We’re so excited to be heading to London! We’re visiting friends we don’t get to see nearly enough, Brynn, my roommate from undergrad and her boyfriend Colin.
We took an early train from Brussels to London – under the ocean! But first we were accosted by the border control who for some reason didn’t want to let us through.
People everywhere! From the second we stepped out at Kings cross we were carried along on a wave of people – all impeccably dressed – into the city. We had a short walk to the flat, in a lovely area next to Regent park.
We dropped our bags and headed out to meet Brynn for lunch. We walked for over an hour to reach the south bank, still reeling from the overstimulation of the city. Regent Street was grand and imperial, with perfect white buildings on a gentle curve. We crossed the river at the waterloo bridge. Brynn mentioned that because the Thames is quite ugly, the wealthy neighbourhoods aren’t all vying for space along the river. In that way the city is always changing, with neighbourhoods continually rising and falling in popularity.
We walked along the south bank, in awe of all the people and amount of activity going on. Runners were dodging people, trying to get in their lunchtime workout. I have to say the British dont make running look very sexy – pasty legs, socks pulled up mid shin. Its refreshing to be in the first and only English speaking country on the trip. It took us a while to actually hear any English, but when we did it was fun to overhear conversations and comical accents.
We met Brynn at Tate Modern and wandered around the area. We headed to the Borough Market, the most fantastic market nestled under a train bridge. The atmosphere is incredible, accents flying, great food smells, and the occasional train rumbling overhead. We had curry, and the best samosas we’ve ever had, and sat in the sun by the church. Every square inch of seating was full of people – its pretty exhilarating to see such lively public spaces, but I can see how it would get exhausting.
After lunch we headed to Tate Modern, which I’d been wanting to see since i wrote a paper on Aikido and adaptive reuse in undergrad. I loved the building and the life its pumped into the south bank. Unfortunately there were no installations in the great hall. We checked out the exhibits (thank you London for all your free museums). We saw a few favourites, scratched our head at others, and said “what the hell, I could do this” on more than one occasion.
We wandered aroind the south bank area, checking out apartments by Richard Rogers, and Neals Yard, an alley with bright umbrellas across. We passes the Globe Theater, where it was the anniversary of both the birth and death of Shakespeare.
We crossed the millennium bridge, an awesome pedestrian bridge with views of St. Paul’s. Its well used and almost a public space of its own, it just needs some seating.
St. Paul’s was stunning, and the steps on the sunny side were spilling over with people.
We headed west to find a place for dinner, with the craziness of rush hour. Double decker busses and cabs lined the streets. We managed to spot one traditional looking bus, the rest were futuristic. The cabs are much classier than North America, dark coloured towncars, and for the most part the drivers are all older British men. Now cycling: for the most part, London doesn’t make cycling look very sexy – or safe for that matter. During rush hour the majority of the people braving the streets on narrow or non existent bike lanes were decked out in full fluorescent, helmets, spandex, sometimes face masks, and usually a grimace. I would bike almost anywhere, but i admit London in rush hour looks pretty scary. The impressive stat is that 1/6th of the trips in the core are by bike. The congestion tax (12£ per trip into the core) has been quite successful at reducing single occupancy car trips into the downtown.
The energy of the city is so apparent on the sidewalks – it was exhilarating. As soon as work was over, people were spilling out of pubs. The pubs were incredibly and exquisitely detailed, conversation and laughter resonated in the streets. I think they must use a random name generator to come up with the names.
We walked through the West End, with all the theaters, and found a vegetarian restaurant called Food for Thought, where we met Brynn and Colin. One of the best meals we’ve had – a mix of salads and a ratatoullie, in a charmingly packed little place. Unfortunately it’s closing in June after 40 years.
After dinner, Colin led us around, weaving through a number of streets, watching the neighbourhoods transform. We were a little overwhelmed when we first arrived, but we were definately starting to love London. It was great to have the perspective of 2 archi-geeks pointing out all the interesting and beautiful details pf buildings as we passed. There were a number of openings and fancy events going on for a thursday, and unfortunately we weren’t able to sneak into any. There were so many interesting details and a vibrant mix of people – strip clubs right next to exclusive restaurants.