When we last saw our hero, she was getting ready for Day 3 in London…
Saturday: Since I missed the East End Tour on Friday, I decided to go on Saturday instead! The tour started at Liverpool Street Station, so I headed there first thing. Luckily, there is a Starbucks in the station so I was able to get a few messages out to Joey suggesting a few places to meet for tea later in the day. The tour was smaller than the first I’d taken… it was me, a family of 4, two college-age students from Australia, and an English dad and his son, all led by our tour guide, who had a fantastic mustache.
Now, I wasn’t incredibly crazy about this tour, but we did get to learn some interesting history: apparently the Liverpool Street Station was originally Bethlehem Mental Hospital (colloquially called “Bedlam,” which is where we got the phrase meaning “madness”) back in the days when mental hospitals weren’t incredibly common. Then, apparently, the wonders of capitalism opened up the hospital for tourism! What an awful thought.
We walked into the actual city of London, which is really a tiny, tiny area governed entirely by banks. The bankers do apparently have a disturbing amount of power in Parliament. We saw Old Spitalfield Market, which was cool because I actually learned about Victorian London food systems in a class I took last year, as well as some really, really old ruins of the burial grounds that used to surround the hospital that Spitalfield was named for. And we learned as much as we could about Jack the Ripper, which really isn’t much because no one really knows anything about him.
Then we saw some street art, which I guess was cool but isn’t really my jam. I’d say my main takeaway from this tour was the general feel I got for the East End, past and present: a real melting pot of immigrants, lower-class people figuring out how to get by in such a huge, international, at times incredibly unsafe city. The danger comes from many places: poverty, violence, fire, raw sewage flowing down your street… I got to see parts of the city I wouldn’t have otherwise seen, or known what to make of, or wouldn’t have probably felt comfortable walking through all alone.
I then made my way back to Starbucks to see what kind of plan Joey had formed in my absence. Not a great one, it turned out, since we had decided on an even worse meeting place than the previous day’s… the Tube stop in the neighborhood where we’d be having tea. It turns out that a Tube stop is actually the worst place to meet someone if you won’t be able to call each other and you aren’t exactly sure what time you will arrive. But we finally found each other and walked to the cutest little tea place.
This is probably my biggest concrete endorsement for things to do in London: GO TO THE MUFFIN MAN TEA SHOP IN KENSINGTON. There are lots of walking tours, and I’m sure they’re all great; there are lots of museums, and I know they’re all great. But seriously, if you are on a budget and you want to experience a quaint, delicious, affordable tea, this is the place you need to go. It was adorable. Their carrot cake was probably the best I’ve ever had (sorry, Mom and Ms. Lynn). The clotted cream I stole from Joey was delicious. And you can have a decent English high tea for 5-7 £. (At this point, my camera decided to die, so Joey has all the pictures.)
As we enjoyed our tea, scones, and cake, Joey and I conversed about our common UT experience, our study abroad experience, and other random life things. It was nice and relaxed. However, during this time I was also fiddling with my shoe and actually loosened the heel such that it was definitely about to come off. I figured I could get through the next day and then get them repaired in Dresden.
After tea, we walked around in the incredibly posh surrounding neighborhoods of Chelsea, Kensington, and Notting Hill. If you wanted to go into a really cute book shop or antique shop or something, I guess this is where you’d do it. I think this is the area Princess Diana is from, and of course it’s where the cinema classic Notting Hill took place so you know it’s legit.
At this point, I think we headed to the British Museum with the intent of actually seeing a few exhibits, but by the time we got there, it was just closing, so we changed our plan a little bit. We walked over to the nearby Piccadilly Circus to see what all the fuss was about. From what I could tell, it’s like London’s version of Time’s Square… some big screens around, lots of big commercial things like Ripley’s Believe It Or Not and some theaters… we decided it would be best to find a pub somewhere and sit down with a beer.
Figuring that most places in this area would be super expensive, we were very choosy and ended up finding a Pret first and getting a sandwich. Pret is weird in that they charge you more for your food if you’re planning to eat in the restaurant, so we took our food outside. We ended up getting really cold and just going into the nearest bar, which was actually a great decision, because the beer was delicious and very affordable! So we enjoyed our beer and some more great conversation, casually observing everyone else’s ridiculous Halloween costumes. Then we headed back to our respective homes after deciding on a sane and reasonable meeting place for the next day: the church next to my hostel.
Sunday: As it turned out, my hostel was actually right next door to an apparently well known Anglican Use Church. I had never been to an Anglican Use Mass before, but a friend of mine wrote his Plan II thesis about Anglican Use in Texas, so I knew a little about it, and because it was so close by (to me, not to Joey at all), it was the natural option for Sunday Mass. It was really beautiful (despite the interesting use of space in the church, haha). They used wonderful music and the visiting priest gave a great homily.
Afterwards, we stayed for tea and biscuits with some of the parishioners. One very friendly guy told us all about Our Lady of Walsingham, an apparition of Mary very important to the Anglo-Catholic Church, and introduced us to the organist, who promptly made it weird by asking if we were visiting the church because we wanted to get married there. After uncomfortably laughing our way through the explanation that we are just friends from college, we decided to leave and get some lunch, which was not as easy as I had expected because all the restaurants on the main street in Battersea were apparently closed for Sunday lunch. So we ended up going into town, where I made things difficult by being incredibly indecisive… we ended up getting deciding on an Asian fast food place, of sorts.
Then, we finally made it to the British Museum, where we perused their Europe exhibit, which was simultaneously interesting and disappointing. For instance, they had a whole room devoted to clocks and watches through the years, and then a room half the size devoted to the entire 20th century, which mainly included Russian plates and cutlery that looked like it was from Ikea (and which did not reference either of the World Wars). There was one big room displaying items from Europe between 1400-1800 and William Shakespeare didn’t get a single mention. It was odd.
We then bopped around north central London for a bit, walking through a couple of parks on our way to King’s Cross Station, which it turns out isn’t really near anything, but any self-respecting Harry Potter fan needs to go to take the touristy picture near Platform 9 3/4, so that’s what we did! We waited in a line filled with children and their parents, proudly donned our chosen House’s scarves (Ravenclaw all the way!), and posed for professional photographs we were too cheap to pay for while also forgetting to turn on the flash of our own cameras, rendering our personal photos entirely too blurry. But, alas, it happened and we were very excited.
Then we walked around the surrounding neighborhood for about 25 minutes (it seemed like an eternity because my feet were absolutely killing me!) looking for somewhere that would sell us dessert. Joey had a craving for a chocolate souffle, of all things, and while that request may have been entirely unrealistic, we didn’t find a single (open) place that even served food. So we headed back to the station and ate there. I had a strawberry tart and some tea and it was glorious.
However, during this time I also realized that during our trek through London, the heel of my boot (like, the bottom rubber-y part, not the entire heel) had entirely fallen off. So that was a bummer, but I was leaving the next morning, so I guess it wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened. (I did take the boots to a cobbler yesterday, and it was surprisingly affordable to fix BOTH shoes, as it looks like the other heel is about to go, as well. So no worries, I won’t be without my black boots this winter!)
As it started to get late, I realized that I should probably figure out how I would go about getting to the airport in the morning. Luckily, as we were at King’s Cross, I could buy a train ticket to the airport right there, so I did, and we slowly made our way back home. It was really great to spend some time with a friend from home, and Joey was a great host in his new city. It’s a lot of fun to travel solo and explore a new city on your own, but it is a different kind of fun to share it with a friend.
(And I suppose it’s worth mentioning that at my hostel gave a half-price drink ticket to all guests, and I made the fantastic decision to have a Lynchburg Lemonade before I went to bed. Whiskey makes everything better.)