To the many caring souls that have asked me how London was, I have answered: London is undeniably cool (even chic), though traveling alone is another thing altogether.
I really like London. Seven nights here, and I will still return again – to explore the slam poetry scene, to experience its pub night-life, to see dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum, to watch more West End shows, to buy books from Magma and more. Give me a month here and I’ll come back with a pretentious British accent.
But I cannot maintain that solo-traveling was a wholly euphoric experience (except maybe to my dad, who will use any admission of loneliness against me~). At some times, it was incredibly liberating. At others, it was intensely lonely.
The first night was probably the worst. I gather that it is the same magical quality about nights that make it so conducive for gossamer truths, that make it so difficult to be alone. All the other nights, I was exhausted after an entire day of walking, reached back late after a show and promptly fell asleep after bathing. But on that first night, I was hungry (and there were no nearby food stalls that I knew of), I was jetlagging, I reached quite late in the evening and my accomodation was… let’s just say that I took a while to get used to it.
The next day was more bittersweet. Going to both Bath and Stonehenge in a single day-tour has convinced me of my hypothesis: I can explore a city alone, but I prefer to share a countryside.
Bath is a Belle-esque little “city” that is on UNESCO’s list for its architectural and historical significance. And as I wandered around its cobblestoned streets and homogenous Neo-classical buildings, I felt this great freedom. I could go anywhere, stop anywhen, talk to anybody. I did not actually talk to people that much (something I mildly regret), but I did stop many times and made many detours.
Cities are an assault on the senses – even for one as small and quaint as Bath. There is always some little detail to catch your attention, some quaint shop in the narrow street, some interesting life hidden away in the bustle of commerce. Which is why I like to walk randomly in cities. Too much remains undiscovered when you just travel from one touted attraction to another. To deviate from the plan, to be untied to a schedule, to just eat an ice cream and watch a busker – these are such luxuries.
Stonehenge was quite fine, if not underwhelming. I think I hyped myself a little too much, envisioning paganish awe as I stood amidst ancient mysterious ruins. But there was a crude perimeter to cordon off the site. Tourist attractions :/ should have known better.
I was probably more captivated by the endless fields of green surrounding the monoliths. I imagined myself running through those fields in wild abandon and reckless joy. But with no one to laugh at or with me, I wondered to myself, what was the point of such a privately ecstatic experience?
I felt lonely, but for once it was a gentle, even pleasant kind of loneliness, because rather than unfolding against a backdrop of laughter and fellowship, which would have caused me to suffer from the contrast between my mood and the environment, it had as it’s locus a place where everyone was a stranger, where the difficulties of communication and the frustrated longing for love seemed to be acknowledged and brutally celebrated by the architecture and lighting.
– Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel
Understandably, I was really happy to meet up with Ivan and Yip at Heathrow. Understandably, I will definitely go solo again.