London Calling

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Parliament Square, London.

After returning to the United States in early June, I was immediately thrown back into the chaos of an American metropolis. This summer, I had the incredible opportunity of working at a medical publishing company in the heart of New York City. Readjusting to the congestion, the cacophonous roar of sirens and car horns, the questionable smells, and the lack of red telephone booths and double-decker buses, among other things, proved to be rather difficult. Yet, it was my daily commute that made me especially reminiscent of London life.  As I rode on the train into the city every morning, I stared out the window at the distant skyscrapers, realizing just how much I missed the London cityscape. Watching as the towering buildings loomed dully in the distance, I thought about how vastly different the skylines of these two major cities were, and I couldn’t help but flashback to my time in London…

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Aerial view of London

During my first week in London, I actually had a brief conversation with a cheerful British man about the differences between London and the Big Apple.  I was at a Carphone Warehouse store to make the stereotypical study abroad pilgrimage of purchasing a cheap, top-up abroad cell phone, when the sales associate asked me where I was from.  I replied, “New Jersey, near New York City.”  Upon hearing New York City, he asked, “Oh, wow. Do you miss the big buildings?”  Until this moment, I really had not thought about NYC.  I walked out of the store, looked up, and noticed how low the buildings of London were. This was the first time I had actually looked up and recognized the differences between the London and New York City cityscapes.

nyc skyline

New York City Skyline

New York City is a bustling metropolis set up in a well-organized grid system of streets and avenues that intersect at clearly defined corners.  The blocks are relatively easy to navigate since the streets are numerical and run horizontally, while the avenues are longer, also numerical, and run vertically. The city is full of twentieth century skyscrapers that tower overhead, making city-goers feel either in awe of the enormity of the surrounding cityscape, or lost in a concrete jungle of towering buildings.

london eye shot 2

An aerial view of the Southbank area of London. Mostly low-lying buildings are visible.

London, on the other hand, is a city that infuses old world charm with striking modern architecture.  It is a place where you can look to the left and see a street adorned with a row of buildings from the early eighteenth century, and then turn right and see a modern architectural marvel, such as the Shard, piercing the skyline. It is also a city brimming with internationally renowned locations: Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, the London Eye, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Globe Theatre, the Tower of London, Kensington Palace…the list goes on.  While New York City also has many internationally-famed locations, including the Empire State Building, Times Square, etc., its array of sites lacks the same historical breadth, and fascinating qualities of London’s attractions.

tower bridge

Tower Bridge, London

Unlike New York City, London was not constructed for the purpose of gazing upward.  It is a city where you are meant to look around at the historical wonders that surround you.   As I wandered through the maze of winding streets, I couldn’t help but be in awe of the ornate buildings, the colorful entrance-ways, and the sea of flowers that swept across restaurant and pub fronts on that early September afternoon.  I couldn’t help but peel back the historical layers of London, imagining what it was like to live here in the days of Shakespeare, or Queen Victoria, or Winston Chruchill.  It was a kind of unique euphoria that I have never experienced while shuffling through the streets of New York City.

Yes, London is a city that shows visible signs of moving forward in both industry and architecture. But, its true beauty comes to light when you take a moment, and look around at the history that surrounds you; when you seize the opportunity to aimlessly wander through its meandering streets, and allow its old world magic to take hold.

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A London side street.

During my time in London, it was difficult for me to miss the tall buildings of New York City, when I was surrounded by such beautifully ornate buildings, and an indescribably rich culture.  Now in my post-abroad life, I miss the magical charm of London more than ever. I yearn for the days of aimless wanderings through that incredible, captivating city. Interning in New York City over the summer made me realize how much I wanted to be able to look around, instead of looking up. I wanted to escape the concrete jungle.

4 thoughts on “London Calling

  1. It was very nice to read your post! The comparison you draw between New York and London is very interesting. I really like when places are full of history like London, when you can see in each brick of the buildings a portion of the past, something that is not probably characteristic of New York. Finally, (I have already mentioned this in other comments but I cannot help saying it again.) I love your writing style, the rich descriptions, and the detailed comparisons.

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  2. Great post! I loved your comparison between London and New York. The metaphor of “the cityscape lost in a concrete jungle of towering buildings” is powerful and perfect because I felt as if I was there. This weekend I went to New York for Thanksgiving break and, after reading your description of New York, a handful of feelings evoked from these memories. I was confused, surprised, and at the same time, astounded by jungle of skyscrapers, new buildings and flashing lights.

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  3. Wow, this was a really insightful post. I loved your comparison between the two cities. I totally understand what you mean about the concrete jungle of New York. I know I am biased from being near here but this is why I love Philadelphia as a city. I think there is a great balance in Philly between industrial high rises and the historical aesthetics of Old City. One of my favorite things (though annoying to drive on) and the cobblestone streets of Old City. It’s just so cool to think that those were the same roads being used during the forming of our country.

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  4. I really like your continued comparison of New York City and London. As a New Yorker I found it a lot easier to get a feeling for your experience in London because I was able to relate to a lot of the things you talked about.

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