From my favorite spot on the couch in the living room, where my butt is comfortably imprinted and I usually have my coffee and work, when you look out the window, all you can see are the drab brown rooftops of the exact same housing blocks in the rest of the neighborhood. It’s only when you make the effort to get up and stand next to the window that you are rewarded with the beautiful views of Canary Wharf in one direction, typically with lights on at all hours of the night, and The Shard and The Eye in the other direction, backlit against the sunset.
My relationship with London has kind of been similar. I’ve spent a lot of time complaining about anything I could think of – mostly the weather – but when I’ve made the effort to stand up and get into London, I’ve loved it (when it wasn’t raining). Over three years later, and I can finally admit that – England has been very, very good to me.
When I woke up this morning, in a room devoid of all photographs and personal effects (packing sucks), I realized that I won’t sleep as a UK resident again – at least not for a long time, and not in the same life. I’ve been in the UK for three and a half years, and in the Weald Close apartment for two years, making both my longest-running residences since … I don’t know, high school?
It doesn’t really feel like I’m leaving yet. My last day at work was last Friday, and I had planned to spend the last week wandering around the city and checking out all of the places that I’ve been meaning to go to but haven’t had time for yet. Little did I know, I’ve accumulated quite an impressive load of stuff over the past two years, and going through all of it and packing it into three boxes, a suitcase and a massive backpack took the better part of the week.
Even yesterday, though, when I was finally free from packing and had planned to be frantically rushing around and trying to go to Portobello Market, have a walk on the Thames, eat a final curry, and get a bottle of wine at myfavoritewinebarthatIwillnevertellanyoneabout, I sat on my couch to write this, feeling no particular rush to get out of my pajamas and leave the house … because it feels like I’ll be doing the same thing tomorrow, and again the next day.
I did eventually make it over to Broadway Market, where my efforts were rewarded with a massive slice of cake and hundreds of puppies.
Of course, I’ve made this rookie mistake every time I’ve moved, which has been a lot, and which also means that either I am still a rookie or it is actually a really common mistake. When I moved away from Cambridge, I never went to the Fitzwilliam Museum – my final stop of the Tour de Cambridge – because I knew I would keep coming back to see Felix on the weekends.
We never went.
When Felix moved to the US, I still didn’t panic, because I figured I would go to Cambridge at least once or twice before moving, and I would be able to go to the museum then. I did go back a few times, but I never went to that museum.
And the thing is, I’m not even a massive fan of museums. I like them, but I so much more enjoy walking around a city and folding myself into the ebbs and flows of its patterns, discovering neighborhoods and finding the small joys of daily life – even as a tourist.
The Trip To The Fitzwilliam Museum That Wasn’t has become the manifestation of my personal philosophy towards travel and living. I’ve felt the need to go to it this entire time because it’s a world-class museum in a world-class city (town) where I attended a world-class university, so why wouldn’t I go? But as much as I would have loved to – and I would still like to, really! – it became more a matter of ticking off an item on a list. I will go someday, I’m sure – as Felix put it, neither London nor Cambridge will burn down anytime soon.
But in the meantime, I have zero regrets about how I’ve lived in London. I feel fulfilled by everything I’ve done, and I’m at peace with everything I haven’t done – because even if I were being paid to do so, there’s no way I could hit up every dining establishment in London in a single lifetime (not least because half of them close just as quickly as they open). And as one of my favorite travel gurus told me this week, always give yourself a reason to go back.
Even with no regrets about the past 3.5 years, I can’t help but thinking about how I’ve come to the end of an era. Looking back at the pictures since September 2013, each memory feels so recent I can almost taste it. And looking back at all of them, I’m amazed by how quickly the time has passed. I remember standing in line for the Girton Ball in 2013, almost three years ago exactly, with a bottle of wine per person and freezing because the ticket machine was broken. I remember the excitement, later that year, of getting my first real job – even if the salary was abysmal.
And looking back over that time, I can see without a doubt how much I’ve grown – possibly in more ways that one thanks to an affinity for dried mango. I feel not only smarter (thank you, expensive piece of paper from Cambridge), but wiser and more able to handle what life throws at me. When I think about how 23-year-old, first-year-in-England Leah would deal with some of the trials and tribulations of 26-year-old, hardened-by-London Leah, I have to smile, because it would have been such a clusterfuck.
Unquestionably, I can credit much of the change I’ve seen within myself to the people I’ve surrounded myself with. When I first came to Cambridge, the plan was to spend the year in the country, do my Master’s, and then head back to New York. What I didn’t expect was that I would find myself convinced by the group of people I met there – one in particular, of course – to stick around for a few more years. Since then, we’ve grown together, cheered for each other, cried together, drank and laughed together, and moaned about jobs/PhDs/general life together.
The same is true for the myriads of friends I’ve made along the way since then, and it’s hard to put into words exactly the impact that it’s had on me, so I think I’ll skip it for now. Suffice it to say that it’s heartbreaking to have to leave people behind – even more than leaving a place behind – but the above-mentioned travel guru has also reminded me that leaving friends behind is just a good excused to plan adventures with them in the future, so I’ll have to keep that to mind.
In any case, I’m thankful for those I’ve spent my time with – my companions at restaurants and bars, at work and in class, on trips and adventures, at markets and cafes, or just on the couch and in the kitchen. You all hold a special place in my heart and you’ve shaped me into the person that I am today – so thank you.
While I’m sad to be leaving the UK, I’m excited to head off on a new adventure today. I’ll be travelling in Thailand and Vietnam for the next three weeks, fulfilling my lifelong dream of unapologetically stuffing my face with as much pad thai and bun sa as I can handle without literally exploding.
It’s been a long time since I’ve travelled like this on my own – four years, to be exact. In January 2013, I did a trip through Europe, touching down in Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, France, and the Netherlands. This trip will be my first time doing such a haul in a region that I am 100% unfamiliar with – I’ve never been east of the Dead Sea, and have never been 1000% illiterate in a country.
I’m massively excited for this. Excited enough that it’s taking my mind off of what I’m leaving behind – at least for now. I’ll land in Bangkok on Monday evening, and after three days there I’ll spend around five days each in Chiang Mai, Koh Lanta and Hanoi. Coming back, I’ll spend a day in Beijing and a night in London before flying home from London for the last time and driving out to Denver.
You may have noticed that I’m still numbering these posts, which may seem a bit ridiculous by now, because I’m so spectacularly behind on my goal of writing 26 posts between my 26th and 27th birthdays that even college-aged me would be impressed. But just because I haven’t been writing doesn’t mean I haven’t been keeping with my goal to find inspiration in the little things. I have a list of topics that deserve attention to the tune of approximately 800 words each, including comparing Waterloo Bridge to Times Square and reflecting on the ethical considerations of working in consulting and investing (for the sake of keeping readers, I’ll probably skip that last one).
Here’s to hoping that my fingers will move a little bit faster in the next 4.5 months, and here’s to you, England. Thank you for everything.