This summer we didn’t really go away together. We weren’t organised or wealthy enough to go on a proper holiday, so in early September we decided to go on holiday in London. Central London is 20 minutes away on the train from Poppy (Surbiton) and 28 minutes from Guy (Woking!). We’d been reading travel blogs and books and were getting pretty excited about doing more sightseeing. Poppy had never done any sightseeing in London, despite living so close. Guy had been on one of those buses, but wanted more.
Over a couple of days, we found out about some good places to visit and wrote them down. We used Atlas Obscura, Eccentric Britain (Bradt travel guide) and the London Eastside Quirky Shopping Guide (*blech*). Once we had a good list of possible places to visit, we put them into a Google Map and made The Itinerary, based on where things were. We were over-ambitious and didn’t visit some of the places we wanted to. We will visit them though, and we’ll write about them in another issue… If you have any recommendations about where we should go, e-mail us!
Anyway, here’s what we did:
Sunday 6th September:
We woke up early to get to the Sunday markets, starting with Columbia Road Flower Market. On the way there we found out that we couldn’t stay at Jade’s that night, as we’d rudely assumed, so we’d be going back to Poppy’s again. It was a bad start and broke the holiday illusion a bit. But it was okay!
Columbia Flower Market: Every Sunday, florists set up stalls along Columbia Road and fill it with plants. The market’s been around since the 18th Century and is still very popular, so it’s best to get there really early. On the whole it’s very cheap. We saw some little orchids for £3 and one review writer said they’d got 50 Dutch Tulips for £10. The range of plants is huge and it’s worth going just to see that. The nearest Tube Stations are Old Street and Bethnal Green and it has a website run by George Gladwell, The Representative of the Columbia Flower Market.
Brick Lane Beigel Bake: Next we walked to Brick Lane. The Brick Lane Beigel Bake is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It sells bagels, cakes, bread and hot drinks. Their speciality is salted beef. Poppy had an egg bagel with salad and mayo. Guy, the fake vegan, had some trouble choosing what to eat. It’s not a very vegan-friendly place and in his confusion he bought two jam doughnuts and a coffee. When we left the shop we realised the coffee was white (even though it was straight out of a big vat) and that doughnuts weren’t vegan. What a phony. In summary, the Beigel Bake is very cheap and tasty but it’s not great for vegans. The nearest tube is Liverpool Street.
Brick Lane Market: We had a look at Brick Lane Market. It’s very trendy and has a good atmosphere. It started as a Fruit and Vegetable market in the 17th century but now it sells most things. Apparently for a few years there was a stall just selling rusty cogs. The nearest tube is Liverpool Street or Aldgate East.
The Monument: We got the tube from Liverpool Street to Monument. We were going to The Monument For The 1666 Great Fire Of London. It is a “fluted Doric Column of Portland Stone, topped with a gilded urn of fire”. There are 311 steps up the column, to a viewing platform where you can see a lot of London. It was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and was finished in 1677. It’s the tallest isolated stone column in the world. It was surprisingly one of the best things we saw. It costs £3 to go up there, which is quite a lot, but we think it was still really good. Climbing up it is exciting because it’s completely disorientating , so it feels even weirder when you get to the top. When you’re done, they give you a certificate saying how you got up there and some facts about the monument.
St. Olave’s Church: We walked along a bit, looking for a church that Poppy’s mum had mentioned which was built on a section of the ‘Old’ London Bridge. We found St. Olave’s Church and were again surprised how much we enjoyed it. The church was big and quiet and had some epic choral music playing out of some well-concealed speakers. Outside are some cobblestones from the original London Bridge. Inside, there was a model of what the old London Bridge looked like, with tons of old model Londoners, one of which was dressed in modern clothes. We spent a while finding it. When the bridge was finished in 1209, King John licensed housing on it, so it was covered with buildings up to seven stories high. Apparently, the bridge was so crowded that it could take up to an hour to cross. Traffic on the bridge became so bad in 1722 that the Lord Mayor made a rule that vehicles kept to one side of the bridge depending on which direction they were going in. It has been suggested that this was a possible origin of Britain driving on the left. In 1756 after a handful of fires, the buildings on the bridge were demolished. Poppy decided to light a candle. At the front of the church there was a small second hand book sale.
Disaster: Next we got the tube to Chancery Lane to go to the John Soane Museum and the Hunterian… But it was a Sunday, so they weren’t open!
Supermarket: Instead, we got some lunch from a Sainsburys. We got a sandwich and some bread and cucumber and tinned pineapple.
Speakers Corner: Neither of us had ever been to Speaker’s Corner before, so we didn’t really know what to expect. It is a corner of Hyde Park that permits anyone to set up a stall and talk on whatever they want. It was incredible. Guy particularly enjoyed it. It’s an opportunity to here people being fully enthusiastic about something they care about, which is pretty rare to come across when you’re just walking around. It’s brilliant. The best show ever.
Peter Pan: We carried on walking through Hyde Park until we got to Kensington Gardens, and the Peter Pan statue. It was erected in secret to appear on May Morning in 1912. J.M. Barrie, Pan’s creator, was unhappy with the statue, saying “It doesn’t show the devil in Peter.” On the way to the Peter Pan statue, we saw a bunch of birds standing on poles in the Thames having a bird council:
Serpentine Gallery: Next we went to the Serpentine Gallery and saw the new Jeff Koons exhibition. Outside the gallery was a Pavilion designed by architects Kazuyo Sijima and Ryue Nishizawa of SANAA. It was a big reflective sheet of metal that stood on skinny poles. It dipped down and close to the ground at one end. If you looked up you could see yourself in it. It was a really nice thing – in the lower down bit there were loads of kids running about. There were also some great videos by Cao Fei, a Beijing-based artist who’s a sort of virtual architect. She uses Second Life to design cities and venues based on modern and ancient Chinese heritage. Our favourite was ‘RMB City’. Her Second Life character’s (avatar?) name is China Tracy. You can view her stuff on YouTube.
London Vegan Festival: By now we were getting pretty tired, but we wanted to go to the London Vegan Festival at Kensington Town Hall. We had a vague idea of where it was, and a vague map, so we thought it would be easy, but it wasn’t. When we eventually did find it, it was getting a bit late and lots of the stalls were closing down. We still had time to get a fantastic hemp burger from Veggies though, and Poppy also got a slice of carrot cake that was really nice. There was a big Sheese stall with lots of varieties to try. We had tried hard Sheese before and hated it, but the soft versions were really nice (especially the blue one). Kensington Town Hall is a good building. In the main room the back wall has big raised brick emblems. It’s hard for us to do a fair review because we got there late and didn’t go to any of the talks that they had put on… It cost £2 to get in, which wasn’t too much for what was there. It had lots alternative healing and stuff, which didn’t seem to have that much to do with veganism, but all in all it was great, and we should have got there for more of it. The festival has been running for 11 years, and we’d definitely recommend it. We went back to Poppy’s. Her parents gave us some more food, which was really cool. We went to bed.
Monday 7th September
We had decided to do all the really big museums on Monday. Guy would have to leave for a while in the middle to sort out some stuff for a house-sitting job he was doing the next week, and we thought it would be a better idea for him to miss stuff that’s always on than to miss anything else.
V&A: We got up early and made our way to the V&A. We went in and looked at the Asia galleries on the first floor. The Japan Room has been Poppy’s favourite for ages, but now she doesn’t think it is. We had a look at the fancy kimonos, which are Poppy’s dad’s favourites. We then went to see the Telling Tales exhibition, which is a showcase of ‘design art’ on a theme of “the spirt of story- telling”. We didn’t much like the exhibition; it was sort of affected and arty. There were things like a wardrobe that looked like trees, a bath that looked like a boat and a radiator that looked like a cloud. All the stuff looked really expensive and sort of sterile and new; a lot like things that don’t have any sort of story to tell. Then we went to the museum shop and Poppy found a snow lion toy! (She wrote about snow lions in the last issue) They’re from Tibet Craft, a website that sells Tibetan goods, made by Tibetans and the profits go straight back to the community that the goods come from. Poppy bought a blue snow lion from the website later.
The nearest tube station to the V&A is South Kensington. The museum was established in 1852 and has accumulated a collection of over 2,400,000 objects, and it’s FREE, which is just the best.
Another Failure: Next we wanted to go to The British Museum to see the Garden and Cosmos exhibition before Guy had to go, but there wasn’t time. We still went to Russell Square though and sat on a bench and had a coffee. Poppy was in a funny mood and took lots of pictures. Then Guy had to go, leaving Poppy alone to see the Science and Natural History Museums. So she’ll be writing this bit by herself:
Jade Arrives: I met up with our friend Jade in the Science Museum Gift Shop, while I was waiting I found toy Einstein. They had two versions. We didn’t have a huge amount of time before the two Museums closed so we had to rush a bit.
Science Museum: The Science Museum is mostly about man-made things. I was a bit confused and thought that all the stuff about the Earth’s core and geology and stuff was in there, but it is not. There’s just so much incredible stuff that it’s difficult to do a good summary, so I’m just going to write about some of my favourite bits. They have this amazing massive circle of glass that was a ‘Giant Light-Catcher’ from the Great Rosse Telescope, made by Lord Rosse in 1845. They show the light catcher next to a photo of the telescope and it was MASSIVE. It looked like a building. The flight room is really good, it’s got lots of models of old flying machines, and real flying machines suspended from the ceiling. It also has a wall of aeroplane engines. In the Science Museum’s basement is a weird domestic science area that explains the history of various household appliances. There are some manually activated demonstrations, like a flashing plastic chicken in a microwave and a flushing toilet with a synthetic poo.
The Science Museum was founded in 1857. It is cutting its carbon emissions by 10% by 2010. Also next year it will be reopening two of its galleries freshly refurbished. It’s free as well.
The Natural History Museum: We visited the Earth Galleries, rather than animals. We thought we would have time for the animals, but didn’t, which was a shame. Sadly, the best bit about this part of the Natural History Museum is the big escalator that takes you up through the Earth’s crust and into the exhibition. It’s so cool that it sort of makes the rest of the exhibition less fun. The earthquake simulation set in a Japanese shop is pretty good too. Then we had to leave. We didn’t really do the museums justice, but they are so enormous that it’s hard to, even when you’ve got all day. The Natural History Museum as we know it was established in 1881, by a man called Richard Owen. Before Owen, it was not an establishment of its own, but a collection under the control of the British Museum. They were on show in Montague House. The collection was infamously badly handled, with parts going missing, being sold and destroyed. Owen commissioned a bigger, better building and had the Natural History Museum recognised as an establishment of its own.
The Builder’s Arms: We wanted to find a pub called The Grenadier, which is apparently haunted, but lost the address; so instead we went to a historical pub called The Builders Arms. On Mondays they have a free stand up night. It was a nice old building and they have real ales. We didn’t like the atmosphere that much though, so didn’t stay for the comedy night, and instead went to meet Guy and continue our search for The Grenadier.
Meeting With Guy Again: Guy had a map and the address of The Grenadier with him, but the map was a bad one, so we were stuck again. We looked around aimlessly for a while before going back to Hammersmith and Jade’s. We got some cider on the way home. We bought Sainsbury’s Strong Dry Cider in one of those massive bottles for roughly £3. It’s worth a mention because, although it looks a bit unpleasant, the cider is alright, and it’s so cheap. Poppy insists it’s better tasting than other Big Bottled Cider Brands.
Lebanese Taverna Express: On the way home to Jade’s we got falafel wraps from a place called Lebanese Taverna Express. They were very friendly, and the falafel wraps were amazing. Really amazing. It’s on Fulham Palace Road, not far from Hammersmith Station.
Jade’s House!: We went back to Jade’s house, where we ate our falafel wraps, watching ‘Mean Girls’. We’d seen it before, and it’s brilliant. Jade lives next to the railway, so there are always trains going by, and everything in the house shakes. Afterwards we watched ‘102 Minutes That Changed America’, which, if you haven’t seen it, was absolutely incredible. It’s produced by History. It’s a compilation of video footage taken by American citizens during 9/11. It runs almost in real time, and has footage from all sorts of people and places – there are shots out of windows and at ground zero. Apparently the footage shown in 102 Minutes That Changed America was in possession of the U.S. government before they recently released it to History.
Then we went to bed. We slept in Jade’s housemate Bob’s bed. Thanks Bob.
Tuesday 8th September
We woke up early and walked to Hammersmith station and said bye to Jade, got breakfast (falafel again) and waited at the ticket office for a bit to change our Oyster Cards to Young Person’s Oyster Cards. This is a neat trick that Poppy’s friend Louis taught us. If you take your Young Person’s Railcard and Oyster Card to a ticket office, they give you a form to fill out and then drop the limit on the card by about £2. Pretty handy. Then we got on the Tube to Russell Square and The British Museum (you could also go to Holborn or Tottenham Court Road; they’re all about the same distance away..)
The British Museum: The reason we particularly wanted to go to The British Museum was because of an exhibition called Garden And Cosmos. This is a rare display of the royal court paintings from Jodhpur, India between the 17th and 19th centuries. The paintings are incredibly detailed watercolours often outlined and highlighted with gold leaf. They were held up during readings of epics about the gods, so the candlelight flickered across them and caught the gold. The paintings are already pretty otherworldly, so the effect must have been amazing. The pictures show typical court scenes of the Maharaja, divine gardens, symbolic maps of the body and the heavens, and seas of gold nothingness representing the gaps between creation. It’s pretty magic, and we’d totally recommend it if it’s still on (make sure you get any sort of concession you’re eligible for though, because the entry fee is pretty steep if you don’t (£8).. We didn’t realise, and missed out on getting in as a student…) Other than the exhibition, we went to the Rosetta Stone, and looked at Rosetta Stone-themed things in the gift shop. The Rosetta Stone is important. It’s an Ancient Egyptian stele (piece of stone or wood for writing important information on) dating from 196 BC that was instrumental in advancing modern understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphic writing. It was found in 1799 by French explorers. Reproductions of the stone’s inscriptions were circulated among historians. One reached the young Jean-François Champollion (1790-1832), a talented scholar and philologist who had mastered a dozen languages by the age of 16. In 1822 he found, through comparative translation, that the hieroglyphic system was comprised of both phonetic and ideographic signs. By 1824, he’d deciphered it.
Pollock’s Toy Museum (& ICCo & La Sandwicheria): Next on our tour was Pollock’s Toy Museum near Goodge Street, so we got the Tube there.. We were both quite hungry, and thought we could find somewhere nice to eat. One of the best places on Goodge Street is called the Italiano Coffee Company (or ICCo/ECCo), where you can get a big, made-to-order, wood-fired proper Italian pizza for as little as £3, really quickly. We didn’t go there though. Instead, we went to La Sandwicheria because it had a sale on! Poppy didn’t get much of a deal – hers came to £4.50, but Guy got a jacket potato with roasted vegetables and mustard for £1.50! Bargain. We ate it in a nice shaded park behind the main row of shops called Colville Place. It was packed out because the weather was so nice. It was cool. The man who worked in La Sandwicheria talked about how he could write a book about anyone in the cafe, but how art is not that good, and everyone should be a lawyer because it pays so well; the woman was a bit younger and hardly spoke at all, and when she did it was very abrupt and fast. The man said she spoke too much. Incredible. Pollock’s Toy Museum is just behind Goodge Street station. It’s a small house-museum of little rooms and narrow staircases packed full of toys from different countries and time periods. The museum has only been at its current site since 1969, but its history goes back way further. It was set up by Marguerite Fawdry, who bought the stock of the last Victorian toy theatre printers (Benjamin Pollock – hence the name) and exhibited it in Monmouth Street, before moving to Scala Street. The collection has grown in size and diversity to now include (our favourites) an Ancient Egyptian wooden mouse, toy boats made by a boy who died aged 8 and the world’s oldest teddy bear. It costs £4 to get in (or £3 for students!), and is open 10am-5pm Monday to Saturday.
Jeremy Bentham’s Auto Icon: After that, we walked to UCL and visited Jeremy Bentham’s Auto-Icon. It’s in the college’s South Cloisters, but it’s a bit hard to find. We asked a very nice man in the library. Bentham died in 1832 and, in his will, requested his body be preserved and ‘the whole figure may be seated in a chair usually occupied by me when living, in the attitude in which I am sitting when engaged in thought’. All instructions have been followed, except for the replacement of the real head with a wax model after it was damaged in the preservation process and stolen by students a few times. We don’t know much about Bentham’s work, other than that he designed the Panopticon, but he sounds pretty incredible – campaigning for abolition of slavery, votes for women and decriminalization of homosexuality in the 18th Century!
Brunswick Centre: Poppy had been pretty knackered all day, so getting lost on our way to ‘The Cartoon Art Trust’ (which, it turned out, didn’t physically exist, but was rather a body responsible for curating the Rowland Emett exhibition we wanted to see at The Cartoon Museum) didn’t help things at all. Oh well, we stumbled upon the Brunswick Centre, which Guy happened to have read about on the internet as being a complete monstrosity. It’s a huge concrete set-up of elevated walkways, stepped ranks of flats and tons of weird windows. Apparently no one liked it and it got really grubby, until, in 2005, it was transformed with a bit of paint and attention into a collection of small, bright flats above a light, clean shopping centre (including a cool bookshop called Skoob) and cinema. It’s a very funny place to find when you’re not looking for it. Its ‘new brutalist’ design looks all sci-fi, so it felt pretty appropriate for us to have no clue where we were or what we were doing. Anyway, after a call from our friend Will, whose house we were staying at that night, dragged us back to reality, we walked on to the Wellcome Collection.
Wellcome Collection: The Wellcome Collection describes itself as ‘a free destination for the incurably curious’, and that sort of old-school wunderkammerish approach to displaying things makes for a fantastically entertaining, accessible exhibition of science and art. It didn’t used to exhibit art, and was famous for its vast medical library, but since 2007 it’s opened two permanent exhibitions and – usually – one temporary one. When we went, this was ‘Exquisite Bodies‘, showing the history of anatomical models. It was amazing, especially the information about the mysterious Joseph Towne… We wandered around the Wellcome Collection until it closed and saw a giant jelly baby, simulated evolution and contributed to the average face. It’s great, and it’s always free! We walked out and towards the station and passed a place called Itsu (turns out it’s a chain) that does really cheap sushi. We got some Edamame beans to eat, and off we went…
Brick Lane: We got the Tube to Aldgate East and met up with Will and his friend Mary on Brick Lane. We went for a drink at The Pride Of Spitalfields and then walked to Will’s house in Bethnal Green. We cooked stuffed cabbage leaves and listened to records, and then Poppy and I got very tired and fell asleep.
Wednesday 9th September
V&A Museum Of Childhood: The next morning we both got up early and were really unfairly very hungover… We wanted to go to an organic shop on Will’s road called Friend’s Organic because it was closing down and apparently you could get amazing stuff for really cheap, but it was too early and it was shut. So we walked to the museum, but it was shut too! Guy had a horrible veggie burger from a place nearby and we sat in Victoria Park Gardens and watched a man and his fantastic dog. When the museum opened (at 10:00, not 09:00…), we had a look around. We were unlucky to be visiting between exhibitions, so they were just taking down a Roald Dahl show that looked cool. The museum felt incomplete, but would probably work a lot better with a big exhibition on alongside the permanent collection. Guy’s favourite things there were the African wire toys. Poppy’s favourite was Struwwelpeter because it looked like her (it means “shock-headed Peter” and it had blonde crazy hair and long fingernails, like Poppy..).
We didn’t spend too long in the Museum Of Childhood, and instead got the Tube to Holborn. We were both pretty hungry by then, so Poppy got two portions of soup (not at the same time), and Guy got a Boots meal deal. We ate the second soup and the meal deal in Gray’s Inn Gardens, which was a funny little place. It’s walled off and surrounded by offices and old buildings, but it’s open to the public at lunchtime from 12:00 – 14:00, or 13:00 – 14:00 or something. It was good but had that sort of artificial neatness, so it wasn’t great. We walked back to Lincoln’s Inn Fields to see the museums that had been shut on the first day – the Hunterian and Sir John Soane’s Museum.
Sir John Soane’s Museum: John Soane (1753-1837) was an English architect who specialised in the neo-classical style. His most famous buildings are probably The Bank of England and the Dulwich Picture Gallery. The museum is housed in Soane’s own home, which he bought in 1792 and extended into two neighbouring properties between 1794 and 1824. Soane designed every detail of each room, so even the smallest hallway has some sort of architectural flourish to marvel at. There are walls of oil paintings, domed ceilings, tiny windows, a basement modelled on a sepulchral chamber (containing an Ancient Egyptian sarcophagus), a working astronomical clock, a tiny courtyard, and every free space is crammed with items from his vast collection… It’s amazing. It feels like walking around in an Escher painting or something. Soane was well- known for the use of light in his architecture, and this really adds to the atmosphere of the place, making the tiny rooms seem huge, softening corners and (through the use of mirrors) creating phantom rooms beyond bookshelves. The museum was set up for the benefit of ‘amateurs and students’ in architecture, painting and sculpture, so entry is free, and there is an extensive education programme offering opportunities for schools, children, families and adults. After the Soane, we had a short walk to the Hunterian, just across Lincoln’s Inn Fields.
The Hunterian Museum: The Hunterian Museum is in the Royal College of Surgeons, and houses John Hunter‘s collection, an Odontological Collection, and the natural history collection of Richard Owen. Much of the collection is anatomical specimens arranged in jars in a new fancy huge glass display thing in the middle of the space. Around the outside is information about the history of the museum and its founder and smaller rooms containing more amazing stuff. Guy’s favourite thing here is the exhibition of old paintings of medical curiosities – conjoined twins, Maori face tattoos, rhinoceroses, a morbidly obese man – all rendered in beautiful oil painting usually reserved for the upper classes. Poppy’s favourites are the dissections of bird and lizard ovaries with eggs growing in them. There’s also keyhole surgery footage (and a simulator, if you want to have a go), before-and-after photos of early wartime facial reconstructive surgery and so much more… We went to see an exhibition on medical robots called ‘Sci-Fi Surgery‘. It was really cool. It was laid out all flash and had a few big robotic surgery aids, as well as amazing (and sometimes unintentionally very funny) videos of microrobots, and a little section dedicated to medical robots in popular culture. From this we learned more about the incredible Dr. Osamu Tezuka (creator of Astroboy etc.), and were reminded of that film The Fantastic Voyage. It was a very small exhibition – just one little room – but there was so much there to think about. It was a good exhibition in a great place. The Hunterian brilliantly balances real academic depth with accessibility and entertainment, and it’s free!
We came out of the Hunterian and walked to St. Pauls to get the Tube to our penultimate destination. On the way we walked past a funny metal sculpture in the pavement on the edge of Lincoln’s Inn Fields. We got a picture of Poppy standing by it and had a look for any signs of skateboarding, but couldn’t see any. It looked pretty hard to skate… We gave up on the idea, but then Guy stumbled across Fos (Heroin Skateboards, briefly interviewed in this issue) ollieing the gap in his part in the Osaka Daggers‘ video ‘Infection [Life]‘! Go and have a look and see how ridiculous that is! Anyway…
Postman’s Park: Finding out about Postman’s Park was a large part of the reason we wanted to visit London in the way that we did. It’s situated between Edward Street, St. Martin’s Le Grand and Little Britain, tucked between two buildings. The park is very quiet and green, with the trees poking out of each side, over the road. The reason we wanted to come here was George Frederic Watts‘ ‘Memorial To Heroic Self-Sacrifice’, a memorial to ordinary people who died saving the lives of others and might otherwise have been forgotten. Each person is remembered in the form of a tiled plaque bearing their name, age and a graphic description of the act that led to their death. The overall effect is humbling and calming. We read the plaques, took the photograph on the first page of this issue (for a Lovenskate competition), and then walked to the Tube station to go back to Waterloo and (almost) the end of our holiday.
Enis’s Café: Enis’s cafe was closed. We had read ridiculous things about it on the internet, so the fact that it was closed at 16:00 on a Wednesday was only to be expected, I suppose. The outside of the building lived up to standards though, with signs promoting cappuccino as providing “outstanding ability of mind and body” and wildly painted colours all over the walls. We found the coffee hatch under the bridge round the corner and got a picture of Poppy standing in front of it. Apparently the kitchen is covered in tin foil, and the cafe itself sells the elixir of life for £100 a jar, and the worst cappuccino in the world. We were disappointed that it was closed, but were excited to see inside a man crouched down painting a giant yellow funnel shape with a tiny brush on one of the cafe walls.
And so we reached the end of our journey. We got a train back to Poppy’s house and slept unbelievably well. It was a fantastic holiday, and we’d really recommend all the places we saw to anyone visiting London. As we said at the beginning of the article, there were a lot of places we didn’t get to go to, so look out for a follow-up!