This winter break, I was given the opportunity to travel to England. I spent about three days based in the green English countryside enjoying the rain and history, and then it was off to London for the rest of the trip.
Before going to London, I had not realized just how big it was, but the size became apparent as we wove our way through tightly packed streets to the center of the city in a cab. We were surrounded by buildings that have stood their ground for centuries, and the sidewalks were choked with people. I didn’t expect to be overwhelmed, but I was.
According to the World Population Review, London currently has a population of 9,648,110, ranking it at 36th in the world for numbers. By comparison, Denver’s population sits at 750,130. The Springs at a Glance budget claims Colorado Springs has a population of 495,838. London’s population is roughly 19 times the size of ours.
It’s obvious that London would feel bigger than Colorado Springs, because of course it would. At the same time, I can objectively know that a place is bigger while I fly toward it and still have an entirely different sensation when I walk against a bustling crowd under the shadow of Big Ben.
Being in a space that was so much bigger and fuller than anything a born-and-raised Coloradan had experienced meant that I had to adjust my mindset to how much room there is in the world for other people. I was surrounded by millions of differently connected lives, and I just stood in the middle of the network and watched them go by. I felt insignificant and realized that somehow, I didn’t mind.
Experiencing a giant city like London means understanding just how many things are different in spaces that are unfamiliar to you. Your bubble bursts, just for a moment, and you see how many different perspectives and lives take up space. It’s uncomfortable sometimes, but putting yourself in a different place, especially one so filled with different cultures from around the world, reminds you that it isn’t about your opinion, or America’s opinion, and it doesn’t need to be.
London’s geographic location, as well as its history of imperialism, means that the city is much, much more diverse than anything I was used to. I encountered some language barriers trying to travel around the city, and after a few days I was speaking more clearly and working harder to understand. There was also a much greater presence of support for places like Ukraine across the board, from prayer sessions in cathedrals to merchandise tables and donation opportunities.
London feels very, very old. Medieval churches poke out from between aging stone houses, all lined up along streets designed for horses and buggies. There is a tone of reverence for the history, as well as an understanding that those old buildings can and must be used as spaces for modernity, from the lights glowing on the face of Harrod’s to the phone repair shops tucked back behind the cobbled sidewalks.
London is a city that has grown and learned. It is in no way perfect, but there is a feeling of maturity in a vast space that has been transformed into a metropolis over years of fighting and power transitions.
It is true that the history hit harder for me as a tourist and living there would mean something different. It is also true that studying the history of any place is important in understanding and cultivating a healthy environment, whether that place is a European city or not. That being said, I came home thinking more about the world as a global place and how it keeps on turning, no matter what is happening in my bubble.