Staff Writer May Zaben takes a stroll along the spots that made London feel like home as an international student.
When I first got to London, I was scared. I was nervous, anxious and out-of-my-mind overwhelmed. I remember looking around the train station and thinking, “I’m never going to make it here. How am I going to make it in a city this big? A city like London?”.
I was so convinced I wouldn’t be able to enjoy going to university in this new, foreign place that at one point I wanted to pack my bags and go. But when I faced my fears and told myself to at least try and enjoy London, I ended up falling in love with it without meaning to. Here are the places that made me adore the city I live in now, which I hope you will come to love too:
The tourist landmark everyone knows and loves. When I first got to London, I had wanted to see it ever since I first saw it at 15. When I saw it again 5 years later with a friend on a starless night, it was golden, atmospheric. I took pictures in front of it and remember feeling so at peace; the clock looked like it was welcoming me home. When I went back home that night, I remember dreaming about it as I went to sleep thinking, “I’ll be okay here. If I get to see things as beautiful as that, I’ll be okay”.
Grounded is a coffee place and restaurant in the Aldgate East area. I always went there whenever I needed time to recharge. The minute you walk in you instantly feel at ease. With the comforting music playing in the background, the awe-inspiring food like the East Classic burger and chocolate fondant, the amazing coffee and the incredibly kind employees, you experience the meaning of home all over again. When I first walked in, I knew something about this place would leave a mark on me – and it did. Every time I had to leave Grounded, I never truly wanted to go. And every time I walked in, I found myself loving London more and more.
St. James’s Park
Another place that made me adore London is a park I discovered in my second year of university. It was my birthday, so I decided to treat myself by going there and seeing nature in all its glory. After exiting St. James’s Café with an umbrella in hand and a delicious cup of caramel coffee, I randomly followed one of the signs in the park and found myself at a bridge overlooking the Thames. There were swans, ducklings and all kinds of birds zooming past. There was even a falcon at one point flaunting its beautiful feathers at passers-by. In those little moments, I was so thankful to be there that I didn’t want to be anywhere else. I realized what a blessing it was to be in a place that had both urban and rural-like life. To me, it was amazing — something had me saying, “Okay, London, not bad… not bad at all”!
One of the coffee shops that immediately stole my heart is Caffè Nero, particularly the one situated right before the Virginia Woolf Building in the Strand. This café became my sanctuary between classes. During my breaks I would go there, order a sandwich with a white chocolate mocha and read a book. I’d sit there admiring the writing on the walls and the music playing in the background. I’d often stare in awe at the decorative books on the bookshelves. The whole place has this homey, rustic vibe that leaves you feeling anything but alone.
Sometimes when it rains, you can sit by the window and admire the way little droplets fall, blurring the view of a watery, dreary but still perfect London. Red buses would roam past, people would walk about and you could spot other King’s students too. I’d stay there for hours on most days reading my book, without there ever being a dull moment. On the rainy days I mentioned, I would exit the shop, whip out the umbrella I carry in my coat and walk back to the train station with a smile on my face.
I didn’t know it then, but something about leaving the café every time it rained made me feel at home. It was as though the peace I found inside, left with me, never allowing me to feel sad, hopeless or empty ever again. It was right then that I discovered: London is magical, and, God I am so, so in love.