In my books, London is the city made for people watching. The first trip into the city was a scenic route from Aylesbury, one where I held hope that the day might be as relaxing as the train ride. The sounds I imagined the underground and buses would be like danced in my head as passengers around me kept to themselves, heads down and earbuds in. This was the part of the ride that reflected the variety and colour of the London suburbs, with the blanket of rolling hills and idyllic homes reminding me that I wasn’t ready to let go of the countryside just yet.
I’ve only ever had two reference points when it comes to England: Mr. Bean and mushy peas. Three, if you count my husband and his overwhelmingly British family. Their intellectual humour and understated sarcasm, combined with their constant deadpan delivery is a language I’m still struggling to understand. Take a slight jab at someone and you might get a laugh or two. Take it an inch further and they might take offence. It’s a constant game of treading on egg shells.
I have certainly had some experience in the field of cultural alienation and London was no different. But there is a larger sentiment that includes all of my filial feelings towards the city as well. And the sentiment is worthy, I must say. It is felt the moment you first see the famous Regent Street bend and in your first glimpse of pristine Belgravia. It is also felt in the anticipation before you train doors open and in the afternoon stroll around Kensington.
Beating the crowd and getting lost in Covent Garden was certainly an experience to remember. It is truly a place one has to get lost in for hours. While strolling around, you might run into top notch brands like Kiehl’s or unearth your new favourite artisanal product.
Be sure to to enjoy a homey croque-madame or some homemade soup at Chez Antoinette.
One of my favourite discoveries was Whittard of Chelsea Tea Bar, a true heaven for tea lovers.
In West London, whitewashed townhouses stand side by side in a neighbourly way. To a foreigner, Belgravia is attractive for two reasons: experiencing this type of luxury and secondly, being able to experience this type of luxury at this level of intimacy.
Since 2013, foreign investors have started investing in these properties, and with it being one of the most expensive districts in the world, it is surprising to find that it is not a gated community. In almost every photograph I have ever seen of Belgravia, a serene peace seems to watch over the townhouses, and real life was no different.
Sky Garden at 20 Fenchurch Street
If I hadn’t known better, 20 Fenchurch Street is the first place I would have scratched off my list after a tiresome day’s worth of walking and sightseeing. After all, most google results won’t refer it as one of the top things to do in London. But if you’re lucky you’ll hear about it through a local who likely referred you because they once spent a work party here. It’s a funny thing to think that business can be made off of providing people with views. But here, you’re not even paying for the view.
Known as the Walkie Talkie building for its unusual shape, 20 Fenchurch Street is a commercial building with a top floor glass dome that serves as a social space with a 360 degree uninterrupted view of the city.
Before 6pm, reservations need to be made online, free of charge. After 6pm, the sky garden can be visited without reservations free of charge under the condition that you wear smart casual attire (no running shoes). The fancy sky garden restaurant will also ensure that people will be dressed at their best.
Regent Street can be quite transformative if you experience it both mornings and evenings. Before shops open, the width of the empty sidewalks has a funny way of making you feel like you could pack all your things, starts life anew and live the rest of your life in downtown London. Evenings are a different story. Long lines of traffic, crowds moving home after a day’s work and shopping tourists find themselves shoulder to shoulder. Suddenly, what seemed so accomplishable in the morning suddenly doesn’t anymore. Cities are well known for the buzz that is created for by its people, but Regent street’s rhythm is one of the reasons I have come to realize that I only digest this city in bite-sized pieces.
A sweet reminder of home and serving as somewhat of an oasis on Regent Street, the Anthropologie boutique is easily one of my favourite home goods stores.
Even better than Time Square’s former Toys ”R” Us, Hamleys is the world’s oldest toy shop that spans over seven floors, each with its own personality and quirks. You’ll likely have to dodge a couple of contraptions and paper airplanes on display upon entry. Some of their classic teddy bears can go for up to thousands of pounds and a life-sized lego model of the royal family can be admired on the top floor.
After the first day of exploring, I managed to rest my weary feet on the train and to sleep off the leg pain. While London could never be the city for me, part of fantasy of living in London, I suppose, lies in the sense of accomplishment that comes from living in a city that has a big city feel. Or maybe it’s just the dreamy accent.
Truly, the London buzz is like none other. And admittedly, while I know I’ll never be a part of the portrait, my favourite spots will always be places where I can be quietly appreciative of what the city has to offer. People watching is one way to recharge your sense of human connection, even if you feel that you are a thousand worlds apart.
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