Wednesday, 20 July 2016

London: A first impression

Ocford Street: for all your shopping adventures, or simply to enjoy the British flag everywhere.
London: even though you left blisters on my feet and dizzied my mind with your heat, I still twist and turn in bed, thinking of you. It's not hard to be reminded of this bustling metropolis at night, when sirens echo through my window as if a crime scene is being set up to be marked on your cityscape, something that might as well be taken straight out of a movie. Indeed, everything in this city seems to have a cinematic quality. From its labyrinthine underground system to its majestic architecture: London feels like a Parisian Sydney with bits of Melbourne and double-decker buses everywhere. Grand and classy.

On Saturday I arrived in a small airport called Luthon, where no help desks could be encountered (only a grey man that sold tickets without caring about providing further information); where something as logical as a city map or tube (the underground/metro/subway) map wasn't available: it surely was a hassle getting around. Of course I was just a naive tourist who thought getting to the city centre without preparation should be fine because it's London. It took a while until I finally got my hands on a city map and tube map, which made life a lot easier. So, tip of the day: if you're arriving in a small airport such as Luthon, download your maps beforehand. Sydney was easy, a matter of following a few simple lines. But London, oh boy, it's a crisscross of colour-codes and intersecting dots. Reading a map isn't hard, finding the station you want in gazillion other names is another story, knowing which names are the highlights of the city is a plus.

Despite the initial disorientation, within a few hours it was just a matter of following the signs and asking around. The public transport staff is surely kind enough. If you love public transport as much as I do, then live your dreams in London. Double-decker buses: great for escaping the sauna of the tubes during summer. What's more: you finally get to see some buildings from a straighter angle than usual. Do be aware of regular traffic jams, but if you just like to aimlessly muse about architecture without straining a muscle, I'd say: plant your body on the upper deck. The underground and/or overground system is probably more reliable if you're in a hurry and want to wander efficiently.

Enough of this infrastructural talk, though. So how's London? I guess I gave you a bit of a taster by mingling grand cities into a simile about London, but it takes more than one line to describe the city. If I had to use one word: majestic. Another one: bipolar. The latter doesn't only apply to the weather (even though I've had the luck to only experience sun during the last few days): it's as if a whole different atmosphere lies around each corner. Somewhere on a wall I read: "The unexpected is always to be expected".

Most of the landmarks are bound to be old-school: columns, carvings, castle-like features, gold-plated lettering, you name it. If I had to pick a city to study during my Art History classes in high school, I'd probably go to London:

Saint Paul's Cathedral
Somebody help me out here, I've got no idea what this is.
Ditto. Sometimes it's hard to distinguish between things when everything is grand, but hey that's the London Eye sneakily hiding behind the brown tints. London has too many landmarks.
Palace of Westminster, Big Ben atop.
London Tower
Tower Bridge (apparently not London Bridge, y'know, the one we always curse to fall down by singing that song.)

But sometimes, London likes to play mix-and-match as well. A good example would be Piccadilly Circus: a place where modern embellishments and classical architecture seem to intertwine perfectly. Some parts make you feel like you're in the Broadway of London, with all of its glamorous neon/led signs announcing musicals against a classical architectural backdrop. Even if you're not a musical lover, it grabs your attention.

Of course, no metropolis would be complete without its multicultural influences. I have yet to try the famous Indian Curry of London, but given my heritage it would only do my stereotype justice if I visited China Town. The one I went to is only a 10 minute walk from Piccadilly Circus (just follow Michael Jackson's finger), but you can also get there by wandering a few minutes from Leicester Square Station. Other than your usual Asian supermarkets, red lanterns and highly competitive restaurants, expect a huge red gate to stand in the middle of the street effortlessly.

Piccadilly Circus

China Town, Gerrard Street.

And if you'd like to see a whole different facet, try the London City District: London's economic area with glass buildings that make you feel like you're supposed to be in a futuristic animated movie where cars fly around (Wall-E, anyone?). Like I said, I was lucky with the weather, so I had the pleasure of capturing some nice reflections. I guess it kind of feels like the WTC of Amsterdam.

London City, with its cute bullet-like tower called "The Gherkin" peeking up from behind the glass frontier.
Classical Architecture doesn't leave: the reflective nature of the London City District makes sure of that.
Pointy and tall: the Shard. Round and shy: the City Hall.
Rise and shine.
One doesn't always have to blind themselves to see the sky.
And in between the blue, there's always red.

So that's it for today, all glamour and glitter finally shaken from my head after rolling in bed for almost two hours. They say that the clouds of London always cry, but they seem remarkably happy these days. Next up: probably something about the markets of London, but I'd also like to explore some of the more urban areas. After all, there's beauty in decay. I'm curious about the street art I'd encounter if I take less well-known roads, but for now I'm probably packed in the tube most of the time, or somewhere in class. Oh right, I came here to study, you knew that, right?

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