Tuesday, 4 February 2014

London Tourist - rediscovering home: 5 places to see in London

It's too easy to forget what's on your own doorstep; the old adage 'out of sight out of mind' is irrelevant in travel - it's quite the opposite. 

With 15 years beneath my belt being a vilified Londoner I seem to have forgotten the beauty of a city that has ranked number one for global tourist destinations. Following nearly five years of "campaign London" starting with the Royal Engagement, Royal Wedding, Queen's Jubilee, Olympics and recently ending with the new Prince the spotlight has even helped me reinvigorate the love for the capital and rediscover my environment.

1. Stepping onto Portobello Road for the first time in over 10 years, while it's much smaller than I remember, much less Bric-a-Brac and significantly more chain stores - and it has lost its historical edge, what it doesn't lose is the backdrop of Victorian Britain. The beauty of the colourful streets reimagine life here over a century ago when horse and cart were commonplace and the market was the centre of all refinery and wealth. Today, other than marvelling overly priced antiques it's the remaining independent stores that take my fancy. 

We stop in a burger joint for the biggest baddest burgers and fresh lemonade that I haven't had in an age - the prices mediocre as costs in the capital have continued to soar over the past decade, I assure you that there's no stopping them and finding a bargain is next to near impossible. 

2. Then just a couple of weeks before Christmas the city is ablaze with fairy lights and the festive dusting covers the city as I flit between the quirky - Vauxhall Tavern for its sing-a-long cabaret night and I show a visiting blogger around London's gay night life being reminded that fun can be had on a weeknight without much expense nor heavy head next day. 

3. And a visit to Winter Wonderland was perhaps the biggest spectacular surprise I've experienced as a Londoner for a number of years. This mammoth indulgence in Christmas brought the spirit and the excitement alive as thousands squeezed into Hyde Park and meandered around the fairground, markets and food stall supping on Mulled Wine and local beers.

4. Next stop Camden, the last time I visited this infamous destination I was a student. The place was quirky, historic, shabby, with drugs being sold on every corner; shop fronts bulging out onto the road, litter strewn across the streets, rats scurrying out of view and a multicultural diverse community of hipsters, punks and tourists. Today the place has been gentrified, very much middle class Britain with its cultural heritage diluted and the magic essence that made it Camden (like Carnaby Street was once the backdrop to 1970's Britain) pretty much evaporated,

The streets are clean and free from exploding shops, the markets are now laden with European imported goods, extravagant food stalls and the same groups of tourists that inhabited it many years ago. The hipsters and punks have all but gone and now any well to do respectable citizen will proclaim to having spent the day In Camden. For me, the walk was pleasant on a slightly frosty day as the winter sun spilled into the alleys and courtyards of the refurbished market but the touch I remembered had vanished.
5. My London finale was a trip down Oxford Street shopping with Mum for Christmas, the still not pedestrianised road is becoming more treacherous as the years go on, but the remarkable festive magic goes from strength to strength as the large stores of Selfridges,  House of Frazer, Debenhams, John Lewis, et al all put on spectacular visual displays in their shop fronts. Escape the crowds by eating In the side alleys but always go early to avoid the crowds.

London 2013 still works for me, but the changes have stripped places of the individuality they once owned and still there are changes that should take place. Perhaps my biggest disappointment about London, as one of the leading capitals and number one choice for tourists is its gay Pride event - whether it being marred by financial difficulties the fact remains that one of the most progressive countries in the world fails to deliver a first class pride precession baffles me, and even more so that financially burdened Spain can put on a show three times it's size in Madrid. Which incidentally spurs me to continue travelling, appreciate London for what it is - home - and that my doorstep is the world.