.

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London’s public transport system still gives me a schoolgirl-like swoon. Sitting on the top front seats of a double decker bus heading west on the Strand, I felt so completely satisfied with life.

There was also the familiar frustration, recalled from deep within my memory, of trying to navigate a city developed as a series of shortcuts and courtyards that eventually became roads. “Grid” was not an Anglo-Saxon idea. However, because the British have a little nugget of genius embedded beneath their stalwart nonchalance, no matter how lost you think you are in London, you are somehow always just around the corner from your destination, magically happening upon the restaurant, shop, or tube station just in the nick of time. (We contrasted this later with Italy, where an apparent total lack of civil engineering means that even when you think you are headed straight for your destination, you are in fact getting further away.)

Of course the most fun new thing I found in London was Lewis’s perspective on it all. Seeing the greatest city in the world with an architect is like going to Napa with a winemaker, or the symphony with a composer. The little treasures that would have been whimsies to me pre-Lewis – like when we stumbled upon Sou Fujimoto’s “Cloud” at the Serpentine Gallery- were moments of real (and well-informed) excitement. The Olympic Park would have been a lovely place to read a book, but with Lewis is was a place to read the park itself.

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When we stepped out of the tube at London Bridge, even an ordinary errand became a sightseeing stop. I was marching around looking for the ticket kiosk, a little disoriented because things were not as I’d left them. Meanwhile Lewis looked up and exclaimed “We’re AT the SHARD!” And so we got to explore while I looked for the kiosk. Which is now quite slick in it’s new Shard cladding.

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I loved sharing old things with him as well. Nando’s, pub food, Borough Market…okay, it was mostly food and shopping. But also just walking though Bankside and seeing it differently because I was not a bleary-eyed grad student in search of wi-fi and warmth. It’s actually a pretty romantic little neighborhood, what with it’s cobblestones and narrow passages. Who knew?

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And jetlag? Not bad when you’ve got someone else awake with you at 2 am.

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All in all, the London leg of the autumnal was a return to Neverland. London was the place where I took a one year hiatus from driving and being committed to things. And to return with Lewis didn’t diminish that magical feeling (as reliving nostalgia usually does), but it added yet ANOTHER layer onto my “I love London” cake.

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