Only hours after arriving in London—my fourth visit to a city I claim to know so well I refer to it as “my first boyfriend”—I botched the English language. Famished after traveling across 8 time zones, I walked up to the hotel bar, glanced at the menu, and blurted out, “Can I get chips and guac?”
The bartender gave me a quizzical look. His eyes moved to where I was pointing. “You mean tortillas and guacamole?” he said in a crisp English accent. “Absolutely.”
London: always accommodating, like a trusted old friend who forgives your gaffes. Carrying on is what London does so well, and that’s what I’d come here to do, too: carry on, after a rough couple of years. I’d visited London as a college student, a bride-to-be, and a young mom. Now single after finalizing a divorce during the pandemic and facing an empty nest as my daughter prepares to start college in the fall, I chose to return to the place that gave me my first passport stamp.
The bar hummed with attractive couples who looked as though they’d stepped out of an ad for a dating app. Too jet-lagged for that scene, I returned to my room to enjoy comfort food in my pajamas. I was staying on Portobello Road, a street where I’d shopped for funky dresses nearly 30 years earlier. I looked out my window at a cold, gray November afternoon, but with hints of sunlight peeking through. It was as if the weather was unsure of its own mood.
I knew the West End sights well, and I planned to begin my visit here, exploring old haunts before venturing across town to the East End, an area I’d never explored, but whose restaurants, shops, and street art had been generating a lot of buzz.