… Had me low, had me down, but suddenly, I saw you standing right there, and in foggy London town, the sun was shining everywhere (Name that tune)
Last weekend, I made my first sojourn into London for a walking tour. As evidenced by the title, it was a typical London day; foggy, misty, and chilly. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Walking over the London bridge, and seeing Big Ben shrouded in cloud cover in the distance truly convinced me that I had arrived in London. One of the first sights we saw was the London Eye, the giant Ferris wheel that offers a view of the entire city. It was exceptionally impressive to behold standing at the base. We then moved on to the Thames River. Looking down into the muddy depths littered with floating…well, litter, I was surprised to hear the tour guide say that it is one of the cleanest rivers in Europe and Asia. I wonder what it may have looked like when the city of Londinium was first established, before humanity and modernity clouded it with filth. Nevertheless, it is the brown blood giving London life, so I appreciate its beauty before moving along.
Our next stop took us by Number 10, Downing Street (the residence of the Prime Minister). Due to security constraints, it is no longer possible to stand in front of Number 10. The entire street is blocked off by gates and armed guards. I was able to peer down past the gates however, where I saw a guard standing outside the actual building. Unlike the White House, it is very unimposing. It appears to be a simple townhouse, guarded by a black door marked only by a number 10. Yet like the White House, it houses one of the democratic leaders in the world. The pomp and circumstance is reserved for the leaders of Britain’s past, and the seat of their power; Buckingham Palace.
After a walk through King James Park, we started seeing signs directing the way to Buckingham Palace. Despite the warnings, though, the sight of it still startled me. The first sight that struck me was the fountain commemorating Queen Victoria. Her unmistakable likeness guards the entrance to Britain’s cultural headquarters, as she did in life. In less than two years, Queen Elizabeth II will overtake Queen Victoria’s title as longest-reigning monarch in English history. In my opinion, however, Elizabeth’s reign cannot even compare to Victoria’s. Victoria oversaw the largest empire in the world, and her children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews sat on thrones in countless countries. She was so much more than a figurehead; she was an Empress. Although Elizabeth II is an exceptional woman who is vastly important to the world, Victoria was a ruler.
Along the way on my trip in London, I allowed myself all the delights allowed first-time visitors; picture in front of Big Ben, pretending to use a red phone booth (not an experience to be repeated, as they appear to also serve as public urinals), and capturing photos of everything I saw. But the experience has taught me a lot about the beauty of being a tourist. After living in Newport for the past two years, I have answered the question, “How do I get to the Breakers?” more times than I can count. I have grumbled about clueless visitors clogging up the trolley system and making me late for class. What I fail to remember is that they have the spectacular gift of experiencing Newport through fresh eyes. As humans, it is upsetting how accustomed we can become to beauty, and how much we take for granted everyday. There is nothing like experiencing a new city for the first time to remind you of the beauty in the world, and that there is beauty to be found when you return home as well. When I return home, I will not complain about tourists, but envy them their chance to see it all with the wonder only new experience generates. I will even take a moment to try and appreciate my surroundings more. Beauty is found everywhere, even in a filthy, mud brown river on a cold, rainy, foggy day.