LONDON | ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM
“Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.” – Oscar Wilde
Believe it or not, Oscar Wilde may have become the most prolific playwright in London, but he was born in Dublin, Ireland. Yes, yes – the witty Mr. Wilde was Irish. And yes, I know I’m quoting him for a London essay but technically, it’s all within the United Kingdom.
I was fortunate enough to visit London twice during 2019. During my trip to London in February, the city had a historic warm weather spell (no rain, high 60’s), for the entire week of my visit! American actress, Gillian Anderson, starred in a stage version of All About Eve at the Noël Coward Theatre in West End. An aged actress plus a young, cunning starry eyed fan, (I’m describing the play, not us), battle for stardom. Less than ten months later, I return to London in November. Explored pre-Brexit London while the city draped themselves in holiday cheer, holiday bazaars, festive lights and political denial? Interesting? You bet! A reservation at Asma Khan’s restaurant, Darjeeling Express, didn’t disappoint and a visit to Tower Hamlets for tea, biscuits, locals and citrus trees was a tradition worth experiencing.
20 Fenchurch Street, Financial District | East London
Nothing compares to a cool, misty morning in London. And while the outside view may feel dismal, inside 20 Fenchurch Street, one is surrounded by a tropical garden on the 35th floor. Sit and enjoy the 360 degree views while sipping a cup of tea and enjoying a scone with clotted cream and jam. Daydream while wrapped in a cozy blanket.
Leadenhall Market | East London
Down the block from 20 Fenchurch Street is Leadenhall Market. It is easily missed if you’re walking briskly to catch the next bus or tube to avoid more rain. Old world charm and an extensive history lends to the wonder of this open air market. Built in 1321 in the centre of Roman London, Leadenhall originally was a meat, poultry, and game market. 700 years later, it’s nestled in the middle of London’s financial center with restaurants and boutique shops!
Carnaby | West End, London
Let’s get festive! This year, the skies were filled with brightly lit ocean creatures dancing above the sidewalks in Carnaby. Starfish, sea horses, dolphins and whales floated above the holiday crowds.
Neal’s Yard, Seven Dials, Covent Garden | West End, London
Seven Dials are seven roads that converge into a circular space. Located in Covent Garden in the West End of London, the area was developed to create triangular plots to maximize the frontage of homes as rent was charged per foot of frontage versus square footage of properties. It’s a bit magical, really. All roads leading to one point – it can also be rather confusing since you have to remember which road you’re exploring because you’ll always end up at the same place.
However, there is one road out of seven that stands out. A narrow side alley tucked away and if you find it, leads you to a place called Neal’s Yard. An artwork of stencil graffiti is spray painted in black of Princess Diana and her two sons on one wall. Once you enter the alley, abstract, neon painted walls guide you through to a lovely courtyard, brimming with string lights that take up every branch of every tree.
Columbia Road Flower Market | Tower Hamlets, East London
Columbia Road during Monday through Saturday is an ordinary stretch of pavement in Tower Hamlets, a town on the most eastern edge of London. Once Sunday morning arrives, Columbia Road is transformed into an oasis of lovely flowers and foliage, rain or shine. Vendors are offering their best flowers (or trees) to those who are willing to stop and listen; hopefully, convincing you to buy that citrus tree you’ve always wanted for your kitchen. Columbia Road has more than 60 unique independent shoppes, more than any street in London.
In the past and still in the present, Saturday markets are the biggest sellers. When waves of migration was at its highest before and during the Victorian era, immigrants were mostly shut out of markets; especially, Jewish immigrants where work is forbidden on Saturday. Most often, even Londoners had so much wares leftover, they too experienced economic loss.
East London attracted the rural poor of London and many of the immigrant communities before the Victorian era. Holding a market on Sunday in light of most Londoners attending church services attracted diverse communities to join together for economic security and growth while also connecting with other families and cultures around them. Thus began the flower market on Columbia Road.
Harrods | London, United Kingdom
Should I really talk about Harrods during the holiday rush on a Saturday evening? I thought to myself if I don’t visit Harrods, what type of holiday would this be? I would be missing an experience – and I did, I missed the experience of just having a nice evening to myself. Instead, I rustled myself out of a comfy, warm room to jump on a tube to the busiest shopping centre in London. It’s a maze. Yes, you read that correctly, a maze, not amaze. I made the most of it.
If anything, Harrods has an amazing Food Hall – chaotic but delicious. A bowl of cacio e pepe with a generous amount of parmesan reggiano and a nice glass of bubbles renewed my energy because once you get into Harrods, it takes stamina to get out.
Somerset House | London, United Kingdom
In the morning, if you catch the morning light early on, you’ll witness eclipses of shadows at Somerset House’s courtyard. It’s angular and straight, suggesting a chromatic abstract painting. You’ll be in complete darkness if you stand near the western wing then be completely visible in the light within a few steps. People sit and drink their tea while others cross the courtyard to reach the other wing versus walking around. And why not? Each wing exits into the massive, beautifully designed courtyard where in the summer heat, multiple fountains are synchronized to dance in patterns and leaps.
During the holidays, Somerset House transforms into an evening of ice skating and partners with Fortnum & Mason to create an evening of teas, biscuits and chocolates in the western wing.
During my five days in London, there was a record warm wave in the month of February. I blocked all the reasons as to why that could possibly happen and just enjoyed the absolute sunshine that flowed from the clear, blue skies everyday. From historic ruins to secret gardens, Borough Market and Brick Lane Market, changing of the guards to changing my bus route, here are the magnificent sights old London town shared with me! Also, pubs, very, very old ones. Cheers mate!
River Thames, Tate Modern | London, England
Before heading to Tate Modern to have a drink, listen to some awesome DJ’s at the bar and witness the incredible 360 degree view of London from the 10th floor, I explored London’s oldest market, Borough Market (found later in the post). Plans were to have a bit of dinner but then i decided to have a lot of a donut. Afterwards, to burn off the amazing sugar-dusted, creme patissiere filled donut, I walked along the bank, taking in the deep blue hues.
Tate Modern is a relatively new museum, The Queen opening it in May 2000. It holds all of Britain’s modern art from 1900 and forward. There are four museums in the Tate group, all named after the British sugar magnate Henry Tate of Tate & Lyle. I visited Tate Modern on a Friday evening after walking the foot path on River Thames. All national galleries and museums admission is free – make sure to check out the bar on the 1st floor with DJ’s filling the space with music. On the 10th floor, there is a bar and patio where gorgeous views of London awaits. Fortunately, in the middle of February, London’s forecast was clear skies all evening.
Borough Market is the oldest market in London dating back to 1014 and has plenty of history with the changing reigns over England. There are plenty of produce stalls, specialty foods, cuisines and of course, ales, lagers and stouts!
For more posts on what cuisine London has to offer, take a look here -> To Eat, Or Not To Eat
St. Dunstan in the East | City of London
St. Dunstan in the East is a church that was built around 1100 and existed until it was bombed during World War II. Its ruins now encompass beautiful trees and gardens where Londoners gather, sit in serenity, sip some tea or have a snack.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
St. Paul’s Cathedral is visible across the River Thames, while walking across Millennium Bridge and from the 10th floor of Tate Modern.
Ye Olde Mitre, Cittie of Yorke, Seven Stars, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
Pubs, short for Public House, are considered second places for Britons, a home away from home if you will. Grab your mates, grab your pint, make sure to grab a round and cheers! I did a historic pub run, more like a historic pub scavenger hunt.
Ye Olde Mitre is a challenge to find – first, find the narrow door frame to enter the narrow passage way – et voila! It’s as if you’ve discovered the temple of Petra! A public house that has survived modernity.
Cittie of Yorke was next on the Historic Pub route! Easier to find and located on a main street – although it was rebuilt in 1920, a pub has always stood in the location since 1420.
The Seven Stars is close to the courthouse, so you’ll find plenty of celebratory solicitors raising a pint. Seven Stars survived the great fire of London in 1666 having been established 64 years prior. The light grey building is adorned with interesting objects in its curtain laced windows.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese was the last pub I found before heading to Somerset House. This pub boasts of all the sovereignties they have seen throughout its existence. It is known to have gloomy rooms and lack of natural light, but who needs to see their beer to drink it?
The British Royal Navy won a battle against Spain and France at Cape Trafalgar in 1805 and therefore, this square was named. Trafalgar Square is used for community gatherings and demonstrations, it is well known for its rich history of protests. The National Gallery and St. Martin in the Fields are close by.
Circus, in this context, is taken from Latin meaning circle, a round open space – and it definitely fits this busy junction in London. Piccadills or piccadillies are various types of collars and Robert Baker was a tailor who sold these collars in Piccadilly House in 1626.
Most people confuse this fountain with the Greek God Eros but really it’s his brother, Anteros, who is the God of requited love.
Westminster Abbey | City of Westminster
Since 1066, all coronations of British and English monarchs have been done at Westminster Abbey as well as 16 royal weddings. It is also the burial site of 3,300 persons of prominence in British history. The sun gracing its light on the western façade in late afternoon as I exited from Dean’s Yard.
Brick Lane Market | London, England
If you have a free Sunday, make sure to visit Brick Lane Sunday Market near Shoreditch. Explore the many curry houses, street art, street musicians and the many food stalls at the brick lane market food hall. You can’t miss it. The combination of spices waft through the streets, leading you to an oasis of cultural dishes. Afterwards, head on over to the vintage market and meet some artisans featuring their arts and crafts.
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© Copyright 2020 Erica Hilario