As things turned out, I found myself back in the UK rather sooner than expected – for an assessment centre, the part of recruitment processes that us millennials all love to hate. (As far as these things go it was an enjoyable day, though I did feel rather brain-drained afterwards!) Since I had to reschedule things in order to attend, I found myself with a day in London to fill beforehand and promptly arranged to meet up with my mum (during the day) and Laurence (once he’d finished work).
As lengthy bus rides go, this was by far one of the most eventful. Between reading Un Sac de Billes, chatting to fellow passengers, hearing British humour once again (“There is a toilet on board. The politest way of saying this is: Number Ones only. Do we all understand?”) and witnessing a sniffer dog’s discovery of a paperless stowaway at Calais, it wasn’t all that surprising that my plan to spend most of the fifteen hour ride asleep went out of the window.
Arriving in London ahead of schedule, I decided to stretch my (short) legs and walk up to Euston (with several detours on the way). Save for some early commuters, the streets were quiet. Locating a Caffè Nero proved harder than expected – why are Londoners such big fans of Starbucks? – but I eventually found one and my sleep-deprived self was all too happy to curl up with a steaming mug of hot chocolate in the warmth. Refuelled and semi-reenergised, I wandered up through Soho towards Regent’s Park. Although the sky was distinctly overcast, the blooms looked beautiful so it was well worth a visit.
Euston’s M&S fulfilled my cheddar cheese needs (the struggle is real) and Mum’s train arrived not long after. We took the tube to Bank, stopping off at The Swan Tavern for a bite to eat on our way to Leadenhall Market. Tucked away down Ship Tavern Passage in the heart of the City of London, this is the definition of a good ol’ British pub. Dad swears by their steak baguettes, but Mum and I were tempted by the hot salt beef brioche bun, which didn’t disappoint.
Stomachs filled, we set off through the warren of narrow passages to Leadenhall Market. A market has stood on this site for centuries, though the current structure dates from 1881. I particularly liked the silver dragons atop the columns. Many modern eateries and shops have made Leadenhall their home, but the high arched ceilings, colonnades and red brick exterior make you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time.
Harry Potter fans – myself included – will recognise Leadenhall as the filming location for the exterior of the Leaky Cauldron. Before moving on, we stopped off at a café for coffee and a cannoli – a little tube of pastry filled with chocolate or cream.
Eventually, we tore ourselves away and set off on foot for Spitalfields. Mum suggested a detour to Christ Church Spitalfields, which turned out to be a real gem. It has undergone extensive restoration work in recent decades, and its interior is a combination of polished wood and sleek marble. Built in the early 18th century, Christ Church was part of the 1711 Fifty New Churches Act. Authorities were concerned that the City lacked adequate church provision and that too many non-conformist worshippers were settling in the area. New churches were thus constructed with tall spires, so that they would tower over the non-conformist places of worship.
Fortunately, the weather picked up in the afternoon and the clouds cleared. After wandering through Spitalfields, we took the tube to London Bridge for a browse round Borough Market, which was bursting with tasty goodies. We enjoyed a punnet of fresh raspberries while wandered round the stalls selling delicate pastries, crushed macaron meringues and piping hot street food.
Afterwards, we popped into Southwark Cathedral – whose stonework reminded me of The Guildhall in Norwich – where a concert rehearsal was taking place.
We then rounded off the afternoon with a stroll along the South Bank in the sunshine, before crossing the river towards St. Pauls and making our way up towards Euston. Laurence met us there, and we stayed with Mum until her platform was announced before making our way to Old Street, where we would be staying. After a customary meal at Nando’s (predictable but delicious), we turned in for the night.
The following morning, we parted ways – Laurence for King’s Cross, myself for St. Paul’s – and I made my way to my assessment centre. At the end of a jam-packed day, I headed over to Victoria Coach Station for my overnight bus, transferred from Flixbus to TGV in Paris and made it back to Lyon just in time for my classes that afternoon! A hectic couple of days to say the least, but a huge heartfelt thank you goes out to Mum and Laurence for seeing me in London, to Dad for his lunchtime recommendation, and to all three of them for the treats I was given!
- Routes operated by Eurolines depart from Lyon Perrache. Be prepared for an arrivals hall devoid of signs indicating arrivals, departures and “platforms” and for many Eurolines coaches to, in fact, bear the names of other companies.
- The interior of Southwark Cathedral is gorgeous, but if you want to take photos of it you’ll need to purchase a photo permit. (Hence the absence of interior shots in this post!)