Here it is, long overdue and finally incomplete, TLDR, a subjective London ranking. All open for debate, of course.
Arriving in August 2005 from Leeds, there was almost nine years’ worth of opportunity for me to sample the finest and meanest the British capital has to offer. In the following I list some places and experiences that stuck in my head. All might not mean a lot to all of you, and much of it might mean nothing, but it’s all a tiny part of me.
Park – parks usually grow on memories, so the best one for me must be Finsbury Park in N4, as it was only a step out the door from the first two flats I lived in in London. It has a lot going for it, for me mainly its grand but negotiable size and also the basketball hoops. Hampstead Heath follows a close second as it’s just the definition of a fantastic London park, come rain, shine or snow! It even has ponds to swim in! Lastly, there is Ravenscourt Park, cute and small and full of everything you could wish for, including a great hoops scene, plus it was my neighbourhood park in the final three years. Tube nearby and surrounded by awesome pubs and restaurants. There are rumours that a farmers’ market might be installed for Saturdays or Sundays.
Football ground – Craven Cottage, home of the mighty and relegated Fulham FC, wins this hands down. The heritage is palpable, part of the stadium is a listed building and that odd little cottage in the corner is simply fantastic. Unique in the world, most likely. Add to that an ugly statue of the King of Pop, and take it away again, and you have what is probably the best stadium in the land. Second place goes to Wembley Stadium (I never experienced the old one, so I am referring to New Wembley). Get out of the tube at Wembley Park, cross Didi-Hamann-Bridge and step into the realm of English football history. Quite dazzling when lit up from the outside and packed on the inside. Can the Britannia do that on a rainy Tuesday night? Certainly not. Oh, and watching Chile and Germany beat England there in 2014 was also a pretty cool feeling, months before setting off to Santiago… Third place goes to Brentford’s Griffin Park, winner by merit of memories and pubs located in all four corners outside the stadium.
Museum – In honour of the late Tim Laughton, my art history lecturer at Essex University, this award goes to the British Museum. Tim designed and curated the Mesoamerican section, small but excellent, and used to take his undergraduate students there to see all the fine Olmec, Mixtec, Aztec, Mayan originals and replicas. The central hall is awesome, they have the Rosetta Stone (first written translation known to man) and the guest exhibitions “Aztecs” and lately “El Dorado” that I saw there were fantastic. The Museum of London comes a surprise second. Really lively and palpable display of the history of London, in a historic location, right on the edge of the City of London, close to the fabulous Barbican Centre. Third-placed is The Natural History Museum, just grand, and what a building. Also hosts the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, an absolute must (and great activity when entertaining guests in the cold or rainy season, i.e. from September to August). Special mention goes out to Tate Modern, incredible place, lots of memories.
Sporting event – Can only be the Olympics, the London Games, London2012! I was getting slightly angry when still weeks before the Games some of the eternal naggers and doubters and naysayers were able to get close enough to me to whisper in my ear and say “It’s going to be chaos, what a waste, the rain is going to ruin everything and it’ll be nothing but doping scandals, consumerist excesses and other extremists.” So what!? And… none of all that happened. Or it didn’t bother me. I love the Olympic idea, all world coming together and celebrating sports in unity. I’m happy to put on rose-tinted glasses for two weeks every four years and just enjoy the ride. It also helped that I was lucky enough to have “won” seven tickets in the raffle, including the Men’s Basketball final (so sorry for Spain, still after two years. Thanks for the great match v USA, even though I was wedged under the roof of the arena and it was hard to make out who was who…). The beach volleyball in Horse Guards Parade was spectacular, but still trumped by the volleyball in Earls Court. I was sitting courtside and watching the thrilling group match between Brazil and Russia, two extremely talented teams who would meet again in an epic “gold medal match”, i.e. final. The other game was “Team GB” against Australia, with an atmosphere to match.
The tennis at Wimbledon wasn’t meant to happen for me, but I did enjoy a day out at Queens in 2011. Absolutely fabulous little venue in the lovely neighbourhood of Barons Court. Shame about the rain, as usual, but it cleared up in the afternoon.
Actually, Wimbledon did happen – at the Wimbledon Stadium, experiencing my one and so far only day at the Dog Races! It was the annual social with Team 36 basketball team that I played with for a couple of summers.
Football as a spectator sport is a chapter apart, and despite assembling quite a number of games and grounds, I didn’t pursue the goal I set sometime, somewhere (in a pub…) to watch a match in every Football League ground within the M5 (I missed maybe three) AND getting to each of those games by bike (managed seven or eight in that category.).
Trip – Boat, plane, bike, sleigh, hot air balloon, I love a trip. First is an all-time favourite that I subjected pretty much all my visitors to: Westminster to Greenwich by boat. Aaah. The landmarks. The skyline. The bit under Tower Bridge. Fantastic. Always loved strolling around maritime Greenwich, too, an all-access film set. Another great boat trip takes a bit longer, leaving Westminster to Hampton Court. Spend up to four hours on a sunny day on the top deck of the barge that runs that route and you’ve got your summer’s worth of tan. If that’s too long and too far, just take the same boat from Westminster but get off at to Kew Gardens. Spend half a day strolling around there, preferably on a sunny day, too. Fantastic botany, even appreciated by a hay fever sufferer.
Tube station – My last “home” wins this one, Ravenscourt Park. If it was a car, it would be a vintage Jaguar, classy, historic and understated. Two platforms, one line, wooden roves, friendly staff, classical music mornings and evenings. Only downside is that the Piccadilly Line just rushes through, would be more practical if it picked up passengers there. Can’t think of any other positively fascinating tube stations right now, help me out should you have any contributions to this category.
Sports team – The best of all London sports teams is the one I played for, Euston Power basketball. No, seriously, the amount of fun times and travels, important points, more important pints and great exercise we had together is equal to the quality of the friends I made through playing for this team. One famous player once said about the club: “If it wasn’t for Euston Power, I wouldn’t be living in London anymore.” No second or third places awarded. Euston Power, pure gold.
Market – Borough Market, hands down, for the food and the variety, the atmosphere and the location. Then Camden Lock Market and surroundings. Obvious contender, but who cares. I also liked all the other tourist markets, no shame in that.
Sight – We’re talking iconic touristy London sights here, represented in tourist guides, film classics and on cotton aprons. My favourite out of the eight or so obvious ones is Tower Bridge, lovingly referred to as “London Bridge” by many a wide-eyed tourist. What a stunning piece of bridge architecture! Nice use of colours, too. My first cycle ride over it was a bumpy ride: a goosebumpy ride. The Palace of Westminster comes second. Just sits there doing nothing, knowing how pretty it is, how it doesn’t pale regardless of how many it appears in films, TV productions, news items, brochures, Japanese photo albums. Camden Town comes third, if that is a sight as such. In hindsight, many London things are just great. You only know what you got when it’s… completely different in another place halfway round the globe.
Restaurant – If you’re looking for authentic Mexican in a semi-elegant setting, go to Mestizo near WarrenStreet/Mornington Crescent. For the best quality I tasted in London, Hawksmoor, yes, please. Then, if you’re in the area or live there like I did, try the bunch of restaurants on King Street, opposite Ravenscourt Park, Potli and Saigon Saigon are pretty decent.
Pub – there were plenty, too many to mention. The Salisbury Hotel (not a hotel) on Green Lanes (N4) wins this category, for the great Czech lager, good food, the chessboard-chequered tiled floor, the stuffed animals, the grand decor, and the wonderful mix of people from all walks of life that frequent it. Then there was another N4 favourite of mine, The Faltering Fullback with its staircased patios. Big love also goes to Chiswick High Street’s King George IV – a down-to-earth honest Fuller’s pub (not far from the brewery) amidst the snobby surroundings of W4-gentrify-central.
Gig – Ever-innovative Mexican legends Café Tacuba honoured London on their 20th stage anniversary – first visit to the UK and I was there. In the Barbican Centre! What looked like the whole and hitherto hidden Mexican diaspora turned out and set the place on fire. Close second of course Die Fantastischen Vier at Kentish Town’s Forum, probing fan reactions to their first gig upon releasing their „Fornika“ album. 90% Germans (and some Austrians) with their 10% English boyfriends/girlfriends in tow. A night of home from home. Third among many many contenders is Parov Stelar on my birthday 2013 with close friends. A blast, despite them only starting at a late slot when nobody knew. Also at The Forum. Brazilian songstress Marisa Monte wins an honorary award for
Gig venue – Barbican Centre, by a mile, architecture, 60s-concrete-block-elgeance, sound quality, customer service and artist portfolio are fantastic. Then the new Camden Roundhouse, then Union Chapel in Islington. Special mention to the marvellous Royal Albert Hall.
Tube line – District line for the sheer distance it covers (may not be the longest line, but it really spreads across some of the most diverse areas), where the Piccadilly line seem to race through the metropolis the District Line just carries on rattling and rambling cheerfully like a countryside train, which can be quite comforting.
Vantage point – So, London is, basically, flat. We know that. And that means, you need to intentionally climb up somewhere to look down on it. So, the best views go to: The Shard. Although there are many things wrong with this building and I certainly wasn’t willing to cough up the entry fee that’s as steep as the ascent, still, the view from up top is unbeatable (and I used my impending departure as an excuse to zip up in the stomach-churning lift). Also beautiful: Primrose Hill, nice and fairly central, the most romantic option. Fantastic when covered in snow, too. Thirdly, I recommend climbing up all of St. Paul’s I didn’t do that either till a month before leaving and its magnificent close-up views of the surrounding cityscape make it absolutely worth the effort.
So that was that, bye-bye, with a little wave from the Andes.