This week I took a few days off work to welcome a friend and her sister to stay in our flat while enjoying a few days in (sunny and unusually warm) London. They went to the theatre, shopped at Harrods and then we were off for a Christmas lights tour of the centre of the city. This morning, we showed them around our lovely area before they flew back home to Stockholm.
When you live in a city for three years, you work out a routine for yourself. You have a corner shop, a GP, a daily commute. You know when your favourite magazines come out, you have a local pub with the cheap veggie burgers and you remember the Sainsbury's that has the best almond milk for £1.25. The city becomes comfortable and familiar - slowly but surely, you build yourself a home.
If the city in question is London, you'll get used to hosting visiting friends and family once in a while, showing them around and taking them to the most beautiful places the city has to offer. And this is exactly when, if you're anything like me, you see your city with new eyes.
Whizzing around a wonderland of sparkling Christmas lights was a warming, wonderful reminder of how stunning London really is and how stupidly lucky I am to live here. This city is magical. If you think it's magical when you come here as a visitor, the truth is that living here is even more breathtakingly fantastic.
Yes, the transport system is archaic and dramatically overpriced. Yes, flat-hunting in London is a modern-day hell. Yes, it's a difficult, competitive, tiring city. But this is the price we pay for living in the most exciting, glorious, wonderfully mind-blowing city on the planet (sorry, New York, Paris and everywhere else. I love you too!). You have to earn the right to live here, and you do so by slugging it out through all the Dantesque trials of TFL and going on 100 house-viewings of staggeringly priced cupboards with a mattress squashed in. It's not right, but it's worth it. It's all worth being a part of the glittering merry-go-round that is London.
It's worth it, because it means you get to stand on Waterloo bridge and look out over the shimmering sea of skyscrapers on one side and the majestic Big Ben and London Eye on the other side. You get to taste vegan cupcakes at Ms. Cupcake in Brixton. You get to photograph the views from Gipsy Hill and curse at your phone for not being able to capture the magic. You get to visit Winter Wonderland. You get to watch street performers at the Southbank (there's this one girl called Sammi Jay who kicks every X Factor winner's butt) and take long walks on Hampstead Heath. You get to visit the National Gallery, British Museum and the V&A for free. You get to enjoy afternoons in Greenwich and Saturdays in Covent Garden. You get to shop quirky jewellery and old vinyl records at Portobello market and walk in the footsteps of punk at Camden Lock. And you get some of the best street art in the world. If that's not perfection bundled up in just one place, I don't know what is.
You never know where life will take you, but I hope I'll get to stay in London for as long as I possibly can. Just the thought of leaving makes me uneasy. Somehow, we have made this home.