I really love traveling alone. Honestly.
I’m not saying this to convince myself I’m not lonely as I shuttle back and forth between London neighborhoods with nothing but my camera and Oyster card and with no one but myself. Because it’s precisely not that. It’s not lonely. (And sometimes it’s actually lonelier with other people around — have you ever noticed that?)
See, It’s when I’m by myself that I’m the busiest. Anything I want to say, I can — to myself. Any errands I want to run, I can — by myself, without making a traveling buddy tag along. Any moment I want to draw out and remember, I can — all by my onesie, as they say (a phrase I genuinely adore but can’t type without cringing just a little).
I saw St. Paul’s Cathedral by myself on a chilly afternoon. That solitary experience ranks among my London favorites so far.
When I first stepped out of the Tube station to find St. Paul’s with my handy little Moleskine book of maps, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out which direction I was supposed start walking in, so I said fuck it and wandered.And bam — ran right into the soaring, domed cathedral when I was least expecting it.
That’s always more fun, isn’t it — when you’re anticipating more trouble and headache and a bit of a walk, and then you’re pleasantly surprised by the sudden appearance of whatever it is you were looking for, rising out of a shock of still perfectly-green leaves.
Traveling alone, you can make any sudden adjustments to your self-prescribed itinerary without worrying that you’re boring someone else or tiring them out or just generally being a selfish touristy asshole, e.g., I was able to sit on the western steps of the cathedral and look down Ludgate Hill for absolutely as long as I wanted to. I saw a photo shoot happen, I saw a well-dressed couple breeze by, and I saw — across the street — an unusually green alleyway and decided to check it out. And when I decided on a whim that I wanted to walk the length of Ludgate Hill until it met Fleet Street (of Sweeney Todd fame), I did. You can’t do these things with people.
And — above all — when you travel alone, you can have conversations with yourself that don’t happen when you go walking and exploring with someone else. I don’t mean out loud. That’s not something I’d recommend doing in public (people get nervous).
I mean you can think, really think, and with the kind of absolute freedom that comes from being alone in a mass of strangers, form a dialogue between your internality and the things you’re noticing around you. People passing by on lunch break. Cabs honking at other cabs. The smell of pub food. Busy chatter all around. The sight of a bustling, narrow road vanishing into the distance between buildings standing since God-knows-how-long-ago. Figure out what all that means to you. And figure it out alone.
– – – – –
That said, sometimes you do need company. Like a friend to tell you when you’ve been spending too much, or to tell you to treat yo’self Parks and Recreation-style to a jacket from Topshop.
And those times, when they happen, are no less valuable. Just different.
– – – – –
British soups, as I’ve observed in the ready-to-eat aisle at the Waitrose, sound almost hilariously unappetizing (broccoli/stilton, sour parsnip/apple/elderflower, beetroot/chopped dill), and yet I’m told they’re amazing. On the other hand, a lot of gloriously savory-smelling pies and pasties (chicken and leek, chicken and mushroom, steak and ale, etc.) can have the taste and consistency of stale bread. Every meal is exciting here because I’m never quite sure what I’m going to get.
I’ve learned an important lesson about weekday lunches from The Hare and Tortoise at Brunswick Centre in Bloomsbury: if a restaurant opens at noon, people will be lined up at the door starting around 11:40. Get places early.
Bubbleology in Soho features an adorable concept (“bubbleologists” in white lab coats, chemical flask contraptions, faux-scientific scribbles as decor), but their tapioca pearls are average to sub-par. Pearls in Brighton, Sussex must keep their tapioca pearls submerged in some kind of honey mixture, because they make what is easily the best cup of bubble tea I’ve had so far in England. (Though a small cup will set you back £3.25 or so, or around 5.20 USD (insanely expensive considering that the average cup of bubble tea in my hometown of Houston is about $2.25).
Tried fish and chips at Harry Ramsdens in Brighton, Sussex, as well. Fairly generous portions. Vaguely hated myself afterwards.
Experienced high tea, complete with scones and clotted cream, at The Grand hotel in Brighton. More on that later.
– – – – –
On heavy rotation: “This Boy” by James Morrison, which I’m revisiting out of mild high school nostalgia.