Hello readers. This is my 6th and final London post. You’re probably tired of reading about London….but you shouldn’t be! Because as the 18th century English writer, Samuel Johnson, wrote -
“You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
And it’s true. Personally, I find London infinitely more stimulating, dynamic, service-oriented and rich in variety and cultural interest than Paris. But it’s huge. And expensive. And so, for someone who does not earn a big salary nor own a London flat, Paris is cheaper and easier to live in on a day to day basis. Thanks to the Eurostar, however, I can pop back and forth whenever I please. The journey (under the English Channel) takes just over 2 hours. When you arrive in London at the magnificent St Pancras international train station (after 6 years of renovation at a cost of £800 million), you’ll need a travel pass for getting around on the bus and tube (subway) network. Transportation is expensive. The best deal I found was to purchase an Oyster travel card for one week which gave me unlimited bus and tube travel. You pay a £5 deposit for an Oyster card and when you leave, you return the card and the £5 is refunded. Including the deposit, I paid £31.40 for 7 days’ unlimited travel in Zones 1 and 2 of Central London. The further out of Central London you wish to travel, the more you pay. 7 days’ unlimited travel in Zones 1 to 4, for example, costs £45.
I’d like to dispel a myth about food being bland or dull in England. Not true! Those days are long gone. I have eaten far better in London than I have in Paris or elsewhere in France. There was a culinary revolution throughout Britain in the 1990s and today London boasts an unparalleled excellence in gastronomic heritage and diversity. Thanks to multiculturalism and what I call an inventive-inclusive mindset (which I do not find in Paris), the staggering array of food options – not only in choice of restaurant, but in mainstream supermarkets, street food and outdoor markets – is jaw-dropping. London is undoubtedly one of the most ethnically-diverse cities in the world. It is a very exciting place to be.
I would love to have a peek inside these apartments above. A lane of cute mews houses in Chelsea below.
The best way to see London is from the top of a double-decker bus. But hang on real tight to the railings as you’re climbing up the stairs (while the bus is in motion). I nearly fell backwards and tumbled down the stairs when the bus lurched. Oh, another potential danger – don’t forget to look in the opposite direction when crossing the road!
The East End. I didn’t have much time to visit London’s East End, but will do so on my next trip. I did, however, want to see a renowned public art gallery called the Whitechapel Gallery, so I jumped on the underground and got off at Aldgate East tube stop.
Founded in 1901 as one of the first publicly funded galleries for temporary exhibitions in London, it has a long track record for education and outreach projects, now focused on the Whitechapel area’s deprived populations. It exhibits the work of contemporary artists, as well as organising retrospective exhibitions and shows that are of interest to the local community. In 1938 the Whitechapel Gallery exhibited Pablo Picasso‘s Guernica to protest the Spanish Civil War.
For over a century the Whitechapel Gallery has premiered world-class artists from modern masters such as Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Frida Kahlo to contemporaries such as Sophie Calle, Lucian Freud, Gilbert and George and Mark Wallinger.
It’s a beautiful building. Admission is free and I highly recommend that you visit. Aside from the exhibitions, there’s a pleasant cake and coffee shop where you can sit and rest your weary feet (my feet really were weary after walking 6 hours a day). Leaving the building, I turned right onto Whitechapel High Street in this somewhat rough and tumble neighbourhood with the intention of finding Old Spitalfields Market. But I got lost. The East End of London is not easy to navigate, and I suggest you go in with a good map. Group walking tours are also popular. Here’s a brief history of the area -
Successive waves of foreign immigration began with Huguenot refugees creating a new suburb in Spitalfields in the 17th century. They were followed by Irish weavers, Ashkenazi Jews and, in the 20th century, Bangladeshis. Many of these immigrants worked in the clothing industry. The abundance of semi- and unskilled labour led to low wages and poor conditions throughout the East End. This brought the attentions of social reformers during the mid-18th century and led to the formation of unions and workers associations at the end of the century.
Here are some of the (renovated) Huguenot houses that I stumbled upon on Princelet Street, just off Commercial Street.
The Second World War devastated much of the East End, with its docks, railways and industry leading to dispersal of the population to new suburbs and new housing being built in the 1950s. The closure of the last of the East End docks in the Port of London in 1980 created further challenges and led to attempts at regeneration and the formation of the London Docklands Development Corporation. The Canary Wharf development, improved infrastructure, and the Olympic Park mean that the East End is undergoing further change, but some parts continue to contain some of the worst poverty in Britain.
Bye for now. I’ll be back. (I love London) Below are some links to alternative walking tours and other places of cultural interest in the East End as well as a highly recommended and inexpensive hotel.
The Dennis Severs’ House is a “still-life drama” of an “historical imagination” of what life would have been like inside for a family of Huguenot silk weavers.
This non-conventional hotel situated in the East End was recommended to me by a work colleague who says she loves it and has been going for 6 years. She says it’s impeccably clean, welcoming and centrally located. I have not been, but will try it on my next trip. Actually, I don’t find the prices that low.
Here’s my old standby, The Penn Club, in Bloomsbury where the prices really are low considering the gorgeous neighbourhood you’re in. There are no lifts (elevators).