I just spent some time in a city that I used to call home a long time ago and that still makes me deliriously happy. I visit every so often and, while the changes are always noticeable, its spirit remains unchanged and its heart beats to the same tune. Here are some things I particularly enjoyed.
- The Food – I chose to rent in a part of London where sofagirl and I used to live, still central but away from the tourist destinations. It made me feel like I was actually “living” in the city, if only for a few days. On Saturday morning I trudged to the Farmer’s Market on the grounds of St. Mark’s Church, just outside the Oval Tube Station. I did buy vegetables for healthy meals but I couldn’t pass up a slice of chocolate cake (gluten-free) and a loaf of (spelt) bread. The allergy craze has clearly crossed the Atlantic.
- The Tube – My love affair with the Tube is well documented. But how can you not love a service that, besides getting you from A to B in an efficient manner, also greets you in the morning with a “thought” and allows you to exchange books?
- The River – Tourists forget what an integral part of the city and its history this river has always been. On a spectacular sunny morning, I hurtled out of bed at 7, donned my sneakers, and jogged to Vauxhall Bridge, went down the stairs next toMI6 and, as by magic, the traffic and construction noise, the buses sweeping by, the hustle and bustle just disappeared: I was left with the lapping of the waves on the sand and the gorgeous view that James Bond also enjoyed at the very end of “Skyfall”.
- In with the new but not out with the old – These two views live side by side. And more and more of London is looking like this. A part of me bemoans the rise of so much contemporary architecture (and the incessant building of luxury flats) but the severity of the city suits the expansion of glass and steel. And Renzo Piano’s Shard is indeed beautiful.
- Home sweet home – Airbnb delivered again. The little basement flat I rented was perfect, down to the cheery art on the walls and the gracious touches of the hosts: fresh bread, milk, coffee and butter and a clock to remind me what time it is at home. No hotel room could give me that at the same price. And being able to come home at whatever time, kick off the shoes, put the Beeb on in the background, make a cup of tea and open the laptop in a place that is not just a bed and a bathroom is priceless.
And, in a city where everything is very expensive, here are 6 more free or very cheap things if you are visiting London:
- Don’t miss the Tracey Emin’s exhibition at the White Cube in Bermondsey. Wonderful and free – unless you are planning to purchase the art. The exhibition space is beautiful no matter what.
- Eat a bagel with salmon at the only authentic bagel place in London, Brick Lane Beigel Bake on Brick Lane. It has been there since time immemorial and it’s super cheap to boot.
- For fans of the Tudors, the National Portrait Galleryhas an exhibition of the Real Tudors (because they did not look like Jonathan Rhys Meyers). Most of the portraits are life-size and entrance is free
- The Sir John Soane’s Museum if you want to be transported to 1800s London. Free.
- Spitalfields: have a drink at the 10 Bells Pub where Jack the Ripper used to pick up his victims. You won’t run any risks – the pub is frequented by the beautiful and the trendy now but it’s worth a look in.
- Pizza at Pizza Pilgrims in Soho. It’s a hole in the wall but if the weather is nice, you can sit outside. They had the gumption of opening across from a Pizza Express but their pizza is the real thing and very reasonably priced. Or take it to go and eat it on a bench in nearby leafy Soho Square.