I’m sitting at my computer, looking outside my window towards the Eiffel Tower. Yes, I am back in Paris. Yesterday was our last day in London. Apparently everything is closed on Sundays in England – as was the case with Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral, both of which we’d hoped to visit. My travel buddy just stayed in our residence all morning (she said she’d seen it all) while I took the bus to get one last look and wander around.
I began in Trafalgar Square. The concert equipment from Friday was taken down and it was raining outside, so I felt like I got to see London in its natural habitat. I liked the square more in the sun because the fountains looked greener, but it was nice to sit on a damp bench and watch people. I even saw someone with a UCLA sweatshirt!
Our big bus tickets expired at noon, so I jumped on one to take to Buckingham Palace at 10:30. My goal was to see the Changing of the Guard ceremony at 11:30 a.m. (it happens at this time every day) so I arrived at 11. It was insane how many people were crammed into the roundabout outside the palace. Probably the most people I’ve ever seen in one area, except at concerts. Jammed behind every railing, piles of people peek through the gates.
Even though I arrived a little late, I was able to line up in the third row, but I still stood on my tip toes as the procession of guards in a marching band came through the streets. It was really difficult to see – at one point, I watched the ceremony through the screen of someone’s iPad they held up.
While it was interesting to see guards march around the front of the palace in unison, I wasn’t really that impressed. It’s something maybe that you’re supposed to see, but something that didn’t really matter to me and wasn’t worth the throngs of people. Eventually, some people left and I was in the front row, but even then they were tiny soldiers far away.
I left a little early, once the guards switched places, to walk along the sidewalk outside St. James’s Park towards the tube. I ended up just walking to Westminster to catch the tube there to London Bridge, where Borough Market is. Big Ben made one final appearance before I went underground and I said goodbye!
Naturally knowing my luck, most of the vendors in Borough Market are also closed on Sundays, which I learned after I reached the street. It looked like it would be a cool fruit and vegetable market, though, with green booths in a dark street under some sort of bridge. A few prepared food vendors were open, so I got some saffron rice just so I wouldn’t be hungry.
Once I rejoined my friend in Camden, where we were staying, we pretty much packed up our stuff. Before we went back to Paris, however, we realized we still needed to explore Camden a little bit. Our host was shocked that we hadn’t been to the Camden Market yet, and luckily we went for an hour or two. It was popping with tons of people everywhere. I’ll say it again: Europe has markets galore!
It was filled with fresh orange juice stands, jewelry, dreamcatchers, wool scarves, photographs, and one area with tons of street food. All cultures and cuisines were represented – Colombian, Peruvian, Italian, hamburgers, mac and cheese, game meat, quinoa, Mediterranean, etc. We dove into the sea of foodies, looking for a place for lunch/dinner and finally found a wonderful stand in a handmade pasta cart. One guy would greet everyone and take orders, while slicing off chunks of dough from a huge roll, knead it, roll it through a machine several times, and then slice them into noodle strips. The girl next to him would collect the money while grabbing the pasta dough, cook it fresh, and then marinate it in the sauce she’d make. The only other two employees in the back would plate it all.
It’s such an efficient process and amazing to watch them make pasta right in front of us with buckets upon buckets of flour everywhere. Not only that, the employees spoke English, Italian and Spanish and would often speak Italian to customers – so that’s another reason we knew it would be good. And it was! Fresh pesto pasta with a caprese salad – probably the best pasta I’ve ever bought because it was a perfectly chewy texture with rich creamy sauce and strong, fresh flavors. I still like homemade pasta that my mom makes, but this was probably more authentically Italian and chewy.
I ate my meal along the Camden Lock canal, which was actually very beautiful and cosmopolitan, with its bricks and graffiti surrounding a bridge with willow trees. Teo had recommended that we walk along this canal, and now that we found it, we could see why – it’s a very pretty spot in the middle of a crowded street area. It was a surprise treat that we didn’t realize our London experience was missing until we got to the lively neighborhood with air filled with smoke from street carts and loud from shoppers. Camden had seemed quieter and more intimidating until we saw this bustling market and realized we were in some sort of hub.
We picked up our luggage and went to St. Pancras station after that (and also walked around the corner to see King’s Cross from the outside, because Harry Potter). We’re so used to needing to get to the airport three hours early that we did the same for the train, just to be safe. Neither of us felt we could enjoy sight seeing two hours before our train, but when we got there, we realized we were indeed really early. Luckily there was no fee this time to move our train to a earlier time, so we just did that and left an hour before planned.
The sunset was amazing during our train ride. The only hitch was at one point when we had to stop at another station for a luggage check, where the crew went through every coach and identify everyone’s luggage. That was pretty scary when they told us we had to do that because we didn’t know why. And it set us behind 30 minutes. When we were done, they said there had been a trespasser at St. Pancras so they had to check to make sure the train was safe. Weird!
We arrived back to the hotel around 11 pm. Though it was fun being tourists in London, a city I’ve always wanted to visit, we are glad to be back “home” to a place that’s familiar and more relaxed. For no specific reason, I was super happy when we got off the train – maybe because of the scary luggage check or just because I missed this city. Teo said earlier that the point of the long weekend is to feel like Paris is home. If you leave for the weekend, you’re glad to return, and if you stay in Paris, then you get to know the city very well. He was right, of course! I love the city of lights and I’m ready for more.