Lately I’ve been starting to feel as if I’m growing tired of London. It feels as if we’ve been everywhere before and tried everything before. When friends come to visit I find myself suggesting the same restaurants we’ve eaten at a million times and can vouch for (instead of taking the risk and potentially finding something amazing) and heading out to the same spots to explore or setting the same pubs at the meeting points. Even areas which I’ve grown to love over the years, such as our local area in Finsbury Park, Upper Street in Islington and my personal fave, Columbia Road have started to feel tired and stagnant. I visit them and feel the familiarity of every street, knowing what’s coming next and which shortcut to take, my eyes recognising every corner from a previous Instagram snap. Nothing or nowhere new.
Of course this isn’t really the case. I know that. One thing London could never be described as is stagnant – it is constantly changing and evolving, and new places, spots and eateries are always arriving. Sometimes they come and go so quickly, blink and you might just miss them. You just need to have your eyes open, you need to stop relying on the familiarity of the streets you know, avoid those fail safe shortcuts in favour a new route, and seek out the little un-turned stones that might just be shining gems. I know that.
So I guess it’s not London to blame for being tired but us. This year, we’ve got busy. REAL busy. Time is precious, and any of it that is going spare comes with the added pressure of needing to be spent wisely and not wasted. We no longer seem to have the hours free to seek out the new or the exciting or the blink and you’ll miss it, and even when we do, we don’t seem to have the energy to enjoy them. Instead of being at the front of the pack – trying out the new places before anyone else has and passing on the recommendations to others – we’re at the back – taking those recommendations to make sure when, on the rare occasion, we do eat out we’re heading somewhere that’s worth our time and our spend. Life seems to have got in the way, and London has become just a place to live rather than a place to explore.
But then just like that things can flip on their head, and you can find yourself feeling like a tourist once again, taking in sights for the first time or re-visiting familiar spots and seeing them with renewed appreciation. A few weeks back, we found ourselves in Broadway Market one Sunday and I realised that despite having heard about it often, it was somewhere I’d never visited. Walking down the market street full of cute cafe’s and pubs with customers spilling out onto the streets, I started to feel that giddy excitement that comes with visiting somewhere new that you just know you’re going to love, a place so full of Instagram snaps just waiting to be found that you can’t even figure out which to start with. And I realised that there are still many places left to explore in London, so many that I might never get around them all, but definitely enough that I can continue to be surprised by this city that may have become familiar. All I need to do is be open to finding them. Not walk around with the blinkers on and stick to the spots I know but essentially, every once in a while, act like a tourist again.
So when Uniqlo got in touch and challenged us to take a mini holiday in our own city and experience some of the things we hadn’t before, I couldn’t think of a better way to spend our anniversary the other weekend.
Luckily the weather was on our side (thanks London) and despite being a little grey, it was a dry sunny day perfect for exploring. We started our day out by heading into Westminster, an area I’d normally avoid at all costs during the weekend as it’s so busy, full of tourists and street performers, and generally difficult to move around in. But this time we were tourists, so the busyness didn’t bother us. We weren’t in a rush, we didn’t have to catch that next tube or get to work so we could meander through the streets at the same pace as everyone else who was admiring the sights for the first time. But we had a different way of viewing those sights ahead of us, as we’d been booked onto a riverboat cruise along the Thames, something we’d never done before. Having taken a boat trip in Paris, and of course in Venice, as well as even New York (when we headed to Hoboken for the day), it did seem a little silly that we’d never taken one in our own city. There’s something rather relaxing about viewing a city from the water that surrounds it – you can take in the iconic buildings without hoards of people jostling past you, you can appreciate the size and magnitude of those buildings when you realise how small the little dots of people around them are and you can sit back and let the cool air breeze over you as you watch the large, busy and always moving city unfold around you.
I chose to wear a couple of pieces from the new holiday clothes range at Uniqlo for the occasion, and I felt very well suited to my boat surroundings in this preppy get up. The silk striped dress was a dream to wear (can you believe the price for 100% silk too?) feeling super luxe against the skin and hanging loosely enough that I knew I could eat and drink to my hearts content and never feel constrained. It was enough on its own, but seeing as this mini holiday was still on UK turf I took the little white bomber jacket with me too, which was actually welcomed when that boat started picking up speed. It’s made from such a soft fabric, it was super comfy on, and with the addition of my Penelope Chilvers slippers and Asos navy backpack, I was looking so preppy I would of been more at home on a sailing boat than a river boat.
We could hop on and off the boat at various points throughout the cruise but we chose to disembark (boat terms) at Tower Bridge, so that we could see the Tower of London up close (again something, I’ve never done (ahem – terrible right?) and wander around this area of London and up towards Bishopsgate where the restaurant we were having dinner at was. Definitely not as busy as the bustle of Westminster, the area around Tower Bridge threw up many new streets and locations we hadn’t found ourselves walking through before, and the iconic buildings such as the Gherkin were appreciated all the more when we stumbled across them. Soon we found ourselves in more familar surroundings around Liverpool Street and Bishopsgate and headed to The London Steak and Ale House for our evening grub. This Bishopsgate establishment is a Marco Pierre White restaurant, and tucked away in a quiet (at least on a Saturday) street just a few minutes away from the busy Shoreditch crowds.
Merging traditional British food such as steak and chips with the service and details you’d expect from fine dining, this type of restaurant was right up our street. We got to feel like we were enjoying a ‘proper’ evening out and celebrate our anniversary in style with the appropriate bubbles, cocktails and three courses, but also felt like we could easily stumble in after a full day out and feel comfortable despite the fact we weren’t exactly ‘dressed for dinner’ as they say. The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly, but we were also very well looked after and the food of a high standard. I loved the almost speakeasy vibe of the building, with it’s slightly underground setting, low lighting and giant world clocks on the walls. Their weekend set menu with three courses and a drink was really reasonable, although we did end up having to buy the sides to our mains seperately which seemed a little odd but other than that it was a great meal out.
We hung out at our table long after our desserts had been polished off, enjoying the drinks and the feeling that comes with being on a date once again, even when you’ve known each other six years, before heading back out into the familiar of Shoreditch and having a few cocktails to end the night.
Despite the fact we’ve now lived in this fair city so long, our adventure really did feel like a mini holiday and I think it was all because we treated it so. We went about our day in the same way we would have, had we been abroad and on a planned vacation. We forgot about work, and weddings, and everything else that is currently consuming our every day and let time go by at the rate it wanted to without worrying about what had been acheived and what hadn’t. We meandered through the city, stopped when we wanted to for coffees, drinks, food, walked wherever our curiousity took us rather than heading straight for the next destination on the list and attempted to view the city, the sights, the places and the people as if we were viewing them all for the first time. And it worked! London had never looked so pretty, and I *might* have even joined in with the ‘real’ tourists and waved at the people above us when our boat drove under the bridges.
Thanks Uniqlo and Virgin Experiences for helping us enjoy a holiday in our own city, and for re-igniting my love of everything London has to offer. I definitely recommend taking a holiday at home every so often – and summer’s not over yet so why not!