Summer has struck London in full force this year. As if to apologise for the lacklustre quality of last year, this past month has been sweltering; it’s almost American in heat. It’s the sort of summer that makes the days pass languorously , which is especially dangerous if you’re at a job with no air conditioning. The warm summer and empty pockets has propelled me to explore London as cheaply as I can. London is known as one of the most expensive cities in the world. This known fact is both true and false. It depends what you want of the city. If you just want to learn and see things in a completely new way, then the city is yours for only the price of a travel card. The past few weeks have been spent exploring museums, wandering art galleries and walking until my legs ache. It’s surprising how much is free or cheap, depending where you look. I started in Whitechapel a few weeks ago, going to the Whitechapel Gallery, which was mostly a waste, but had a wonderful anthropological exhibit exploring a history of changing British life from a collaboration of resident artists and schoolchildren that is ongoing. I think art and culture in this city excel when they combine history and community involvement, it avoids the self-indulgence that usually emerges in a place where everyone thinks they are the next best thing. My subsequent stroll onto Brick Lane took two days, with one afternoon spent wandering in the Free Range exhibit, a changing summer-long viewing of student art from universities all over England and artists all over the world (including my alma mater, though I missed their show).
From there I travelled along the newly reopened London Overground (formerly my beloved East London line, which I rode on its last day three years ago) back into the city, where I walked from the bustling Bond St to the iconic locations- Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, and Trafalgar Sq, where I went to the late night opening of the National Portrait Gallery. Museums throughout the city are open extremely late towards the weekends, with tours and events happening if you have the money. There were a few new exhibits, including a showing of Indian portraiture, a project by director Steve McQueen to get soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan onto stamps, and an exhibit with photos by the Format Photography Agency, which portrayed underrepresented important figures and activists within the past thirty years (I loved this exhibit). From there I went through Pall Mall and into St James Park, watching ducks and coots swim by, before walking around Buckingham Palace and into Green Park. I never though that there would be a day where I became immune to the grandeur of the Palace, Big Ben and various iconic tourist spots, but three years on, I tend to forget they’re there. But when I stop to think about them, it’s still a bit staggering. Last weekend was spent with friends, a hodgepodge group of Europeans, Asians and North Americans, which is always a delightful night out.
Today has been a continuation of my happy wanderings, this time to a Mexican restaurant in Westbourne Grove. After lunch, I walked through Kensington Gardens, which was filled with sun-worshipers usually starved of such warmth, and past the Royal Albert Hall, which I still have yet to see inside of. The next destination was the Natural History, an old haunt, where I struggled through sweltering heat exacerbated by large crowds in order to see dinosaurs fossils, whale bones and monkeys carved into the arches of the buildings. Along with this, I scoured the largest library in my area for books on Morocco and the Tuareg, who I’ve taken a recent interest in. It feels very good to not only feel thoroughly at home, but to know that soon I will be a traveller again. Now if only I could cool down.