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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

London's Second Chance - The Aftermath

London as dusk

            I gave London a second chance and I’m glad I did. In many ways she was everything that I expected.  She was inhospitable – shutting out the sunlight and enveloping those who dare thread her streets with wind and cold. She sent unwelcomed rain, damaging my favorite leather boots and saddling me with a dripping wet umbrella for hours on end.  Perhaps the biggest affront is her complete disregard for protocol; it is not supposed to be this frigid in May. Furthermore, I should not have to borrow a winter jacket in May!  But hey, I firmly believe in making the most of my well-earned vacation, so I clad myself as best as I could and resolved to use the power of my mind to look past her obvious hostilities.  I figured, the millions of people who call this city home must find some pleasure here, and so, I will search for her redeeming qualities.  Actually, my dear friend Sangs already had about 7 months of insights into the London scene, so I mainly followed her lead.  That, and with a bit of research, we reached beyond her bitter rind to juicier interiors. 
            That is where the surprises began.  As we explored, she began to reveal her secrets.  London is a treasure trove of markets.  Markets of all kinds.  Vintage markets, flower markets, food markets, artisan markets. Take Alfie’s Antique Market – officially our first stop.  Unassuming exterior.  Bland actually, and not exactly in the most central of areas.  But you enter the doors and enter another world.  This place can and will keep you fascinated for countless hours with antique bling of all kinds, one of a kind furniture, retro dresses.  You imagine it, and it’s probably here somewhere, in one of the many stores. And when you need to refuel, the rooftop café is a welcomed oasis.  Unfortunately, by the time we pried ourselves from all the eye candy, the café was closing for the day! 

Columbia Street Flower Market
Market hoping continued throughout my almost 2-week stay.  Both Sangs and I, guided by mutual love for shopping (or window shopping), seemed to always end up at a market.  There was Camden Market, the Disney World of all markets, and Brick Lane, a culinary delight for anyone with an appreciation for ethnic foods.  Then, Columbia Road Flower Market, Portobello Market and Spitalfields (Spitalfields is special, because that’s where I got my new red leather oxfords!).  At some point during these market tours, it struck me – I did not feel the sting of the cold while meandering through the crowds.  Maybe it wasn’t just me.  Maybe we, all covered by shared grey skies, were all gathered here with a mutual goal.  The goal of pooling our body heat to combat the elements.  There, you forget what a shitty day it is, as you absorb the sights, the sounds, the smells.  But most importantly, you forget because of the shared body heat.

Tower Bridge (look, blue in the sky!)
            When not at markets, other places to get some high quality collective body heat, are the ancient watering holes.  You actually get more ‘bang for your buck’, since there are crowds, alcohol + poor ventilation.  I say poor ventilation, because some of those places are hundreds of years old.  The older the better. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese and Gordon’s Wine Bar were absolute favorites, as they offer both a drink, and a historical experience.  Think about it, a drink is not just a drink when it is being drunk in a place where people have gotten drunk for hundreds of years!
            London surprised me.  Yes, the weather still leaves a lot to be desired.  Winter weather in May? Not my cup of tea.  BUT.  With an umbrella, multiple layers of clothing, and enough courage to venture out, London will charm the heck out of you.  And the fish and chips ain’t too bad either! 

Tea at the Victoria and Albert Museum cafe

Ye Old Cheshire Cheese
Underground, at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese

Gordon's Wine Bar - As ancient as it looks

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