There are many cities in this country that I know very little. I’ve visited them all, but it’s been for work, so I know the well-trodden route between train station and office, and not much else. Birmingham, Manchester and Newcastle fall into this category, but the city that takes the crown is London.
I have to admit that I’ve been scared of London. I know that this makes me sounds like a provincial small town girl, but the sheer scale of the place, coupled with my deep mistrust of the Tube has turned me into a nervous wreck every time I go there for work. I’ve been once as a tourist, in the summer of 2006 with one of my closest friends who did her best to help me overcome my fears, but the heat of June, my early pregnancy, and the number of people crammed into a Tube carriage because of political marches above ground did not really reduce my anxieties – although deciding to get on a boat to Greenwich was a wonderful solution.
Still, they say the best way to overcome a fear is to face it head on. I’d decided to spend a day alone in London as a tourist as part of my 35:35 Challenge, when I was given the opportunity this week to tag along on a trip there with a friend, who was going for a medical appointment prior to her emigration to the USA. She’s clearly far braver than I am, and will be heading out there soon to live with her equally lovely husband, who once sent me new socks all the way from the States because I was moaning so much about having only odd ones…
After a pleasant journey down, during which we caught up on the gossip in each others’ lives and ate Danish pastries, we got to Kings Cross Station. Apart from when I travel there for work, the only time I am in Kings Cross is when I am running in a blind panic between the train and St Pancras International to get the Eurostar. It’s not a lie to say that every time I have had a connection to Paris, the first train has been delayed. There is no wonder the mere mention of London makes me anxious!
We spent a little time in St Pancras international. It is a stunningly beautiful station and full of lovely shops, including a branch of Paul, the wonderful French bakery where I stocked up on lunch (a sandwich and a palmier) before getting our first taxi of the day to the doctors.
After a successful medical appointment, we then set off for the touristy part of the day. Unfortunately, as it was half term week, the rest of the world had also decided to visit the Natural History Museum, and with a two hour wait in the rain looking likely, we sought refuge in the Victoria & Albert museum instead.
Which, if you didn’t know (like me) – is just next door. First up, more food, in the form of tea and scones, then a tour around the Medieval tapestries, silver, stained glass, and the theatre and costume sections of the museum. We also had a look around the temporary exhibit, ‘The House of Annie Lennox‘, which contains, amongst other things, a selection of Annie Lennox’s video costumes, creatively curated in a space that I found reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland.
Finally we headed back to the station via Peyton and Byrne where I bought my fourth cake of the day (I know, I know, but I’ve eaten cabbage all week) a raspberry cupcake. I actually managed to save this one for the next day, so it doesn’t count anyway…
What I’ve learnt from the day (apart from just how much cake I can consume and not feel sick) is that I am not scared of London. What has caused the fear is just getting the Tube (which I will really never like) from station to station and not really having any understanding of where anything is in relation to anything else. As well as not knowing that the V&A is next to the NHM, I didn’t know that the Wolseley café restaurant is next to the Ritz hotel, or that both of them are on the same street as Fortnum and Mason. I didn’t know where they were in relation to the theatre district. I didn’t know where Regent’s Park is in relation to Westminster. All of these things, I discovered in one day’s worth of taxi rides. Being above ground instead of under it means that every time you turn a corner, there is another landmark you recognise, another museum or store you want to visit or restaurant you want to eat in. It shrinks the city into something more manageable. And I’m not scared of it any more. I want to go back; to explore a corner of the city on my own. So to my lovely friend, thank you for helping me start my love affair with London. I am already making plans for my next visit!