In the four months I spent in the UK I had the opportunity to see some amazing places and experience things I never before thought I would. For my last treat, my very special friend Luna took me to see her London and I simply fell deeper in love with the great city. If you are looking to experience a difference side of London, then this route is one to follow.
Our day started off with Chinese food on Baker Street. I had never had real Chinese food before so that was the first new experience of the day for me. My new favorite is Chinese buns with a lotus filling (just thinking of it now makes my mouth water).
We then walked Baker Street, Luna’s old home, and I even got to knock on the great detective Sherlock Holmes’s door. Technically 221 B Baker Street does not actually exist, but there is a museum made up to look just like the outside of the London detective’s home and on every corner Baker Street itself celebrates their literary hero – a statue of The Great Detective (we all know it’s Mr Holmes) stands outside Baker Street Underground station and the station itself is decorated with tiny silhouettes of Sherlock all over the walls.
Luckily I had my Oyster card handy (even if you’re only going to London for a few days, get the Oyster card, the convenience just makes it completely worth it) as we took to the underground for our next destination, Barbican.
Barbican is one of those jewels of London that you will only find (and find your way out of again) if you know about it or know someone (my Luna) who is fascinated by the residential oasis in the middle of busy London. It is made up of a number of residential buildings, some rising high into the sky like the Shakespeare tower, and some only five or six stories high, combined with one of the leading arts and events centers in London, the Barbican Center. The area was officially opened in 1982 after architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon came up with the idea to transform a piece of land in London which had been lain bare by bombings during the Second World War. The idea for the development was to have all buildings be inward facing and create a space in the heart of the City of London area where people could escape. The buildings themselves are quintessential 80’s architecture style with huge amounts of concrete, but the industrial look is softened by plants hanging from balconies, beautiful flowers still in bloom despite it being December and great fountains and lakes. I was astounded by the engineering feat achieved there. Knowing that right under the huge lake you are looking out onto is not only a busy street but under that the underground and two stations as well – and you can’t hear a thing.
Except for the residential area the Barbican Center also boasts a theater, which is the London seat of the Royal Shakespeare Company (their permanent seat if of course in Stratford Upon Avon), a library, an art gallery, a number of bars and restaurants, a theater school (that produced the likes of David Thewlis who played Professor Lupin in the Harry Potter movies) and even a girls school.
What astounded me most about the Barbican is how seamlessly it integrates with its historical surroundings. In the center of the compound is an old church, untouched by modernity. Running right under Barbican is Wall Street, the street which traces the old London City Wall. All along the border of the City of London district and Barbican, remnants of the old city wall can be seen. Its moss-covered remains seem to acknowledge the great new structures around it just as the Barbican bows to the history of the city. Take an hour and explore the Barbican, it’s free to just walk around and see what there is to see, and the gift shop is filled with cute, quirky arty pieces.
As you walk out of the Barbican toward St Paul’s Cathedral you pass a museum built in the middle of the street, The Museum of London. We didn’t have time to go inside but it seemed very appropriate that the museum about the city was located in the middle of a street, right next to the old city walls, where no one could ignore it. This museum is definitely on my bucket list for the next time I visit London, especially because of the whole museums are free in the UK thing.
Next on Luna’s tour of London was St Paul’s Cathedral. Churches always get me in some strange kind of way and make me remember how small I am in this world. Maybe it’s my Christian upbringing, maybe it’s the sheer size of the buildings, but I simply love churches. The Cathedral currently standing on the spot where it is, is the fourth version, after the previous version was burnt down during the Great Fire of London, and was designed by Britain’s most famous architect Sir Christopher Wren. If you pay £12 (as a student) you can visit the inside of the Cathedral and go up the tower to see a view of London to rival the Eye of London (or so they say).
The Millenium Bridge was our crossing point to the West side of the river and Luna showed me another little gem. The bridge leads one straight to the Tate Modern Museum and keeping with the artistic feel of the area, artists had started to decorate the chewing gum stepped into the floor of the bridge, with colourful artwork. We were almost crawling to see the different artworks as onlookers gave us strange glances, but I realised that that is what makes London so special, you can crawl around on a bridge floor and it doesn’t matter to anyone if it is the most fun thing you’ve done in days.
It started to rain as we walked along the West Bank to Westminster Bridge. Arms interlocked under one umbrella Luna and I experienced the wonderful nightlife of the artistic West Bank. There were second hand book sales under a bridge, the National Theatre with all its lights, food trucks, an old war ship of which the insides of the ship had been painted on the outside and I stood under the London Eye for the first time (it is a massive structure). I felt like the happiest person in the world to be experiencing London in this way with my special friend, and the night wasn’t over yet.
Luna had one more eccentric attraction to show me, M&M’s World. As soon as you walk into the four-story sweet shop the a wave of chocolate crashes onto your senses and you walk through the store in a haze of sweetness. The store is huge and overwhelming (and extremely expensive), but there are some cool photo-opt places and definitely something to experience. I took so many photos of all the Star Wars themed M&M’s in the store for my brother and apologised to him about not bringing back any real ones (because of the price) when I got home. Just a fun place to see in London.
We ended off our night in China Town eating crab and a last visit to Picadilly Circus, which is overwhelming and exciting in its business.
On the bus ride back to Oxford I was grateful for another wonderful memory to add to my time in the UK and I knew that I had made the most of every moment I was there. Knowing that I would not be seeing my new love London for quite some time was hard but I also knew that thanks to Luna I had seen a side of London very few ever would. So my suggestion for visiting London, walk the road less touristy, trust a local (even if she’s just a little more local than you) and open your eyes, who knows you might discover some wonderful art right under your feet in London as well.