My first trip to London, as fun as it was, lacked a sense of tranquility and one of independence. When you travel with friends, you often sacrifice certain things you want to do in exchange for good company. Its a most-likely fulfilling compromise.
I don’t at all regret that exchange, but it left me with a envy to come back to London on my own. After my time on the back in Dorset county, it worked out perfectly to spend a day in London on the way back to Paris. So with a few days of good riding in my legs, fond memories in my mind and a stomach full of English breakfast, I boarded the coach to London, getting in just before noon.
The outline of the day looked like this upon touchdown in London: walk, market, coffee, walk, art, walk, bikes, coffee, train. Some stops were skipped, but the plan went seamlessly and exceeded expectations.
Hopping off the bus at Victoria station, I cherished the combination of my solitude and fresh air, and skipped the tube journey across the city to take the most touristy walk of my life – aside from Paris of course. I passed the theaters, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, the London eye, the River Thames St Paul’s and the walking bridge until I came to a beacon of hope and good food: the Borough Market. A market of quality goods, it reflects England’s deceptively rich culinary history. Fresh produce and creative street food from ever corner of the world come together in an area cornered by the river, train tracks, business centers and trendy boutiques. Being in England, I of course chose the Indian food, and had a delightful spicy lentil crepe with tandoori chicken and potatoes and curry chickpeas, topped in pomegranate seeds and chutney. It was intensely yet delicately spiced and divinely fresh. I bought a bottle of hand pressed apple-blackberry juice to go with it and enjoyed the two in the tables next to the Southwark cathedral. A fabulous arrangement.
Being so close, I of course had to take a peek inside. Visiting was free but I got the strangest welcome as I was cordially questioned as to the nature of my visit and asked if I wanted to buy a “photography permit.” I didn’t want to so I used my eyes instead. Not a bad thing. The fourteen hundred years of history have left quite an impressing building, it is noble but not too clustered despite an ornate austerity. Open and airy, it was a memorable cathedral, not imposing like some tend to be.
From there I continued following Paul’s recommendations to seek out my post lunch coffee. The espresso at Monmouth was divine and the layout and clientele of the shop was fantastic. Full of big tables to work, counters for solitude and an open wall for coffee-drinkers to spill onto the street, there was a spot for everyone and a great vibe in the air. Good coffee will do that. I took my doppio outside on a bench and watched the people and the hipsters. It was a fascinating mix of businessmen and hardcore hipsters. Life philosophy and appearance are nulle when it comes to good coffee, the taste and revitalization could unite the world.
Nourished and satisfied, it was time to replenish my brain. Luckily the Tate Modern was but a mere jaunt away. In a building even uglier than that of the Centre Pompidou, the Tate Modern is a modern art museum of equal caliber.
The major difference is that while the Pompidou is organized chronologically for the most part, the Tate is arranged thematically. When I rushed through it in November it left me confused and dissatisfied, but with much more time and no company I found the curating to be very intelligent and thoughtful. The collection may not have been as expansive as the Pompidou’s, but it is compelling and provides a wealth of information. It is reminiscent of modern art in general. When you take the time to read the placards in the Tate, it makes sense, but if you just look and don’t understand, it seems totally meaningless. I quite liked the arrangement of Surrealist works and its offsets, and the room of neon tube luminescent pieces.
After the museum, it was time for my third passion, on from food and art to bikes. And more coffee of course. I had three things noted down, a bike shop, a bike clothing shop / coffee shop and a coffee shop. I wound up at the coffee shop first and liked it so much that I passed on the other two. The shop was called Look Mum No Hands! and is a cyclist hangout with great music, smile-inducing coffee and extensive bike paraphernalia as decoration. There were bikes everywhere, bikers everywhere, a small mechanics shop, a great assortment of cakes and good working or socializing spaces. At least half the people had gotten there by bike. It was the sort of place I wish I could have where I live, the combination of quality product and comforting environment was compelling. I felt inspired and did a lot of writing.
It wasn’t a long walk to St. Pancras station from there, which was nice as I managed the day without taking the tube. It also gave me the chance to see the neighborhood Islington. Walking around central London I had noted how scary it seemed for bikes, but here, bikes ruled. Every stoplight meant 20 or 30 cyclists, both commuters and rouleurs covered the roadway in anticipation for the glorious green signal of get moving.
St. Pancras looks like a palace rather than a train station, which leaves one with a great taste in their mouth upon leaving the city. Its if to say, that’s right you had a good time. Come back soon.