Around London in 80 days : day 20. On a little London corner, tucked between Tottenham Court Road Station and the now gone Enterprise Rehearsal Studios, there was a tiny Turkish café named Apricot. They sold delicious fresh food and heavenly Chai lattes. I was often in the area, the place was often opened late, and so I got used to going there when I fancied a respite from the busy city. An alternative to the pub if I fancied a quiet read with a hot drink for a change.
Around London in 80 days : day 19. 11 pm, the pub just closed. I’m waiting for my bus, deck of cards in hand. I recently started learning magic ; all by myself, it is a slow process but I keep at it. Today, I’m working on a slightly technical, but really magical-looking move. I’m so focused I don’t notice the young man who is moving closer.
Around London in 80 days : day 18. It’s in a small town in France that I realised I had become a true Londoner. I was trying to walk through a busy market place and found myself incredibly impatient : people were slow, walking in a disorganised manner, getting in the way. I felt that I was being slowed down unduly ; didn’t have time to stand around all day.
Around London in 80 days : day 17. Tap dance, ballroom, pop, continental-style bal folk, ballet, swing, musicals, clubs… London is a dancing city. And dancing, like playing music, can lift me up in a way that few other things can. Don’t get me wrong : I’m not a great dancer, far from it. That’s not the point ; just like you don’t need to be a great artist to enjoy doodling, nor a great musician to have fun on the piano, you can have two left feet and love dancing.
Around London in 80 days : day 16. London has a lot of green space ; in fact, it is said that 47% of London is green, if you add up all the parks and gardens public and private. So when I first started looking for a room, I looked at the London map, searching for the biggest green patches. That is how I ended up living in Roehampton, right next to Richmond Park.
Around London in 80 days : day 14. I have a complicated relationship with London. A relationship in phases : initial discovery, seduction, passion, first try, disillusion, second try. For many years, I was visiting it as often as I could, planning weekend or week-long trips. I’d stay in cheap Youth Hostels, go out, make friends, discover the city. Then in 2013, I decided to move here for the first time.
Around London in 80 days : day 13. I was first introduced to St Paul’s cathedral over twenty years ago by Mary Poppins, and so I will forever be particularly fond of this building. It was many years later, however, that I actually walked in the cathedral for the first time. I was starting my training as a Blue Badge Tourist Guide, and St Paul’s was on the syllabus, so I went.
Around London in 80 days : day 12. When I first moved to London, I wanted to live south of the River (a controversial choice). My main argument ? If you live South, you tend to cross bridges more often. And bridges are one of London’s best features. Well, they are a side effect of London’s best asset : the River Thames.
Around London in 80 days : day 11. Near Covent Garden, on Long Acre, is one of my favourite London shops. A window full of stacked up, stylish bikes, a small shop and a downstairs repair workshop with diligent, competent staff : London’s Brompton Junction, the official Brompton shop which saved me more than once when I needed emergency repairs. The shop itself has historical connections, as it stands on the site of the workshop from where Britain’s first hobby-horse bicycle was made and sold.
Around London in 80 days : day 10. The British Film Institute is to London what the Cinematek is to Brussels : a haven for film-lovers. And TV-lovers. Situated on the Southbank, between the Royal Festival Hall and the National Theatre, it boasts 3 screens (and reasonable ticket prices), 2 restaurants, a café, a shop and free of charge research facilities for anyone interested in the world of film & TV. Who could ask for anything more ?
Around London in 80 days : day 8. I’m at the Garrick Theatre on Charing Cross Road. It’s 2013, I’m broke and lonely in the *”*Big Smoke”, and I’ve decided to treat myself to a theatre ticket. I’ve got a “restricted view” seat (they’re cheaper) but 12 Angry Men isn’t exactly a fast play so I should be able to follow the action anyway.
Around London in 80 days : day 6.
Brussels : two hours. Paris : two hours twenty.
I have always loved train stations. Every train station, any train station. Crossed paths, departures, reunions, train journeys, fast landscapes, ephemeral encounters between anonymous travellers. Where are people going? What are they fleeing? Who are they joining?
Around London in 80 days : day 5.
London is a grey city, known for its cold temperatures, its darkness and its rain.
I feel it this week more than ever. The rain hasn’t stopped for days ; it has taken over the streets, flooded the park, and even found its way to my room, its slow, persistent drips a constant reminder of the grim outside world.
Around London in 80 days : day 4.
Clichés exist for a reason : Italians move houses with a collection of pasta and tanks of olive oil, Germans like pretzels, and the French love cheese. I am Belgian, and so I like chocolate — hot chocolate, in particular.
Of course, one could argue that most people like pasta, pretzels, olive oil AND chocolate, regardless of where they are from. Perhaps. But having grown up with the smell of melting chocolate bars and hot milk, I daresay I have some authority on the matter.
Around London in 80 days : day 3.
Newly arrived in London, I’m invited to a folk dancer’s birthday party. Lovely evening, great food, music… and encounters ! Most people are dancers of one sort or another, and they happily exchange knowledge in a long improvised dance workshop (“I don’t do French-style bal folk but I’m great at Morris dancing : it’s easy, you’ll see !”).
Around London in 80 days : day 1.
November 2018. I leave the National Gallery quite late (it stays opened until 9pm on Fridays and I am taking full advantage of the extra time — I have an exam to prepare after all). I step out onto Trafalgar Square, ready for a brisk walk to the tube and its reassuring warmth. But I’m stopped in my tracks by the spectacle in front of me.