London: An Introduction.

Fountain and National Gallery
The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square.

Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner, that I love London so…as the oft-repeated song goes. Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner, born and raised in the East End that I love London so but I don’t think it is, it’s so much more than that.

It’s a 2am bagel from Brick Lane, it’s the sense of wonder standing in the British museum atrium staring up at Sir Norman Fosters glass roof, it’s a French/Hungarian/Indonesian/Japanese/take your pick meal from Soho, it’s street theatre in Covent Garden’s piazza, it’s gazing at the Magna Carta in the British library, it’s shoe shopping in Selfridges, it’s window shopping in Harrods, it’s the neo-gothic extravaganza of the Houses of parliament, it’s the sense of reward for the effort of climbing ‘The Monument’ and seeing the views. It’s whatever you want it to be.

It’s a city of contrasts, it is two cities for the price of one, the ancient city of London and the slightly less ancient city of Westminster, it’s a dynamic city that is constantly changing and re-inventing itself pushing the boundaries of fashion, art, music and theatre yet it is a historic city steeped in tradition where no matter how much things change it’s always familiar, always the same, which is infinitely comforting in this great metropolis.

It’s a city where you can always see or learn something new no matter how many times you’ve seen that particular street or area. It may be a blue plaque commemorating Oscar Wilde’s former home in Chelsea or learning the Lord Nelson is keeping a watchful eye over his fleet which line the lampposts of the Mall from his lofty perch atop his column in Trafalgar Square.

It’s a city where you can be in the hustle and bustle at any time, where you can dance until 7am in Fabric but if you need a breather (or an early night) there are numerous things you can do to relax and get respite from the sheer energy of this sometimes exhausting city. A walk in one of several royal parks, sure. A coffee at the Waterside Café in Little Venice, why not?

It’s ice skating in Somerset house or the Tower of London in the winter and it’s rooftop film clubs and cocktail bars in the summer. It’s the city of punk music, the miniskirt,  concerts in Hyde Park or the 02 arena and the city of Royal palaces, Beefeaters and St. Paul’s Cathedral. It’s the city where, in the right spot, you can get a picture of a 1000-year-old castle and the largest building in Western Europe.

That’s the beauty of London. In any of its 33 distinct neighbourhoods, with their own looks, sounds and smells, you’re never far away from your next adventure thanks to the 150 year old engineering marvel known as the tube. In 20 minutes you can go from the grunge centre of Camden to the well-heeled, affluent environs of Knightsbridge or 20 minutes from admiring at a Da Vinci in the National gallery to being awestruck by dinosaur remains at the Natural History museum.

It’s often said that London is a microcosm of the world but if you’re feeling particularly active you can experience this first hand on one 5-mile long stretch of road. Start off on King William street and head north through the financial heartland of Bishopsgate continuing up Shoreditch High street and continuing up Kingsland Road then further up to the predominantly afro-Caribbean area of Dalston and then into the mumsy area of Stoke Newington and further still into Europe’s largest Hasidic Jewish community of Stamford Hill.

It’s not a trip for the faint hearted or if you’re not wearing sensible shoes but in few other places, if any, can you experience such diversity on one single stretch of road. Besides, there’s  plenty of options to refuel; you can grab a bowl of pho from Song Que in little Hanoi in Shoreditch or a kebab from Mangal 1 in Dalston or a cholla from Grodzinskis in Stamford Hill.

London has, for centuries, attracted people from all over the world in search of a better life and this helps make London one of the world’s most diverse cities with over 300 languages spoken daily. There are the Caribbean communities of Notting Hill, Dalston and Brixton, the Bangladeshi communities of Whitechapel and Brick Lane, the Jewish communities of Golders Green and Stamford Hill, the Portuguese community around South Lambeth and the Middle Eastern enclave around Edgware Road.

People come to London to party, they come to view the palaces like Buckingham and Hampton court, they come to go on walks that takes in the very different London’s of Charles Dickens and Jack the Ripper, they come for world-class art, both modern at the Tate Modern and traditional at the Tate Britain and National Gallery, they come for what is currently the world’s most innovative theatre and they come to see, to explore, to take in this great city where anything is possible.

Samuel Johnson once said that “…when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford” and that statement is as true now as when it was uttered in 1777.

London goes by a few names, some call it ‘LDN’, some call it ‘The Big Smoke’ and some call it ‘Swinging London Town’.

Me, I call it the capital of the world.

Welcome to London, you’re going to love it.

Thanks for reading.

Terry

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