This has been the most difficult entry to write, and to get right. While Salisbury, Avebury and Bath were magical, I had enough time before I left the country to process those experiences and store them neatly in my mind, filed away under “bucolic fantasies” and “nostalgia”. London happened to me too fast. Even though I spent every waking moment quite literally killing myself to see as much as I could, and soaking it all in as purposefully as possible, London got into my bones in a way that I wasn’t able to shake off as “a nice visit.” I was homesick for London before my bus even got out of Victoria Station. I’ve never experienced such an intense, instant love with any place in the world as I did for London. London, London, London. Just writing the word makes my chest heavy. It’s only fitting that I’m sitting here with a cup of P.G. Tips (“Britain’s favorite tea”) unable to bring myself to read all my notes, or flip through the photos and just choose already because honestly, if I look through them all now, finally, I think I’ll cry.
But enough pseudo-poetic waxing about how heartsick I am for the place. I arrived on a plane from Barcelona and chatted with a Customs officer for about 15 minutes before I was allowed into the country as long as I promised I wasn’t planning on working there (YET!). When I finally made it from the airport to the train station to the
metro tube to my hostel, it was already 5pm. And, miraculously, I felt 10 times better than I had that morning–not perfect, still definitely sick, but functional. I was checked in by a fabulous Australian fellow with a mohawk and was generally quite pleased with the atmosphere at Astor Museum Hostel. Nice Australian people is a pretty major thematic of this trip. Damn the Commonwealth privileges. Anyway, without a moment to waste, I sped out of my hostel and just started walking. I managed to aimlessly wander from my hostel down to most of the major “tourist classics” and felt quite smug about doing a 2-hour walk through postcard London, leaving me the remaining three days to explore more obscure areas.
Do you know the muffin man? (Who lives on Drury lane…)
Trafulgar Square; below, recognize that fountain Hannah?
The Mall, next to St. James Park; the walk up to Buckingham Palace.
I couldn’t bring myself to take his photo from the front. It felt too degrading for the poor guy–who must have been about my age–to have tourists ogling him all day. So I respectfully got a photo from behind!
10 points for anyone that knows who lives on Downing Street!
A HIPPIE TARDIS?!?! Oh, no, just a “Strike box.”
One of the most perfect tourist shots I got. The sky that first night was just perfect for doing some evening photography. I was really lucky it only rained a little, too!
Westminster (the Palace; this is the seat of the British government).
The London Eye and the Thames.
Westminster Abbey, above and below (Separate from the last Westminster I showed you!). I attended a service here later in my trip, partly to see what an Anglican service was like, but also to see the interior of the Abbey for free… Is that really unethical, or only a little? In any case, it was absolutely beautiful inside as well. I didn’t get to see the grave of my idol, Elizabeth I, though, because that was in the paying part of the Abbey, and I didn’t have £17 to drop at every single tourist stop. SOMEDAY!!
“Ah yes dear, those damn colonials…” I saw another sign–that I didn’t get a picture of–a pub called the “13 Colonies,” with original American flag pattern et al; that gave me a good laugh.
Buckingham Palace. Sorta lame looking from this angle, I almost zipped right by it when I was going through photos!!
The gate outside Buckingham Palace; pretty meadow outside the intense electric barbed wire fence!!
That night at the hostel, I made Tesco stir fry and chatted with a really cool engineer who had just received $1 million to help make her company more sustainable after a huge presentation in London. We talked for awhile, and she thought it was cool that I was an anthropologist and mentioned that she knew that most major companies hire anthropologists these days, and cited friends that worked for Intel that she wanted to put me in contact with. She gave me her card and I was supposed to shoot her an email, but I lost it somewhere! I was really bummed when I got back to Paris and tore all of my stuff apart looking for it, and was finally able to confirm that it was gone. It’s too bad, I could’ve made a legitimate professional contact. However, the conversation itself was still valuable, so I didn’t completely lose out.
The next day I woke up early and headed out to the Columbia Road Flower Market! It’s really far out and a bit difficult to find, but absolutely worth the effort. Only running on Sundays, a lovely quaint street outside of the major business district is transformed into a lively flower market. You get to hear some of those Dickensian London accents (“two for a fivah,” “three boxes for a tennah!”) and there are a bunch of cute shops that open up only on Sundays as well, full of handmade clothes, cards, and other products, as well as antiques and even a Zooey Deschanel-level quaint-and-quirky bakery, complete with glittery Lemon cupcakes.
I decided to just walk a bit, as I was down in an area of London I didn’t foresee myself getting back to. I took a long walk through the business district, which is not something most tourists do, and I was actually able to find a strange beauty in her cold skyscrapers. I find that London is an extremely well integrated city, unafraid of progress, but also respectful of its past. There was a really old school house squeezed between some enormous blue-and-glass sky scrapers, but the way they had built around it, it didn’t look out of place, it looked loved and remembered.
For every photo I’ve put up that shows sleek, new skyscrapers juxtaposed with old, stone buildings, I have at least two I didn’t put up! I really loved the integration of all of the buildings–whoever has been working on London planning in the last 30 years really knows what they’re doing!
Not sure what was so mini about this marathon, it was a full-length marathon… There might have been the half-marathon finish nearby the real marathon finish, but who knows. Another thing I loved about London is that all of the advertisements and graphic design done for the city of London were really exceptional–Londoners really know their typeface. From the tube map, to street signs, to event materials such as this, the city of London never failed to impress me with simple, clear, effective design.
I managed to make it all the way to the Thames and saw London Bridge, the Tower of London (but again, didn’t have £20 to drop on the entrance fee!!) and the ship docked on the far side of the Thames is the HMS Belfast (below, again).
I also managed to hit some of the other “major” London sights such as the St. Paul’s Cathedral, St. Bart’s (Hannah I spent an hour looking for the place where Sherlock falls to his “death” and I couldn’t find it. I was hoping to do some research as to his ability to survive that fall, but alas I found no site that looked similar. I’m SO SORRY!!!) and came across the finish line of the London Marathon, which happened to fill up with people just as I was arriving (above).
The Guildhall. And yes, I really loved taking photos of flags.
St. Paul’s Cathedral peaking around more modern structures.
I actually ended up walking all the way back to my hostel from the market, which Google Maps tells me is 5 miles if you walk directly from the market to the Tower to the hostel–which I didn’t–so I imagine I ended up walking something crazy like 6 or 7 miles. And that was only my morning walk!
Statue in front of St. Paul’s–look, an injun! Damn colonials. St. Paul’s pictured below, as well.
In the afternoon I went out in search of some Sherlock locations, especially the eponymous Speedy’s Cafe. I had originally hoped to grab lunch or coffee there, but I went after lunch and they were closed anyway. There was no one else around so no one could take my picture in front of this incredibly important monument!!
The actual Baker St! 221 below. It was totally mobbed!!
I stopped briefly in Regent’s Park to sit down after all of my Sherlock scouting. I was exhausted (lots of long walks like the one described above), as this was really the first time I’d sat down since I arrived in London, other than to eat and sleep. I had this sort of funny realisation that while I was sort of killing myself walking around, I was only doing that because I was so excited. I in no way felt that I had to “see it all,” or that I would never come back–hence why I didn’t bother to drop entrance fees to any of the major tourist destinations. I had this really odd certainty that I’d be back to London, and it wouldn’t be a short-term visit. I just felt so at home there, so in love with everything about the city, that I couldn’t imagine myself not returning. I could relax.
After relaxing a bit, I actually stumbled upon Daunt Bookstore, which was on loads of lists of things to do in London, because it’s just a really pretty little shop. Not quite as arresting as Shakespeare & Co., for example, but absolutely lovely nonetheless. I had to restrain myself from buying a bunch of Penguin classics (they’re so much prettier in England!!!) and some interesting books about the construction(s) of London & Paris. I think I spent about an hour and a half in here, just browsing and soaking in all of the wonderful atmosphere. There’s something supremely bookish about the city (with the number of ads in the tube stations for books rivaling the number of ads for movies!), although I think that’s what I looked for there. I read somewhere that with London, you can really find whatever you like there–if you’re looking for an international, cosmopolitan city, you’ve got it; but so too is it the center of the publishing industry, and it can be any other kind of London you want it to be. When I finally left the shop, it started to rain so I did what all good Londoners do on rainy Sunday afternoons: I bought a Sunday Times and spent the rest of the day and night reading all of the sections and magazines. Check out the hilarious French election cartoon!!
The next day, I finally planned on doing my museum day, but when I woke up it was too nice out to go straight there, so I walked down to Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. A significantly longer walk than I thought it was going to be down Oxford Street (Never, never, never walking down it again!! It’s like the Champs Elysee with lots of shops and tourists, but also extremely dangerous traffic situations!) Of course, as soon as I got into the parks themselves it started to rain, but I stuck it out for a little while and saw a few of the different statues and monuments (Peter Pan, below), before heading to the Museum of London.
While I had the British Museum right next door to my hostel (lovingly called–with a very British affect–the museum of “shit we stole from places we conquered”), I never managed to find the time to get there. In fact, I’m ashamed to admit that I only made it to one museum, even though London is THE city for that, and you all know how I feel about museums. As I’ve said in all of my previous entries, I’m obsessed with Local History museums, so my main priority was the Museum of London. It chronicles the history of the region and the construction of the city from prehistoric times to present day. Unfortunately, the section on Roman London was under construction, and I was a bit rushed through 20th century London as the museum was closing, but other than that I think I did a pretty thorough sweep of this fantastic museum. It’s a bit hard to follow the organisation in places, especially from Post-Roman to Pre-War of the Roses era London (400 AD/CE to 1450 AD/CE). Overall though, it’s obvious that they’ve done a lot of archaeological research there, and there are millions of artefacts to see, and lots of knowledgeable staff around to chat as well.
That night, I cooked dinner and bought beer for the first time–I’d been going to bed early and staying away from alcohol the first two nights because while I did feel loads better immediately upon arrival in England (I was made for that cold, grey, rainy weather!), I still wasn’t feeling 100% and I wanted to see as much of London as possible! So on this, my third night, I finally got a Newcastle Brown Ale and in my effort to find a drinking buddy, a very interesting fellow through Michael, my mohawked-Astralian friend that ended up taking a day trip to Oxford with me the next day. As Oxford was how I spent my last day in London (I left early the morning after for Manchester), and this entry is already too long, I’m going to leave Oxford for later.