I can get fat on gourmet food in London.
The city seems to be bursting with markets, street vendors and restaurants wherever we turn. Delicious smells are always wafting through the air, seducing us. Freshly baked bread, crispy bacon, newly roasted coffee… this cacophony of scents attack your senses and you become drunk on the aroma. So much so that walking past an open market becomes the ultimate test of willpower.
While in London we have had the opportunity to attend several markets, like Camden, Urban Forest and Green Market at Borough. But if you keep your ears to the ground there are many more fairs and bazaars popping up. Although the food may be pricey – they serve dishes that will melt in your mouth or have that perfect crunch when you bite into it. It is blended with just the right amount of flavour and the portions will just be big enough to leave space for a little more.
These marketplaces are always bustling with people and choices that it is hard to navigate to explore your options. I have no coping mechanism. My healthy lifestyle has also flown out the window. I will have to wait to get back to South Africa again.
Making decisions really is a skill and one that I lack. The more options presented to me the more torn and confused I get. An art exhibit on the South Bank today elucidated that aspect yet again. Chris and Annie had booked the 1 ‘o clock slot at the Hayward Gallery to view the interactive contemporary works of Carsten Höller, a Belgian artist. The whole layout of the exhibit was the draw attention to decision-making and question perception.
The entrance into the gallery included a wander through a pitch dark steel maze, where one has to rely on senses other than sight to navigate to the end. This was quite a testy exercise because the maze twisted and turned, echoed with many footsteps and sloped up or down so it was easy to loose your footing. Once through, we were confronted by an exposition called the Pill Clock, which invites the viewer to swallow a pill without knowing the ingredients.
“It’s just sugar water,” a gallery attendant winked at us, assuring us of its contents.
So we all decided to down the red pill, making Matrix lovers proud.
The gallery was large so it really did challenge decision-making skills. We would not have time in our designated slot to visit all exhibits. My favourite would be the Upside-Down Goggles. We were given a set and told to go outside to apply it to the exterior world. The effect was zany and sickening. I was trying to comprehend where I was walking by looking down to see up or was it down to see down? I can’t recall.
The exhibit ended once again with a choice – the left or right staircase. The staircases led to slides which twisted like curly fries to the bottom. I must admit I chickened out last minute. but Ruan, Annie and Chris enjoyed it.
The South Bank was bustling with people, stores and options. We went straight to the first food vendor – conveniently a delicious burger joint. The sun was warm enough to bake us when it peered from behind the clouds. Otherwise, it’s a bit chilly – but that’s how the weather is in London. After we wined and dined Chris took us on a tour of South Bank while Annie went home to check on Chewie.
Walking with Chris is like taking a tour with a history book. Having lived in London for ten years with a thirst for knowledge, he keenly pointed out buildings, structures and ships, summarising their history with ease.
The river is also an inspiration of many Impressionist artworks, like Monet.
The South Bank is line with artists, street performers and crazy antics, all vying for your eye and your pocket. The theme changes from place to place, but it always feels like you have your personal orchestra playing the melody for your scene. Music changes from a swinging Spanish guitar to popular chords like Kings of Leon, to a lone man sitting on a corner playing his eerie flute with grubby hands, There really are all sorts.
Navigating the people are tough. Most of them are tourists and are here to sight-see, making it challenging to slip past them. All I hear is clicking, mumbling, orating, spitting, singing, berating and laughing. As if the sights and smells aren’t an assault on your senses enough!
The City has really put effort into presentation and upkeep along the Queen’s Walkway. Interesting sculptures line the paved pathway, neatly framed by the tall trees that arch overhead. The view from South Bank is exquisite. You can see old London – grand Gothic architecture, and new London where buildings like the Shard and “the Gherkin” dominated the skies.
The Tower of London is an impressive sight indeed. The brick walls stand astute and stoic against the new London backdrop. The castle was first constructed in 1078 AD by William the Conqueror. Since then it has endured many modifications and withstood many battles. Today it holds the Crown Jewels. It must have been an imposing yet awe-inspiring site back in the day. However, today it is hard to spot because it is so much smaller than the looming structures behind it.
It is easy to forget in the bustle of everyday life that London is a city layered with so much history and that it wasn’t always the staggering size it is today, hosting 8.6 million people. In 1500 BC it was a small settlement near Vauxhall Bridge. For a large part of its history, it was under Roman occupation, reaching a population of 60 000 in 200 AD.
Our short three-week stay is not enough to drink in the history and culture of London. But we sure are trying our best to get around to everything we can, with only a week left.