Sunday 1 July 2018

Never tired of London

There's a point you reach in life when you realise that time is running out, and travel-wise it's foolish to waste it by going again to places you've already been. The world is so big, and there are always new places to explore, however much you've travelled. But there are exceptions, and London is prime amongst them.

The city itself is so big, of course, that there will always be new bits to explore, and today that was Spitalfields/Shoreditch. After meeting the Firstborn and partner at a café in Putney where they served a very decent flat white and also had lamingtons alongside the cakes in their cabinet - had to be a Kiwi involved somewhere - we took an ordinary bus (double-decker, upstairs, at the front) for an extraordinary tour of some of London's more famous features. Battersea Power Station is a forest of cranes, the US Embassy is paranoid behind its moat, then came the London Eye, Imperial War Museum, the Shard, Borough Market, London Bridge with its views of Tower Bridge and the Belfast, then Pudding Lane with its monument, and finally Aldgate, where we were to begin a walking tour.
It was with Unseen Tours, who employ homeless people to give a different view and interpretation of the city for visitors who have done all the usual touristy stuff. So we met up with Pete, an unemployed psychology graduate, who took us to explore Brick Lane. He undoubtedly knew his stuff, but he was a rambling sort of speaker, and had us standing in the uncomfortably hot sun for ages at various points along the route - so in the end we made our excuses and, guiltily, left. Shame. There was some good stuff about Jack the Ripper and his connection with both the Salvation Army and Barnardo's; and interesting political commentary as well as a bit of insight into homeless life - but the delivery was so dull.

Brick Lane, though, was lively as. Multi-cultural, full of ethnic restaurants, graffiti and street art, food markets selling delicious stuff, buskers, stalls, fun little niche shops (one selling copies of a smart-looking book of Trump's poetry, compiled from his footnoted tweets into haiku and rhyming poems that made both sense and him look stupid). There was a man in a double-umbrella hat playing lightning-fast speed chess with a passer-by, a black cab coffee shop, a man with a basket of pop-eyed pups on the back of his bike causing a chorus of Aww!s as he wheeled it along the street, and another naked to the waist sprawled in a deck chair on the pavement at a busy intersection. 

And people! People everywhere, enjoying the 28+ degree weather, the World Cup on multiple screens, the food, the stalls, the ambiance. It was a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon, and the fact that it ended up being so unstructured was actually ideal for the location.

The day ended, appropriately, in The Windmill pub on the edge of Clapham Common (much bigger than I thought, and also full of people enjoying themselves outdoors) with beer, cider, shared plates including baked camembert and yummy pickled onions, the offer of a trivia quiz - er, sorry, we are TP'd out for the foreseeable - and finally an easy Uber home to the hotel. Lovely day!

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