My previous two posts on this subject painted a less than attractive picture of living in London. They need to be balanced, to some degree, by this post about the positive side of London Life. After all, if it was that terrible, nobody would stay there, would they?
London has many parks, and most are well-known, even to outsiders. Perhaps the best two parks are the ones most used by locals, and less known to visitors to the centre. Primrose Hill, between Camden Town, and St. John’s Wood, offers one of the best views over London available from anywhere in the Capital. A short climb up the hill, which is surrounded by a small park, rewards the visitor with a marvellous vista, stretching across Central London to the river, and beyond. When it has been snowing, toboggans and sleds appear suddenly, and local children and adults alike, take advantage of the steep incline, to enjoy the closest you can get to winter sport in the City. On Firework Night, or New Year’s Eve, locals make the climb, in any weather, to enjoy the free show of fireworks from every area of London, visible as from no other location. On hot summer days, lovers, friends, and families take picnics to the hill and the park, to enjoy the open space, and get some relief from the heat inside the area’s small homes. There are occasional tourists, wandering there from Camden Market, or after a visit to nearby Regent’s Park Zoo, but most are local people, making full use of this amenity.
On the other side of London, south of the Thames, lies the area of Greenwich and Blackheath. This is also on high ground, and the park houses the famous Royal Observatory, with the whole area being a must-see for travellers on riverboat trips along the Thames. The view from this high point offers the splendour of The Queens House, The National Maritime Museum, and the Old Naval College and Hospital. You can also see the Millennium Dome, now called The O2 Arena.
You will also see tourists inside the grounds of The Observatory, straddling the line of the Prime Meridian, thus being photographed in both halves of the World at once. South of the park, and across the busy main road, is the large public grassland called Blackheath. This is popular with kite-fliers, and home to football grounds for minor league players, as well as vast areas where any outdoor activity can be enjoyed. In the small town of Greenwich, there is a popular weekend market, and two famous vessels moored in dry dock, as visitor attractions; these are The Cutty Sark, a tea clipper that is the symbol of Greenwich to many, and the Gipsy Moth lV, the first ship to be sailed single-handed around the World. The area is best visited outside the summer tourist boom, with the leaves turning brown on the trees in the park, and stronger winds, ideal for kites.
The other great joy of living in London, and the one that I miss the most, is the ability to eat out, with a selection of restaurants and cafes unsurpassed anywhere in Europe. This applies especially to the central area, north of Oxford Street, and stretching up to Camden Town, and beyond. I do not believe that there is any cuisine that is not catered for. I know of Mongolian, Armenian, and Eritrean restaurants, alongside the more familiar Turkish, Chinese, Japanese, and Greek eateries. Arabian tea bars, with customers sitting outside on large cushions, sipping mint tea, or enjoying shisha pipes, Italian espresso bars, popular since the 1950’s, and traditional English cafes, serving a full breakfast, all sit side by side.
When I was young, eating out was restricted to Pie and Mash, Jellied Eels, Fish and Chips, or the occasional foray to Limehouse, to enjoy a basic Chinese meal. By the late 1970’s, this had all changed, and anything imaginable was available.
During the last 12 years, I have had to travel no further than the area from Charlotte Street to Camden Town, to find delightful restaurants, at all price levels. In Camden alone, the choice is so great, I did not manage to visit them all, during the time I lived there. From the recent addition of the mighty Gilgamesh, which is worth a visit to marvel at the interior, even if you do not wish to eat there, to the older establishments on Parkway, and every street in between, there is something to cater for every taste. Inverness Street, a pedestrianised street market, is home to no less than six restaurants, including Hache, where they serve the best burgers in London, and Bar Solo, where you can enjoy a three course meal, or just have a coffee outside, and watch the life on Camden’s streets. Further along, there is Bar Gansa, a Tapas Bar, with live flamenco on Mondays, and Made in Brasil, a place with a great atmosphere, especially when Brazil are playing football! I have enjoyed many happy evenings, and some great food, in all of these, and more.
So, not all of London Life is to be demonised, or reviled. Wandering around Soho, or Chinatown, can be relaxing and enjoyable too. The unusual bookshops of Charing Cross Road, or the antique shops of Camden Passage in Islington, provide a nice diversion when you have time to spare. When the tourist season is at a low ebb, and the workers commuting in and out have gone home, London can offer much to those who actually live there. I am glad that I did live there, and equally glad that I no longer do.