Histourism: London

Notice! Because I’m reformatting my photos, this post is without pictures at the moment.


London is a city I can never get enough of. I went for the fifth time this week, and I was again delighted to the point of giddiness by the unexpected, the old, the new, the classic, the alternative, and the way it all meets on one street corner. I have done different things and seen completely different sides of London on every trip, and this one was no exception.

I was thinking, sipping chai tea on the train back to the airport, that I wouldn’t even be drinking that chai tea if it wasn’t for British imperialism, and London, its beating heart. It was from there that the first ship sailed, down the Thames and into the unknown, bringing back exotic secrets from India that have trickled down to modern menus, listed next to the cappucino. Trafalgar Square and its monumental column wouldn’t exist without Lord Nelson, who beat the French at Trafalgar. The city goes back to Roman times and has spewed forth so many icons; it’s a world of its own, and can lay claim to having been the centre of many a cultural revolution.

I went for two days and stayed at a friend’s house, who lives close to Shoreditch. On Tuesday I visited the British museum by myself, and in the evening I had a stroll around Brick Lane. It has been the site of brick manufacturers and beer brewers since the 15th century, and has seen waves of immigrants since the 17th century, when the Huguenots came there from France and established a weaving, tailoring and clothing industry. The 19th century saw Irish and Ashkenazi Jews settle there, and presently it’s known as the heart of ‘Banglatown’, owing to the influx of Bangladeshi immigrants and the great number of curry houses. The street signs are both in English and Bengali. When I was walking down Brick Lane, I found the history to be almost palpable. It felt like, if you could scratch away the graffiti, what you would find underneath would be the graffiti from all the people who had lived here before, since the 15th century – like an excavation. There was some brilliant street art on the walls, there were vintage shops, international restaurants, small coffee houses, an alternative crowd – a combination which merits the stamp “HIP”. I settled on an Argentinian restaurant (the curry houses had very pushy porters), had a lomito and a beer, and went home.

On day two, my friend had the day off, so we revisited the British museum to see what I hadn’t seen the day before. Afterwards, we went to have tea in the Secret Soho tea room. There was an ordinary pub below, but you had to ask the bartender if you could go up, upon which he informed someone over the phone, and allowed us to go up on the staircase behind the bar. Somebody then opened the door for us and let us into the most charming and kitsch tea room, complete with pink walls, flowers arranged in tea pots, mismatched tiered cake stands, and clocks that didn’t run. It felt like entering a secret society! We had an amazing high tea.

Afterwards, we went to Trafalgar Square to visit Vincent van Gogh and Money at the National Gallery. There is nothing like looking out past the people swarming around Nelson’s column, seeing the Big Ben peep through the buildings, and the red buses congeal around the square to make you feel like you’re truly in London. I had forgotten how beautiful the National Gallery is.

We sat outside on the grass for a spell while a nearby street musician played Beatles songs – it doesn’t get any more English than that – until my friend left for work. When we were walking towards the Underground we passed by Wyndham’s theatre, which was showing David Mamet’s “American Buffalo” that night. It stars Damian Lewis, one of my favourite actors, and Tom Sturridge and John Goodman, also well-known and excellent actors. When we walked past, a sign said that the house was full, so I started looking at other plays, having got it into my head that I wanted to go to the theatre that night. Luckily, when I walked past the theatre some time later, the sign was gone – they had apparently left it outside by mistake – and I went inside and bought a standing ticket for 15 pounds. To kill time before the show I decided to have a look around the National Portrait Gallery around the corner, which had a cool exhibit on Women of World War I.

I didn’t mind standing during the play at all. It was a very raw, dark comedy about three criminals and a deal surrounding an antique nickel, which was worth a lot of money. I enjoyed it immensely; definitely go see it if you’re in London before June 27th. Of course I was absolutely starstruck by breathing the same air as Damian Lewis (who stars in Band of Brothers, my favourite show of all time), and I got to check “seeing a play in the West End” off my bucket list! A wonderful experience to end an amazing trip with.

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