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London calling

May 30, 2022

My wife Shoma and I just got back from a dream vacation in London, after being holed up for more than two years, like the rest of the world. And we’re already having trouble adjusting to life back home on Long Island.

For five nights and six days, we forgot about subway crime, deadly roads, mass killers and outrageously priced food. We walked into free museums, savored our favorite dishes and liquor without the compulsion to tip, and took in one historic site after another— and never felt the strain, thanks to the mild weather and perpetually cloudy skies.

From the Tower of London to Westminster Abbey to Shakespeare’s Globe to Hampton Court Palace to the Jack the Ripper tour, the city packed hundreds of years of fascinating history into less than a week. For us students of English literature, history and politics, this was an experience of a lifetime.

A visit to the Canterbury Cathedral took us back to a bloody chapter in English history, when Thomas Becket was brutally murdered by Henry II’s knights. We saw the white cliffs of Dover, which inspired Matthew Arnold’s lyrical poetry. Leeds Castle was awash in the decor of the 1920s. And Hampton Court transported us to Henry VIII’s intrigues, his defiance of the Pope and the saga of his many wives who lived for fear of their lives.

History apart, London struck us as an exceptionally well organized city — warm, friendly and welcoming, with so much to offer that we left hungry for more.

The day we arrived, we had some time to kill before checking in at our hotel and walked into a Chinese restaurant in Kensington — it turned out to be the best spicy bean curd (cooked just the way I make it at home, my wife agrees) with rice, and pan-fried noodles I have tasted since San Francisco in 1991. At night, after our Ripper tour, we ended up dining at a Bangladeshi restaurant that served us delicious vegetarian and non-veg thalis, or platters, with chicken, lamb, yellow dal, okra and crisp rotis — gourmet Indian food of the kind we have never once found in the tristate area where we live.

To burn off the calories, you could walk or bike for miles in any direction with well-regulated pedestrian crossings, ample sidewalks and bike lanes. We got more exercise in London than we had for months in our sedentary lives back home on Long Island.

To be fair, we’ve always been partial to the Brits. We’re from a generation and a segment of Indian society that benefited from an English education, went to schools established by missionaries, brought up by parents who served the Raj, and born in places that bear the stamp of the British empire — my wife in Kolkata and I Darjeeling.

Coming from New York, we felt like refugees from a lawless dystopia. Getting off the plane at Heathrow, we hopped on the Underground and rode almost straight to our hotel — just a few blocks from the station — and never once needed an Uber.

It is a city we had learned so much about and had always wanted to visit. God knows we’ve made some dubious decisions in the past, but going to London — in spite of the COVID testing required to return to the U.S. — was one of the best we made in our lives.

And we’re going back for more.

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