As much fun as we had in Oxford (especially at the wedding), we were more than ready to leave by the time the sun rose on Sunday morning, and so with tired feet and not nearly enough caffeine we hauled our bags across town and boarded a morning train into the City. Our friend C (of the Pimm’s Cup and other delicious stories to come) happily met us at Paddington, quickly ordered a cab and directed the driver to the Battersea section of London to her awesome, amazing flat.
Not that we stayed there too long–a change of clothes, a bit of food to eat and we were quickly on our way into the heart of town to start our tour.
I really wish that I could point you to our friend C’s (for now nonexistent) website where she advertises her services as tour guide through London, because she is invaluable. She is basically the Wikipedia of London tourism; she’s immersed herself in the history and the culture and the stories in the years she’s lived here so she can point out not only what you’re seeing, but also the cool stories behind certain landmarks. Alas, her day job prevents her from giving tours all day every day–but we were fortunate to have her with us as with her help we maximized our two full days in the city.
London is a very walkable city–and trust me when I say we did a lot of walking–but the best way to cover a lot of ground in a short period of time is to pay the two quid per person and hop on a double-decker bus. From the upper level you can see so much, and it’s even better when you can sit in the front seats on the upper level, because you’re given a pretty sweet panoramic view.
C wanted to show us Old Spitalfields Market first: a huge bazaar teeming with stands selling everything from gorgeous vintage furniture to baskets of avocados that would run you a couple quid at most. My eyes kept lingering over vintage bird cages and gorgeous mid-century chairs that in no way could conceivably come back with us on the plane (I completely understood C when she mentioned that she would have to wait a week if there was something there that she liked–if it was still there seven days later, then it was acceptable to purchase) so C quickly steered us over to the food section to pick up some much-needed grub for lunch.
Holy sensory overload, Batman! Any food you were craving arguably could be met in this ramshackle food court–Caribbean, Spanish, Ethiopian, Japanese, Chinese, Indian and Middle Eastern were all immediately apparent–and deciding what to eat when you knew you’d only have one meal here was both cruel and excruciating.
Michael went for this Caribbean chicken that had a wildly good green sauce, while I veered a little more classic and picked falafel (a treat I seldom indulge in because we don’t fry a lot of hummus in our house). The midday warmth also had me a little thirsty, so I also indulged in a cup of tomatoey gazpacho from the Spanish stand next door. Crowding ourselves on a bench outside, silence ruled as Michael and I greedily dove into our food, pausing on occasion to moan in pleasure.
Thus fueled, it was time to get walking. C was saving the so-called big sights for Monday, so we spent the afternoon
wandering around the surrounding neighborhood, checking out C’s old flat and generally catching up since the last time we were all together.
I think it was this aimless walking, especially following a busy two days of wedding prep and pomp, that made me fall a little in love with London. I wasn’t expecting it–while London has always been on my list of places to visit, it wasn’t one that I expected to tumble headlong into an infatuation with, causing me to notice all of those flats that were for sale on C’s street. You’d think that living in New York would satisfy that need to live in a fabulous city with awesome public transportation, and that paying for that privilege on a regular basis would leave me feeling cynical, or at least with a sense of wariness when visiting someplace new that is automatically more expensive because of currency exchange rates.
There are less-than-awesome things about London: the aforementioned cost of living, the somewhat complicated Underground (only in figuring out how much it costs to ride the thing, what with the Zones and the various pricing schemes and the fact that if you don’t have an Oyster card you’re constantly scrounging for pounds), the somewhat lagging food culture and the fact that it’s basically completely dark out during the colder months of the year to name a few.
What surprised me, though, was a sense of ease (at least compared to New York) that I felt as we walked around, pickpocketing aside. Maybe it was because we had the luxury to stay with friends, but I didn’t feel the urgency that comes with moving about in New York here–while waiting for our train to Oxford on the first day, we watched the activity in Paddington and it certainly did not compare to the sprinting that often goes on in Grand Central, that’s for sure. The locals are generally friendlier too: after a week of bustling about and doing much dancing and walking I was sore and felt far less nimble than when we arrived and dreaded lugging my suitcase from the Overground to the Underground, because it meant lifting it over and over. Where we live, you’d likely get toppled over if you weren’t moving fast enough (which is why it’s fortunate that no one has to climb steps to get in/out of the subway) but here I was pleasantly surprised by getting an extra hand from a stranger as we transferred from the Circle Line to the Picadilly. Perhaps it’s still remnants from that vacation high, but it was a little too easy to picture myself living in London. The evening spent hanging out and eating delicious homemade food certainly helped.
Thank you to C&S for being such awesome hosts!
Here are the remainder of the photos from our first day–I promise to post the second installment soon (and without so much commentary):