Saturday, December 22, 2012

thoughts from London

I'm writing this from the lounge at the Central London Youth Hostel (a lovely place, by the way - would definitely recommend!) - there's a football match on tv (ATH vs. ZAR - side note, turns out ATH stands for Athletic Club Bilbao, which...aren't they all athletic? Is this one team particularly MORE athletic than the rest? If so, shouldn't they have won enough games that I would have heard about them? I'm just saying...), I'm drinking a Samuel Smith, and snacking on a piece of Cadbury chocolate. Yay, London!

I climbed to the top of St. Paul's Cathedral yesterday - 528 steps from the ground floor, all the way up to the Golden Gallery. I almost didn't do it - I had climbed to the Stone Gallery, which is 376 steps up - and I was feeling pretty tired. If you decide to go up to the Golden Gallery you don't get to change your mind - the staircase is too narrow to accommodate people going in both directions, so you have to go all the way up to access the down stairs. About a third of the way up to the Golden Gallery I began to seriously regret my decision when the nice stone steps turned into a very narrow, very winding, very see through wrought iron staircase. I will never understand why people do that - stairs should not be see-through, especially when you are 250 feet up in the air. Anyways, it was exhausting and a little terrifying and absolutely, totally, completely worthwhile. Which is probably the best way to describe this entire trip.

Wednesday night when I was taking a jet-lagged shower at the hostel, I kept thinking about how strange it was for me to get on a plane to London without any real idea of what I was going to do when I got here. It’s hard for me to believe – a few years ago, I'm not sure I would have come on this trip – I think instead I would have decided that it was too expensive, or the timing was too complicated, and let that be an excuse not to do something that might be a little scary. Granted, London isn't exactly a difficult place to travel to - I speak the language and can read all of the menus, which makes things way more comfortable. And I booked a hostel and bought a guidebook before I got on the plane. But I got on the plane without an itinerary worked out, and that's a big step for me.

I should mention, by the way, that the reason I'm here at all is because of the Limmud NY\Limmud UK Exchange. It happens every year - a few of our volunteers come to Limmud UK and a few of their volunteers come to Limmud NY, and we all have a chance to be a part of a broader international community and learn from each other. Or something like that. Thank you, thank you, thank you to Limmud NY for sending me here -I very much appreciate it!

I have done a huge amount of things since I got here on Thursday morning - the Tower of London + the Crown Jewels, Westminster Cathedral + Abbey, a walk through Westminster from Big Ben and Parliament Square to Trafalgar Square, fish and chips at a pub, a huge walk through the City (everything from the Savoy Hotel to St Paul's Cathedral to the London Bridge), afternoon tea at the Tate Modern plus several hours perusing the collection, the British Museum, the British Library, a walk through the West End, and tea at Fortum & Mason [thanks, Mom and Dad, for giving me the means to treat myself to a fancy tea!]). My feet are sore, I am exhausted, I think I may never dry out completely, and I have loved every single moment of it. Except for the steps - I could've done without those.

So, given the extensive list of stuff I've done, I just want to share a few recurring thoughts I've been having while I've been wandering the city.

  • I keep finding myself staring at hugely expensive things and thinking, “how many people could they feed if they sold this?” I ask myself this question on a regular basis - I remember having particularly strong feelings about it when I was in the Vatican Museum a few years ago with Jesse. It's the churches that I find especially difficult to reconcile. They are so incredibly gorgeous, and holy - and I appreciate the aesthetic and historical importance of places like Westminster and St. Paul's - but its difficult not to wonder. And the Crown Jewels - that stuff is incredible - it's beautiful, it's historical, it's occasionally even functional - but I have a feeling that the Queen would be able to feed a lot of people with all those diamonds.
  • I have been noticing how much differently I feel about cities after living in NYC for two and a half years. I've been riding the Underground without fear; I even took a city bus yesterday so that I could sit on the second level. I navigate crowds with ease - London walkers have nothing on the tourists near the Pardes office in Midtown, or the visiting students at NYU. I don't know when I turned into the kind of person who could just...wander around a city alone for three days - but I am glad that it happened.
  • And I have been thinking about how incredibly grateful I am to all of the people who supported me through the last few weeks – phone calls, encouraging words and emails and texts, baked goods – I have such an amazing group of people in the world, and I have no idea how I got so lucky. Seriously. I love you.
So. That's that! It's time for me to get some sleep, so that I can get up bright and early tomorrow and head to Limmud for four-and-a-half intensive days of Jewish learning.

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