Beginning of July 2019. Two weeks after the end of my university exams, I leave from Milan Malpensa airport holding the one-way ticket for the 7:00 a.m. Ryanair flight that would take me to London.
I arrive at Heathrow and a taxi takes me to what would have been my home for the next 8 months. At that moment a year of adventures, new houses, new friends and many discoveries was beginning.
I had already been to London but many years before and I remember clearly that the city had not excited me at all. To be honest I considered it one of the ugliest cities I’d ever seen. I had lived there for a month as a language exchange student and was staying with an English family. Day after day I couldn’t wait to leave. I didn’t like anything. It was always raining, it was cold, the traffic jam was crazy, people were running back and forth with their faces pulled and without a smile on their lips. When I was visiting the city I looked around and found nothing beautiful.
The only good thing was that I improved my knowledge of the language a lot thanks to the English courses I attended every morning with mother-tongue teachers. London offered and still offers a lot of opportunities to learn or improve English and it is full of exchange students to make friends with, even online using for example studenz.com. I wish I’d found it out sooner! I would have interacted and felt connected with many more people and could have shared my views on the city with them. Some people would have agreed with me but certainly, most of them would have pushed me to appreciate the city more.
Nevertheless, I thought I could never hate a city more than London.
Now it makes me laugh when I reread the impressions of a much younger me because nothing that I thought seems true. At this very moment, I have a completely different view of London and the more I live here, the more I fall in love with it.
My first house was in located in Clapham Junction, South West London, close to Europe’s busiest train station. Clapham is a wonderful neighbourhood. It’s full of shops, restaurants, supermarkets and parks. The parks there are huge. My favourite is Battersea Park because it has a zoo, fountains, playgrounds, training areas, tennis and basketball courts, football fields, swimming pools and even a Buddhist temple.
I came to London on an apprenticeship contract with a short-let property management company. All my colleagues were foreigners, but we got along very well, and we loved to compare our cultures to become more open-minded and appreciate each other’s differences. I didn’t earn much money, but I really liked the job because it was very dynamic. In fact, I used to move from one area of London to another to visit wonderful flats and prepare them for the arrival of guests.
This is how my love for the British capital began. Day after day I discovered new and beautiful places. Also, I dedicated every weekend to exploring the less touristy areas of London like Greenwich and Shoreditch and got lost in their beauties.
I also met a lot of Italians, all escaped to London in search of a better life and with the hope of a brighter future. I often hung out with them and we went eat in some restaurants, drink a beer or two in a pub, picnic in Hyde Park, skating along the Thames and my roommate and I invited them to our house for a barbecue on the terrace when it was sunny and hot.
I was very curious to know about their points of view on the city so most of our conversations were about life in London.
I can say that opinions were divided into two groups: there were those who hated London and those who loved it.
The people who didn’t like London explained to me that they missed everything about Italy, especially the food, culture, landscapes, the warmth and friendliness of the Italians and the good weather. They considered the English cold, the food bland, the weather horrible and the mentality too distant from the Italian one. They also complained that life is too expensive and it’s hard to make ends meet, clubs close too early and public transport is always crowded.
I honestly agree with them, but I think they were a bit exaggerated.
It’s true, the food is not famous to be delicious but there are many restaurants that offer amazing traditional English dishes; public transport is crowded but not at all hours of the day; life is expensive but there are many supermarkets that have very low prices and you can find a flat to share to save money; it rains very often but never all day and in spring and summer it’s hot; the British may seem detached but they are very kind and very helpful. Finally, the culture is different from the Italian one but not because of this it is not appreciable.
Other Italian friends loved London because it’s a city full of opportunities, it’s easier to find a job than in Italy, it’s full of people from all over the world and for this reason diversity is accepted and valued, not criticized. Everyone also agreed that here you feel free to express yourself, dress the way you want and do what you want without being judged. Moreover, London is one of the most important cities in the world and rich in unique monuments.
I belong to this group of Italians. I love London and I think Italians are a bit too attached to their homeland and don’t want to admit that you can live well outside of Italy. As an Italian, I can say that I feel very comfortable here. London offers everything I need. In addition, there is a large Italian community so when I miss my family, I meet my Italian friends and feel at home.
Now I live in Shepherd’s Bush and I always go shopping in the biggest shopping mall in Europe, Westfield. It’s the most beautiful mall I’ve ever seen, and it is literally huge!
Although I really like the area where I live, my favourite neighbourhoods are Soho, Covent Garden, Camden Town and Portobello. They are very different, and this is one of the peculiarities of London. Each area is unique and particular and contains real gems. In fact, I always say that every district of this city is a treasure chest with gold inside.
You can also have a lot of experiences such as attending one of the many festivals, having a drink on top of a skyscraper while watching the sunset, drinking afternoon tea on a bus, dining in one of the cabins of the London Eye, partying on a boat along the Thames … and you can meet many people.
London is a dynamic, vibrant, chaotic, eccentric and full of young people. There are many students both from England and foreign, many schools to learn languages, many cultural centres, gyms, parks, spas where you can relax after work, and above all I think the whole world is in London. Here you can travel around the world without leaving the city. You can discover a piece of India, China, Japan, Morocco, Russia, France and… Italy.
Because of all the richness that characterizes London, my opinion about London is extremely positive and I’m glad that living here has allowed me to change my mind about this outstanding capital city.
Written by: Martina Sassi, Staff Writer