London — Where The Streets Became My Friends

My first trip to London, my first real taste of freedom.

The first time I visited London, I was a giddy twenty year old who had never been to Europe. I was excited, to say the least — even the bumpy Air India flight couldn’t dampen my spirits. I was going to be in London — I was going to see things that, till, then, I had only read about or watched in British rom-coms. I was looking forward to the sights, the nightlife, and most of all, the freedom.

I wasn’t disappointed — the minute we landed in Heathrow, my head was spinning. Not from the uncomfortable flight, but the sheer number of people around me in the immigration line. People of all races, nationalities, and backgrounds. Women in African headdresses, men in suits carrying two blackberries each, Middle-eastern men in traditional robes, or thwabs. I was in love with the city, and I hadn’t even stepped out of the airport.

Busy Heathrow airport

The next few weeks were spent, of course, visiting the Big Ben, Leicester Square, Hyde Park, Camden Town, Notting Hill (didn’t run into Hugh Grant, unfortunately). Each sight was exhilarating in its own way, but what stood out to me in all my experiences was what I was looking for all along — the freedom.

Confused? Let me explain. Just to be able to walk down the streets fearlessly was an intoxicating feeling. Back then, my travel was only restricted to going to college and coming home. I’d carry a can of  pepper spray everywhere, and keep my backpack in front of me at all times. In London, however, things were vastly different.

Portobello road, Notting Hill

I spent a day on my own at the Imperial War Museum, figuring my way around the city.  I asked people for directions, got on the wrong train, got on to the right one, and I found my way. It was an achievement of sorts — growing up in India, you’re taught to be afraid, taught to be wary of the streets. But in London, I embraced the streets. The streets were my friends.

Imperial War Museum

The highlight of my first trip, was attending a Coldplay concert. My sister and I stood for five hours in the cold rain at the Emirates Stadium, sang along to our favourite songs — and it was quite late by the time the concert was done. Little did I know though, that the night was far from over. Thousands streamed out of the stadium, singing along to Viva La Vida. We were the only ones on the street, and we got into the tube, reaching home close to 1 am — and there was only joy, no fear — something my 20 year old self, who had never walked down a street alone after 10 pm, couldn’t fathom.

I came back home with a suitcase full of memories, and a newfound sense of confidence. London taught me what it’s like to own the streets. It showed me what it was like to be unafraid. It let me be comfortable in my own skin, and for that, I am forever grateful.

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