I woke up feeling groggy but pushed myself to get dressed and ready so that I could get to Spitalfields Market in time to meet Ruth, a family friend from New York who had recently moved to London with her family. On my way, I grabbed a coffee at a small cafe called Appestat. I would have liked to sit and read if I’d had time, but I didn’t so I took my coffee to go and dripped it all over the front of my jacket during my Tube ride.
It took me approximately one hundred years to find Spitalfields Market. Once there, I had enough time to walk through the stalls and look for gifts for friends back home. I had to meet Ruth and Christine, another friend who was visiting London that week, at noon in front of a statue of a white goat, where our Street Art Walking Tour would begin. I got another coffee at a chain coffee place while I was waiting. The woman behind the counter seemed unable to understand me, giggled after I ordered, and I ended up with an Americano the size of a large movie theater soda.
I found the tour group assembling in front of the statue and checked in under Ruth’s name. Neither Ruth nor Christine was there by the time we were supposed to leave. Josh, our tour guide, looked at me and said, “Ruth, are you able to get in touch with your friends?” and I stared at him blankly before realizing that he thought my name was Ruth. I told him that I hadn’t been able to yet, but we left without them anyway. I spent the next ten minutes frantically turning my data on and off to see if they had responded to an email they had sent earlier.
Ruth, Christine, and three other friends from our hometown who had literally just arrived in London met up with the group outside of Christ Church. We all caught up as we walked around East London, looking at street art that Josh pointed out. An artist himself, he showed us a few pieces that he had done. Overall, the tour was informative and I walked away feeling like I’d learned a lot about the history of East London, so I’d recommend an Alternative London tour to anyone who’s looking to do something slightly off the beaten path.
The day was cold and windy, so we went to lunch at a nearby restaurant in Shoreditch called Pizza East. I was still jittery from all of my coffee, but drank a few glasses of wine, which evened me out. I hadn’t seen most of our group in a very long time, so it was really nice to hang out and hear stories about everyone’s lives.
(Please note that this was the second meal during which I, a New York native, ate pizza in London. The pizza was thin crust and delicious but it wasn’t better than other fancy restaurant pizza I’ve had recently. That is my brief review.)
We took the bus to the Tower of London, where we were going to look at the poppies and I planned to take a tour. We worked our way through the throngs of people to see the display, which was really beautiful, but the experience itself was overwhelming. I said goodbye to everyone and went to buy a ticket to get inside the Tower, only to discover that they had just stopped admitting people for the day. I had about two hours to kill until I was to meet Chris and Katie for dinner, so I decided to walk to the Tate Modern.
Before I left, everyone I talked to who had ever been to London was like, “You have to go to the Tate Modern.” And I was like, “Yeah, I’ve been there before.” Also, it’s annoying to be told the same thing over and over again, even though everyone had good intentions. The last time I was at the Tate, I was twelve, with my parents and our friends Gary and Pat. It had just opened a few months before our trip. All I remember about it was a video installation featuring a naked dude. We weren’t there for long.
I walked across the Tower Bridge to the south bank of the Thames and made my way west to the Tate as the sun was setting. This time, I had just enough time to see the permanent collection. I walked through the building quickly and distractedly, worrying about how I was going to get to my next destination. I felt lonely.
I met Chris and Katie at Shoreditch House for dinner. Shoreditch House is literally in the same building as Pizza East. I did not realize this until I got there.
After dinner, we went to see Mr. Turner at the Barbican. I wish I could see every movie at the Barbican. It felt fancy, yet accessible, mostly in the sense that the service at the concessions counter – which had candy in glass jars and an espresso machine – was as terrible as it would be at a normal movie theater. (I ordered Katie a tea, we waited for it, they didn’t give it to us, and when we asked for it, they told us we had never ordered it.) Anyway, Mr. Turner was fantastic and I’m going to go see it again this week.