London, London, London… what a busy, diverse and exciting city! These last 13 days have been filled with exploring, experiencing new things and getting to know London a little better. After nearly 2 weeks here I still stick by my original thought that I could never live here but I’ve definitely come to appreciate the city a bit more by seeing areas and events that the average tourist wouldn’t. I can certainly see why people love it here and you really have to stay for at least a week to get a true feel of it but for me any more than a few weeks here would be too much.
Get ready for a busy blog! It includes visits to lots of markets, Brick Lane, a few museums, drinks up the Shard, a visit to family in Wellingborough and even seeing a play at Shakespeare’s Globe – and thats just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve only realised as I’ve been writing this and uploading the photos (80 odd!) that I have done so so much in such a short space of time! If you don’t want to read it all then I totally understand but do have a look at the photos at least…they’re probably the most interesting part 🙂
So after flying from Naples on Friday 8th July I landed in Stansted and took the Stansted Express to Liverpool Street. I had to get changed in the airport as it was about 32 degrees when I left and only 18 degrees when I landed! I then walked to my sisters work in Hoxton and met her when she finished work. In the evening I was tired from travelling so pretty much napped the entire evening away!
On Saturday we decided not to go too far afield so went for a walk along the banks of the Thames and I finally got to see the Tower of London (yes, I’m sure I saw it as a kid but I really can’t remember it). It was really weird for me as I’d just been teaching the students in Italy all about the sights to see in London and we have even read a text all about the Tower of London…I didn’t realise I knew so many random facts about it!
After crossing over the river onto the Southbank we had a wander around Butler’s Wharf, an area surrounding a former factory which is now super exclusive apartments. Nevertheless it was really nice and strange that you can find quiet areas just a few metres from the hustle and bustle around Tower Bridge.
We walked along past City Hall and HMS Belfast to Hay’s Galleria where we stopped for a Costa and had a sit down and relax. There was the City Summer Festival on along the promenade with bars, live music and tv screens so we sat for a while and people watched before going home for tea.
Sunday was a very busy and very fun day, probably one of my favourite of my time here. We went to Brick Lane in the morning and had a wander around the market which lined the street. Brick Lane itself and the area around it is the heart of the Bangladeshi community of London and you can find authentic curry houses, fabric shops and everything in between. The road signs and shop signage is also displayed in bengali and there is a beautiful mosque right on the high street. The amazing thing about Brick Lane is that it has become an up-and-coming area for fashion, art, photography and design students. This means that you can find art galleries, pop up shops, vintage outlets and so much street art slotted in between the Bangladeshi community. It is a perfect, wacky example of the diversity of London and although on paper it sounds like it shouldn’t work, in reality it is amazing to witness. If you ever visit London I really think this is one of the best places in the whole city to experience.
After exploring Brick Lane and its market we walked to Columbia Road Flower Market in Shoreditch which was absolutely AMAZING! You can find every kind of flower under the sun, in every colour and at really cheap prices. The flower market has been running since the early 1900s and now there are about 50 traders who sell between 8am and 2pm.
We then took the underground to Tottenham Court Road to do a bit of shopping and I finally got to see the Choccywockydoodah shop with my own eyes! I’ve watched the programmes lots over the past few years and didn’t know whether the cakes would look as amazing as they do on TV, but they look even better! You can see the work thats gone into them and then why they are priced so highly.
We then popped into Liberty, a department store opened in 1875 which sells every kind of luxury good you could want. It has various departments including womenswear, homeware, fabrics, shoes and jewellery. Its scarf hall is famed for being vibrant and colourful stocking over 250 scared in every colour, fabric and print you can imagine.
We walked through Burlington Arcade, a shopping arcade opened in 1819! It is often thought of as the precursor to modern-day shopping centres. It historically stocks jewellery, fragrances, shoes and high end leather goods. Today it is still patrolled by Burlington Beagles as it was when it originally opened. They technically still have the authority to escort out anyone who runs, carries large packages, opens an umbrella, whistles, hums or sings!
On Monday I went to meet Jasmine for lunch at a park close to where she works, which was really nice as the weather was quite warm. The park is part of the Hoxton Community Trust so its very well kept with some lovely flowers and outdoors activities.
In the afternoon I visited the British Museum in Bloomsbury which was a great way to spend the afternoon. I can’t ever remember going as a child so it was great to finally see the roof! It is totally breathtaking and a masterpiece of architecture – go Norman Foster!
I spent around 4 hours there looking at all the exhibitions which ranged from Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Ancient Egypt all the way through to modern day Africa.
When I was younger I was obsessed with Ancient Egypt, I was fascinated by mummification and the Pyramids of Giza. To see sarcophagi and Egyptian statues dating from 2500BC was so so interesting for me. It sometimes boggles my mind to think that people and civilisations could exist such a long time ago.
The Ancient Greece/Rome sections of the museum were also really interesting, it amazes me how they could create such intricate statues and carvings when electricity hadn’t even been discovered yet!
For me the most interesting exhibit was the African one, it was more modern than the others but had lots of sculptures and objects that made me think a lot. There was a sculpture which from far away looked like a piece of fabric but when you got closer it was made from recycled bottle tops! There were also a few really interesting sculptures made from the decommissioned guns left over from the Mozambique Civil War which only ended in 1992.
After spending some more time looking at all the exhibitions I walked to meet Jasmine at St Paul’s Cathedral for tea. The walk was a really nice change to getting on the underground as I actually got to see some of the Temple area including the Royal Courts of Justice. We had tea at the Cafe Rouge just opposite the cathedral which was amazing as we could see it from our table!
On Wednesday we went took the tube to Sloane Square and walked through Chelsea/Belgravia/Kensington to Knghtsbrigde and along the main road there to get to to Hyde Park. I’d never been before and it was a lot bigger than I imagined and very green. Somtimes it surprises me how quiet and tranquil places can be just a few hundred metres from the main roads. We walked around the park and up to Kensington Palace.
We had dinner on a bench overlooking the lake with the palace in the distance. We walked over to the palace and into the main foyer just to get a feel for where Princess Diana had once lived and the now-residence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
We spent a while walking around the beautiful gardens and although it wasn’t sunny it was very humid and hot so it really felt like we were abroad. The flowers and shrubs were very colourful and beautifully arranged.
We then decided to get the bus to Trafalgar Sqaure so we could go to Downing Street and see the departure of David Cameron and arrival of our new Prime Minister Teresa May. It was very, very busy with a heavy police presence and we waited about an hour to see her arrive. There were lots of protests and quite a few boos when she finally arrived. Although I don’t necessarily agree with the Brexit vote and the change of PM etc, I still thought it was important that we go to to see the change as it was a very important moment in our lives.
On Thursday we took the 10-minute bus journey to Greenwich for a walk and to see the skyline of the city. I think Greenwich is my favourite part of London – its close enough that it can still be considered as London but just far enough away that you feel like you’re out of the city and its hustle and bustle.
In the evening I went to meet some friends for tea and drinks to celebrate one of their birthdays. The last time I saw them was January so it was great to see them again, in some ways it feels like nothing at all has changed but in others I suppose everything has…they all have secure, real adult jobs and I’m living and working abroad. Although we don’t get to see each other that often, its honestly as if no time at all has passed. They are just amazing friends. We had dinner at a pub near London Bridge (yes, I had to have Fish & Chips) and then went up The Shard for a drink!!
There are a few bars on different floors but we chose Aquashard which is spread over the 31st and 32nd floors. We went at around 8.30pm which was great timing as we got to see London in the daylight, see the sunset and then see London by night. It was such an incredible experience and it was a very clear day so we could see for miles – it makes you realise how big London is!
You don’t have to book a table or anything, simply turn up and see if there are any free tables or just wait until one becomes free (10 mins or so). The drinks menu is extensive (and expensive) but its a great alternative to going up to the viewing platform which is around £20 when you can go up to one of the bars and even just get a soft drink for a few pounds!
On Friday I went up to Camden to have a wander around all the markets. When I used to visit London as a child and then a teenager I always loved Camden; the high street with the wall art, the markets selling everything you could ever want, the mixture of people walking around and just the colourful craziness of it all.
Camden Lock is a real, working lock located in the centre of the Camden borough which dates from the 1820s. If you wait long enough you can see long boats coming through and watch the process.
The market itself is really a few markets that all run into one another in a maze like fashion that is very confusing! But I think that the fun of it, you literally never know what will be around the next corner. The outdoor market directly adjacent to the lock is a food market and you can find dishes from Peru to Persia, Ghana to Germany and even more!
One of the most infamous shops in Camden Market is called Cyberdog…be warned you might need sunglasses to shield you from the flashing strobe lights and earplugs to protect yourself from the extremely loud trance music. Based over a few underground floors Cyberdog is a futuristic clothing retailer that loves neon! Literally – shield your eyes. Inspired by the rave scene it is a totally wacky shop and I’m sure it does more trade as an unofficial tourist attraction than an actual clothes shop. Its unlike anything you’re ever likely to see so if you’re in Camden you have to visit!
Another one of the markets is the Stables Market, located in the old stables which were used to treat injured draught horses who originally pulled the longboats. This too is underground and you can find stalls actually in the old stables! There are also shops in the victorian brick arches of the railway which runs above the market. This is the main vintage and leather part of the overall market so head here if you’re looking for some bargains.
There is a small outdoor section in the Stables Market which has a statue of Amy Winehouse and a dedication to her. You often see flowers at her feet and jewellery around here wrists/neck.
Arts and crafts are mainly found in the Market Hall, a former warehouse. You can find all kinds of locally produced items including soaps, jewellery, art, clothes and gifts. This is one of the brightest and most airy parts of the market which is actually quite refreshing after being underground for most of the other parts of it.
After Jasmine finished work I met her at Covent Garden where we spent about an hour just people watching and watching street performers.
On Saturday we took the train to Wellingborough to visit some of our family there. Although we live far away from each other we are still close to them. We have always called them cousins as our grandparents are cousins but never known what the actual relation is…anyway one of them has a 20-month old little girl called Lillyana (the only other one I’ve ever known) and she just had twin girls!! After a very complicated and confusing google search I managed to figure out that the twins are my 3rd cousins! AND THEY ARE SO CUTE ❤
We spent the day meeting up with everyone and we all had dinner together when the twins’ parents asked Jasmine and I if we would be GODPARENTS to the twins!!!!! To say we were surprised is an understatement…there was a good 10 seconds of shocked silence then a lot of tears. To know they think so highly of us is an amazing feeling and I all of a sudden feel very responsible! It’s such a lovely way to ensure we’ll be involved in the girls lives for their entire lives (not that we wouldn’t have been anyway!).
The rest of the weekend was spent baby hugging, enjoying the hot weather and just chatting and catching up with people. Jasmine had to go back to London on Sunday night as she had to be at work on Monday but I stayed until Monday evening. This was Poppy’s face when I told her I had to leave…I don’t think she was too impressed!
Tuesday was the hottest day of the year in the UK with temperatures in London at around 33 degrees! So naturally it would be the day I had booked to go and see a play at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre – an all-weather Elizabethan replica theatre. The theatre is set out as it would have been then with 3 tiers of seating and a standing area thats eye level with the stage. When I bought the ticket (£5 standing!) the week before the weather forecast was for rain so it was just bad luck that it was so hot when it came to the day. Nevertheless the performance of The Taming of the Shrew was amazing, I would really like to go back when the weather is a bit more bearable as it was just impossible in that heat.
After watching the majority of the play and around 15 people faint, I called it quits and went to the Tate Modern which was just a 5 minute walk away. I was instantly appreciative of the air conditioning! I have been before but when I was younger so I didn’t really remember much and exhibitions change all the time so it was great to visit.
There were lots of very strange exhibitions with art I didn’t really understand or appreciate but some were really cool like the mirrored boxes and map rug you can see in the photos.
Perhaps the best part of the gallery is the viewing platform, which I had totally forgotten about! As it was so hot, the day was very clear and I could see for miles! The Tate Modern is on the bank of the Thames and you can see so many landmarks including St Paul’s Cathedral, The Shard, Canary Wharf and Tower Bridge…really worth a look as its completely free!
After I had cooled down and Jasmine had finished work we met at St Paul’s again and went to see in Paternoster Square to have a drink and watch something on the TV screen they had there. We ended up in Spitalfields after going to an All Saints sample sale and discovered the Itsu secret! All sushi and salads are half price 30 mins before closing time…its safe to say we went all out.
We also went for a cheeky drink in one of the pubs near Jasmines house in New Cross to cool ourselves down (yeah right!)…Wednesday and Thursday (morning) were spent cleaning, doing washing and packing to go home. We really struggled to sleep during the night so I ended up sleeping mainly after Jas had left for work, meaning I wasn’t waking up until about 11.30am…
On Wednesday evening I met with my friends again to have pizza as I don’t know when I’ll be seeing them again. We went to Franco Manca, a sourdough pizza restaurant with locations all around London and the pizza was actually really nice! I would give it a 7/10 seeing as I’m now a pizza expert 🙂
We got the train home (Teesside) on Thursday evening and it took about 4 hours, finally arriving at around 10.30pm! I hadn’t seen my parents since they left me after their holidays in Italy at the end of April so it was great to see them again. I hadn’t seen my dog or grandparents since January so we called at their house to say a quick hello.
All in all my 13 days in London (well the London area) were great!! I’ve loved being in the city and exploring, especially the museums and markets. My favourite area is definitely Brick Lane although Camden is also up there as one of my favourites too. Although it is an expensive city there is a lot you can do for free – if you have a valid travel card. I haven’t really paid any entrance fees or had to buy any tickets (besides the one for the Globe) so I have been able to make it a cheap fortnight. Yes, food and eating out is expensive but after all London is one of the most expensive cities in the world so what can you really expect?
I’m writing this from a remote caravan in the Scottish highlands where its currently raining, about 15 degrees and there are more midges than you dare to think about. It’s taken a while to get all of the photos uploaded and hopefully there won’t be too many problems publishing it. From one extreme to the other I know, a bustling megacity with millions of people to a quiet loch where the resident population is only a few thousand! But I wouldn’t have it any other way, I love my life and its versatility. These last few weeks have shown me why I chose this lifestyle – yes, I miss events, birthdays and reunions with my friends and that really upsets me but on the other hand it gives me the freedom to move from country to country and to have 3 months off in the summer to visit people, explore new places and enjoy myself! Who wouldn’t want a life like that?!
PS thanks for reading all 3,600 words of this…if you made it this far 🙂