“Those that are good manners at the court are as ridiculous in the country as the behavior of the country is most mockable at the court.” – Orin in William Shakespeare’s As You Like It
To try and sum up London in a single post is like trying to get the whole experience of the city under your belt in a single day or getting an elephant through your letterbox; impossible. Even after spending half a week in this intricately interwoven city I feel nowhere close to finding my bearings or truly appreciating it for what it is. So strap yourselves in… This is going to be a big one.
London, as its reputation would suggest has been more overwhelming than any other city I’ve yet visited. In all honesty, I’m almost itching to escape somewhere a bit more… My speed. You don’t grow up in country South Australia with a great love of absolutely crushing crowds. Plus, I just can’t wait to stop paying an arm and a leg for simply existing.
But still, London is incredible. It’s awe inspiring really; a city of such rich and violent history, the centre of one of the world’s largest Empires, the home of hundreds of countries and capital of English culture in Europe.
How do you tackle such a colossal beast as London though? By dividing and conquering, of course. London is a patchwork city like no other, with diverse and vibrant communities layed out over many miles of rainy English south-land. Each different block seems like a world apart from the last, and each neighbourhood has its own unique style. Some are… Well, nicer than others, some are weirder, some are more intense. All are London.
Bloomsbury and Hendon
My first day back in London after my trip to the North, the last day of 2015, passed quickly, largely thanks to my hours spent wandering the mind blowing halls of the British Museum. This great structure could probably be seen as a neighborhood in its own right, but I’ve included it here because, like normal, I spent a while just wandering and getting my bearings.
This Museum, ranked among the best in the world, really lives up to its grand name. The building itself is a marvel, a maze of epic proportions, but the collections inside make up a treasure haul that is one of the great wonders of the world. To walk, literally, through history, seeing the wonders of Egypt, mystery of the Celts and African shamans, power of the Romans and the results of British plunder and conquest over the centuries, for free, was an experience I’ll never forget. This is a recommendation, no, a command, to everyone: visit the British Museum.
I spent the last hours of 2015 cooling down from my day and drinking with a new group of interesting friends at the shoddiest hostel I’ve visited yet. Hey, I guess you get what you pay for. Spending New Years with these weird folks, watching the fireworks among the crowds and mud of Primrose Hill, really made up for the uneasy feelings put into me by the hostel and rather grotty area outside.
The tube system of London, by the way, is super extensive and useful but, like the rest of the city, it is far too expensive and crazy. If you’re around the place, or stay far from the centre like I ended up doing, definitely pick up an Oyster Card.
Westminster and the South Bank
Of course, you’re not gonna stay in London over New Year’s and avoid the parade. Heading to Trafalgar Square, I spent an hour or two sipping coffee and watching the parade go by. As much as it was a bit of fun and a lovely way to ring in 2016, the parade itself was a bit of a let down and the crowds around absolutely impossible. I ended up walking all the way out and around Westminster Palace to escape the absolutely suffocating and dangerous crush.
The funny thing about this year was definitely the air of reserved fear felt around the city. With a threat of terror and civil unrest, I could sense people being a bit suspicious and more reserved than I expected them to be. Never-the-less, it was encouraging to see untold thousands come out for the event despite that.
I spent the rest of the damp day wandering along the South Bank, snapping photos and soaking up the Thames air. I took a bit of time to meditate and be mindful around Big Ben. I just couldn’t believe I was there. It just wouldn’t go through my brain that I was actually standing in London, across the world from my home… A home that doesn’t quite feel like it used to.
Anyway, my next museum date was with the fantastic, intriguing and thought provoking Tate Modern. I love me some ridiculous po-mo art and so wandering around here was quite an experience. By the third floor, and the third room of the day-glo Pop Art exhibition, I’d ended up feeling foggy and rotten… I’d forgotten to eat food for the whole day! Remember kids, don’t get so engrossed in the sights that you neglect your stomach. You’ll pay for it in the evening.
Camden Town and Soho
Almost unsurprisingly, my favourite boroughs of London are the eccentric centres of Camden Town and Soho.
Hitting up the Camden Town markets on the recommendation of the hostel mates I found a literal consumer wonderland for the weird and wacky, the punk and the goth and the raver. Hidden among the many stalls are incredible sub-culture stores like Oi Oi!, the skinhead shop, Darkside goth shop and my absolute favourite, Cyberdog! After visiting this pumping rave/cybergoth shop I was feeling ready to pick up the glowsticks and non-functioning gasmask and dance. Visiting colourful Camden made me wish for a world where this weirdness was more accepted. If goths and ravers and punks all came together to turn the world into a brutal futuristic fairyland… I’d be into it.
Soho, and the West End in general, is colourful and playful aswell, but in a more conservative way. It’s your classic pubs and theater district, full of incredible live venues and creative clubs and bars. While I didn’t actually get any ($200) tickets to shows here, I did venture over to the National Theatre in South Bank to catch a fantastic performance of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Catching a show or two in London is almost necessary and definitely worth the price of admission… If you’re not feeling too stingy.
And yet there’s still more
This post, while pretty extensive, still hasn’t covered everything. Not mentioned is my quick visit to Goya’s portraiture exhibition at the National Gallery (beautiful and almost holy, but crowded and pricey), my aimless strolls through Oxford Street, my visit to one of the most impressively stocked hobby stores I’ve ever seen (Dark Sphere in the south), my stressful battle with crowds, my desperate search for food on Saturday and my visit to Curzon Soho. My fingers, tapping against this tiny portable screen, are tightening and tiring and The Lobster is about to start.
I’m sure, as Electric Holy Road continues, I’ll be able to recount these memories in more detail, but for now, let’s leave the anticipation there.
Ol’ Blightey Wrapped Up
And so my visit to the UK wraps up. After eleven days, countless photos, incredible memories and a lot of words, I’m heading back to Germany to begin the next big leg of my holiday journey.
London is amazing, really, but I’ve realised its not exactly the place for me. The absolute chaos of the crowds left me feeling the fear and the prices… My god, the prices. London offers some incredible sights, some incredible art and some incredible shows, but so does the rest of the world. It’s just more condensed and extreme here in London town. My world, however, is one with time and space to think and breath, with a dash of chaos every now and then to spice things up. I couldn’t imagine living it every day. But hey, we adapt don’t we? Maybe one day I’ll find London more to my taste.
But the experience… Well, that’s the important thing to have, isn’t it? I’ll sure as hell never forget it, London. You have left a definite scar, full of glitter and confetti. Cheers and ciao for now!