Tag Archives: London

Small Town Girl in London

Everybody knows that I’m a Small Town Girl, despite the fact that I live in the biggest city in South Africa. (This actually came as news to me when I did a quick search on that … Cape Town is the biggest, population-wise, followed by Durban, and then only Jozi! As Joe always used to say Ex Africa semper aliquid novi.) Anyway, back to the point … my Small Townism and its view on London.

Well, my view on London is this: it is an incredible city with the most enormous number of things to do, places to see, people to meet, and my The Weatherman was so kind to me and kept the sky blue and the sun shining, yet my African blood gets nervous and my African heart gets claustrophobic and I find myself thinking that everybody on those streets of London is just having such a hard time of keeping up and it makes me sad and leaves me feeling entirely drained.

Cue: my friends. So many of them that live and love in London, and love it and thrive, which is why on day two in that bustling city I met a bunch of them in Greenwich at The Old Brewery (perfect accessibility), watched over by the huge trees (another thing that will keep me loving London) of the park and side-eyed by the Cutty Sark, and it was wonderful.

Friends from forever ago and friends from more recently and even some new friends, a beautiful hound called Paloma and a surprise pop-in by wonderful family friends made for a day so filled with joy and loveliness and love, that I felt entirely refreshed. Oh, and I met a knight – Sir Ian McKellan, or Gandalf, as I like to think of him – which was pretty bloody marvellous. He was just lovely. Also marvellous – being able to hop on a bus (the right way around, this time) and get home safely and easily.

Gandalf and me, London

The next day we braaied under the hot London sky (yip!) and frolicked in the ‘hot tub’ – set on cool due to extreme heat – with one of my oldest friends (and hostess with the mostest) and her lovely neighbour. Perfect, lazy, Sunday. Then Gogglebox … GOGGLEBOX! It’s brilliant. Voyeurism to the max.

Travelling stories and pics will resume with the next blog – to Sicily we go!

Hot and Heavy in London

We arrived early on Friday morning, mid-June, our pilot cheerily informing us that the day was forecast to be hot in London. I’m from Africa, so I sniggered to myself. Hot. In London. As the great doors of the BA plane were opened, a rush of warm air replaced the stale, over-breathed, sneeze-and-cough-filled air of the 12 hour flight from Cape Town. This pilot wasn’t having us on. My snigger wilted and left.

Leaving on a Jet Plane, Cape Town Airport

A frustrating no-show of the booked-and-paid-for shuttle and we were in a black cab*, heading through the centre of London during Friday morning rush hour. I’d forgotten about the chattiness of London cabbies. For the two-and-a-half-hour trip (eek!) he kept up a running commentary, and now I know his entire history, and all about his daughter’s relationship dramas. And his best friend, Clive’s. And their medical histories. In infinite detail. (Note to self: don’t mention you’re a pharmacist.) He also drinks down the pub with the terrorist attack hero dude that shouted ‘I’m Millwall’.

Past Buckingham Palace, along Pall Mall as she dressed up for the parade the next day, winding through green parks, the terraced buildings of the story books of my childhood interspersed with areas of barricaded shops, broken windows and graffiti, the streets filled with people of every nationality. London is nothing if not diverse. Yet oh-so-British.

 

Flat to Let, London

Finally reaching Aimee’s house, we threw our cases down and headed to the bus stop to go to central London, where I had two appointments. Ah, London, and your accessibility. A ramp from the bus to the pavement, a place to sit (first facing the wrong direction, resulting in some fairly hairy stops – especially with the driver of the 10:37 89 bus to Lewisham Station, who could give Cape Town taxi drivers a run for their money – until we worked it out, turned me around, and got me stable). Admittedly, we looked a bit like Idiots Abroad for a while there.

Big Ben and a Bus, London

The air is thick with heat and city bustle as we drive into the city on this bus with an ever-changing population and a soundtrack of the pinging bell for stops and almost-indecipherable teenage conversations of who’s hot and what’s happening this weekend. I am reminded that teen pregnancy is alive and well and living in London. One baby is called Chicken and her mum is proudly telling her sister that she’s just received her first dole payment. (Chicken may or may not have been a term of endearment.)

Tower Bridge from London Bridge, London

Stuck behind Friday afternoon traffic over London Bridge I watch the hundreds of handwritten notes to the previous week’s terrorist victims flapping lazily in the hot breeze that is doing nothing to cool the concrete walkways and buildings of the inner city. On the bridge, tourists take grim pictures of the flowers at the site. Here the air is humid and heavy with sadness as the muddy Thames rushes under the bridge, heading away away to the sea, seeking coolth and solace.

Ancients Dwarfed by Youngsters, London

The ancients mix in with the young there in the city. I’m talking buildings, because, weirdly, there are almost no ancient people in the city. Except us.  We make the two appointments by the skin of our teeth, stopping on street corners to marvel at the ancients and watch the people. The appointments are dull, the city not. It seems that here, work ends at lunchtime on Fridays … the pubs are spilling out onto the streets, cold beer, icy white wine in the hands of the suits.

Leadenhall Market, London

We pop in to Leadenhall Market, a glass-domed Victorian market built in the 14th Century. It is gorgeous, intricate and heaving with Friday afternoon revellers. We stand beneath the main dome, enthralled, until our stomachs start shouting. It’s been a long time since the stiff old eggs on the plane at 5 am. Leadenhall Market is too full, we want an olde pub. Twenty minutes of walking about, we find one next to the monument. It too is heaving, and the one bar man disappears, presumably terrified by the mass of thirsty customers demanding his attention.

Hangry, we head over the street, past the Monument to the Great Fire of London (you can go nowhere in London without passing something amazing) and find The Hydrant, which has the friendliest waitress. A cold beer for GM – London Pride because London – and a cold glass of wine for me, the biggest Scotch Egg with Black Pudding I’ve ever seen (the chickens in the UK must be ginormous!), Potato and Leek Croquettes and Hummus, Tzatziki, Babaganoush and Pitas. We guzzle, it’s good, and our personalities reappear.

It’s time to get back on the bus to head back to Woolwich, to old friends and comfy beds.

*Accessibility in London

Transport is a breeze on buses and in black cabs. They all have ramps that go into them and space for you to be, remaining in the wheelchair.

London, Paris, Taormina

Wandering through the streets of Paris, London and Taormina yesterday, I was reminded of our tininess in this world. Well, my tininess, really. I can’t speak for the rest of you. Looking at aerial shots of inner city London, with its mix of ancient and shiny new buildings, I was reminded of an ant midden. So busy, so full.

I headed up The Shard – that name, to me, seems somehow rude – and looked down over London, imagining the little cobbled alleys that hadn’t been gobbled up by tar and pavement and hundreds of thousands of rushing people, exhaust fumes intermingling with the whispers and stories of thousands of years of humans.

In Paris, I did the same, heading up the Eiffel Tower and looking at Paris spread out below, as far as the eye can see, in every direction. There, the humans spoke a softer language, the whispers and stories more passionate and on breath that smelt like croissants and champagne.

Paris Railways and Buses

In both, I wandered from airports to stations to friends’ houses and hotels, weaving through streets in cabs and ducking into the underground tunnels that shunt people around deep in the underbellies of both cities. Familiar station names and unfamiliar ones, all of them enticed me back up into the daylight to see the places, peer down the alleyways and sit at pavement cafes watching, listening, absorbing.

Millenium Bridge (Google Earth Street View)

Back in London, I spent an hour in the Tate Modern, and then walked across the Millenium Bridge, over the Thames toward the golden dome of St Pauls, stopping in the middle to admire that ancient flowing river that coped with the city, welcoming both the living and those tired of living. How many canoodling couples on bridges, children happily chasing pigeons, broken-hearted jumpers and adventurous sailors has that old lady river seen in her time?

Taormina (Google Earth)

In Sicily, I marvelled at ancient ruins and checked out Mount Etna’s plume, before learning the history of Modica’s relationship with chocolate. I spent ages sipping coffee at a seaside café, intrigued by the changing blues of the Mediterranean. Then I plotted the route from our Air BnB to the concert venue – through the beautiful streets of Taormina that’ll be filled with equally-excited (it’s hard to imagine the electricity that’ll create) Eddie Vedder fans. I had to pull myself away. I had things to do.

But I got distracted again, and, I ambled about in Paris some more, finding interesting corners and back streets that had more stories to tell than their parallel, tourist-filled brothers and sisters. I was supposed to be booking shuttles and planning routes without stairs or too many steep, cobbled roads and finding suitable places to stay, because today, in a month, if all goes according to plan, I really will be in London. And then Sicily. And then Paris. And then London again.

I guess I’ll just have to go back today and continue my research. How I love the internet and Google Maps with its Street View. Because that’s half the fun of travelling, isn’t it?

All the couch travelling you get to do before.