I’m from Czech Republic and I’ve never had the privilege of traveling outside the mainland. In August of 2014 I decided to visit London and live there for a period of six months. I had several expectations and ideas about what life in London would be like, but nothing could prepare me for the adventure I was partaking.
When I arrived in London I was pleasantly surprised by the cultural diversity of the city. I expected there to be posh White people in suits, top hats and monocles sipping tea and reading the newspaper on the street. That sounds silly, but that’s what I expected. Yet, London in filled with people from all walks of life, Asians, Africans, Europeans, Indians and Arabs. The entire first day I was just operating on auto-pilot. I remember eating at Nando’s, which is a fantastic and affordable restaurant in London, thinking to myself “Where am I? What time is it? Am I really in London?” My girlfriend was with me and she asked if everything was alright. Of course I said yes, but I was positively buzzing inside. There are unique restaurants and eateries everywhere you look. I wouldn’t recommend traveling across town to eat at a specific restaurant. Just explore the options close to where you are staying and take a chance.
It’s really easy to get around in London. Avoid driving or taking a taxi and just use the public transportation system. With pay-as-you-go and contactless payment options, it’s quite easy to pay your fare and visit stops all over the city. Riding the tubes, as it’s called is an experience that you can’t miss. The London Underground is a network of trains that connect the entire city. In just a few minutes, you can zip from one side of the city to the other. There are maps and directions everywhere, so it’s actually quite difficult to get lost. I found the people on the tube to be absolutely hilarious. Nobody wants to talk or make direct eye contact so don’t expect an insightful conversation with a stranger. They all put on headphones or just stare at each others’ shoes. Whatever you do, avoid riding the train during rush hour times, especially if you are just on holiday. During the morning work commute and the evening hours, the tube becomes so densely packed that it’s literally standing room only. I am slightly claustrophobic and stood on the platform for about an hour waiting for a train that wasn’t packed to the doors.
Some of the most culturally-enriched experiences are absolutely free and open to the public. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a memorable adventure in London. I was shy at first, but after a week I decided to see some of the cultural sights. I started with the British Museum. I wanted to see the Egyptian antiquities, but along the way I saw some awesome artifacts from Europe and England. By the time I got to the Egyptian exhibit, my eyes were already popping out of my head. I didn’t do any research ahead of time and I was stunned when I saw Cleopatra’s mummy. I kept asking the attendants, “the real Cleopatra?” They gave me funny looks, but it was in fact the real Cleopatra. She’s famous!
My next cultural site was the National Gallery. I had never been to an art gallery, so I had no idea how to properly view fine art. Again, the place was free, but they encourage donations from the public. I wandered around without much direction and found it quite boring at first. Then, I saw some names and paintings that I actually recognized. There are paintings from Monet, Rembrant, and Vincent Van Gogh on display in the gallery. I was impressed, but the attendants weren’t so impressed with me. I kept mispronouncing Van Gogh and saying “wow”. This place was stuffy so I would advise leaving the jokes and hijinks outside.
London has several zones that divide the city. It’s a good way to see the city because you can take it in smaller bites. I enjoyed East London, with its diverse population and down-to-earth people. There are so many little shops and street markets, making East London one of my favorite places to shop. West London was rather posh and clean. This is where you’ll find the best restaurants and also the highest prices. Central London is awesome. It’s a great place to just walk around. Trafalgar Square is just outside the National Gallery and it’s a wide-open courtyard with fountains and statues. It’s a great place to hang out and catch your breath. There are plenty of street entertainers and tourists in this part of town, so I never felt out of place. I stopped by Trafalgar Square several times during my journey.
Journeys are tremendous events in one’s life. They are proving grounds to character. There is a strange dichotomy between who we are and who we think we are that is always tested when you venture out. No matter what you think, there must come a moment in one’s life when the dichotomy shrinks away and we pass a clear mirror into the soul. A journey is a great looking glass, especially a long journey, even more so, one that ends in the unknown. There is a lesson to be learned in everything. Every face bears witness to some experience. There are great stories to be told at the crossroads where travelers intersect. One must become attentive to the voices that float on the wind. Luckily, our ears don’t have lids and can’t be shut. One always hears but must choose to listen. If the journey ends and one has gained nothing by way of knowledge in new things or deeper understanding of self, then there was no journey at all. It is only through motion that we change. Only movement can truly move us. Sometimes, it is only though knowledge of our opposites that we truly come to know ourselves.
Bio: Natalya Pobedova is a travelling nomad and backpacker from beautiful Brno Czech Republic. She is 27 and makes a living as a freelance web developer to support her traveling needs. She also runs a budget flight search website for backpackers as a hobby: http://www.travelsiders.com/. She dreams of visiting Brazil and speaks Portuguese fluently. She visited 14 countries already and most of them are in Europe.