Friday, 8 December 2017

A Walk Through London and Our Memories

In the lives of most of us, there are friendships we have built in our youths, left when we pursued our dreams and yet easily picked up where we left off every time we meet again. Every reunion feels like a homecoming, a visit to our old selves and an exploration of our new one.

My friend Kamille came to see us again this year. Last year she came all the way from Dubai to have a taste of our idyllic life in sunny Spain, this time she was welcomed in the warm comfort of our cosy home in cold Britain.

We knew each other for most of our lives - we went to the same elementary school, lived in the same neighbourhood, competed against each other in high school and joined the same clubs at university. Our circle of friends and close family revolve around the same orbit, our interests matched. We were meant to be friends. But more than those, ours was a friendship built on mutual respect, admiration and honesty.

I always look forward to these visits and the occasional calls we have on Skype, schedule permitting. The life of an immigrant can be quite isolating, because you are no longer the same person you were when you left the place of your origin. You learn to see your old world from the outside looking in but your enlightenment will never be welcomed by those you have left behind. So finding a kindred spirit can ease the sense of alienation.

After two nights in Sheffield, we headed off to London to hit the English capital on foot. Our hotel was in The City, a walking distance to the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge.

We followed the River Thames, walked towards the middle of the Millenium Bridge to admire the dome of St Paul's Cathedral before walking back towards it. We walked along Fleet Street until it merged with The Strand, where we admired the many beautiful buildings and quirky shops along the way.

The walk led us to Covent Garden, all dressed up for Christmas with street entertainments in full swing.

Trafalgar Square was just around the corner and a walk through The Mall and cutting through St James' Park brought us to the Buckingham Palace.

The sun was setting when we walked back St James's Park to walk towards the Houses of Parliament and for the evening view of the Thames and the London Eye (stock photos added because of the ongoing restoration work in the area).

Then we took the tube to Apollo Victoria Theater for the evening performance of the West End musical, Wicked, which was an enjoyable experience and worth the expensive tickets.

The next day found us back in Westminster, admiring the gothic facades of the Houses of Parliament and the Westminster Abbey, walking along the road that follows the path of the north of Thames where many beautiful buildings also stand. Despite the ongoing restoration, Kamille found these iconic structures as impressive as the many movies and tv dramas make them out to be.

After a walk around the neighbourhood, we took the tube at Victoria station towards the affluent area of Kensington, admiring the homes of some of the world’s richest – the streets were clean, the houses pristine but it was dead quiet and felt empty (because they are). We passed by the many museums that are within walking distance from each other (Natural History Museum, Science Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum and The Royal Albert Hall) to get to Hyde Park. It was at the Serpentine where we rested our tired feet and took in the beauty of nature we were allowed to enjoy in the heart of a busy capital, on a cold but sunny day.

We were determined to visit the infamous home of Sherlock Holmes so to Baker Street we headed off and took a break for lunch. The shops around the area have capitalised on the fame of its fictional resident and seem to be drawing in tourists who allow themselves to be sucked in.

We took the tube to Picadilly Circus and found the statue of Apollo also undergoing restoration. Leicester Square was abuzz with weekend and Christmas shoppers. The tourists here are mostly from the Far East, visiting the lively China Town littered with shops and restaurants that remind them of home. Despite my criticism for the (mostly) unhealthy Chinese cuisine, I had a huge smile on my face when I found my favourite warm pork buns on one of the busy restaurants.

The sun was starting to set when we descended down the tube next to Trafalgar Square to go to the famous shopping district of Oxford Street but the hordes of shoppers charging at us like bulls outside the station was enough to make us retreat to the nearest bus stop to go back to our hotel, admiring the busy city at night on top of the double decker. Back in the comfort of our hotel room, we ordered a takeaway and enjoyed an hour-long reflexology session, to top off a perfect ladies getaway.

I have been to London many times before but with each visit there is always something new to discover – an exciting neighbourhood, a fascinating lesson on history, a better appreciation of life.
It has been a decade since Kamille and I have both left our hometown and followed different paths that led us to where we are now. But we have managed to come to the same conclusion, that although we have not quite achieved what we have set out to do, at 33, we have not done so badly.

As we talked about our shared memories and the many experiences we have collected through the years we were apart, we came to understand that at our very core, we are the same people we were then, but made wiser by the choices we have made for ourselves. It is for me, an outcast for most of my adult years, a liberating realisation. Surely there is nothing like an old friend to remind you to be kinder and forgiving to yourself, someone who looks at you not with judgment but with an acceptance that only comes from the knowledge of your past that brought you to those choices.

They say that we seldom remember the words that move us but we bear the memories of those moments in our hearts, just like we remember places we visit not with their landmarks but with the people we were with and the happy memories we shared with them. So when we bid another goodbye, we also hoped that the next reunion will be soon enough. 'Til next time, Kamz!

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