Geeky London

Or: Where Dr. Who, Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes, and James Bond go for a cup of tea

If you’re into literature, London may be your Pandora’s box. Known as a very popular set for novels and stories, it has always been an oasis of inspiration to many writers and creators. And I have never seen a city where literature is so omnipresent and integrated into the everyday life of its residents as in London. Therefore, here comes a Geek Guide to London for all the fans of Dr. Who, Harry Potter, Sherlock, and James Bond.

1. “It’s bigger on the inside.”

Have you ever dreimg_2513amed of travelling through time and space with a madman in a blue Police Box, saving the world from the Darleks and the evil side of the universe in a non-Star Wars way? Then you might want to drop by at “The Baker Street Emporium” and knock on the door of the infamous Tardis. Even if the Doctor’s not home, you can take a picture and pretend you went on an exciting adventure.

Exit tube at Baker Street Station

Calculated budget: none

 

 

2. “Hold tight and pretend it’s a plan.”

This is what Dr. Who paradise looks like: an entire shop filled to the brink with merchandise of the TV series (and a Tardis as well, but in my opinion, it’s not as nice as the one near Baker Street). In case you’re in desperate need of a present for a Dr. Who enthusiast, you’ll find whatever you’ve been looking for right here.

Exit tube station at Upton Park Station

Calculated budget: depends on how much you’d like to spend

 

3. “Elementary, my dear Watson.”

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When you’re in London, there’s no way you can’t go visit the world’s most famous adress of the most beloved fictional character of all time: 221b Baker Street. After buying the ticket at the shop right below the museum, you’re granted entrance to the private rooms of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson. To every fan’s delight, you can take as many pictures as you like – even on the two chairs in front of the fireplace with the deerstalker and magnifying glass. But don’t forget to pick up Mr. Holmes’ business card in case you may need his help one day.

Insider tipp: visit at 5 pm to avoid queuing for entrance and taking photographs

Opening times: 09.30 am – 06.00 pm (closed on Christmas Day)

Calculated budget: £15 – £30 per person (including souvenir budget)

 

4. “We solve crimes, I blog about it, and he forgets his pants.”

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If the modern BBC series of Sherlock is more up your alley and you’d like to see where the magic happens, North Gower Street is the place to go. Since this is merely a filming location, it’s only a house façade and a café that await you here. But if you’re lucky enough to get a table at Speedy’s, you can admire a whole gallery of fanart and photographs from behind the scenes of filming the series. And I hear the Sherlock Wrap is pretty tasty…

187 North Gower Street, London NW1 2NJ

Opening times for Speedy’s:

06.30 am – 03.30 pm (Saturday 07.30 am – 01.30 pm, closed on Sunday)

Exit tube at Euston Square, North Gower Street Exit

Calculated budget: none

 

5. “Bond. James Bond.”

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The Secret Intelligence Service‘s headquarters are a real eye-catcher when taking a walk along the Thamse. Even if you’re not into James Bond, it’s quite an intimidating sight and the atmosphere of secrecy and the resemblance to a fortress makes you wonder what is going on in there. While I get why people call it the “Babylon-on-Thames”, I really can’t see how anyone came up with the name “Legoland”.

85 Albert Embankment, Vauxhall, Lambeth

Exit tube at Vauxhall Cross

Calculated budget: none

 

6. “Shaken, not stirred.”

Dine like James Bond himself at the Rules Restaurant in Covent Garden. Scenes from the latest Bond film Spectre were shot at this historic restaurant which exists for more than 200 years and has seen guests like Charles Dickens and Charlie Chaplin. And when I say ‘dine like James Bond’, I mean it because there’s a dresscode (which can be probably expected from a restaurant that close to the Savoy). Posh, exclusive, fancy – nothing I’d set a foot into, but you’re very welcome to email me your experience.

35 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London WC2E 7LB

Exit tube at Southampton Street Station or arrive with style in an Aston Martin

Calculated budget: if you’re brave enough, peer at the menu while casually walking past

 

7. “You sort of start thinking anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve.”

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Harry Potter fans, buckle your seatbelts … for the ultimate Harry Potter fanshop Platform 9 3/4. When I went to King’s Cross in order to take a photo of the baggage car which is fixed in the very wall where platform 9 3/4 is located in the stories, I was gobsmacked. In 2010, there was nothing but said baggage car, but now there’s an entire Harry Potter fanshop selling everything from the Harry Potter world you can possibly imagine. From all the Geeky sights, this is (in my opinion) by far the best! And for everyone who’s still disappointed that they haven’t gotten their Hogwarts letter: You can pick it up there.

The Harry Potter Shop at Platform 9 3/4, Kings Cross Station, London N1 9AP

Opening times: 08.00 am – 10.00 pm (Sunday 09.00 am – 09.00 pm, closed on Christmas and Boxing Day)

Exit tube at King’s Cross St Pancras

Calculated budget: depends on how much you’d like to spend

8. “Welcome home!”

[P H O T O G R A P H]

You’ve always wondered what Butterbeer tastes like? You’ve always dreamed of walking down the Diagon Alley? The fanshop’s nice but you want to see the real thing? Then the Harry Potter studios are what you’re looking for. Located twenty train minutes outside of London, you’re granted access to the very studios the Harry Potter films were shot at – with all film sets, costumes, and props still in place. If you consider going to Leavesden, you should plan an entire day for your visit and enough budget because, let’s be realistic, this is not a cheap experience. The tickets must be booked in advance and I recommend choosing the earliest possible time to avoid the masses.

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London, Studio Tour Drive, Leavesden WD25 7LR

Opening times: 10.00 am – 08.00 pm (in summer until 10.00 pm)

Exit train at Watford Junction and proceed with shuttle busses

Calculated budget: £60 – £100 per person (including souvenir budget and tickets for train/shuttle bus)

 

A day out in Windsor

Or: Who wants to queue forever?

“There are no rules of architecture for a castle in the clouds.”

– G. K. CHESTERTON

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Windsor Castle as seen from the train.

In order to escape the Easter weekend’s madness, I decided to cross another tourist sight off of my To-Do-List and spent a day in Windsor, the home of Queen Elizabeth II. Located approximately half an hour train ride outside of London, Windsor is a small town with probably more tourists than residents. Nonetheless, rumour has it that visiting Her Majesty’s home is something you shouldn’t miss when you’re in London – or should you?

The train for Oxford leaves Paddington Station at around half past ten in the morning at a speed that would put every ICE in Germany to shame and I’m not nearly awake enough for that kind of experience, but who’s the British railway service to care about sleepy tourists? Adding to the blurred green-brown-soup beyond the train windows, the train is packed with foreigners. The only indicator that we’ll all be changing trains at Slough together is the occasional “Windsor” that filters through the incomprehensible mix of languages that echo through the train compartment.

Indeed, we arrive at the monorail train station of Windsor exactly 26 minutes later and it’s nothing like what I’ve expected. In Germany, I grew up in a small village with barely more than 5,000 residents and even our train station is busier than Windsor’s. Though maybe not as posh. There’s an old steam locomotive on display, a signpost pointing towards a castle that is hidden behind little cafés and pubs. In all fairness, the first impression is that Windsor is surprisingly down to earth for the home of the British Queen.

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Leaving the train station and a handful of designer stores behind, I stumble up a cobblestone street and need a moment to process that I’m already standing in front of Windsor Castle. Didn’t I just come out of a train station? It’s probably handy for the Queen to live in close proximity to public transport – but it’s not like she uses it, does she? The town layout is nothing what I expected and it throws me off a bit, but before I get to adjust to this strange environment, people start to line up alongside the street. It’s 11.30 a.m. – time for the changing of the guards, apparently. It’s not nearly as spectacular as their colleague’s performance in London, but it satisfies the curious tourists and their need to block everyone’s view with their selfie-sticks.

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A part of the queue (which was twice as long as seen on this picture)

After roughly five minutes, the guards have walked past us and I’m patiently waiting for the crowds to scatter into all kind of directions so that I can finally find the queue for the tickets. Only they stay right there where they are, lining the streets as if waiting for a parade and I’m starting to sense that queuing might be the same as the changing of the guards: very different from London. After a short chat with one of the castle’s staff members, I have been informed that yes, this is in fact the queue for the tickets. Approximate waiting time: little more than an hour. Well, it can’t be helped, I’ll have to endure it. On the upside, it’s neither raining nor is it particularly cold, so the waiting could be far worse. I don’t know if I really queued for an hour, though it felt much longer, to be honest.

Eventually, after having succeeded in Britain’s national sport number one, I am finally standing inside Windsor Castle. Prince Philip greets me through the headphones of my audio guide and I can’t help but admire the beauty that surrounds me. The fantastic thing about British castles is that they seem so simple and plain on the outside, but once you set a foot inside the great halls, the splendour will render you utterly speechless. And Windsor Castle is – much like Edinburgh Castle – no exception to that rule.

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If you’re not much of a history fan and have little to no knowledge of the British kings and queens, the audio guided tour through the castle might be a bit overwhelming and too much at once. Since I have studied this culture for two years now, there was hardly anything that was news to me, but those who are familiar with the Tudor dynasty, the Wars of the Roses, and Henry VIII won’t be disappointed.

The entire interior architecture is based on this time period, playing with the Lancaster and York symbols and referring to the legend of King Arthur and the knights of the roundtable on many occasions. No matter how long you look at the wallpaper, paintings, furniture, and ceilings, you’ll always find something of a deeper historical meaning. And this very architecture, the way of interlacing a country’s history to the very last detail with the present, made me fall in love with Britain in the first place. You can see that this castle wasn’t built to blind you with wealth. It was built with the purpose of displaying centuries of history to a foreign visitor, almost as if it demands every visitor to understand where this nation comes from.

I would have loved to take photos, but sadly it’s strictly forbidden. Also, I won’t bore you with historical facts because you have to stand in the very room where Edward III was born in 1312 in order to marvel at the many, many faces this old hoar castle has seen. If you consider to visit Windsor Castle, I recommend an early train in order to avoid long queues (especially if you’re visiting with children). Since I visited on the Easter weekend, there were special events just for kids where they got to dress up like Elizabeth I or Henry VIII – I’ve listened to the host for a couple of minutes and it was really entertaining and the costumes were amazing!

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Windsor itself is rather unspectacular but after leaving the castle, I was quite thankful for the quiet little streets and the relaxing atmosphere. In terms of budget, Windsor is slightly more expensive than London due the Royal neighbours. While there are cheap restaurants, I don’t recommend dining near the castle – you pay more for the view rather than the food and staring at a wall gets boring after five minutes.

Some of you might know that Windsor is not only famous for being the home of Queen Lizzy but also of one of Britain’s most exclusive colleges: Eton. No less than 19 Prime Ministers were educated there and if you’re in town for a royal visit, you might as well walk the short distance to Eton College. Although it is not always open to the public, the exterior alone suggests how posh the students must be who are privileged enough to study here. It’s strange when you think about it – this college was founded by Henry VI in 1440 as a charity project for poor choir boys. Today, parents pay £12,354 per school term, registration, acceptance, and extra fees excluded.

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Eton College

My visit to Windsor ends in the most un-royal way possible: with a hamburger and a milkshake. Long live the Queen!

A Day By The Thames

Or: How to burn as many calories as possible

“The Thames is liquid history”

– JOHN BURNS

Today, I’d like for you to join me on a walk along one of Britain’s longest and certainly most historic rivers: the Thames. Before you start worrying if this is going to be some sort of history lesson, I can assure you that I have no intention to bore you to tears. No, today we’re going on the longest walking tour through London I’ve ever been on: We start at Vauxhall and end at Tower Hill. So, I hope you had a rather substantial breakfast and I recommend you put on your most comfortable walking shoes because today’s stroll is going to be a long one.

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We exit the tube at Vauxhall and walk towards the headquarters of Britain’s Intelligence Service MI6. Most will immediately recognize the iconic façade from the James Bond movies wherein it appeared several times over the years. If you can manage to tear your gaze away from MI6, you’ll find some very chic and modern apartments to your right. Vauxhall is, in fact, growing and getting more and more popular among the millennials. Therefore, the borough has seen a boom over the last years and the architecture has leaned more towards a contemporary and young style. If you’re thinking now that living here might not be the worst place in London, I’d recommend putting some extra money aside. Rents are at approximately £3,000 a month. On the upside: With MI6 as a neighbour, you’ll never have to worry about burglars.

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While enjoying the stunning view of Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and the London Eye, we walk down the steps until we’re standing right in front of the MI6 building and then start strolling down the Albert Embankment. When it’s as beautiful as today, you’ll find fewer people on this side of the Thames than beyond Westminster Bridge, because this side of the river doesn’t offer as many tourist sights.

The next bridge you’ll come across is Lambeth Bridge. If you want to take a photo of the Houses of Parliament without dozens of heads in the way or other tourists in the background, I recommend taking it now.

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We continue our walk towards Westminster Bridge. Throwing a look to your right reveals one of the best and most relaxing spots near the Thames: the St Thomas Hospital Gardens. On busy days, this little patch of green is probably the only sitting opportunity you’ll come across for a while. Take your time here and enjoy the amazing view.

In order to avoid the tourist masses, we now cross Westminster Bridge an continue our walk on the other side of the Thames. I recommend to keep walking and to keep a close eye on your bags since this is a popular spot with pickpockets despite police presence and CCTV.

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As we stroll down the pavement alongside the Thames, we walk past New Scotland Yard and the The Battle of Britain monument. During World War II, the Germans attacked Britain in a series of heavy air raids which are also known as the “Blitz”. Many ports and major cities, London amongst others, were bombed and destroyed. In order to remember this last warfare on British soil, this monument was created in 2005.

On the other side of the road, right next to New Scotland Yard, you’ll find beautiful Victorian architecture hidden behind high trees and hedges. And it’s easy to imagine that members of the upper class must have enjoyed their walks through the small gardens. In fact, this part of town, which goes by the name of Whitehall, was once the home of the British monarchy. Until today, many government offices are located in this area although the monarchy has long moved their home to Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.

By now, we have reached the Hungerford Bridge and Golden Jubilee Bridges. In my opinion, this is one of the most beautiful views on Big Ben and the London Eye you can possibly wish for. As we cross the bridge, we take a moment to enjoy the view and listen to the songs of the seagulls.

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After leaving Hungerford Bridge, we’re now standing on what is known as the Southbank. Every year in May, the BAFTA awards ceremony by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts is taking place at the Royal Festival Hall and the BFI, the British Film Institute, is located right behind it. The beauty of the architecture is debatable, but the ugliest building (by far) is the National Theatre. You’ll find it right behind Waterloo Bridge and its bald and dismal façade was referred to by Prince Charles as the “nuclear power station” of London.

After passing the OXO Tower and walking past the Blackfriars Bridge, we’re now approaching the Tate Modern. What has been a power station once is now one of the biggest art galleries in the world with ever-changing exhibitions by well-known international artists. As every state-run museum in Great Britain, it’s free – only exclusive exhibitions require an entrance fee.

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If you’re not much for paintings, maybe the next sight will be up your alley: the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Of course, it’s not the same theatre in which the original plays were performed, but the replica is so authentic and beautiful that it’s hard to believe that it hasn’t been there since the first time Shakespeare picked up pen and paper to write his first play. To everyone who is interested in English culture, history or literature, I highly recommend the tour through the theatre for it is a very unique experience that you won’t forget.

Our walk now takes us past two of London’s most famous bridges: the Southwark Bridge and the London Bridge. Especially the London Bridge, which exists for approximately 2,000 years and was built by the Romans, is one of the oldest architectural sights on today’s walking tour.

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Equally impressive is the Golden Hinde, the exact replica of a ship that once belonged to Sir Francis Drake. Drake was one of very few pirates that were allowed to work for the crown. He sailed under Queen Elizabeth I and was hired to attack foreign ships and to hand over a certain percentage of his  booty to the Queen. In return, he didn’t have to fear for his life unlike most pirates and was even named vice-admiral.

Despite his circumnavigation, Drake’s heritage is not as golden as many would like it to be. He was involved in murders, slavery, and other cruel crimes that were considered normal for his time period.

On a brighter note, we have almost reached the end of our walking tour and I do hope that you’re still up for a little detour. To your right, you’ll find the Shard Tower, the City Hall, and the London riverside. And straight ahead the Tower Bridge, of course. What many people don’t know: The Tower Bridge is not as old as she appears to be. Construction works began in the late 19th century but the architecture should match that of the Tower of London. Therefore, the architects decided to imitate the unique style and created what has become one of London’s most famous landmarks. If you want to see the bridge open, you should time your visit so that you’re near the sight at 05.30 p.m.

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I previously mentioned a small detour on the way to the underground station and that takes us to the St Katherine Docks. On our way there, I recommend stopping at the Fountain of the Dolphin and the Dancing Girl. You probably recognise the view from postcards of calendars because it’s such a beautiful view. For the perfect photograph, drop by in the afternoon for the light will work in your favour at that time of day.

Now, we keep walking alongside the Thames and turn left to the left. The St Katherine Docks are still somewhat an insider when it comes to tourists. Among expensive and pretentious yachts, you may catch a glimpse of the Queen’s Barge, named Gloriana.

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You have now either the opportunity to take the boat back to Westminster or to take the tube from Tower Hill. Or, if you haven’t had enough walking for the day, you may as well walk the entire way back, but I doubt that many will choose that option. I, for my part, am quite done with walking for some time. And the only liquid history I’ll be consuming for the rest of the day is a nice cup of Earl Grey. Cheers!

On a summer day in Little Venice…

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By now, I’m not sure if it’s still spring of if we’ve already managed to somehow slither straight into summer. It was so hot today that I had to go and buy a summer dress because I didn’t pack for anything above 15 degrees. Whoever started that cliché with rainy London must have visited in October or November because the weather in spring is truly stellar! So far, only two days have been rainy while the other nineteen have been either cloudy or sunny like today. And if it continues to be this nice, I might run out of boroughs to visit.

Today, I’ve finally managed to make my way to the Regent’s Canal in Paddington, one of those parts of town I always wanted to see but somehow never did. On that note, I’d like to propose a toast to my navigation app which thought it was funny to send me on a three miles detour. Really, wandering through strange streets at what felt like 25°C without any refreshing breeze is not something I enjoyed with my dark blue skinny jeans and a rucksack on my back. When I found out that all I would have had to do was walk around the building after exiting Paddington Station instead of walking for forty-five minutes… well, I was quite done with technology for the day.

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When I eventually did reach Warwick’s Crescent, the street leading towards Little Venice, my phone was the last thing on my mind. Upon leaving the busy street and entering the canal path, it felt like stepping into a different world that was completely detached from reality. The noise of the cars rushing past faded into the background until the singing of birds was all I could hear and if someone had told me that this wasn’t London anymore, I might have believed them for it felt so very different.

As I was walking alongside the waterside, I couldn’t help but envy those who are lucky enough to live there. Up to then, I never understood why someone would prefer living on a boat to owning a more permanent home, but now I find myself reconsidering. Out here, it is much more quiet than anywhere in the city and it’s strangely intimate compared to the anynoymity of a world metropolis. Of course, there’s the matter with privacy – or the lack thereof – in a populous neighbourhood, but if you can suffer through rush hour everyday, acclimatization shouldn’t be too difficult.

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So there I was, strolling past the boats with my camera around my neck and sunglasses on my nose, feeling like an intruder in this happy, blissful world of its own. Couples were placing chairs on deck of their boats, getting ready to absorb some of this early summer sun and I wondered how they manage this life of never settling down. Or do they? Recently, I’ve read in an article that over the past five years, houseboat ownership has increased 60%, especially among young people like me. Apparently, it’s their way of trying to get a foot in the door of the housing market, but if you have to move on every two weeks, don’t you long for some kind of stability in your life?

In the end, it might not be as different as one thinks. After all, this is London, and the shops aren’t that far, the city centre is just a few tube stations away, and if one forgets why they moved on a boat in the first place, a quick glance into one or two real estate offices will erase all doubts if this was truly the right decision.

If I found myself in their position, mabye I’d adjust just as fast as they seem to have done. Maybe it’s an adoptable lifestyle with more merits than someone who’s only ever lived in a permanent home can imagine. And come to think about it – watching the sun set behind the trees on deck, birds singing a lullaby in the background, the quiet mumbling of the water as it ripples against the bow of the boat – yes, I can definitely see it now.

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A walk through: Notting Hill

“I live in Notting Hill. You live in Beverly Hills. Everyone in the world knows who you are, my mother has trouble remembering my name.”

– William in Notting Hill (1999)

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Despite the heavy rain and occasional thunderstorms promised by Friday’s weather forecast, last Saturday turned out to be a beautiful and sunny spring day in London. And since my legs are still miraculously attached to my hips (despite the sore muscles), it’s time to head out and enjoy the fantastic weather in one of my favourite places in town: Notting Hill.

Undoubtedly, Notting Hill has always been one of the liveliest and most exuberant boroughs in London, but since the release of the film Notting Hill in 1999, it has become hopelessly overcrowded. Nonetheless, if you have never walked down Portobello Road on a busy Saturday morning, you have certainly missed out on something.

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After exiting the tube station at Ladbroke Grove, we head down the street carrying the same name. Eventually, we turn to our right into Westbourne Park Road until we reach the infamous Portobello Road. On Saturdays, many merchants and salesmen have vintage jewellery, accessories, and delicacies on display. But while admiring the broad range of possible souvenirs, make sure to keep an eye on your bag or rucksack since this is, like all crowded places in London, a popular spot with pickpockets. And all street art fans should look out for an artwork protected behind glass by the infamous Banksy.

We continue our walk down Portobello Road. Glancing into the shop windows to your right and left reveals a whole new world of fashion, food, and accessories. I still refuse to believe that there are actual occasions where these kind of shoe designs would be an appropriate choice, but then again, this is London and I’ve already walked past a woman in her pajamas and a bathrobe, carrying grocery bags at two o’clock in the afternoon.

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An old photograph from 2015 when the streets weren’t as crowded as they are now.

The Portobello Garden Arcade lies now behind us and I encourage you to take a closer look at the houses alongside the street. Just like Camden, Notting Hill is also famous for its many street art paintings and, of course, the colourful houses. Following the Empire Windrush in 1948, many Caribbean immigrants settled down in Notting Hill and integrated their vibrant colours and culture into the grey and dusty city life of post-war London. To this day, the residents of this borough are still celebrating the Notting Hill Carnival every year at the end of August. Sadly, I’ve never experienced it myself, but if you’ve got the chance to go and see it – please do so, it is highly recommended by Londoners!

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Famous sight: The colourful houses of Notting Hill

 By now, we have reached a rather innocent looking white façade and only the switched off neon lights – marking the building as the “Electric cinema” – imply that there might be a whole different world hidden behind the insignificant windows. And what a different world it is for this is not just a cinema. On the inside, there are red velvet arm chairs instead of uncomfortable cinema seats and small lanterns illuminate the theatre in an atmosphere that beams you right into the 1960s Hollywood glamour. If you’re not keen on booking tickets right this instant, maybe this trailer might convince you to do otherwise?

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Anyway, today is far too beautiful a day for it to be spent in a cinema, so we walk even further down (or rather up) Portobello Road an arrive at Alice’s. This little antiques shop has seen clients such as Taylor Swift and it’s (sadly) no longer and insider among London lovers. In this little shop, you’ll find old telephones, magnifying glasses, globes, etc.

Until 2015, there was a great bakery, Gail’s bakery, located here on Portobello Road which was selling the best scones I’ve ever eaten. Therefore, I was very disappointed to find another bakery in its place when I visited Notting Hill last Saturday. If you’re just as hungry as I am by now, I recommend waiting for lunch until you’re back in the city centre. Since its cometlike rise to London’s hippest borough, life in Notting Hill has become rather expensive and even a small cup of ice cream is at 4.40. IMG_2304

Before you leave trendy Notting Hill and enter the borough of posh Kensington, there’s one thing you shouldn’t miss: the blue door. Those who have seen Notting Hill, the film I mentioned at the start of our little tour, will probably wonder if William’s house with the blue door exists. Yes, it does. It’s carefully hidden in between little shops and all kind of trashy goods, so well that I’ve walked past it three times until I eventually realised that it’s indeed the same door as in the film.

And now here we stand, at the end of Portobello Road in the very heart of Notting Hill on a wonderful sunny afternoon in spring. And we didn’t run into any movie star and didn’t dump our drinks on their shirt. Tough luck, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

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A walk through: Camden

“Camden was originally an accident, but I shall never be sorry I was left over in Camden. It has brought me blessed returns.”

– Walt Whitman

I’ve been to Camden a total of three times. The first time in 2014 was an accident since I initially wanted to go to Hampstead, but I decided to exit the underground a few stations early and walk the rest of the way. That first time was a bit of a shock (and I didn’t make it to Hampstead either). The second time, in 2015, I ended up in Camden due to another accident and stayed for a delicious four-cheeses-pizza. Now, in 2017, Camden is no longer an accident but my favourite place in London and I’m taking you on a walk through my favourite borough to make you understand why Camden is so incredible.

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1. The Camden Market

Upon exiting Camden Town tube station, this will be one of the first sights that will come across your way. The majority of the many, many stalls consist of vintage clothes and shirts with London motives, but there’s also a rather broad range of jewelery and bags. Most of the clothes, bags, and souvenirs they are selling here are cheap, so don’t expect high quality products – it is, after all, just a street market and not a clothing boutique. Even if you arrive without the intention of buying something, strolling through the long aisles is always worth it and the people you might encounter there are a sight that is rarely seen in other parts of town.

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2. Camden High Street

Now that we leave Camden Market behind, we continue further down Camden High Street, the very centre of the artistic and creative life of the residents of this borough. When I say I was overwhelmed the first time I visited Camden, this is the reason why. If one spends too much time in the city centre and gets used to the British architecture of the 19th century, Camden might seem a bit… shocking. Gothic clothes are located between tattoo studios and piercing stores, Punks are gathering in small groups, and people dressed in Gothic Victorian clothes pass by every now and then. This is the shopping mile for those with a little more special taste in clothing, and the façades are absolutely incredible. Don’t be intimidated by the colourful crowd and continue down Camden High Street towards Camden Lock.

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3. Camden Lock

The infamous Camden Lock is situated right next to the Regent’s Canal and was originally built as a wharf. Today, you’ll find a lot of jewelery, art, and souvenirs there, and of course an impressive amount of food from all over the world. It’s the ideal place to buy souvenirs for those at home and admire the multicultural art talents of tomorrow. Those who are not keen on masses of people in close proximity should best avoid the Lock and continue down the road.

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4. The Stables Market

If you still can’t get enough of Vintage clothes, antique furniture, and jewelery, the Stables Market should be next on your sightseeing list. By now, you might no longer be impressed by the range of products, but the old horse stables make for a very relaxed atmosphere despite the masses of people wandering through the narrow alleys. Fans of Amy Winehouse should definitely drop by for a photo opportunity with her figure and cookie fans will be delighted to find a stall selling extra large cookies and many other sweets. Compared to Camden Lock, the Stables Market is more quiet and if you’re looking for a lunch venue that isn’t an English pub, I’d recommend the stables.

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5. Street art

Camden is not only known for its unusual shops and colouful lifestyle. It is also popular among street art painters. The small streets leading from and to Camden High Street are offering a glimpse of the amazing talent of street art painters that have created whole galleries of diverse styles. Portraits of Amy Winehouse are, of course, the most popular motive you’ll find, but making a detour is always worth it even if you’re not looking for her portrait specifically. While trying to find as many street art paintings as possible, we continue our walk up Chalk Farm Road and Adelaide Road, following the signs towards Primrose Hill.

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6. Victorian architecture

Further up the hill, we’re back to Victorian architecture. Yes, I admit I really love old British town houses and if you do so, too, Camden will quickly turn into one of your favourite spots in town as well. Since the weather is on our side today, we make a few detours through streets lined with beautiful mansions and expensive cars. Up here, it’s easy to forget that the busy and lively Camden High Street is only a stone’s throw away. If I could choose one borough of London where I’d like to live, it would be this part of Camden. Sadly, I’m not alone with my opinion and living out here is extremely expensive due to high demand. It doesn’t come as a surprise that many film and music stars, as well as famous writers and composers have settled down in these beautiful villas. Before the opulence gets too depressing, we quicky continue our way towards Primrose Hill.

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7. Primrose Bakery

After all the walking we did today, now is the perfect opportunity to treat yourself to one or two cupcakes or a piece of cake at the Primrose Bakery. Apparently, it is popular among celebrity children and as soon as you enter the bakery, you’ll immediately understand why. The cupcakes are not only tasty, but the designs are amazing. Especially the glittery Mother’s Day specials are some beautiful eye-catchers. If you have a sweet tooth and would like a little provision for the rest of our walk, continue down Gloucester Avenue and you’ll find the little shop right at the end. It’s not the cheapest address, but quality comes at a price.

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8. Primrose Hill

We have arrived at our destination, Primrose Hill, just in time to watch the sun set over London. This breathtaking view over the city has quickly turned into my favourite spot in town and if the weather is as good as today, it’s only a short walk to the London Zoo and Regents Park. Not today, though. After this exhausting day, it is now time to sit down in the grass, relax your burning feet, enjoy the cupcakes, and watch as the last sunrays paint the sky in pastel colours. Very romantic, indeed!

In the end, I can say that Walt Whitman’s Camden experience has been the same for me. The first time I ended up on Camden High Street was by chance, an accident that I am now happy to have made, because it held many pleasant surprises and unexpected discoveries on its way. And of course I hope that you, too, enjoyed this little stroll.

A walk through: Stoke Newington

“I believe your atmosphere and your surroundings create a mind state for you.”

– THEOPHELIUS LONDON

Good morning, London!

What a fantastic thing to say, or rather think, first thing on a Saturday morning. I’m still getting used to everything that simple sentence contains: the new sounds of an unfamiliar surrounding, the strange and yet oddly charming smell of Earl Grey hanging in the air, and the sun shining through my window.

9 am finds me at the breakfast table, a steaming cup of Earl Grey with milk and a bowl of cereal next to me, while I’m making plans for today. I have visited London four times now, this being my fifth time, and I cannot say that Stoke Newington has ever been on my sightseeing agenda.

Therefore, I gathered that I should get to know my new neighbourhood a bit better. After all, Edgar Allan Poe spent a few precious years of his life here and Amy Whinehouse shot a music video in a cemetry nearby, so there must be something to see. By the time I leave the house the sun, of course, is gone.

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1. Abney Park Cemetery

This beautiful Victorian cemetery and nature reserve, established in 1840, was the set for two music videos over the last years. Scenes from Amy Whinehouse’s video Back to Black and Hurts’ All I want for Christmas is New Year’s Day were both filmed here. While wandering through the narrow lines of gravestones, trees, and daffodils, reading the names of the deceased, it can get a bit creepy. Edgar Allan Poe fans will be very much at home here. Some of these stones and graves are so askew that it’s easy to imagine how their owners must have turned beneath the soil to cause so much displacement. Every now and then, you hear a squirrel in the underwood or you see a robin fly out of a broken stone coffin and those sounds of nature break the heavy atmosphere. If you don’t have a good sense of direction, you may want to have a navigation app or a map with you, because getting lost is very easy in this labyrinth of tombstones. Also, I wouldn’t recommend going there after sunset. Not to be paranoid, but some makeshift graves had me wondering…

 

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2. Stoke Newington High Street

Now on to lighter topics. For a street as narrow as Stoke Newington High Street, there’s an awful lot of traffic and just as many people. But it’s the perfect spot for the hungry and the undecided. Fish’n Chips, bars, pubs, Italian, Indian – there’s something for everyone here, including a Tesco express for 24h grocery shopping. And if you take a close look, you’ll spot the Shard tower in the far distance.

 

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3. St. Mary’s Church

On the way to Clissold Park, this beautiful church came across my way. A look inside does not only reveal nice architecture, but a huge amount of charity work they do. From my many trips here, I know what a multicultural city London is, but the city centre is rather British and the influences of other cultures are not as obvious as on the outskirts, though zone 2 is hardly outside of London. In this neighbourhood, there are churches, synagoges, and mosques right next to each other and this peaceful coexistence of different cultures is also mirrored in the people you see on streets. It gives hope that someday, this level of acceptance will not only exist in a part of London, but everywhere in the world and with a common ground of mutual tolerance, it might happen.

 

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4. Clissold Park and Clissold House

This park was, also, established in the late 19th century and offers besides lots of green space a wonderful playground for children, tennis courts, and much more. Clissold House, which can be seen in the picture above, is a popular location for weddings and other parties. Fun fact: the deers, that are living in Clissold Park, first came to live there in 1890. Also: the benches are a perfect spot for people watching!

Since it’s rather chilly today, I’m now looking forward to a nice cup of tea.