This past weekend I went to London to visit a friend of mine who is studying abroad there at Goldsmiths College and to see one of the biggest cities on the planet. I arrived in London at Stansted airport on Friday evening. I navigated to the bus line to get downtown where I met my close friend and another student studying abroad from our home university (Lafayette College). We decided to head back to my friend’s flat at Newcross Gate to get some grub and so that I could drop off my valuables. I first got an Oyster Card (similar to D.C.’s Metrocard) so that I could use “the tube” and other of London’s public transportation systems for the weekend. London’s public transportation system is massive, composed of a network of underground rails, overground rails, and bus lines criss-crossing the city like a spiderweb every few minutes. Upon reaching Newcross we got food at a Caribbean joint called “Cummin’ Up”. The store was owned by a cheerful, plump Jamaican lady boppin’ to a reggaeton soundtrack. Her glassy eyes and languid mannerism suggested something aside from the music was on her mind as well. The jerk chicken with beans and rice was incredible, likely the best I’ve ever had. The entire area of Newcross Gate seemed to have a number of Caribbean inhabitants based on the people we passed in the streets and shops. Combined with the other neighborhoods marked by a variety of distinct cultural influences from North Africa, India, Asia, and the Middle-East, London lives up to its reputation for being a diverse city.
The next morning we headed downtown to the heart of London to begin our self-devised tour of the city. We started at the Borough Market, one of the most incredible places I have ever been. Stalls of vendors crowded by multitudes of customers milling about the market created a boisterous and cheerful atmosphere. Vendors were selling everything from fresh ingredients to full meals as well as everything in between, if it was food related – you could probably have found it there. Being in London, I decided to get a meat pie; the one I chose contained chicken, gravy, leeks, and stilton cheese, although there were many others to choose from including seasonal pies. It was piping hot and absolutely divine. Next, we started walking down to the bank of the Thames River where we would cross and continue on to our eventual destination of Hyde Park and Kensington Palace. Just as we reached the bank we happened upon Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. It was very pleasant to see since Shakespeare was a good sized component of my high school literary education. Not far from there we reached the Millennium Bridge, an entirely pedestrian bridge spanning the Thames. From there we gained a fantastic view of the famous Tower Bridge, the Spire, and much of downtown London. We continued across the bridge towards St. Paul’s Cathedral. As we reached the main road on the North side of the Thames we encountered a parade for what we gathered was the British equivalent of Veteran’s Day. We stopped to watch as it passed for different groups within the parade seemed to represent an evolution of Britain’s military. The first to go by were modern military men in big vehicles, then well dressed cavalry, riflemen, lancers, followed by a progression of other groups each approaching a colonial manner of dress. We continued West along the riverbank. We could then see “The Eye” across the river and Big Ben in the distance. As we grew closer the true size of Big Ben became apparent; Big Ben is indeed quite large. We finally reached Big Ben after some time and next to it is Westminster Abbey. Both of these structures were spectacular. After much gawking among other tourists we continued past the naval war rooms and on again to the Mall and Trafalgar Square. Trafalgar Square was very nice with a large fountain near its center and ornate columned buildings surrounding the square on three sides. Two statues sat on pedestals opposite the gate to the Mall and on to Buckingham Palace. Upon one of the pedestals sat a large, regal looking lion. The other position was held by a large blue rooster; apparently this pedestal is visited by a number of circulating statues periodically. We walked down the Mall again, this time towards Buckingham Palace. Buckingham Palace was very ornate with a large statue of Queen Elizabeth I in front. From there we continued on to Hyde Park where we saw Prince Albert’s Theatre and the Prince Albert Memorial. The memorial was an open structure with a giant figure of Albert upon a throne of sorts under its roof. This was my hosts favorite place in the city, the park is very nice, and the memorial is visually stimulating. Hyde Park, apparently, used to be the royalty’s private hunting grounds, but now there would be hardly more than pidgeons to catch there. Kensington Palace seemed very nice from the outside, but it was getting late, dark, and they had stopped accepting visitors for the day. That night we had Indian food at a small restaurant near my friends flat in Newcross Gate. The curry I had was very good, although surprisingly mild. My friends tikka masala was also very good and had a very strong coconut flavor that was particularly enjoyable.
Sunday morning we woke up so that we could explore the Camden Market before I had to get to the airport. The market was larger than the Borough Market, but included more shop vendors than food vendors. I saw vendors selling suitcases, watches, leather goods, books, photography, art, music, and wooden wares among many others who sold clothes and other knick-knacks. Apparently, Camden caters to a very hip, punk crowd of youth among other demographics. There was an abnormal number of tattoo and body-piercing parlors in the area on the street as well as matching punk/metal styled clothing shops. One place in particular emanated electro-punk and was certainly the most eccentric store I’ve ever been inside. This place was named “Cyberdog” and from the outside one could hear loud music and see neon lights flashing as two giant robotic figurines stood watch at the entrance. IT was three full floors of neon shaded glasses, tight-fitted clothing, and very colorful (in many senses) pierced employees and customers. It was, as my friend echoed, “an experience”. All in all, I found London to be a lively and diverse city offering good food, art, music, history, and people. The only drawback I could find was that the exchange rate on currency was fairly high. London is expensive. However, it is definitely somewhere I will return to visit and that I may considering living in at some point in my life.