London: Day 1 – Jet Lagged Reality
Of all the international cities I semi-frequently travel to, London always feels the least foreign. That's partly because all the signs are in English and the sights seem somewhat familiar—the West End is just Broadway with shorter buildings. There's something very routine about being here, despite the fact that I'm completely out of my element. When we come to London for business, it's usually where we begin the trip, so maybe the jet lag has something to do with my inability to come to terms with reality. But this being my fourth time to London, I still don't really feel like I'm here. I don't know how else to explain it. When I'm in Paris, I know I'm in Paris. When I'm in Rome, I know I'm in Rome. London, however, seems difficult to pin down. It doesn't scream London. I don't really feel like I'm in London right now. I feel like I'm in some weird middle dimension, somewhere between modern day New York and Oliver Twist.
Our hotel, the Hixton in Holborn, is hip, happening, and very familiar. I could be at the Grove on Mission Street, or in an open cafe near Williamsburg. Lots of closely-sheared heads with long shaggy beards. Lots of tailored jeans with dress shoes. Lots of internet surfing and coffee drinking.
You walk by a crowded square and there are tourists camped out with their suitcases getting ready for their next activity. I could be at the end of Powell St. near Union Square, or even at a subway stop somewhere in uptown Manhattan. I'm completely oblivious to the fact that I'm thousands of miles away from these places.
Reality does begin to kick in, however, once you step inside a small bar or restaurant. With so many new American bars looking to do the whole British gimmick though, I have to try and remember that I'm not visiting an imitation or an homage. This is the real thing. This tiny cocktail lounge in the Dukes Hotel is actually more than 100 years old.
And when we go for pints, I'm not visiting a "British-style" pub. I'm just visiting a pub. That's it.
There is an incredible energy here at night. People are out walking, there's a bar or packed restaurant on every corner, and you feel like you're somewhere very electric. There's a very modern edge to London's age-old, historic, cobblestone streets. With all the technology and scenester fashion, it's easy to forget just how old they are.