London

Mark Stewart Travel Stories 7 Comments

Tower Bridge

The Iconic Tower Bridge with Beautiful Break in the Clouds

With just under a week remaining in the trip, the mood is bittersweet. Any time a journey is reaching it’s end, one can’t help but feel uneasy, the excitement and freedom is soon to be replaced once again with work and schedules. It’s been a hectic journey to this point, with a lot of stops crammed into a fairly short window of time, but there’s still one final stop that I’d been looking forward to for a very long time. And though with only a week for a subtle tease, it didn’t disappoint.

London. 

While it isn’t something I ever plan on, or would even recommend in many places, our flight from Amsterdam had us landing at Luton later in the evening. Fortunately, London’s metro system is damn impressive, and though there were a few hiccups that found us wandering some dark side streets in a random suburb trying to locate the Underground, we eventually made our way to our apartment unscathed.

Closing in on midday, we finally make our way downtown from our Camden flat, and instantly I’m stunned by what for some reason caught me off guard. The stunning contrast between the medieval world and our modern one is nothing new to me, many cities in Canada and the US are dotted with early colonial buildings. I’m not sure whether it was the incredible age gap between the buildings and structures, or how seamlessly they seemed to work together in such beautiful contradiction. Maybe it’s just that I hadn’t expected the abundance of antique architecture to be so prevalent in a modern city centre. Needless to say, as we wandered east along the Thames before crossing Tower Bridge, my camera was busy. 

Friends

Catching up with an Old Friend over Drinks

Stopping at Borough Market for some meat pies and pasties, followed shortly after with a pint to wash it down, we continue onwards towards the London eye, and a reunion with an old travel companion from the first trip. I first met Aut while trekking in northern Thailand way back in 2007, reuniting again several months later in his hometown of Bangkok, and again later on Koh Phagnan for a couple of weeks. Though many years have passed, it seemed like no time at all when we encountered our old friend who was now studying in London. The remainder of the day was spent hopping between seedy drinking establishments and night markets before we finally called it an evening.
Aside from sleeping in and wandering the streets aimlessly, the following day was fairly laid back, as the evening was expected to be a good one. The only sight I had really wanted to go out of the way for was Abbey Road. Now, I’m not a huge Beatles fan, I enjoy their later stuff quite a bit, but have never really considered myself a significant follower. However, no self respecting music fan can resist at least popping by that legendary studio, and trying to imagine what kind of energy must have emanated from that building in those days. The obligatory photo of the road was taken, and we were off again, and as much as a pain it was to get down there, I’m glad I checked it out. 

Back in Camden, and we have some pre-dinner beverages in the park while we wait for Aut to arrive. Soon after, the three of us are off to dinner Upstairs at the Ten Bells, where an old cook friend from Montreal is now working. We order nearly everything on the menu between us, and indulge in a few more refreshments. Before the festivities truly begin, on our way to the pub where Aut’s friend is playing, we wander passed a very fresh crime scene. It was clear that something quite serious had gone down, there was a fair bit of blood on the sidewalk and road. As we passed, the beer-fueled confidence brought me to ask one of the officers what had happened, and though I expected nothing more than a typical “Just carry on, nothing to see here” response, what I actually got was the very bluntly British truth: “Well a couple o’ blokes got into it yeah, an’ it got a little escalated and they ended up stabbin’ each other to fuckin’ death.” I’m not sure what my facial expression showed, but I’m confident he and his friends had a chuckle later on.

Snails and Bone Marrow

Snails Roasted in Bone Marrow – Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

Later that evening we end up at the pub to catch an amazing acoustic show with Tim Fulker of Tankus the Henge, followed by many laughs and far too many pints. Although the pints and whiskey should have ended sooner than it did, we eventually made it back home to catch a few short hours of sleep before a spectacular Michelin-starred hangover lunch at the absolutely outstanding Dinner by Heston Blumenthal.

Somehow arriving early to our mid-day reservation, we’re seated in the lounge awaiting our table. Ordering a couple mind-blowing cocktails – at 18 quid a piece – we relax and soak in the ambiance of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel as the fabulous drinks help to clear our heads. Once seated and recover from the awe of the menu, we await the meal. For appetizers we chose roast snails in bone marrow, and roasted octopus in smoked sea broth; our mains consisted of roasted duck and fennel, and a simple yet out of this world grilled pork chop. Bellies full, we stumbled through the streets of St. James Park on our way home and slept like babies.

Big Ben

Possibly the most Cliché photo that could be taken in London

The final day, intermingled with packing, was spent meeting up with some family from out of town. My Great Aunt and Uncle, along with my cousin came into London from Ipswich to have a little visit. I hadn’t seen them in many years, and Kylee had never met them. It was a fantastic way to spend our last day in the city, after the wild time we’d been having. Wandering the streets, telling stories, and stopping in a pub for a few pints and some proper English food; including the absolute best Scotch egg we’ve ever had! After a coffee on the way to the train station to see them off, we said our farewells to the family and headed back to finish packing.

One can’t be surprised at the spectacle of this city, it’s had two thousand years to fine-tune itself, and while nothing is ever perfected, London is inarguably one of the great cities. It has everything, absolutely anything you can imagine to do in a city, you will be able to find it. From Michelin starred restaurants to greasy spoon cafes, and other eateries of every ethnicity imaginable. From some of the biggest clubs in the world hosting residencies of the biggest DJs; to sweaty, dimly lit dive bars scattered throughout the city; and of course the humble, yet marvelous pub. Incredible art and music scenes, from the theatre filling classical sense to tiny hipster night markets, no mater your taste, you need not venture far. Whether you visit for the Museums and monuments, markets and the Monarchy, the Tube and the Thames, Westminster Abbey or Abbey Road; it’s a city full of clichés for a reason. London is one of the good ones.

London Eye

The London Eye over the Thames at Sunset

“Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.”Samuel Johnson

 

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Amber Tatton
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I love how diverse London is.. there’s buildings older than America next to brand new buildings. It is such a cool and varied place

Jim Jones
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I love London…I could spend months there, and likely never get bored. I have the same feeling you do about the mix of modern and historical buildings. Great contrast.

Charlie
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Loved reading this! We lived in London for 5 years (within walking distance of Abbey Rd) and really enjoy listening to what people got up to there. Sounds like you had a good variety of experiences and I’m glad you like our pubs!

Emma Gilbert
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Glad you got to visit Borough Market. I recommend it to anyone visiting London. That whole area is really fun. Great post. I’m from the UK and live in Canada now but I still love visiting London when I go back