While studying abroad in Scotland, my friend and I decided to take the short four-hour train ride through the beautiful British countryside to one of the most historic and iconic cities in the world: London, England. I believe that Samuel Johnson said it best: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” There is so much to do and see, and as an English major in particular, London Town was a literary theme park that opened up for me like a flower.
My Father’s Unique Advice
From visiting the poet’s corner at Westminster Abbey, touring the House of Commons and Big Ben, and attending a play at the Globe Theatre, to enjoying a pint at the Prospect of Whitby, it is impossible to experience all of London in four short days and even more impossible to resist attempting to do so. Not to mention, the more people you tell about your anticipated trip to London, the more suggestions and recommendations you must add to the schedule. Upon hearing that I was going to London, of course, my father couldn’t help but email me with a few suggestions for my itinerary:
“Take the underground to the Piccadilly Circus station. When I’m coming out of the underground station there, I always get a feeling of excitement just by being there that I am not sure I feel anywhere else. I know that it’s a sense of leaving the dark and coming into the light, but it’s also a feeling of looking around when I get outside and feeling the difference between just being in a large city and being in the middle of an empire. Perhaps I’m waxing a little poetic there, but I do always get a shot of adrenalin when I leave that station. When you get to the street level, there is a famous monument right in front of you that you really should get your picture taken with. Everybody thinks it is a monument to St. Valentine, but I think it’s actually a monument to Lord Shaftesbury or something (who I think was in Parliament in the 19th century).
“Walk about 2 or 3 blocks at about a 45 degree angle to your right and you will come to Trafalgar Square. That is a monument to Lord Nelson (I think for his victory at Trafalgar over Napoleon). The Square used to be full of pigeons and vendors were always there selling seeds to feed them. If the pigeons are still there, be sure you do that. When your mother and I were there, I bought her a cup of seeds. The pigeons obviously were refugees from the old Alfred Hitchcock movie and they swarmed her from head to foot, and she had to throw the seeds down to escape them. That remains one of my favorite memories.”
His fond memories of feeding the pigeons with my mother and the feeling of emrging from the underground into the lights and sound of Piccadilly Circus made me so excited to have my own London experience. At the end of the email, he concluded with small pieces of fatherly advice, such as remember to look right before crossing the street and, “as always, mind the gap.” At first, I thought he was simply making a funny reference to the announced instructions to step over the space in between the tube and the platform on London’s underground. However, it would not be long until I realized this last piece of advice would change the way I experienced London, and thought about traveling forever.
How I Learned to Mind the Gap
It is the small moments that occur in the gaps of your plans that make London so special and memorable.
On the last day of my trip, I went to Shakespeare’s Globe Theater to watch an incredible production of the Merchant of Venice. In true London fashion, the rain drizzled on and off throughout the performance, dampening the audience’s clothes but not our spirits. After the play, I took a moment to explore and appreciate the Globe, becoming engrossed in the small details and bits of history I was standing in the midst of.
Suddenly, realizing the time, my friend and I ran in order to catch the next ferry so we could make it to that evening’s dinner reservations. Inevitably, the ferry pulled off right as we made it to the loading ramp—the next one to come in thirty minutes. It was hard to be upset as the clouds cleared, casting brilliant afternoon light over the Thames river. We decided to grab a drink at the Swan Bar next to the theatre and stand on the deck while we waited for the next ferry. While enjoying our Pimm’s and watching the sun set over the Thames, the cast of the Merchant of Venice all came out to the Swan Bar’s deck to enjoy a post-performance drink themselves at the table next to ours. Although it took everything within me contain my fangirl affinity for them, I could not believe it.
It was in that moment that I fully understood what my father meant by “mind the gap.” If we had not missed the ferry, I would have missed that simple yet profound moment of drinking Pimm’s at sunset alongside the Shakespeare Players. In the midst of making time for all of the tourist sites and cramming in the cultural must-dos, you could visit London without actually experiencing it at all. Rather, it is the small moments that occur in the gaps of your plans that make London so special and memorable. This is not to say that you shouldn’t look at logistics and schedule sight-seeing when visiting London or any other place, that’s important too! Though it is in between plans where London, and life for that matter, happens. In other words, always take time to “mind the gap.”
Mary Rogers is an English student at Sewanee: The University of the South and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland in 2015.