Oberlin Blogs

A Very Brief Guide to London NW1

February 26, 2011

Abby Ryder-Huth ’13

After much indecision over what London-living experiences to write about next (museum onslaught madness? Badass James Blake concert? Introduction to squatting via the Free School in Bloomsbury? General renewed obsession with the 12th century?), I've decided to go as simple(ish) as possible, staying within a 15 minute walk from my flat. What, one may ask, can be found in northwestern central London? To answer that fully would go beyond the strength of my rainy hands, and so instead here are my 7 favorite places, three and a half weeks in:

Regent's Park: Based off my friend Ross's guess about the size of Oberlin's campus (1.5 square miles?), Regent's Park is approximately half that. It has magical woodlands, vast and foggy fields, 30,000 yet-to-bloom roses, rugby players with mud on them, romantic fountains, and a place called the Honest Sausage. Also budding trees and flowers, real ones. I like going around twilight, so that I can peek into the windows of the townhouses that border it and see their expertly designed interiors and fancy chandeliers. After many, many walks in the park - we only live four minutes away - I still haven't seen all of it. But oh, it is so wonderful.

Meze: My flatmates Ross and Kathryn and I decided to check out the little Turkish cafe behind our local tube stop one morning when we wanted English breakfast and saw it advertised there. I'm weary of most things so closely attached to mass transit stations, but breakfast-searchers cannot discriminate - good, because it was cheap and gave everyone what they wanted: Turkish coffee and fried eggs for Kathryn and me, and a heaping plate of protein ridiculousness for Ross, complete with rods of meat, baked beans, and french fries (i.e. normal English breakfast...??). Our waiter and now kind-of-friend Adem also told our fortunes through the coffee grounds, which he does whenever we go there - today, like before, he predicted I'd go to the mountains. I predict that we will go back for more coffee and eggs and hanging with nice Turkish people, which isn't the same as mountains, but still.

The Tesco Express on Great Portland Street (or the 'Sco, for short): There's nothing actually interesting about this place except that it exists on the corner of our street. It's basically a little supermarket, a sized-down version of the unremarkable Tesco chain of grocery stores, but what is more thrilling for a Oberlin co-op expat, on a weeknight with a fridge of expired yogurts, than knowing the grocery store is three minutes away? And that you can also legally buy a bottle of cheap wine there, as well as Krispy Kreme doughnuts?

Drummond Street: In answer to those questions, Drummond St. might actually be more exciting than Tesco and its wonders. This is because rather than providing a bounty of groceries, it provides a bounty of cheap Indian restaurants. London is known for its Indian food, and even the cheap and kinda sketchy stuff here seems better than a lot of what I've had at home. But even for those more at-home inclined nights, there are a couple of Indian-run supermarkets on Drummond that sell spices and coconut milk and curry powders etc. imported from India, also really cheap. Certainly this makes for better meals than the Tesco brand chana masala.

The Wellcome Collection: Dubbed "a free destination for the Incurably Curious," it really is just that. Henry Wellcome, a pharmacist and entrepreneur who died in the mid 1930s, left his huge and wild collection of scientific and medical artifacts to a museum he'd built dedicated to educating people about the craziness of human bodies and life. I went this afternoon to catch High Society, an exhibit on the history of drug culture (!) - it was really cool, but not nearly as much so as the exhibit of Wellcome's own collection. Have you ever seen a mummified face? Or a veil of teeth, or a set of ancient Japanese sex toys? If not, come to London and we'll go together.

Daunt Books: This bookstore on Marylebone High Street is admittedly not my favorite of the ones seen so far in London (the best is the London Review of Books in Bloomsbury, which means it's a little too far away to count here), but it's still really nice, with a really good non-fiction section. It's also generally a satisfying feeling to spend time in a real, independent bookstore, which is hardly possible anymore at home. Marylebone High Street is great on its own too - it's sorta comfortingly posh, like Tiffany's to Holly Golightly. Saturdays it has the Cabbages and Frocks market, which is a little heavy on the frocks, but on Sundays there's a farmers market to compensate. There's also the Natural Kitchen, which is a wonderful little artisan grocery shop and cafe that sells fancy cheeses and £9 crackers. I go to browse and daydream gluttonously.

The Cape of Good Hope: Of course, the best for last. How to explain the Cape? It's part Hotel California, part family diner off the interstate, part Bagdad Cafe from the German movie, and part secret society. My friends and I were drawn to it walking home one night if only out of confusion: fluorescent light streamed out of it like from a Kmart, and there was a small level of flats above it with tattered curtains. And yet it is, or claims to be, a pub, though it looks more like a Bill Knapps. We're still not sure what secrets it holds, but after hours and hours spent there since that first strange and momentous night, we have yet to leave without stories and a general sense of having found something miraculous.

So, there's the seven. I haven't explored too much of Camden yet, which is the neighborhood around the northern part of the park, but that can only add to the collection of places to go to even on terribly lazy days. It must be okay to have some lazy days.

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