Not far from the suburban bliss of drinking red wine by my garden fireplace, an abundance of surprises line the London streets. It seems a crying shame that I so often skim over many of these wonders, until provoked to explore by a visiting friend demanding a tour guide. It took but a single afternoon to refresh my vision and rekindle my love affair with London Town. Turns out one’s travel bug can sometimes (very occasionally) be satisfied close to home.
It is universally recorded that the minute we Brits sample even a slither of sunshine, the shorts are on and everyone hits the streets. This first became apparent as our path was repeatedly interrupted by an inexplicably huge number of cyclists. Apparently there was some sort of city-wide celebration, all in the name of person-powered vehicles. However many wheels you had, whether you were reclining, upright, or backflipping on a BMX, PrudentialRideLondon was a bizarre people-watching moment (and one that almost convinced me to join in!)
First popping our heads in at St Paul’s Cathedral, we accidentally found ourselves ruining some glorious wedding photos and made a run for it; a picturesque run in fact, across the Millennium bridge, that leads directly into the Tate Modern.
Unbeknownst to me, the gallery had undergone an overhaul. It was a major struggle to find my way to my favourite, dimly-lit, womb-like comfort of the Mark Rothko room. However, this exploration lead not only past numerous iconic artworks, but also to the newly instated tenth floor viewing platform. A stone’s throw from St Paul’s, the Shard and all manner of other weird and wonderfully shaped skyscrapers, the Tate offers a new viewpoint of a view that never gets old.
Continuing along the sunny Southbank, we veered off into Gabriel’s Wharf for some lunch and respite. This cove of shops and restaurants is a trendy, arty haven from the bustling city streets. Whilst still bustling (after all, we were still in the capital on a weekend!) the wharf offers a distinctly different vibe to the streets of London proper. Most notably, it offered me a beer, in a square, under an awning: my very definition of a holiday.
The only thing that could have enhanced that holiday feeling was the very thing that happened next! Mere metres from our quaint lunch spot lay an inexplicable and overexcitable street festival, dedicated to all things Colombian. We sipped Aguila, absorbed the now comforting smells of arepas, empanadas and everything deep-fried and even browsed a market of souvenirs we both already owned from our time as honorary Latinos. The small ‘Colombiamente’ stage housed a lively cumbia band and even the Barranquilla Carnaval Queen herself! Despite being hosted in a distinctly smaller setting than she may be accustomed to, la Reina tried her very best to whip the crowd into a frenzy; luckily for her, a bunch of beyond-tipsy Latinos didn’t take a whole lot of convincing!
On the verge of impulsively booking flights back to our favourite continent, we thought we ought to escape. Little did we expect that, once again, a few steps further along the Southbank lay yet more summer fun! The National Theatre, renowned internationally for being the erudite home of British theatre, was the last place I would have anticipated to find an outdoor stage hosting a camp, drag queen extravaganza!
‘The River Stage’ at the National is staging a different takeover each weekend of summer, and we were lucky enough to stumble into the set from ‘The Glory’, a Haggerston-based cabaret club. Not normally being one who particularly enjoys drag acts, this array of drag queens (and kings!) joined together to surprise and delight me, with a celebration of all things camp and karaoke. The audience were just as flamboyantly attired and giddy as those on stage, making it clear that not everyone had arrived here by accident!
Once the tiaras had been awarded, the show came to a close and we resumed normal touristing. This lasted all of one minute (“Look, there’s the London Eye”) before we were once again engulfed by a foreign and unexpected land: ‘The Wonderground’, to be precise. Apparently, each year the Southbank Centre hosts a circus spectacle, housed in a popup fairyland, not dissimilar to the Wild West; who knew?! The foodie smells, craft beers and twinkly set design transport you far from the Southbank; that is until you notice the looming glow of the London Eye overhead.
Back across the river, dancing to buskers and the chimes of Big Ben, brings you within walking distance of the glorious Porterhouse pub, in Covent Garden. (This was the first actually intentional station of my tour!) Hosting a hundred-odd international beers and a live gig three nights a week, this pub perfectly balances the vibes of ‘glamourous’ and ‘dingy’ and is one of my top spots in town. A little reminder that I was still on home turf.
The following morning saw us brave the crowded streets of Camden (apparently closing the Northern Line did nothing to deter the tourists!) for some fish and chips at a market stall and a lounge on the beach. Whilst this sounds distinctly more like a day trip to Brighton, what we saved on train fares, we spent at the bar on the rooftop terrace at the Roundhouse. Home to the annually beloved ‘Camden Beach’, one can drift off in the sand, to a land of laughter, Ibiza-beats and free Coca Cola; all under the watchful eye of the looming adjacent office blocks, so topless sunbathing is unadvisable!
This weekend reminded a self-confessed travel-junkie of the fun to be had on her doorstep (or, at least, within the reach of her Oyster card!) If you choose to sample some (or all) of the locally brewed and/or Colombian beers on offer, then an outing such as this ceases to be a cheap day out. However, each of the outlandish activities themselves were entirely free and gloriously unexpected. Had I come across any one of these events whilst travelling I would have been sure to gush about them in a blog post; thus I thought it only fair to give my home town a shout out of its own.