14 Dec London: The World’s Melting Pot
I never thought that I will be fond of The United Kingdom, London until I went there in October. Prior to the visit, I did some research and there were all kinds of concerns. I’ve also read about the notorious UK Customs and Immigration. People get stopped and grilled for the reasons of their visits. But I’m only visiting for two weeks so there is no reason to think that I want to overstay. I had the greatest travelling companion for this trip, Lyndon. I hope to be travelling with him for many trips to come.
Although it was a direct flight, it’s still a good whole 13 hours. What’s worse, I had a window seat. It was fine for the first few hours but after five or six hours, the time was crawling. But I was lucky to have no one sitting beside me, so I could stretch better. The Vegan food was rather disappointing on Singapore Airlines, surprisingly. I probably had a bad choice. They had other options like Raw, Indian, Oriental, Lacto-Ovo. Anyhow, I managed to survive the flight with very little sleep the previous night.
The London Tube is very accessible and it’s as convenient as Singapore’s MRT. It is a much preferred means of transportation in London, and bus too. You can get to almost anywhere by these two.
From our hotel at Hanger Lane, we took the tube to Chancery Lane and took a walk down to Fleet Street which is a popular street which was once the centre of British Press and Journalism.
Up till the 1980s most of the Offices of the British press was housed on Fleet Street. Today many media agencies have moved out of Fleet Street but the Street continues to represent the British Press. The Fleet Street came into existence in the 1400s starting from the Fleet River to the Strand. The tube stations nearest to Fleet Street are Chancery Lane, Temple and Blackfriars. There are many streets in London which may surpass the Fleet Street in its architectural design but the Fleet Street is regarded historically as one of London’s important streets.
Along the way, we saw a number of intricate buildings and monuments including the Dragon at Temple Bar Memorial.
From Fleet Street, we wandered to Covent Garden, the famous area for food and shopping. Shops and restaurants are more high end. There are usually live performances on the market square during weekends.
We took a walk down to the Embankment where Cleopatra’s Needle and the sphinxes were located. The view in the day wasn’t as impressive during the day with the murky water in Thames.
Next we went to Somerset House for the exhibition of the day, Björk Digital.
For non-Björk fans, she is an edgy and innovative musician who is also a visual artist who experiments with digital media. This exhibition was a VR(Virtual Reality) tour of her latest album, Vulnicura. Photo-taking was not permitted but anyway, it’s not necessary. We just needed to seat ourselves on stools, put on the headsets for a 360 degrees personal VR experience with our very own eyes, and ears. Absolute Eyegasm, nothing like I’ve seen before. I shan’t go through what the entire show is about but you can read more about it here if you are interested to know.
National portrait gallery
National Portrait Gallery was up next. One great thing about gallery-hopping in Central London, the galleries and museums are very situated near each other, so you can get any where just on foot while you enjoy architectural views and people-watching. Everyone was stylishly dressed in London, even the HOBOs, I’m not even kidding.
We went for the Picasso Portraits exhibition. A lot of these paid exhibitions did not allow photography, so I didn’t take any photos. Picasso is probably known for Cubism as many would think. But he did not just paint in that fashion but many other diverse styles. It’s a refreshing experience to see all the different types of Picasso drawings. And from his impersonal sketches making jokes about his friends, you would get to see the playful and humorous personality of his. He possessed a lot of talent indeed.
The next day, we went to Portobello Market via Notting Hill. Notting Hill itself is a quaint district with rows of houses painted in pastel. To get there, take the tube on Central line and alight at Nothing Hill Gate. There were many cool stores selling antiques, some selling souvenirs and memorabilia. Breakfast in a regular cafe costs about £7-£12.
We stumbled upon George Orwell’s residence (1905 – 1950), it was an interesting find! Never knew he ever lived in Notting Hill.
Still on the Central line, we tubed to Liverpool Street station to get to Shoreditch. Another popular neighbourhood to explore. Spitalfields Market and Brick Lane can be found there. Spitalfields Market was a covered market with food, clothing, antiques and stuff.
I really liked Brick Lane, it’s famous for its Street art. There were good wall paintings and art at almost every corner of the street that you probably can’t finish uncovering them within half a day. It will be ideal if you can spend a day there. There were also plenty of eclectic shops, and nice eating places.
Tate Modern is absolutely a must-go for Gallery goers. This is one of the largest museum of modern and contemporary art in the world. Admission is free for most of the exhibitions in the gallery spaces except for the major temporary ones.
It was nice to take a walk along South Bank. London Eye could be seen and there were many restaurants and bars at Southbank Centre, rather lively area.
We caught the play ‘1984’ at Playhouse Theatre London.
Camden Town is known to be the centre of alternative culture in London. It’s located in the north west of London. Compared to Shoreditch, this area is older but no less whackier. It has a mix of goth, punk, hippie, bohemian cultures. There are independent stalls/stores selling T-shirts, hand-painted canvas shoes, comics, skateboards etc. There is also the Camden Lock Market where you can find various food stalls.
I came here for the street art to be honest. I’ve long heard two clans of people fighting over the coolness of Shoreditch and Camden. So I needed to have a look myself. I think Camden didn’t have as much street art as Brick Lane. Maybe because Brick Lane always has guest artists updating their walls. It’s quite a popular place for artists all over the world to go there. Camden’s art didn’t disappoint me either. If you are able to pay more attention to hidden corners and alleys, you’ll be able to uncover really cool wall paintings. You will also see Amy Winehouse quite often on the walls.
This is the home of many prestigious and expensive shops. It has been a popular place for the upper-class residents of Mayfair to socialise from the end of 18th century. It is now one of the most expensive and sought after strips of real estate in Europe.
My third surprise came when we scuffled down the street. It was rather busy, surprisingly for a Tuesday noon. I soon came to see a flag hanging high right ahead of me bearing the words “Bowie / Collector”. I don’t know anything about this exhibition prior to this, so I was exhilarated when I see the words “Bowie”.
That was some great art collection of David Bowie.
I would say that I kind of miss London now that I am home. It’s a city where you breathe in art and creativity every where. Also, I’ve never felt out of place when I was there. It’s a multicultural city despite Brexit and reports of racism going on. Londoners are still civilised and they mind their own business, or maybe I was just lucky. Whatever it is, London is worth going, be it for art inspirations or shopping, it’s definitely a super cool place to go to.
Photo Credit: Lyndon David Johnson