Braving the new normal is a challenge but when it comes to London I think we have a clear advantage. Brits and particular Londoners don’t exactly have a reputation of being warm, sociable folks who wrap their arms around a stranger and guide them out of their comfort zone, welcoming them into a new world. Keeping distance physically and emotionally is what they do best. Everyone’s at “arm’s length”. Especially the London underground is known for a place to mind your own, avoid touching anything and keeping your eyes at bay, glancing down at your phone, feet or folded hands praying for a quick and seamless journey to your destination of choice. A metal cart catapulting its way across London through a never ending gigantic underground tube system. The only sounds to be heard are the screeching brakes on the tracks undermining the polite voice of the train conductor announcing next stops, minor delays and changes. Boarding the enclosed capsule with fellow masked travellers seemed impossible a few months ago and yet I have not felt so welcomed and free in my beloved city as I did yesterday. Keeping six feet apart was an impossible ask, holding the handrail and moving as far down into the carriage where my calves brushed up against other travellers’ bags and our feet found their way into an effortless marriage, taking up the space needed to stand grounded as the carriage pulled into the next station. Maybe it is the quintessential London way of going about our lives that made it feel so familiar – just keep calm and carry on – or maybe it is a sense of nostalgia; in any case it felt just as easy now as it did two years ago. I eased into the morning commute as effortlessly as I had left it, changing at three stations and following the bobbing heads of thousands of other city dwellers on their way through foot tunnels, up escalators, overtaking slower passengers and being left in the shadows by those faster than me. Stepping onto the train, bound for a place beyond the city walls I already felt more alive than I have in weeks.
Arriving at my final destination and walking through quaint seaside town alleyways, passing fishing huts turned airbnbs, cottages covered in blossoming flowers, cobbled pavements, old theatres turned pubs and old pubs turned modern seafood tapas bars. Embracing Whitstable, a harbour town mesmerising to the eye, as we sit gazing out to sea watching the coastline melt into the sky beyond the horizon. Finally my sense of adventure returned and I found myself energised by the curiosity of the unknown. Meandering along the harbour getting lost in a cloud of comfort, French language lessons and laughter, the tray of lemon and vinegar glazed Rock Oysters and the crisp cool pints of beer enhanced the effortlessness that surrounded this excursion. Venturing along the Saxon Shoreway, a historic coastal path where the Romans first invaded Britain I was transported back in time as we walked across the marsh lands and along the beach front. Plain sailing into the next seaside town of Herne Bay, where striped wooden beach huts line the path, we walked along the street and out onto the pier to discover the typical English summer seaside pleasures. The electrifying sound of the game arcades, where outdated slot machines compete with the high-tech version of “bash the coconut”. Where grab machines dangle their claws over a pool of soft toys in bright pink as fluorescent as the candy floss that hangs off the ceiling above the sweet shop. The promenade, a descent strip for motor enthusiasts to show off their cruising skills, a romantic spot for couples to walk hand in hand as the sun sets over the sea, a playground for children to run and laugh with a days’ worth of ice cream and sand on their faces and in their hair, an outdoor dining space with a restaurant that serves anything with chips and wait staff discourage from choosing the frozen fish in this seaside town. The conversations with locals about home countries, travelled places and towns experienced in our distant memories now morphed with images of a here and now make way for a step forward to new adventures that lie ahead. A conscious effort to change my four walls for a scenery much less predictable that helps pave the way forward and the bet paid off.
Boarding the train back to London, the day’s adventure has left its mark. A sun kissed face, sore feet and tired legs, the sandy and salty texture to my hair and the sheer appreciation for the wonderful and beautiful places our world has to offer, leave me with an everlasting smile and a sense of finding back to me.
As I have struggled with a great sense of isolation these last twelve months I found comfort in this adventure, allowing the world to wrap its arms around me, provide me with the trust that whatever lies ahead I am ready and dare to explore our brave new world in all its beauty.