Day 2: High Streets & Low Culture

“I’m going nowhere with nowhere to go”

- Al Stewart, Soho (Needless to Say)

Today was a work day for Lyn so my plan was to grab my map and my Walkman and check-out London. Unlike many travelers I don’t really have an agenda or an itinerary. I don’t really care if I see the famous stuff. I just like to walk around and immerse myself in the local culture. But first, coffee.

Coffee culture is weird in England because they don’t have regular brewed/drip coffee. Everything is espresso-based, which kind of sucks. So you have to choose between cappuccino (too foamy), latte (too milky) or Americano (too watery). Sure, I could just go to Starbucks and get a coffee, but that violates my two travel rules: buy local & never go to the same place twice.

Not too far from the hotel I found the Scooter Caffe on Lower Marsh Street:

No real coffee here

No real coffee here

From there I meandered over to the Waterloo tube stop (where I saw a British dude in a Larry Bird jersey!) to buy an Oyster card and make my way to Shoreditch in the East End. For musical accompaniment I chose Al Stewart’s Just Yesterday box set. It was perfect, listening to British folk while heading out of the city center.

The East End is purported to be the hipster part of town which promised a fun day of slightly seedy adventures – my kind of place. Getting off the train I saw this weird pop-up park where people were sunbathing and watching boring Euro sports (bicycling?):

They sure are pasty here

They sure are pasty here

Apparently it was part of a whole pop-up outdoor mall where each store was the size of a closet. It was pretty cool. I did not actually shop.

Real deals on name brands

Real deals on name brands

This graffiti mural captured the vibe of Shoreditch:

I like the graffiti but not the graffiti on it

I like the graffiti but not the graffiti on it

I then spent a while walking up and down Shoreditch High Street. In America we call them “Main Street”. There was a nice mix of seedy lots and upscale stores. I’m happy to report that a vinyl record store named “Sister Ray” was under construction. It looks like Lou Reed finally made it big in England.

Here’s the view down Shoreditch High Street:

Sure, I'll ditch work and hit the pub with you

Sure, I’ll ditch work and hit the pub with you

From there I needed to have breakfast (you people call it lunch – it was 3:00) and knew that a proper English pub would be the place. I used my beer divining skills to find The Water Poet:

Bury me here

Bury me here

I availed myself to some Camden Hells Lager (quite good) and a fish & chips. The key to surviving in London is just to pretend that the prices are normal American. So $16 sounds reasonable for a pint and a plate – much better than the $32 it really cost.

Cod? I've haddock.

Cod? I’ve haddock.

I limited myself to two pints (day drinking) and observed the locals. First, smoking is still very popular. But as a child reared by Bruce Willis I say “smoke ‘em if you got ‘em”. Secondly, they say “fuck” like every other word. Thirdly, they’re quite friendly but I can’t understand a goddamned word (besides fuck) they say, between the mumbling, the accents, the odd word choice and the general inebriation. Finally, what happened to British music? Somehow they made the best rock in the 60s and 70s but the current music is awful.

Reluctantly leaving The Water Poet I headed back towards the city and Liverpool Street. This is a view of the “famous” lipstick building (I never heard of it before so it can’t be that famous):

Find the bus!

Find the bus!

I made my way over to Spitalfields Market area which was quite lovely:

St. Swiggins?

St. Swiggins?

The actual Spitalfields Market is like a flea market surrounded by chain restaurants. As usual, I did not buy anything:

Where are the bootleg DVDs and ninja stars?

Where are the bootleg DVDs and ninja stars?

My last stop before heading back to Westminster was White Chapel High Street and the White Chapel Gallery. It was some crap modern art exhibit, but I’d much rather see some bad art than military monuments and stuff. Fight the power, mannnnnn!

After meeting up with Lyn we crossed over the Thames to the Embankment Gardens, which were lovely. The crazy thing is that the park was full of people just hanging out and boozing – the kind of thing you could never imagine happening in the Common or the Public Garden.

They should have taps built into the gate.

They should have taps built into the gate.

Fully embracing the spirit of pub culture I took Lyn to a real pub for some G&Ts. There’s not much A/C here so the locals escape the heat but getting their drinks in plastic cups and just hanging out in the street in front of the pub. It’s like al fresco dining without the food or tables:

I like this place!

I like this place!

Next, we walked through Charing Cross on the way to dinner. I don’t recall why Charing Cross is famous but I vaguely remember reading a book called 84 Charing Cross Road so I figured I should take a picture of it:

This might be famous

This might be famous

We went to a fun Mexican street food place called Wahaca for dinner, even though they serve small plates. The problem with small plates is that you pay twice as much for half the food and never have enough of the stuff you like and are stuck with too much stuff you don’t like. That’s how they get you!

After dinner we walked through the West End,¬†Strand and the theatre district and Trafalgar Square. I don’t know who Trafalgar was, but that’s a huge ass statue on a tall column.

You can't see Trafalgar here, it was too dark

You can’t see Trafalgar here, it was too dark

Finally we looped back around to Westminster and passed this guy again. Tourists are legally required to take a picture of Big Ben every time you walk by him. It’s hard to capture in pictures or describe in words just how ornate Parliament and the Tower are. It’s really beautiful and impressive:

Hey kids...

Hey kids…

Last and least is the Eye of London. It looks cool all lit up at night but there’s no way I’m going on a boring Ferris wheel that takes an hour to go around. I’ve got maybe 15 minutes of Ferris wheel in me, tops.

Are there bathrooms on the cars?

Are there bathrooms on the cars?

Thus concludes day 2. Tomorrow…the Beatles!

###

Comments are closed.