I fell madly in love with London when I was a skinny teenager aged 16, growing up in Germany.
I was a lover of everything English from the first time I opened my neighbour’s English book at age 10. So when I first set foot into this busy, chaotic, colourful and dynamic city I thought I had died and gone to heaven. It was the 1990’s, at around the time when the term Britpop was coined by the English music press. My life’s soundtrack consisted of music by English bands like Suede, Blur, and Oasis.
Maybe it was a teenage thing but back in my German hometown I lived in a world where I felt misunderstood, and where individualism was frowned upon and discouraged. The few shops would offer you the same old, same old, and kids were listening to Britney Spears and the Spice Girls. I felt trapped.
London, I sensed immediately when I visited it for the first time, was different. The buzzing nightlife in Soho, the thrilling shows in the West End, the powerful aura of the City, the royal architecture in Westminster, the crazy shops in Camden Town – there was something special about this place.
London seemed to casually suck you in, chew on you for a while and then spit you out again – leaving you behind a little bit confused, messed up but utterly satisfied.
And it still is one of the most fascinating, exciting and exhilarating cities in the world. Twenty years on, and I still love to visit the British capital. I love discovering the history in the Tower. I get a thrill from riding the Tube. I dig having a pint with the locals at the pub.
It is a city that has carved itself into my heart for being a hometown of some sort, if not in reality then at least in spirit.
Despite my best planning efforts, it happened that I did not settle in London as an adult. Instead I found myself on other side of the world. Living now in Sydney, Australia, a trip to London is an extremely special, extremely costly treat. Yet the irresistible pull remains the same.
If only London was a sunnier place, with a couple of ocean beaches, I would be the happiest person on earth. It would be like finding my Shangri-la in the warm embrace of Victorian apartment blocks, red double-deckers and black cast-iron fences. But as it is, the lack of long summers and a beach lifestyle is London’s biggest flaw. This means that I need to remain in Sydney and that I will continue to visit London as a simple tourist, a visitor, an admirer from a distance.
Revisiting from time to time continues to be one of my most favourite things to do. I am not ashamed of doing the tourist trails and visiting the sights. Maybe this allows me to discover the city in a different way, not like a Londoner would do but rather with an outsider’s perspective. Isn’t it funny how we live in our cities day by day and never do the touristy stuff? So let me introduce you to one of my favourite highlights of the city – the Shard. Londoner or not, a visit to The Shard at sunset, in my view, is a must-do for anyone, provided they are not afraid of heights.
The viewing platform on the Shard is a wonderful experience. I can sit here for hours and just watch the city I love, buzzing and humming around 240 meters down below to my feet. The trains resurfacing from London Bridge Station, following the tracks to the east, only to lose themselves in the far distance. The Tower Bridge which looks strangely misplaced with its toy-like design and the suspended roadways. The London Eye on the banks of the Thames, which wasn’t even part of anyone’s dreams when I visited London for the first time, and the quirky shape of the Gherkin, equally unheard of in the 1990s.
The countless bridges, crossing the muddy grey river which is flanked by buildings old and new – from the Houses of Parliament to the Docklands. The impressive cupola of St Paul’s. The London crowds, now, towards the end of the day, spilling onto the streets, bracing themselves for their lengthy and stressful commute home.
On The Shard you can see all this, and more. On a good day, you can enjoy the most beautiful sunset here, painting the city below in warm, glowing reds, oranges and yellows. This high up, it feels like you are eye-to-eye with the sun. Its warm rays hitting you full on while there is no escape behind the tall reinforced glass. The light flooding the viewing area and tickling your nose.
And here’s a tip: if you would like to experience these marvellous 360 degrees views yourself, make sure you pre-book your ticket online and pick a date and time most suitable to you. Don’t worry if the weather turns out bad at the time that you intend to visit – you can come back for free if your visit is not satisfying.
It doesn’t matter whether you live in London or are a mere visitor like me, everyone deserves a little bit of glitter in their life from time to time. Enjoying a Shard sunset will do the trick just fine.
Silke is owner and sole contributor to Happiness and Things, a Sydney (Australia) based travel blog.