It was my last weekend in London. My cousin wanted to see me before I left. So he traveled down from Cambridge and I met him at King’s Cross. The place was starting to look familiar. I had traveled through there to go to Edinburgh and Yorkshire. The crowds staring at the departure boards, the tourists lining up outside Platform 9 3/4, the strange incongruent architectural styles—all of it was starting to seem comfortably known.
The neighborhood surrounding it wasn’t, though. It was around lunch time and both my cousin and I were hungry. Since we didn’t want to wonder around until we found a place, I made the executive decision to hop onto the Tube and go to Covent Garden. I’ve never been to Covent Garden either, but at least I had heard of it and knew where that was in relation to other places I’ve been. (That’s the thing with London, there’s always something new to see, to explore. If you have time to do it that is.)
We stumbled in to Covent Garden Market, which was crawling with Christmas shoppers, and found a pie shop off in the corner underneath the stairs. So we ate our chicken and mushroom pies with potatoes and chatted. We hadn’t seen each other since September, and we weren’t able to meet up at Cardiff, so there was a lot to talk about.
Afterwards, we tried to wander around, but the Christmas crowds were getting to be a bit much so we headed out. Using my A to Z map I had bought when I first came here, I navigated us to the Strand. I showed him a Doctor Who store I had found while walking to the Twinings Shop, and we then headed to Trafalgar square.
Even though he’s been in the country for four or so months, my cousin hasn’t had time to go to London. All the sights were still new to him, but like King’s Cross, the sight of Nelson and his lions were a well-known London fixture to me. (God, I’m going to miss those big, bronze beasts.)
Because neither of us had been and we both felt obligated to go, we entered the National Gallery. We wandered around the Renaissance and Baroque masterpieces, admiring the Titians and Rembrandts, paintings that we’ve only seen in books or on internet memes. We then stayed long enough to see the Turners, Degas, Monets, and Van Goghs before heading out. (I could’ve spent all day there, like I did at the Museé d’Orsay, but I couldn’t do that to my cousin.)
Once back in the open air, we strolled down Whitehall toward Westminster. I had done this walk many times before: when I was first here, when my friend was visiting from Dublin, and more. I had actually been just there for my history class. To round out our last lecture, we visited the war memorials at Hyde Park Corner and along Whitehall, ending, rather poetically, at the Cenotaph.
I was so well acquainted with the area that I began to point out buildings and monuments. With a little more practice I could become a tour guide. Still there were things I couldn’t predict. On the opposite side of the road, near the Cenotaph and Downing Street was a Syria protest: Hundreds of people holding signs ordering the government to stop the bombing, as well as a few dozen singing for peace and support for other African countries. My cousin was nervous so we quickly moved on.
We stopped long enough outside Big Ben for my cousin to take a selfie, before we elbowed our way through the crowd coming off Westminster Bridge and headed to the Embankment. As we strolled along the Thames, I once again played the tour guide, pointing out buildings and spouting out facts and memories: Look, there’s St. Paul’s in the distance. It might be a bit pricy but the views from the top are worth it. And over there is the monument that was damaged during the First Blitz during WWI. Across the river is the National Theater. It looks like an unsightly concrete mass in the daytime, but at night it’s beautiful. And so on. I told my cousin that while I would’ve been nice to see him more, at least he was visiting me when I knew enough about London to give him a decent tour of it.
We then crossed the river near Embankment Station to go to the Southbank Christmas market. I had heard about it from several people and wanted to check it out. My cousin had no objection. Much smaller than Winter Wonderland, but much more eclectic and less touristy, the market was packed with Londoners looking for a bit of Christmas cheer. We meandered around the crowds and aisles of stalls for a while but because neither of us were hungry or wanted to spend a lot of money, we didn’t spend long there. Plus, my cousin had to go catch his train soon.
As we battled our way through the hordes of tourists on Westminster Bridge, I told my cousin about London’s plethora of markets: Portobello, Whitechapel, Brick Lane, and more. I explained that there are so many that it’s pretty easy to stumble into them on the weekends. For instance, this one time, I was doing some Christmas shopping when I came across the riot that is Camden Market and got lost amongst the maze of venders.
We eventually made it to Westminster Station and went to King’s Cross from there. The train was boarding by the time we arrived, so we said a quick good-bye and Merry Christmas before departing.