It was about five years ago now that I began my love affair with London. On that first visit, I was a mere tourist taking in the sights. I was enchanted by the history, besotted with the views of Tower Bridge across the Thames, and couldn’t get enough of those big red buses. On university exchange I became less of a tourist and more of a temporary resident; exploring the markets and discovering historical literary haunts amongst cobblestoned streets.
In the three years since I became a *sort of* Londoner, I have felt a longing for the place — an ache which became stronger and stronger as the months went by, and which, it seemed, could be cured only by going back. So that’s just what I decided to do.
I was in a state of euphoria arriving in London. Everything was familiar; it was like coming home. It’s as though all I wanted in the world was to hear ‘mind the gap’ come over the announcement system on the tube. To hear it made me disproportionately happy.
Although I had just come off an overnight flight from the US, I wasn’t going to waste any time in my favourite city in the world. I arrived at my Hampstead home for the next week — cousin Bev and Roger’s place — and not long afterwards Bev and I set off into central London. We did my favourite touristy thing first off: exited the tube at Westminster station. It’s just fabulous, looking up and seeing Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament right there in front of you. Then we walked along the Thames for a bit, soaking up the London sunshine.
A significant aspect of the excitement for this visit to London was having a new relative to meet — the youngest addition to our family, Elsie. We met Elsie and her mum Charlie for a picnic lunch in Green Park. What a cutie Elsie is! She’s almost 1, and into everything. She can walk holding onto things, and is very animated. We had fun, and the London weather was particularly co-operative. In fact, it was for almost the entire week!
We walked back to Jason and Charlie’s place in South London where we hung out for a bit, and Charlie cooked us a lovely dinner. By that point I could barely keep my eyes open, but it was lots of fun to catch up.
The following day, after a good sleep, I was far more bright-eyed. I started the day taking my old bus route to King’s College for a bit of nostalgia. The route goes down Oxford street, and Regent street, and past Piccadilly Circus, and Trafalgar Square, finishing just off the Strand. Sipping a coffee and looking out the window on the top deck, I was in my element.
After stopping past Kings, which was just the same, and wandering on the Strand a little bit, I met cousin Jason for lunch in South Kensington during his lunch break. Bev joined us too, before she and I headed off to the Covent Garden area. The pavilion, and the streets surrounding it, are one of my favourite places to walk around in London. There are lovely shops, cafes and so forth.
Later than afternoon, I popped into the National Gallery, because I had some spare time before meeting up with my cousin Gavin. That’s the great thing about London museums: because they’re free, there’s no reason you can’t just spend a half hour there. Gavin and I met at Piccadilly Circus, and went to have dinner in Chinatown. Later on, we walked around the fabulously atmospheric Soho, and I had the most delicious dark chocolate sorbet concoction EVER. It was great to see Gavin, who is living in London for his music studies.
The next day, being a Friday, Bev, Roger and I headed for Borough market — my favourite market in London. It’s full of delicious, fresh food; from regular groceries to gourmet treats of varying kinds. And, there are often tasters. With my friends in London, we spent many a Saturday morning wandering around and virtually having a meal just from samples. I was pleased to discover the mushroom pate stall was still there. This stuff is so delicious you have no idea.
That afternoon, Bev took me to Kew Gardens. When I lived in London, Bev and I had sort of an unwritten list of things we wanted to do, including museums, gardens, and the like. The list was devised thanks to Bev’s intricate knowledge of everything cultural London has to offer, and we did a pretty good job at getting through it at the time. One place on the list which we never made it to was Kew Gardens. I found it a lovely place, especially because the spring flowers were coming into bloom. In the evening, I went to different relatives for a beautiful Shabbat dinner.
I’ve been to a few places outside of London in my time, and most of them are thanks to Bev and Roger. Hampton Court, Dover Castle, and Oxford, among others. This time they elected to take me to Claydon House in Buckinghamshire, a mansion once inhabited by a prominent and well-to-do British family, now owned by the National Trust. Built in the 1700s, it’s interiors are predictably grand and lavish. Moreover, it’s in an idyllic country setting — and it has a cat! Interestingly, Florence Nightingale used to live there on and off, as her sister was married to one of the men in the family.
On the way there and the way back, we passed through a couple of cute little English country towns. Altogether it was a really nice day. I do always enjoy visiting places like that.
The following day, Bev introduced me to one of the few markets I hadn’t yet discovered in London: the Colombia Road flower market. Every Sunday, the street is closed off and lined with flower stalls. It was exploding with atmosphere, and with people — everyone seeking some of the fresh flowers on offer. There were also lots of cute, unique shops around the place. We spent the rest of the day exploring markets, too. Brick Lane and Spitafields are in the same area.
That evening, I met up with one of my friends from halls, Rob. It was great to see him again, and reminisce on the good old days, especially now that we’re both grown-ups. We had dinner at a well-known pub near London Bridge, The George. It was the best fish and chips I’d ever had — with mushy peas, of course. After a drink, we walked towards the river to take in my favourite London view; that of the Tower Bridge.
I wasn’t marketed out quite yet, so on Monday I headed to Camden. I do love Camden. There is such a variety of quirky stuff to buy, which of course I did. In the afternoon, I headed for the more conventional shopping on Oxford street and Regent street, covering all my favourite stores I wish we had here.
That evening, I met Bev for dinner at Food for Thought — a wonderful little vegetarian nook in Covent Garden. I couldn’t go to London without seeing a show, so we had tickets for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It was lots of fun. I couldn’t decide what was better — Matilda in New York, or Charlie in London! I was a kid in my musical choices this time around, and don’t regret it for a second.
My week in London was drawing to a close, but I think we saved the best until last. We began the day with a walk in Hampstead Heath, one of my very favourite spots in London. In the afternoon, we’d booked tickets to do the Warner Brothers Harry Potter studio tour. This was basically the best thing ever. It began with a short film which sort of summarises the making of the movie and has the actors welcoming you to the exhibition. The first stop is the Great Hall, which looks remarkably like the Great Hall — unfortunately without the enchanted ceiling.
Next, we were set free into the main exhibition, which housed all sorts of sets from the movies. There was the Gryffindor boys dormitory, the common room, Dumbledore’s office, Hagrid’s House, the Burrow, and so much more. It was brilliant to see every bit of it. There were props, costumes, and everything Harry Potter you can possibly imagine.
Next, after we stopped for some Butterbeer, we visited Privet Drive and a magical Diagon Alley. The set of Diagon Alley was perhaps my favourite part, with Olivander’s, Gringotts, and all the rest.
After various exhibitions in between, the final stop was the Hogwarts Castle. This intricate model is about the size of a large room. It was interesting to see how they’d actually filmed the building of Hogwarts.
For Harry Potter fans, this is a must if you’re in London. And I think non-Harry Potter fans would even enjoy it.
And so it was my last night in London. We went to have dinner with Jason, Charlie and Elsie. The next morning, I packed, and Bev and I went out for a nice lunch before I had to go to the airport.
London was just as wonderful as when I left it. I look over this post and think, wow, I did a lot — which is interesting because that wasn’t what the trip was about. I didn’t have a long list of things I wanted to do. Sure, I planned to go back to some of my favourite places. But ultimately I just wanted to be there, and I was, and now perhaps I’ll be OK for the next month and then I’ll long for London once more.