“Italy has great food, Barcelona has great energy” (Stefon Harris)
Actually, it turns out Barcelona has great food too, but I do feel re-energised after my weekend away: My heart may belong to London, but there’s always room for an occasional holiday romance. It was such a pleasure to feel the sun on my face (yep, it’s still raining in England), stroll along La Rambla and gaze wide-eyed at La Sagrada Familia. I was unashamedly a tourist doing all the things I couldn’t and wouldn’t do back home.
I came across a list of London’s top visitor attractions the other day. The London Eye – nope, not done that. St. Paul’s – no, that neither. Buckingham Palace – errm…. You get the general idea. Even those I had been to, I’d only visited for some specific exhibition or event, never just to enjoy them for themselves. Paris and the Eiffel Tower? Essential viewing. London and Tower Bridge? Not a chance.
But why not? London’s landmarks, the museums and galleries are amongst the finest in the world. I’d served time beyond the M25. I’d learnt not to take such luxuries for granted. Even so, there’s definitely an element of complacency. The trouble with landmarks is they don’t have a deadline, no tightening noose, no pressure of a closing date. The Tower of London has been around for a very long time and let’s face it, will probably still be around for a very long time: There’s always tomorrow.
I do wonder, though, whether part of me isn’t just dismissing it on principle – All those attractions? Stuff for the tourists! You’ve as much chance of discovering London there as me having tea with the Queen. Hidden gardens, obscure museums, little known restaurants – that’s the real London. So in other words, it’s all about visiting places without visitors? Riiight. . .! Nice logic there Lindz. Some secret London which most Londoners haven’t even heard of it isn’t a more ‘real’ London than the famous bits, it’s just less crowded. Admittedly, it’s hard to feel a sense of adventure when you’re on a time-share with the world and his wife, but maybe the reason they’re so popular is that they’re actually worth seeing. Maybe the tourists had it right all along.
Which raises the question – can you can really be a tourist in your own city? Tourists are often criticised for judging by their own standards, for importing their own ideas; and to be fair, it can sometimes lead to gross cultural insensitivities: standing on the wrong side of the escalator, say, or (god forbid) talking on the tube. But it’s precisely this alternative frame of reference which allows visitors to see with a fresh pair of eyes. As a local, the hardest part is recapturing the shock of the new. Your senses are dulled by constant exposure. Just staying focussed can be a challenge – On holiday, you’re removed from all the distractions of daily life but at home, there’s no escaping the mountain of work commitments and messy house: Even palaces don’t look that great when mentally covered in dirty laundry.
The flip side, of course, is that experience offers its own rewards. The London Eye can’t show me the city skyline for the first time, but there’s still a thrill in recognising familiar landmarks or seeing how the landscape has changed. Where ever you go in London, you’re surrounded by world famous attractions. By assuming I couldn’t and shouldn’t play the tourist, ironically I’ve become the worst kind of tourist of all: I’ve seen only what I want, not what’s all around me.
I saved that list of London visitor attractions. What better place to start tapping into my inner tourist? That said, I’m still not sure I’m quite ready to start talking to strangers on the tube!