We spent this last weekend in London, and it was hard to avoid thinking about what-might-have-been. In the spring of 2007, Amy accepted a job in London, and we had planned to live there for two years. We didn’t feel we could move without first selling our house in Corvallis, though, and unfortunately we were caught in the real estate downturn. As we waited and hoped for the house sale that didn’t come soon enough, we planned our move to England for August of last year. Eventually, though, after weeks and months of no offers on the house, we had to pass on London and wait for the house to sell before looking for a new place to move. So, as we sat in a little Italian restaurant in the City on the first night of our London trip, I realized the dinner could have been a celebration of our one-year anniversary in England, had things turned out just a bit differently.

We love Cork and are happy to be living here, but London is wonderful, and by the end of our first full day, we were already rearranging our future European travel plans to include another trip to London. Or two.

With a population of a bit over 7 million people (the number seems to vary depending on just how you define London), London is a huge city, but we found it easy to find our way. Some people complain about the London Underground, but it was so easy to hop on and off the tube, and our hotel was only a four minute walk to St. Pancras/King’s Cross, which is a station for six different tube lines. Within a few minutes, we could get most places without even transferring.

It was incredible to come out of the tube station at Westminster that first evening and see Big Ben and the Parliament Building, then turn to look across the Thames and see the London Eye. Neither of us had been to London before but I was struck time and again over the weekend by how familiar so much of it was, because we’ve all seen London countless times in movies and on television.

Everything is well sign-posted on the tube and on the streets, and it’s easy to find your way with a good map and guidebook (we bought the Time Out Shortlist guide and it was perfect for us – large enough to have lots of useful information but small enough to fit in a pocket). It was time to explore the city.

Our first evening was spent on a short river cruise from Westminster Bridge to London Bridge, followed by dinner in the City. Saturday we wandered the South Bank, Sunday we roamed from Westminster over to the Natural History Museum, and Monday we walked around the West End before flying back to Cork late that night. Over the three and a half days, we visited the British Museum, the Natural History Museum, the British Library, the Tate Modern, and Harrods, as well as several parks. We saw (just from the outside) St. Paul’s Cathedral, the reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, and Westminster Abbey.

As I mentioned, we’ve already begun plotting our return to London, and we decided that each time we go we’ll visit the British Museum. A person could spend a week there and not see all it contains. We also plan to see a show, and get inside St. Paul’s Cathedral and Winchester Abbey.

The food was great (no, really, it was), and coming first from Corvallis, Oregon, and then Cork, Ireland, seeing the diversity of people in London was fantastic. Take it from someone who participated in the Cork Spencer Tunick installation, Ireland is overwhelmingly white.

Our hope, and our fear, is that we’ll similarly fall in love with each new place we visit. Hope because of course we came to Europe to see as much of it as we could, and we look forward to seeing as much as we can. Fear because there just isn’t enough time to see everything, and we’ll always be torn between seeing something new and going back to a city we love.

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