I went to London on the weekend and had a great time right up until I got mugged on my way to the bus home. Thankfully, I’d already gotten my photos backed up…
For me, there were three wonderful things about this city. One is hard to explain unless you know what I mean, in which case you’ll understand right away. As an Australian, and an Australian who happens to have a taste for 18th-20th century British literature in particular, not to mention a vivid interest in history, London is bursting with names and places that I recognise from my reading, be it novels or textbooks. England is already an odd enough place to visit as an Australian because of the intense combination of familiar things – look, it’s Cadbury’s! And jam doughnuts, and fish and chips, and they’ve got towns called Richmond and Newcastle just like we do back in New South Wales. Except that towns that are neighbours in Australia are nowhere near each in England, and amongst the familiar biscuits and chocolate bars there’s strange things called Angel Slice and Double Deckers. And what the hell is a Coronation Chicken sandwich?
But when you add the misplaced nostalgia of seeing places you’ve read about, known about, but never seen before, it’s particularly poignant. Even just recognising all the properties from Monopoly makes you feel like you know the place even though you know you’re as lost as any other tourist, not to mention walking through Hyde Park, or seeing buses heading off to Piccadilly Circus. Hell, even the bridges you walk across are steeped in your culture, because I, like many schoolchildren, used to sing cheerfully along to ‘London Bridge is falling down’.
The second great thing about London is something many already know it for – the West End, and its abundance of shows in general. In my two days I managed to take in two shows, one being The Woman in Black at the Fortune Theatre and the other a very modern interpretation of Romeo and Juliet staged at the Globe Theatre (yes, Shakespeare’s own theatre…well, the rebuilt version, at least!).
Both of them were spectacular, though wildly unlike each other: The Woman in Black was performed by just two wonderfully convincing actors on a practically empty stage, using their minimal props and cast to transmit an amazingly rich narrative full of suspense and drama. I certainly practically jumped out of my seat enough times. The Shakespeare production, on the other hand, was a rousing, boisterous performance full of poppy beats, expertly chosen costumes (Including a lot of Doc Martens. They really seemed to like Doc Martens and patterned socks.), and perfect choreography. Not what one might normally expect from Shakespeare, but the cast conveyed the story and the emotion of the original story with grace and talent through the anachronistic, unlikely medium of nightclub music and plastic baseball bats.
What made the shows really great, of course, was the entirely reasonable cost of them. Most West-End shows seem to hover around 20-30 pounds a ticket, and the Globe offers tickets ranging from 5 to 45 pounds – which, in my opinion, isn’t a lot in exchange for being able to boast insufferably about that time you saw Shakespeare being performed in the actual Globe Theatre.
Finally, as with any foreign city I visit – or let’s be real, anywhere I go – there was the food to consider. Specifically, the food at the plentiful street markets. I only went to two, the lucky winners of my patronage being the Portobello Street Market and the Borough Markets, and both delivered exactly what I was looking for in terms of delectable street food from a wide range of cultures. I think what appeals to me most about street food is, the reduced price notwithstanding, the fact of being able to see the ingredients and the finished product there before your eyes. In restaurants you’re limited to the tantalising description of a menu, and can be disappointed by small serving sizes or unimpressive ingredients. But when you’re walking among the stalls, trying to decide whether you want to eat Polish, American, Portuguese or Turkish today, you can choose whatever looks best to you: whether it be the bowls of fresh hummous and tabouleh at the gozleme stall that tempted me, or the rolls heaped with spit-roasted pork that I saw being carried off triumphantly from the stall beside it.
Really, the only downside about street markets for me is that I’m always overwhelmed by choice and want to eat pretty much everything I walk past. This time, I was nonetheless inordinately pleased by my spinach and feta gozleme served with hummous and salads, from Portobello Street Market – just look at how fresh and vibrant that plate looks! I’m practically obsessed with this photo, thanks to the popping colour and the fact that it was truly delectable.
My other street food adventures included a beautiful custard doughnut and a juicy pulled pork burger, but whilst tasty, they didn’t inspire the same awe at the wonder that is food as my gozleme did. Plus, the photos I took aren’t as pretty.
Of course, I know that if I were to live in London I wouldn’t be eating street food every day, nor going to see shows – after all, Sydney’s got its own thriving multicultural markets and plenty of shows and I rarely go to them, thanks to my lack of ready cash and other engagements. But it was terribly fun to spend a weekend here when I had nothing better to do than gaze at pretty food and talented actors, and I wholly recommend anyone visiting London does a little bit of the same.