Travel Diaries: London (Part One) / by Didier Young

I grew up on a small island that is part of the Common Wealth and when I was old enough, I ended up packing my bags and moving to Canada. All throughout my life, I have been surrounded by the constant image of Queen Elisabeth II and most of my studies were done while following Cambridge’s schooling system. When I am not out and about at night for work events, you’ll usually find me cozied up while drinking tea, eating ginger snaps and rewatching The Crown or Downton Abbey in bed. I might as well be British. As such, it really wasn't much of a shocker when I decided to jet off to London on my latest trip to Europe.

On this particular European excursion, I ended up spending seven days in London and four in Paris (more about this part of the trip in a separate blog post). While part of me does wish that I would have spread out my time equally between the two capitals, there was simply so much to see and tackle in London that it truly did require more time than the french city. As you can imagine, a whole week in a city does generate quite a bit of content and as such, I decided to split this odyssey into two parts. 

London is a city rich in history. Originally known as Londinium, the foundations of the city were laid in place by the Romans a few years after the conquest of AD 43. By the 5th century, the Romans dwindled out of Britain and the city was finally under Anglo Saxon rule.  London has seen many wars being fought over it, a multitude of schools of thoughts and ruling houses. In 1666, following The Great Plague, the city was almost burnt down during the Great Fire of London which destroyed 60% of the city. This rich British history can be felt whenever you’re walking down a mews, strolling through one of their numerous gardens or even when you’re walking along Regent Street. The Brits are proud of their rich history and it is one of their most attractive characteristics.

Given the 2000+ years timeline of the city, you’d expect London to look like a mismatch of different schools of architecture. While there is quite a range of styles present, the city remains surprisingly cohesive, an amalgamation of snippets of different eras that somehow look like they form part of the same entity. Of course, the attachment to history does not end here. One of the best things about London is that every museum is free. You are encouraged to give a small donation at the end of your visit but it is not mandatory. It is a wonderful initiative that helps to drive home the fact that knowledge and culture shouldn’t be available only to those who can afford it, especially in a city as expensive as London. It truly should be part of the public goods available to the general population.

London is one of those cities where the buildings and streets do not act solely as a backdrop but rather as an important character in the daily lives of the Londoners. It turns out that it is also one of my favourite characters in the whole show.