A magical weekend getaway in London

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I first visited London about three years ago with my family and had a pretty classic tourist experience: Buckingham Palace. Tower Bridge. Hyde Park. The British Museum. The hop-on hop-off bus. This time, travelling solo, I decided to opt for a more laidback weekend, while still getting to enjoy some of the sights I missed the last time around.

Getting there

I decided to take the train from Geneva to Paris, transfer from Gare de Lyon to Gare du Nord, and then take the Eurostar to London. I work in the environmental field and am an advocate of prioritizing ground transportation over air travel, but I also can’t sugarcoat the truth: travel by train is not cheap (98 euros — and this was purchased months in advance), nor does it save time (I left Geneva at 8:30am and arrived in London around 4pm). I took Friday off work so I could spend the entire day in transit and still have a full day to explore on Saturday, and then I flew back on Sunday.

Before I left, I’d texted a friend who used to live in London, asking for tips on fun non-touristy things to do, and she’d warned me about anti-Asian racism due to the coronavirus outbreak. Great, I thought, one more thing to worry about.

It turns out I had nothing to worry about. From Geneva to Paris to London, not a single person said a single unkind word to me. I didn’t even get any funny or wary looks. At train stations, in coffee shops, on the underground, people sat next to me readily and carelessly. In Paris, an older white French man asked me to teach him how to buy an RER ticket on the touchscreen machine. In London, the English guy next to me asked for help figuring out which stop he should get off at. Was I knowledgeable enough to be helpful to them? Absolutely not. But: for someone who was once literally stopped on the street in DC and asked, “What country are you from?“, this means a lot.

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Crossing over. The immigration process seemed to be the same as it was three years ago, only it was way less crowded.
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Charging my phone while waiting to board. Gare du Nord seemed quieter, too.

Where I stayed

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I stayed at the citizenM hotel in Bankside. This is one of those hotels that, bless their heart, tries so so hard to be an experience rather than a place to crash. They’ve got weird mood lighting, they call guests citizens and staff ambassadors, they left a doll on the bed, and even their shampoo bottles are covered in long rambling messages where they pretend to be your cool friend. But the real reason I wouldn’t recommend this place is that the windows can’t be opened. I’m already mildly claustrophobic to begin with, and the air coming out of the A/C was super dry, leaving me with a scratchy throat every night.

Bankside

This is a part of London that I don’t think I’ve seen before. I stayed about two blocks away from Tate Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe, and Millennium Bridge. Upon arriving on Friday evening I had a leisurely stroll by the river.

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I only recognized this bridge because it was the one that got wrecked at the beginning of the sixth Harry Potter movie.
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About a 15-minute walk away from The Shard.

The next morning I started the day off at Tate Modern. I would highly recommend this place; the architecture is phenomenal, and several of the floors are free to the public. Here are a few pieces that I found striking.

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Blankets woven by women in Chile on political and social themes ranging from war to sex ed. This one in particular was focused on income inequality. The artists are usually unknown for obvious reasons. I loved how three-dimensional the art was.
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These were created in 1987. 1987! How crazy is that? In the more than thirty years that have passed, we have only seen incremental changes to the truth in these posters.

It was a gorgeous and windy day in London. I crossed the river into a more touristy part of town — Covent Garden — to pick up some home supplies at MUJI, and also stopped in at Waterstones. I had just listened to a podcast episode about the abduction of Adolf Eichmann in Argentina and was keen to find books on this subject. I ended up buying a book called Rise and Kill First; it’s a massive volume about the history of covert assassinations carried out by Israeli intelligence. I am less than a quarter in and totally engrossed!

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LOL at this bus. EuroWelcome… to whom?

In the afternoon I stopped by the famous Borough Market to grab a late lunch. Turns out it’s almost all street food stalls with limited places to sit, so I ended up eating my Thai takeout over a tiny windowsill. The food was pretty good. But the real highlight of Borough Market was running into a group of young people who stood at the entrance with Bernie signs, reminding Americans abroad to vote in the upcoming primary. I never voluntarily initiate conversations with other people when I’m traveling due to the amount of creepiness I’ve gotten, but I had to go and have a chat with them! It’s so heartening to see young people actively engaged in the political system; I sort of burned out in 2016, so I really take my hat off to them.

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Mischief managed

OK, so let’s get to what this trip was really about. Harry. Potter. I literally planned this trip to London around this date because February 29 was the first Saturday that they had tickets available for the Warner Bros Studio Tour — the place where they shot all 8 movies!

(To be clear, I am not actually a fan of the films. But they do help fill a void.)

The studio is located in the town of Watford, and it’s honestly kind of a pain to get to from London. From London Bridge I took the underground to Euston station, then transferred onto the overground, which took 50 minutes to reach Watford Junction, and then took a shuttle from the train station to the studio. That said: it was totally worth it.

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Such a good trip.

Eco-thoughts

I decided while waiting for my flight at Gatwick airport that unless something unexpected comes up, I’m done flying this year. The other day, as I was telling someone about the number of flights I took in Indonesia, I caught myself saying, “Ugh, I feel terrible, it’s so bad for the environment.”

That’s when it hit me: by simply acknowledging the fact that I should be flying less, I am — subconsciously — absolving myself of any guilt and responsibility related to flying. Oh, I’ve paid lip service, so what I’ve done no longer matters and I can carry on with business as usual.

Except that’s not how it works. It’s time for me to break free of this mentality and to actually, concretely cut back on flying. I’ve already cancelled a planned trip to Japan and Korea this summer, as well as a train trip to Italy in late March. That leaves me with no upcoming travel plans as of this writing. For the moment, I think I’ll just hunker down, focus on meeting some important work deadlines, read some books, and work on improving my French. And hey, I might start be able to start saving some money for once!

3 comments

  1. I’ve been to London before but didn’t actually go inside any museums, just walked around. This makes me want to go back and really experience things 🙂 Also I loved that you acknowledged your resolve to cut down on flying and not just pay lip service to it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Let’s see if I can actually manage to pull it off. I’m dying to visit places like Budapest and Istanbul but the train journeys would be borderline insane… mentally preparing myself lmao.

      Liked by 1 person

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