LONDON: START HERE

by Elaine Earle, Publisher

London in many ways is home to me. I was fortunate early in my accounting career working for one of the “Big Four” accounting firms to be an expat living in London for a couple of years. After coming back to the U.S. to visit, I often felt like I was going home when I returned to London.

Whether we want to recognize it or not, London is the capital of the world. I often want to deny this but was just back in London over Christmas and there was a hard-bound book in our hotel room titled London is the Capital of the World. I immediately denied that statement but then realized it is true.

If you have never been out of North America (beyond Canada and Mexico!) — GO TO LONDON! In fact, there is a direct flight that goes from Phoenix to London every day of the week and twice a day during certain times of the year! For better or for worse, everyone must see and experience London at one point in their lifetime. And when I say this, I don’t mean stay out by Heathrow Airport or stop by on the way to a golf trip to Scotland. I mean, go to London and stay somewhere in the middle of the city for a few days to a few weeks. Get a Tube pass; put on your best walking shoes and FitBit, and with map in hand, go experience this incredible global city. You could spend a lifetime exploring London and yet constantly be amazed.

Nevertheless, I must admit that after having lived in London for two years, I could not wait to leave the city and did not want to return any time soon — I actually didn’t return for 13 years! Why? In short, it was all the things that would bother a normal person trying to exist in any big city. I was tired of being sneezed on during a Tube ride to work during cold and flu season. I was tired of opening my front door and seeing a homeless person there blocking the doorway. I was tired of everything being so expensive and hearing stories from my friends back in Arizona that they just bought a 3,000 square-foot house for a ridiculously low price (their garage was bigger than my London flat!). I was tired of trying to carry my groceries and an umbrella while squeezing myself during a London bus to ride home in the rain (and did I mention how much rain there is?). I was tired of dodging 20 million tourists while trying to get to work as a mere resident of the city. Then there was the five-mile commute to work, which took an hour or more. The trains were a human sardine tin in the morning — where train personnel literally try to push in as many humans as possible to fit on each train. I thought that I was smart by living in Zone 2, which was pretty close to the city center, but all it meant in the morning is the train is full by the time it gets to your stop. Once, I thought that I would be creative and pack my sneakers and just walk home. Bad idea! I became physically sick from all the smog that I inhaled during that walk home, not to mention, I got lost in an industrial section (this was before GPS and Smartphones). And the list of things I hated goes on…

So, why would I also say that I love London? Well, it must have taken me 13 years to recover from what I believed to be a bad experience living in the city, because over Christmas, I returned to London to visit, and I adored every single minute of the week I spent there. In fact, I have already booked another return visit with my children for later this fall. Was the recent trip perfect? No. Actually, we encountered all the normal occurrences that made me dislike the city in the first place, such as getting diverted on the bus due to a political demonstration, encountering all bus service stopped due to an accident on a bridge or getting covered in soot while walking as a pedestrian near street construction.

But now with a fresh perspective, I would say that London is absolutely beautiful. The architecture of the city is second to none. There are some of the fanciest, classiest and most modern buildings sprouting up in the city, such as the Gherkin, Shard, Walkie-talkie and the Cheesegrater. There are also very classical, historical, one-of-a kind buildings such as Lloyd’s of London, the Royal Exchange, the crescent-shaped shopping row of Regents Street and beautiful row homes from the Georgian and Victorian age. One thousand pictures of buildings after four days and 30 miles of walking doesn’t begin to capture the amazing architecture of London. I finally looked up and adored the magnificent buildings for the first time ever on just this recent trip. I never noticed the beauty of London when I was slogging it out there as a daily worker coming into the city.

One of the best things about London is that it is one of the most diverse cities on the planet. Over 300 languages are spoken there and almost 40 percent of the population was born outside of the United Kingdom. You would actually be hard-pressed to find many British people in the heart of London! And with diversity comes lots of great things to eat! London’s Chinatown is unbelievable, as is its Indian food (Brick Lane or elsewhere). I’ve heard that some of the ethnic food that you have in London is actually better in London as compared to the country of its origin. Why is this? The quality of ingredients found in London is the best around. There is always something good to eat in London!

While London is diverse, it is also safe. Guns are not allowed and many police officers do not even carry guns. There are also hardly any garbage cans! Ever since the IRA dropped bombs in these, garbage cans really aren’t very prevalent in the city. Millions of people take to the Tube and trains in London for everyday transportation, yet you hardly hear of any disturbances, crimes or threats to safety. Many of these diverse ethnicities have learned to live peacefully among each other, even though their people groups do not get along in their home country. Many of the people from these diverse countries were very fortunate to come to London to seek a better life than their home country. I am fascinated by the taxi or Uber driver stories of how they immigrated to London and brought their families over with them.

In London, one thing is for certain — you will never be bored! Another really great thing about London is its world-class museums. Even better is that they are all free! The museums ask for a donation in a jar in the lobby, but there is no admission charge. And these are some of the best museums on the planet, starting with the famous British Museum. Other really great museums are the National Gallery, London City Museum, Natural History Museum, Science Museum, Tate Modern and the National Maritime Museum which is right next to the Cutty Sark and the Royal Observatory where you can stand on the Prime Meridian.

If you like open spaces, grass, flowers and fields, London also has more garden space than any other city in the world. There are eight Royal Parks of London covering almost 5,000 acres! Richmond Park alone constitutes more than 2,300 acres and has wild deer in it. In addition to the Royal Parks, there are also numerous garden squares, other parks and green spaces. Hyde Park, one of the most well-known of the Royal Parks, is right in the heart of the West-End of London and is known for Speakers Corner and Serpentine Lake and is close to the gates of Kensington Gardens and Kensington Palace. Hyde Park is central to many things in London, with Notting Hill just northwest of it, Kensington to the west, Knightsbridge to the south, Green Park, St. James Park and Buckingham Palace to the southeast and Piccadilly Circus, Mayfair, Oxford Street and Bond Street to the northeast.

London has history going back over 2,000 years, from the early Roman times to the Vikings to modern day, much of the history relating to the European settlers in America had British beginnings. Many great heroes in history are remembered in the museums and monuments in London such as Admiral Nelson. Take the time to study the exhibits in the museums in London and you will be amazed at the advancements, discovery and achievements that occurred in

British history and shaped the history of the Earth and life as we see it today.

Whether you love cities or hate them, London has grown to become one of the most significant financial and cultural capitals on Earth, and is a must-see for everyone! In planning our family adventures for the future, London is the first stop before seeing anywhere else in the world!

I feel very fortunate to have not only lived in London for a few years but to also return as a tourist. It is somewhere that I will teach my children to love and visit. It is also somewhere that I will continue to return throughout my life. I may even consider moving there again! It would be a great honor to have one of my children study in one of their universities or live there, as well, for a period of their lives.