You Won’t Get a London Top 10 List From Me

I’m sitting in a north London flat drinking red wine after just grabbing my favorite naan for 1 Quid from the shop that’s between my tube stop and the apartment and I’m wishing that I wasn’t already leaving for Rome tomorrow. My time here is never long enough. It’s like Paris in that way.

Now, my London isn’t of Big Ben, Buckingham Palace or a luxury hotel with to-die-for views. It’s the curry places, the vintage clothes to be sourced in pop-up markets, the artisan coffee shops, the long walls of abundant street art in dodgy parts of town, the places that still sell working-film-cameras, the pubs tourists don’t go in the neighborhoods tourists don’t know about and the little corner outside Kings Cross station that will forever mean something to me which cannot be put into words – written or spoken.

I believe that sometimes travel bloggers concentrate so much on Top 10 Lists and hotel reviews that they forget travel should be about more than ticking off lists and going wherever others recommend. London is one of the places I travel to again and again because I can be traveling but be without some of the burdens that come from always being in a new place and on assignment to report every detail.

A few nights back I was in a pub, partly owned by a Kiwi and we were sending off a woman from New Zealand who is leaving London to travel the world for a good while. Australian ex-pats and other Kiwis, a few South Africans and I spent a night really talking about politics, science, education, literature, movies, music … and a little bit of travel. But because I wasn’t actually with other travelers and instead with people who have proper jobs – I learned a lot that night. In several conversations I was forced to similarly trash, or defend – the United States and its politics, my way of life as an American, my choice of profession. I could hardly believe how much I learned about other people that night and even more how much I learned about myself when I was asked questions I am never normally asked. It was the kind of night you can only have in a place that you’re not from, yet in which you’re comfortable enough to let down your guard long enough to get real.
Eating curry here in the UK may not help me learn anything about India or even London. However, it has helped me like curry. For some reason, I was always hesitant to try Indian food in the United States. However, when I was taken to a curry place in Brick Lane – I didn’t want to let my friends down. So, I ordered curry. And I liked it. Now, I love it.

I actually once thought the English only drank tea. Then, my friend Rick kindly took me on a coffee tour of London and I discovered the Flat White. I’ve since discovered I owe my love of that to Australians. I owe my new understanding and knowledge to Rick. To London, I owe my apologies for thinking it could ever be so narrow minded as to not embrace both tea and coffee.

I won’t make you a list of my favorite haunts in this diverse city. I’m keeping them to myself! I want to urge you to travel in such a way that sometimes you slow down and find the spots which you will never reveal, urge you to take time to learn and not just see, even urge you to skip Big Ben all together in favor of making your way slowly through neighborhoods that might be on the far edge of safe. I think it’s when we allow ourselves the opportunity to return to destinations we have visited before to see them in new ways and to really see them, not just race through them, that we do the most justice to the opportunities we have to travel.

I did that with London this time. And now, I will head to Rome for a drastic change of pace where every moment will be scheduled, every meal will need to be photographed and my lesson at a Gladiator school may make for a really unique blog post. Or an embarrassing YouTube video (not that I’m a stranger to embarrassing videos). Stay tuned!



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  • http://www.belizeadventure.ca/ Lorenzo Gonzalez

    Nice post. I do find your perspective interesting but if I visited London I would definitely not miss Big Ben… It is such an important landmark and I’ve always had a desire to see it personally. :) Of course on my second or third visit i’d opt out to have a more off the beaten path experience – or why not mix it up from the first time?
    P.s. I’m betting you’ll probably still get organic hits for this post with the keywords “London top 10.” lol

    • http://www.aviatorsandacamera.com/ Kirsten Alana

      You may not believe this Lorenzo, but that actually never occurred to me about SEO. That’s how little I pay attention to that part of blogging. I do this for the joy of it and make my money in other ways. 

      Anyway, glad you enjoyed the post. 

      And please do visit Big Ben IF you’ve never been. Then, the other times you can dig deeper into London ;)

  • http://twitter.com/amontrealer A Montrealer Abroad

    I really understand where you’re getting at, and I can only agree! London is such a huge, busy, bustling place, it’s impossible to see all of it in a single lifetime. After all, when you get tired of London, you get tired of life… for there is in London all that life can afford! I can’t remember who said that, but I never found truer words about a city.

    You should consider moving to London for a few months, I bet you’d like it :-)

    • http://www.aviatorsandacamera.com/ Kirsten Alana

      I am so glad you agree with me and understand about London! :) Those words seem very true indeed!

  • http://www.yomadic.com/ Nate

    Something about London in the air? I posted an article on London today as well, with a completely different take than this one. I’m glad you didn’t do a “top 10″ (neither did I), your article is much more personal, and interesting, in this format. Really, I enjoyed reading it.

    • http://www.aviatorsandacamera.com/ Kirsten Alana

      Very kind words. Thank you Nate! Can you link me to the article you posted?

  • Cathy Ly

    Your photos are sooo soulful. I just loved the way you talked about each aspect of your experiences.

    Although I was detained in Manchester, UK – and am not allowed to enter UK for however long (due to purchasing a one way ticket and being HIGHLY unprepared) – – I am sure it is a fabulous place.

     First time checking out this blog from World Tour Stories and it was love at first sight. THank you.

    Cathy Trails

    • http://www.aviatorsandacamera.com/ Kirsten Alana

      Cathy, I am so very thankful you found my blog AND have enjoyed it thus far. Thank you for taking the time to leave such a kind comment.

      And I am very sorry you are not currently allowed in the UK. I hope that changes. Soon.

  • http://www.novacationrequired.com Caanan @ No Vacation Required

    I love this – being your travel companion via posts. It’s the approach we try to take as well. And I love that you will be going to gladiator school. WERQ it.

    Oh, and we WILL get the Kings Cross corner story out of you one day :)

    • http://www.aviatorsandacamera.com/ Kirsten Alana

      I’m so glad you like that I am posting more often :) It’s a lot more work of course and I feel a bit as if what I have to share isn’t important but if you enjoy reading and it seems some others do too…it’s a good thing!

      Gladiator School tomorrow morning ….

      You *think* you will get my KC story out of me ;) 

  • Cathleenn

    YES! My husband’s friends don’t understand why we’re stalling on booking an all-inclusive Caribbean trip – our favorite part of traveling is the hidden dim sum place in Honolulu and the Mexican dive in Muskogee and Moto in Brooklyn and the places we’ve wandered in between: the surprises that most people don’t realize are there. If you’re already got everything taken care of, you’re less likely to discover something memorable. Anyway, as always, gorgeous photos!

  • http://notinthepink.com Ceri

    Oh, Kristen, you make me miss my homeland so much. <3

  • A Cook Not Mad (Nat)

    I’m so glad you’re not into lists and hotel reviews and I love that you like film cameras.  What I  love most is that your photos are more art than just pictures of places. 

  • A Cook Not Mad (Nat)

    I’m so glad you’re not into lists and hotel reviews and I love that you like film cameras.  What I  love most is that your photos are more art than just pictures of places. 

  • http://www.world-first.co.uk/ @WFTristan

    Thats My kind of London too – The Dirty Gritty side – When I first moved to London in the 90’s I was a low paid ( and I do mean LOW ) Runner on the LIFFE floor – my weekends entertainment was to go exploring London – Side streets,back alleys, Dodgy housing estates, I loved it and the upside was that I learnt my way round London like the back of my hand. Never got lost ! how could i when i wasn’t going anywhere in particular.

    Tristan

  • EmmaSparks

    Such a lovely post. I’ve just moved to London and looking forward to getting beyond the usual tourist traps, and finding my special places. Really awesome pics too! :)

    • http://www.aviatorsandacamera.com/ Kirsten Alana

      Thank you so much Emma! I hope you really enjoy living in London!

  • http://whichhotel4me.com/ Spencer

    I do love London but it can get a bit much at times. That said, London is a world class city and one that is constantly evolving, which is half its charm. Every time I go back  there it seems that little bit different.

    • http://www.aviatorsandacamera.com/ Kirsten Alana

      I agree that London really is a world class city and while it’s imperfect, I love it – flaws and all.

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  • http://twitter.com/creative_nomad_ creative nomad

    seems like you have been lucky enough to discover the real London. Being one of those Australian expats I have learned so much about my own country and the UK. One of which is how much of a coffee culture Australia has compared to the pub culture of the UK. This is probably why you owe finding good coffee to the Australians. I think the UK’s coffee culture has picked up a lot but I still prefer it for its pubs :P If your ever in Holborn check out the Fleet River Bakery, not far from the station but by far one of the best coffee palces in London

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