It is with heavy hearts that we turn our tails to London. As the plane passes over the patchwork landscape of green parks and suburbs, I ponder about what I will miss most.
Reading the Metro on the tube definitely became one of my highlights. We had become so accustomed to that routine we felt like we belonged. We learnt to navigate the underground expertly in the few short weeks. London also had the most amazing array of gourmet sandwiches that I will miss. The frozen trails of the planes crisscrossing across the sky like a game of naughts and crosses on a clear day also sit fast in my mind. Today we become one of those white lines. I think I may even miss the perpetual sirens sounding in the background.
Our gracious hosts will be missed the most. Annie, Chris and Chewie (the Cavapoo) have been kind enough to open their home (and kitchen) to us for three phenomenal weeks. We will miss evening braai’s, morning smoothies, oats and lemon-ginger shots (yes, especially those). I may even miss the Reality TV and Big Brother – fingers crossed Danny wins.
We finished off our last evening in London on a longboarding tour of Hyde Park with Chris, our all-knowing tour guide. It was a bit of a nerve-wracking experience for me. My cousin and brother weaved effortlessly through the crowd and I kept having to dismount to avoid knocking over prams.
But the experience was well worth it.
We sailed along the streets, the wind in our hair and our eyes set on the beautiful sights in the park. It hummed with life. We even managed to catch a live act in the end: Spandau Ballet. Well, sort of…. We caught them warming up.
We walked through Kensington Gardens where Princess Diana stayed and wondered at the palace that stood stoic against the fading evening light. We pressed further on to skate along the main road past Westminister Abbey, Big Ben and London Eye. This put our manoeuvring skills to the ultimate test!
We spent our last morning polishing off a traditional English breakfast with bacon, egg, toast, beans and bangers coupled with a plain coffee. Not the most amazing meal we have had, but a must-do when in London. We wandered through Merton Abbey – a sort of dressed down Old Biscuit Mill, with markets and food stalls, art classes and tattoo parlour.
River Wandle that runs through Morden Hall Park cuts through here too. An old mill placed at the edge of the canal has been refurbished to a pottery studio. London makes great use of green belts, river banks and roadside verges on breaking the big city life. It is sometimes hard to remind yourself that you are one of 8.6 million in a large city when there are people strolling gently along the faded gravel road, walking their dogs or their own two feet.
Brick Lane is London’s version of Long Street- minus the security issues. It is a creative hub of arts, food and beverages. Graffiti splashes the walls and stalls line the street. It is an awesome thing to experience. We made our way to Nude Espresso coffee bar, after getting a little lost in the food and vintage markets.
En route to the coffee shop, we found Little Asia – Brick Lane – full of restaurants and stores from China, Japan, Bangladesh, India, and Iran etc… We even strolled through a textile market that had all sorts of clothing brands and colours.
Inside the coffee bar, it was pleasant and a jovial barista gladly took our iced coffee orders.
Somehow, this groovy coffee shop felt so familiar… it, and the staff, would fit right in in Cape Town. We had found the London version of Vida ‘e Caffe.
“If you want proper ice coffee made with syrup you need to visit Workshop in Regent Street…. If you have the time,” the barista advised.
We had our next mission. Although the iced coffee was good, the atmosphere was stuffy and stiff. Even though the train trip was out of the way, travelling to Oxford Circus again was worth it to greet the most commercial and populated street in London.
The styles and fashions had grown on me. The man-bun and top-knots bobbing up above the crowd were now a welcome sight and green-washed hair was now so familiar to me. I didn’t even startle at the full-sleeve tattoos and bull rings anymore. It had all become quite ordinary.
The final tube ride flew by quickly and before we knew it, we were checking in our baggage at Heathrow.
Although the whole day had been dogged by a shadow of finality, we still managed to make the best of our last few hours. That we had left didn’t set in until I saw the African sun rise in the East, soaking the sky in a Maple syrup hue. We had actually been blessed with wonderful weather in London, full of clear sunny days and warm evenings to nurture a good braai.