We all know she’s big and expensive and noisy and ruthless, but London is also a veritable melting pot of cultures and ideas, vast parks and canals and free museums and and and … for me, the list of positives completely outweighs the negatives.
My five-day trip to London was jam-packed with sights, sounds, new discoveries and old friends – the perfect mentally fit fitfor15in15 adventure!
Taking off from Basel three hours late, and into an electrical storm, wasn’t the best start, and when I finally arrived at my friend Adrian’s house after 10pm, he was in the middle of a blackout. It was lovely to be greeted with a glass of wine and a candle-lit catch-up about what’s been happening in his life. Unfortunately, his girlfriend Eve was at a yoga school in Thailand, so I missed meeting her.
Friday morning, I braved the heaving masses on the central line to meet my friend Teri, in town on holiday from Sydney, at the Victoria and Albert Museum. I love the V&A and go every trip, as I get a kick out of their small but lovely glass display. We splashed out on entry into the shoe exhibition as well. We also oggled a lovely cotton tent hanging from India, the blue glass centrepiece in the entrance, and one of the world’s largest carpets, the Ardabil, from Iran, which was completed in 1539-40.
After three hours, we started walking in the direction of Kensington and Chelsea. When Teri mentioned she needed a loo stop, I suggested Harrods as a bit of a giggle. Once in there, my brain went into complete “When in Rome” mode, so we also stopped for a lunch of Sancerre and oysters (notice the order I’ve put them in!). As you do! (And will never do again! A wonderfully decadent experience but I blew the budget on day one!)
We then walked through Regents Park to meet my friends Nick and Vanessa for dinner and drinks at a bar near Bond Street. We caught up on lots of stories and giggles from our time as flatmates in Sydney – they are good people and I miss those kind of everyday chats that happen easily.
Saturday morning, Adrian and I walked to Victoria Park, near Hackney, strolling the canals, looking at the hipsters at Broadway Market and enjoying the glorious sunshine. I then met my friend Bronwyn, from NZ, and her extended family, for her youngest sister’s birthday drinks in Kensal Rise. (It was only the second or third time I’ve ever caught the Overground train – so much nicer than being a sardine in the tin!) Lots of hilarity ensued at the drinks, with long ridiculous chats with Bronwyn and her husband Damian.
Sunday morning, I packed up my things and walked with Adrian to the Thames, via the Colombia Road flower market and Spitalfields market to St Katharine’s Dock, which I didn’t even know existed. What a lovely little enclave that is! I then caught the fastest river cat I’ve ever had the misfortune to be on, from Tower Hill to Greenwich. The boat arrived in less than 15 minutes – a non-stop “let’s see how fast we can go” express ride which made me feel queasy and thankful for my life. On greeting Mike and Cara, the first of the reunion arrivals, I couldn’t string a proper sentence together for the next 30 minutes!
Our 20-year reunion of having met in Kilburn, North London, went well. I love this story. I lived in a house with two Kiwi guys and an Irish girl. We quickly struck up a friendship with our nextdoor neighbour, Carla, after asking if she had a spare bottle of Stoli (a great icebreaker)! Her best friend is Cara, who was often over for visits and parties, so Cara was also a very important part of the gang. Now Cara is married to one of my flatmates, Mike. The one thing from that bedlam that actually makes sense! Bronwyn used to date the other flatmate and we realised very quickly she was a pretty damn good woman. Bronwyn and I and another friend Rebecca, who lived with Bronwyn’s ex-boyfriend’s brother in Earls Court, ended up travelling around Europe for three months, but that’s another story!
It was fantastic to have the gang together again and the afternoon and evening went way too fast. Carla and I stayed up talking at her house til about midnight, and then I slept the sleep of the sleep-needy.
Monday morning, Carla and I left for work together, and after bidding her farewell at Canary Wharf, I continued on to Bank station. I was feeling all confident and cocky about being on the tube again, and didn’t follow the exit signs but the people heading towards the Central Line. After Friday morning’s crush on the red line from Adrian’s house, it was the last place I wanted to be, so after one stop, I joined the sunshine at St Pauls. From there I wandered along Fleet Street and the Strand to Leicester Square for a quick look at Vincent Van Gogh’s Sunflowers at the National Gallery … umm … which had all the rooms I wanted to see closed because of strike action by the gallery workers!! What a shame!! So no Sunflowers this trip.
I then went to a dodgy but fun all-you-can-eat Chinese restaurant for lunch with Shane and Luke from my cricket travelling days, and then popped in to see the BP Portrait Awards at the National Portrait Gallery. Afterwards, in Trafalgar Square, a lovely three-piece band playing modern pop songs kept me and an appreciative crowd enthralled for more than an hour. A little girl dancing with her dolly was also a highlight – so sweet to watch such happiness.
From Trafalgar Square, I walked down to Embankment, across the river to Southbank and enjoyed seeing the craziness that seems to congregate there in summer. So many people, so many tourists, and so many things to watch and do. Unfortunately Borough Market was closed, so I kept wandering til I found where my friend’s Phil and Ellie lived, and because I was a bit early, went back towards the river to ‘discover’ a pop-up bar, with the Tower of London and Tower Bridge as the backdrop, with swing and jive dancers. This is 6pm on a Monday! I watched them for a while, then needed a loo stop, so thought I’d sneak into a pub to use their bathroom, but the quick-eyed waiter asked what would I like to drink before I had a chance to pass the bar. “Wine? A spirit?” “Ummm … I think I’ll have a beer” *sheepish smile* and then … Tahdah!!!! I spotted my favourite Australian beer, Coopers Green, lined up nicely in their bottles in the fridge. Being accosted worked out quite nicely in the end! Haven’t tasted this for 10 months.
Dinner with Phil and Ellie was wonderful as always, they are great company, and it was the first time I’d seen them since their wedding in December. Phil’s Christmas present to Ellie had turned up just that day – a life-size fiberglass pig with a serving tray on his head! His name is Badger and he is brilliant! We dined in a hipster restaurant in Bermondsey and once at home I realised how ripe my shoes and feet were from all that walking! Sorry guys!
Tuesday morning, Phil dropped me at London Bridge station for my short tube ride north to meet Conor, another friend from Sydney now living in London, at Belsize Park. Unfortunately for Conor his car was towed minutes beforehand. What was supposed to be a quick hello and a hot chocolate turned into a 290 British Pound headache for poor Conor. I bid him farewell and went back to London Bridge, where I took my only photo for the day (sorry Conor!) of the Shard, and back to Gatwick for the flight home.
London is a magical town with so much to offer. It could almost be called the City of Markets – there seems to be one everywhere, every day, in summer. You can walk and ride bikes easily around the city, and like Berlin, it feels like a living, breathing, history lesson. My friend Gabby posted a very appropriate quote on Facebook about London, from Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, “We were talking of London and all its diversions.” Nothing has changed in 204 years.
If you, too, like London, how about ‘listening’ to all things about the capital? Time Out magazine put together a very dashing collection of the 100 best songs about London, and you can have a listen to it here.
Wishing you a wonderful day.