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The differences between London and St Helena: Now that’s a contrast!

Comparing where you live with the destination you are visiting adds enormously to the joy of travelling. The bigger the contrast between the two, the more pleasure you get. Conversely, arriving somewhere that seems to be pretty similar to where you live leaves one feeling a little flat and, well, cheated.

One of the biggest contrasts that a traveller can hope to discover is between London, where I live and work, and St Helena, where I was fortunate to visit in September of this year. Here are a few comparisons that may inspire you to visit the island.

Let’s get the comparative statistics out of the way first. London’s population is 8.4 million. St Helena’s is 4,255. London’s geographic area is 1,522 square kilometres while St Helena covers just 122 square kilometres.

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Now let’s consider what those differences mean on a day to day basis.

When driving in St Helena, expect everyone (and I mean everyone) to wave at you. Some waves will be perfunctory, but some will be genuinely warm and friendly. But a wave is a wave and always deserves one in return.

After a while, you can expect to look forward to getting into the car and driving somewhere just because of the waves. It seems to lift the spirits to know that total strangers are willing to not just acknowledge you but wave at you too.

Could you ever imagine looking forward to driving in London? And would anyone there wave at you? Leaving aside the irate delivery drivers and mad cyclists.

As part of the UK it’s estimated that 93% of Londoners own a mobile phone and the chances are they’ll be on that phone. While they walk down the street, whilst travelling or even when with a group of friends. While using that phone they’ll be oblivious to their surroundings, including the people they are bumping into.

Currently, St Helena doesn’t have any mobile signal, so no one owns a mobile phone. As contrasts go, this is a pretty big one. And although the St Helenean youth may disagree, this is an incredibly liberating experience. People stop and talk in the street. Yet more waving happens at those driving by.  Meetings take place that are uninterrupted by irritating ring tones. People leave messages at those places where they think you’ll be or where they think you’re going to next. Amidst all the waving, you’ll have a chance to take in your surroundings or just contemplate life. Which, once the ‘oh my god, where’s my phone?’ feelings fade away, feels pretty good.

Let’s finish by comparing the surroundings. Located next to the river, your views of London will be essentially flat and urban. Apart from London’s wonderful parks and green spaces, your views will be of buildings and people. Street lighting will prevent you from seeing the stars and unless you’re up a skyscraper, you’re unlikely to have an uninterrupted view of more than a few hundred metres.

Which makes for the biggest contrast with St Helena. Formed from volcanos, St Helena’s views are best described as ‘rugged’. In just a few minutes’ drive, one can experience several different micro climates, with each one having its own flora. With very minimal lighting, the night sky is truly memorable.

If you are fortunate and fit enough to climb to Diana’s Peak, rising 818 metres from the sea it’s the island’s highest point, you’ll experience a truly majestic view. On a clear day, the horizon is 40 kilometres away and, with a 358 degree view of the Ocean (one tree prevents it from being a 360 degree view) means looking at 40,000 square kilometers of empty sea.

Now that’s what you call a contrast.

This is a guest post written by Chairman of Keene Communications, Simon Quarendon.

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