The time limit is actually arbitrary–you could spend 9-12 hours doing what I did. But most likely you could do it in 4, because I like slow living. Which goes seamlessly into the thought process behind this post. Usually, I don’t make trips into London because it can be kinda stressful. Don’t get me wrong, I love the place. But it’s killer on your physical and emotional health when you’re scurrying past other tourists while crossing hundreds of roads filled with bikers, pedestrians, cars, buses and sometimes trains. The commute alone takes 40 minutes minimum for me. However, I’m returning to the US very soon and I wanted to make a last trip during the waning summer. Alone. And very chilled out.
The First Hour
Actually, the bulk of this time was taken up on the train. Where I live, the fastest train is 34 minutes from Waterloo Station, so I caught that one. I was in a bit of a rush in the morning and, in addition to forgetting to wear jewelry, quickly gobbling breakfast in the car, and not fully charging my phone, I forgot my headphones. Headphones are the lifeblood of young Londoners.
So, I grabbed a free Metro paper from the waiting area at the train station and hopped onto the packed train. You see, I do like to be updated with current events, but I usually just follow a few papers I like (The Economist, The Atlantic, New York Times) and scroll through my FB feed for articles. I almost never read the paper. But, I read the whole thing right as we pulled into Waterloo! Amazing! I’ll say–that paper is full of faff. Lots of stuff about celebs that I generally don’t want to know (and can’t be sure is true) and really random bizarre stories about British citizens that have absolutely no redeeming message. I did read up on some British politics seeing as my knowledge of the Tories and Labor parties is basically limited to names. Can’t say I know much more than I knew when I woke up, though.
However, it’s kind of just part of role, right? Reading the paper on the train?
As soon as I reached, I felt at ease. There was nobody rushing me (not that anyone does usually), nobody slowing me down, nowhere to be at a certain time and the sun was shining! Crazy! I headed to the National Portrait Gallery, making stops along the way at Trafalgar Square & the National Gallery.
Though I’ve been to the NPG and loved it, they usually change up the stuff on the ground floor every month or few months. Also, they always have special exhibits on. Right now, the Audrey Hepburn Portraits exhibit is on and it’s £9 for Adults but only £6 for concessions! And she thought I was a student
PRO TIP: Get a new student ID in literally the last few weeks of college. That way, you can try and get a student discount wherever you go and you’re way more likely to match the picture and pass for a student! I didn’t follow my own advice and my ID still has fresh-faced 17-year-old me at Freshman Orientation. Mmmm not really the spitting image of me in 2015.
However, and I actually knew this, you have to get there earlier than 10am if you want to buy a ticket for immediate entry. Basically, all advanced tickets are sold out so just pop in a few hours before you actually want to attend. I reached at 11am and bought a 3pm ticket, giving me ample time to go elsewhere and return before I leave.
Basically, the takeaway from the first hour is that sometimes you have to plan a little stuff in advance for an outing in a busy city. Most places in London (especially the touristy ones) are usually free & queue-less, except for Buckingham Palace and National History Museum, but the smaller ones can have hefty ticket prices. For example, I would’ve hit up the Ai WeiWei exhibit at the Royal Academy but £18 it a bit over my price range. Let’s put it this way–I almost didn’t see Audrey Hepburn’s exhibit because I thought the price was too high for me. There is a point where frugal turns into stingy. I’m still learning.
The Second Hour
Sun shining above, feeling slightly suffocated in my turtleneck sweater, I trudged on to Any Amount of Books after searching for interesting shops in the vicinity. I just love browsing book shops, even if I don’t buy anything. And I really love small, rare or antique bookshops where the shelves go all the way to the ceiling and cover practically every inch of wall-space. This place did not disappoint!
Every book in the basement was £1! That’s insane seeing as they only sell rare/antique/collectors books. Seriously, I could’ve perused that place for longer than an hour, but it was a bit crowded and awkward. I mean, not that I need a lot of space, but I don’t really revel in being stuffed between piles of musty boxes, shelves of books and sweaty Londoners underground for too long. However, I grabbed two books– Swann’s Way Volume II by Marcel Proust was the first. I figured it was about time I read Proust–even if I end up hating him. The second was Glass by Alex Christofi because it’s about a man who works as a window washer at The Shard. If there were ever a book to read in London about London in this century, it’d be this one. Overall, the book selection was extensive and thorough as they had Literature, Poetry, Music, Art, Drama, Film, Fiction, Biographies, Plays, WWII Books, History, Philosophy–really you name it. And of course call ahead of time if you’re looking for a specific book (thought they cannot reserve the £1 books)
The shop keeper was also helpful & kind & everything I love about indie book shops. I didn’t even look at all the books (blasphemy!) because I only realized after I had checked out that there were some outside too! Damn. But it’s okay because I really don’t have space for more things in my suitcase.
The Third and Fourth Hour
Everyone should go to Foyle’s. There is something for everyone there. I know, I know “But you just said you love indie bookstores, so why are you praising a chain?” Look, I love all book shops. Truly, they all have their perks. This isn’t going to turn into a blog-version of You’ve Got Mail because I am certainly neither Tom Hanks nor Meg Ryan.
Little aside here, I cannot stand Meg Ryan’s voice. I rarely dislike voices because I have this thing about them. As in I love them–distinct, nasal, high-pitched, low-pitched, scratchy, soft, loud, whatever! I like that we all have a unique sound and I love listening to my friend’s voicemails and any podcasts or videos they would choose to do. However, I just can’t love Meg because her voice gets on my nerves and I don’t know why.
Movingon.org — You don’t have to pick a side of the debate. Case and point: I saw the shopkeeper for Any Amount of Books eating lunch at the cafe on the top floor of Foyle’s while I was having tea there! But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I had been to Foyle’s before with my family and I remember I didn’t even have enough time to leave the ground floor because I looked at every book. This time, my plan was to browse every section (in the 5 story building) that even remotely interested me, buy a book only if it was £5 or less (spoiler alert: none were) and take a few books/magazines I’ve been meaning to read to the cafe and sit for a good while. So, two out of three isn’t bad. I ended up going to the cafe with Tina Fey’s Bossypants and Mindy Kaling’s Why Not Me? I didn’t touch the latter, laughed out loud at the former. I also brought up a photozine by a photographer I cannot remember anymore (Ben Something?) and the family issue of Kinfolk. Now, let me tell you a thing about Kinfolk.
Kinfolk is a magazine, a way of life and a community. It’s really hard to explain, maybe their website will do a better job. It emphasizes ideas of community, slow living and mindfulness. Really, it’s a folk song embodied as a lifestyle. Hence the name. I love it and I strive for it, so obviously I’ve wanted all of their magazines forever. However, the full editions are $35 and I hadn’t seen any of their other magazines in person until today! The family issue was only £12 which is $18 !! That’s more than twice my limit, but once I started reading the articles in the cafe, I knew I had to buy it. Family is a thing that I think about A LOT. Not like making babies and whatnot–but my immediate and extended family. I’m Indian, as I’ve mentioned in my India post, so family is a big deal and we’re quite close and have a dynamic that isn’t usually understood in the western world. Until now!! Really, if you are interested in family ties and organizational behavior of families, get that issue!
Oh lord this is turning into a long post. I’m so glad I didn’t try to put all my London stories in one post because that would’ve been a novel. Anyway, the cafe was crowded no matter what time of day, but their hibiscus tea was refreshing and just what I needed. I happily eavesdropped on many conversations around me (there was an American student, two really posh business-y colleagues, and some posh London schoolgirls-turned-working/uni-girls) which is what you kind of have to do in a crowded cafe. But, there was plenty of light and plants and exposed wood to keep my wandering eyes happy. That’s why I sat there until I got hungry.
The Fifth Hour
I popped into Pret-a-Manger quickly for a bite to eat. I should say, I was struggling with my low-battery phone. It was a good thing I knew this part of London well enough to not need it to get around, so I kept it off mostly. However, I have this bad habit of never wearing a watch, so I needed it to check the time.
Anyway, I love Pret. My obsession began in the summer of 2013 when I would go there between classes in Bloomsbury for something quick & cheap. I love love loved their hot croissants with the ham and the cheese and something else I can’t remember. I would always get either that or a soup. Their coffee isn’t bad either–I’d sometimes get that before work (I interned while taking classes.) However, they didn’t have the croissant thing today and I was shocked. I was lost, in fact. I grabbed a *NEW* chipotle chicken wrap, which was a bad idea because I’m going to the land of beautiful Tex-Mex in less than a week. It was a sad meal and a disappointing trip. Is Pret going down the drain? Or am I being way too quick to judge?
The (First Part of the) Sixth Hour
I love art museums. I love walking slowly, reading the materials and dates and histories and backstories, taking photos, noting the lighting and presentation, the quiet, the respect. I’m not used to the crowd that gathers at popular exhibits, though. It can’t be helped, but the procession that gets bottlenecked at the more famous photos is just not a fun time. It feels like a spectacle more than a relaxed experience.
Besides the crowd, the Audrey Hepburn portraits were quite engaging! The main reason I was interested in them is because it was also an anthology on the famous photographers through the course of her life. Richard Avedon, Cecil Beaton, Norman Parkinson–these are some brilliant people who really captures different parts of her in acutely unique styles. Though, I wish she had been photographed by women, because it would’ve been SO interesting to see their take on her beauty. Whaddya gonna do? It’s a man’s world.
The (Second part of the) Sixth Hour
You don’t know how long I’ve wanted to go to Notes for. Okay, actually just all summer. I discovered Filler podcast and it seemed to combine my love of communal spaces + coffee shops + voices + origin stories well.
I was ready to journal and sketch and have a jolly old time with myself and my iced latte. I also wanted to discreetly take photos of people, but the wall of mirrors was a dead giveaway. I snuck a shot of the bar + ambience and myself, but felt too weird doing more. Really, I just journaled the whole time. Eavesdropped a little, but it was a bit more difficult. A woman was conducting a job interview next to me when I sat down–and the interviewee was quite lackluster personality-wise. Probably she was just nervous (I’ve been there, girl).
Anyway, the coffee was good, the baristas were kind, the toilet was clean and the place was spacious. Also excellent location right across from the National Portrait Gallery & Pret. Basically my world in one triangle of London.
The Seventh Hour
Apparently I got extremely snap happy in the final hour, but isn’t that great? I just love when I feel inspired and actually take photos of random things around me rather than the same old people/locations. Like the street performer entertaining his crowd! I think he was beatboxing? Yeah.
I visited the Whitehall Gardens where some people in business casual clothing were playing ping pong (interesting sight). They’re a bit sad compared to the many beautiful parks & gardens in London, but it’s right on the Thames and has a nice victorian feel to it with the architecture & palm trees. I didn’t hang for long because I knew I wanted to get on the train a bit early and take some photos in the station.
Everytime I walk the Waterloo Bridge to get the train home, I see that boat with the twinkly lights and it makes me feel nice. It’s difficult to capture the lights in front of the eye unless you’re down next to the river, but no matter. As you can see, the sky took a turn for the worse and became very grey and angry. FINALLY my turtleneck sweater was a savior and not a menace.
Waterloo is such a vibrant station with the old clock and shops lining the second floor and the rafters. There’s also something so satisfying about standing with the other commuters in front of the train times, waiting for them to refresh and tell you your platform. It’s pretty much the closest you’ll get to commuter fellowship in London (as a rule: don’t talk or look at other people on public transport). I grabbed a few cheeky sweets (Maltesers, Sour Maynard’s Wine gums which I’ve never had and a brownie thing from Costa) before taking a seat on the once again crowded train.
So, we’ve reached the end of the seven hours. Now do you get what I mean about how you could’ve done it in less? But if I had zipped through the bookstores, museum & streets–I don’t think I would’ve had as many thoughts and observations. People have been writing down and publishing their observations about society, the world, and London specifically for hundreds of years. I’m really just continuing the work of my ancestors (well, not my ancestors but humankind in general). And London is definitely a place to reflect on every aspect of society. You don’t need 7 hours to figure that out.
P.S. Follow me on snapchat @ loveyounglion because I have a snapstory full of the places I went today! More pics than I posted here actually! Yay for same-day posts.