I used to dislike London. Not hate, but certainly dislike. I found it overwhelming, extremely noisy, rough at places, dirty, too vast for walking. I didn’t know how to use The Tube until 2011 and walked everywhere, usually without a plan or even a map. My attitude towards the UK capital could not be different nowadays. While I still don’t think it’s a beautiful city on the whole, despite some truely magnificent sights, it fascinates me and leaves me hungry for more everytime I go, whether it’s for a day out or for a long weekend. Long weekend is always an option worth considering, allowing for visiting a different area each day, and that’s exactly what we did between 21 – 25 October.
I worried about the weather, but the much maligned climate change (or global warming as it used to be called before we experienced Beast from the East in 2018…) brought us clear skies and pleasant temperatures, ideal for urban trekking – we did 15-20 km on foot each day. Mercifully, there were no flash floods or other mini disasters, no Tube strikes or traffic disrupting protesters. We witnessed a police chase on the South Bank, when a young man ran right past me followed by a police officer, which reminded me of a scene from Hot Fuzz. We then saw other policemen searching the surrounding bins and benches, most likely for drugs. It happened too fast for us too think on our feet and attempt a citizen arrest or at least trip the offender 😉
We had three full days of sightseeing, and the first place we saw on Friday morning was the Barbican in all its brutalist glory (it’s just like our Eastern European blocks, we exclaimed, minus the lake and the fancy green bits). The Barbican shop had some nice prints, postcards, loads of interesting books on art and social science, tasteful souvenirs, in other words something for everyone. The cinema and auditorium inside looked so inviting that I promised myself to come back for a movie or show one day. A lot of bloggers recommend Barbican as a cool place to visit and I can easily see why. Despite resembling a dystopian nightmare, it has something of a charm, perhaps thanks to plants and flowers displayed in balconies. It really is worth a 20 min walk from London Liverpool St station, if only to see what the architects envisaged the urban future to be like. An old church nearby is an extra treat.
We walked towards Shoreditch afterwards and lunched at the Spitalfields Market, which was a nice surprise to me. Apparently it embodies gentrification and a loss of authentic, traditional markets. It is true that city markets these days are all becoming clones, with ‘artisan’ coffee, street food stalls selling meals at near-restaurant prices and massive crowds attempting to sample both. That said, I had a fairly decent scampi and chips, and M. was delighted with her vegan salad, while E. purchased a candle shaped like a female form, so again, something for everyone. I got myself a unique pair of earrings and had my eye on some posters and prints, and I’ll definitely return for more scampi and shopping. There is a reason why these places evolve, they are merely a reflection of how people want to spend their time – and money. Spitalfields was more to my liking than the Brick Lane area. Second hand clothes don’t excite me. I had to wear handovers as a child and although I used to shop in charity shops a lot, now I tend to donate stuff instead. However, M. came across a silk & cashmere sweater in a small vintage den and E. bought a cool pair of sunglasses, so it was a success after all .After a short rest in our fancy (not!) Travelodge, we finished the day with a walk along the Thames. The City, quiet and empty on Friday night looked quite astonishing after dark.
Market madness continued next day as we arrived in Camden Town. It was a bit of an overkill after the previous night’s shopping, but we found it well organised and with the abundence of food trucks M. had no issue finding a vegan meal. I did notice, however, that the vegan craze seems to be calming down. I wonder what the next food fashion will be, other than halloumi fries that attract long queues literallly everywhere. We had a couple of cocktails sitting outside a cafe and soaked up the atmosphere. Camden Market has also been criticized for becoming too gentrified and mainstream, however in my opinion everything is mainstream these days – goths, people dressed up for Comic Con we saw on the DLR, various food choices, fake vintage clothing such as sold at Urban Outfitters (I swear we went to every single branch and I found the clothes dreadful, but the girls fell in love in corduroy trousers, heh), you name it. Once it got too busy to be enjoyable, we got out and went for a pleasant, if a little long walk along the canal to Little Venice. I went there back in the summer and wasn’t that impressed, but I admit it looked far better in autumnal colours.
I wanted to buy some make up in Kiko so we got on the Tube and headed to Covent Garden…what a mistake. I DO love it, but it becomes a hell on earth on Saturday afternoon. We walked through Chinatown and Soho and it was just as bad. I really wanted to have a meal in a Middle Eastern restaurant we dined at back in winter 2018 and we managed to find it, but it was a shadow of it’s former self, and I left unhappy. I don’t recommend Souk Medina – the food was bland, portions small, seats uncomfortable. I wish I had eaten those Camden falafels instead.
I saved the best for last and on Sunday morning, after a short photo session at London’s worst kept secret – St Dunstan church ruins known to every self-respecting Instagrammer – we hastily made our way to the Royal Victoria Dock via DLR, and then we treated ourself to a short trip across Thames. What an ingenious idea, a cable car connecting the docks with the Northern Greenwich. The views were so, so, mostly a giant building site down below, but what fun it was! As we entered the O2 E. and M. remarked on how attractive and nicely designed this entertainment venue was. The purpose of our early visit was the Selfie Factory. I wasn’t too sure when I was booking our £15/hour slots but it turned out to be a good laugh and we took tons of selfies, so we got our value for money so to speak! E. is very keen to do a walk on the O2 roof, something I did not think would be her cup of tea.
Greenwich was our next stop, and the weather was just lovely for late October, sunny and warm, ideal for a relaxed stroll in the park and for admiring the view from the Observatory hill. Another market, and a small flea market, and more street food – this time, disappointed with last night’s rubbish overpriced restaurant food, we all had a go at it and it was delicious, even if my Indian wrap (‘they don’t eat that in India’, said M.) was too spicy, but then I don’t generally favour Indian…Their masala chai was amazing though. We wandered around pretty streets and went inside the Queen’s house, wich had a very instagrammable staircase. We also walked the tunnel under the Thames in both directions. The intention was to photograph Greenwich as seen by the painter Canaletto:
We came back to central London on Uber boat. A word of advice: it takes a good half an hour to queue before boarding, and it’s best to wait with activating mobile tickets right before boarding, otherwise they might expire. The cruise was slow and relaxing, and within an hour we were by the London Eye and began our walk back to the hotel. The South Bank at dusk – it just doesn’t get better that this…
Who would have thought that late October is such a good time to visit London. No rain, acceptable temperatures, shorter days meaning more low light photography opportunities without having to wait until late in the evening. Anywhere can be a tourist trap in London, but some areas are worse than others and are to be avoided or only visited in the morning.
If one is tired of London, they must be tired of life. We are certainly not tired of life and we are already planning our next London adventure. Roll on 2022!