I arrived in London a few hours later than scheduled and, after unsuccessfully struggling with Starbucks totally not-free-I-don’t-care-what-they-say wifi made my way to the Tiffany’s counter at Harrods where my friend Amy worked. She had a few hours left on her shift, so I walked around town.
This pretty much sums up my time in London. I walked.
London is the city I was most looking forward to visiting on my Europe trip. When I had been there many moons ago (with a high school tour) I instantly felt at home in London. Like I knew it, loved it and needed to live there. It was weird and I was pretty much convinced I had lived in London in a past life.* Did I feel the same connection when I went there again in 2011? No. Not quite. But I loved it nonetheless.
What I love most about London is the fantastic juxtaposition between this fascinating old history and the new, modern future. Buildings from 1600 hang out on corners beside buildings from 2006. Walking down the streets, you get a real feel that people have been walking these streets for hundreds of years, and in many parts of town, you’re seeing what they saw those many years ago. Hell, my friend’s apartment stoop is the same stoop they found one of Jack the Ripper’s victims. Old buildings are re-purposed and used for more than just a fancy Starbucks (For example, I saw Henry VIII’s palace and was told it was now, essentially, a huge file storage building. Like, “Hey John, where did we file our 2007 taxes?” “Oh, I think they’re somewhere in Anne Boelyn’s old closet.”) London has amazing history, and it’s absolutely thrilling to walk down cobblestone alleys and wonder who else had walked down them before.
One of my favourite things I did in London was hit up Gordon’s Wine Bar. It’s said to be the oldest wine bar in London (which probably means it’s one of the oldest wine bars in the world!) and has been operating as such since the 1890s. It’s been around as a pub/bar/whatever since the late 1600s and its age is apparent as soon as you walk in. We got a bottle of white and a plate of cheese and sat in a stooped cave-like room, walls blackened by hundreds of years of soot and smoke and people. It was dark, lit mostly by candles…and totally packed. It was an awesome experience I’d encourage everyone to check out if they’re in London and like wine.
Another favourite was the London Ghost Walk. I’m a total nut for ghost stories (like, to the point that my eyes light up and I demand to hear your story if you have one. It’s embarrassing.) and I figured London would have a history rich in ghost and ghost stories. I wasn’t wrong! Our guide, Richard Jones, was fantastic and cheesy and knowledgeable about not only the ghostly parts of the city, but the history of the city itself. The walk was a good few hours long and my girlfriends and I ended up having a drink at one of London’s most haunted pubs afterwards. We didn’t see any ghosts, but I scared Amy pretty bad when she went to the bathroom by herself. Point: me.
Between Camden Market, Borough Market, Portabello Road Market and one other random one I stumbled into, London had enough markets to keep my eyes and stomach satisfied every day; the weather was so lovely I even had my first Pims and fruit from a lovely old man with a stall set up under a bridge.
Sidenote: that was another favourite thing about London: you could drink anywhere. We would go up to a bar, order drinks, then walk across the road and sit by the river enjoying them. It was awesome! It made everywhere feel like a huge, casual social event. After work, pubs would be crowded with people spilling out onto the streets to drink and smoke.
Sidenote II: I’m pretty sure the entire city smokes. Everyone smokes. It was disgusting. I got more than one headache while I was there from not being able to escape the raunchy smell of cigarettes. When I got to Brussels, the first thing I did was laundry because all I smelt was tobacco. Gross.
My final favourite memory about London: 2am curry from Brick Lane. It was my last night there and I hadn’t had any curry (I heard the curry in London is fabulous) so we headed over the Brick Lane after the bar and wandered the street which was more alive with smells and sounds and colours than any other “Little India” I’ve visited. Amy told me to keep quiet and that she’d do the talking. We walked for a few minutes while men complimented us and told us to dine with them (they had employees stand outside the restaurant and try to get people in off the street), and eventually Amy walked up to one and said “What will you give us?” to which the man replied “What do you want?” “A free bottle of wine and papadums” she said. “You got it”. Bam. We go inside, each order a $5 curry and we got free wine, papadums and naan bread. It was amazing! Not only was the curry the best I’ve had in my life, but she bargained us free wine. WINE. An entire bottle! Apparently that’s just what you do. I can’t wait to go back and try my hand a a few free samosas. Mmmm.
London was an amazing first city to travel solo in; the history, sights, streets and vibe were an amazing mesh of old and new, and I’m pretty sure anyone could spend a year there and still not see everything there is to see.
*I like that I don’t think of myself as a princess or nobility, but rather as a peasant who worked in a shitty bar or something.