A Saturday in (East) London

This weekend my friend from Canada is visiting, and of course that means we are doing some touring of London. The plan was to hang out, and for my friend to experience what life in London is like. However, if we were to stick to my usual routine we may not leave the house (some weekends are great for hibernation, organizing, and gym-time). To avoid ‘wasting’ our weekend in London I had to whip up some ideas of what to do. The goal was to explore my neighbourhood, see London as a local, and have fun.

The Saturday started out with a very relaxed breakfast at home, followed by braving traffic on our Boris bikes. Whenever possible I cycle, and I genuinely believe it is the best way of getting around in London and seeing the city. Nonetheless, I was impressed that he was willing to get on the road with me like this with most locals being too afraid to cycle. Perhaps as foreigners we are blessed with some sense of adventure and fearlessness.

old Spitalfields market image

Stop 1: Spitalfields Market

I really like Spitalfields Market. It is the place where I bought an antique map of my neighbourhood before I even moved here. More on that story in another post! I love that Spitalfields is open every day and there are a lot of interesting things to see, do, and eat at the market and the surrounding area.

In the past almost-two years I’ve lived here, I’ve been to Spitalfields more than a handful of times, and I have been keeping an eye out for some of the vendors.Brooch from Spitalfields market image One in particular, Magpie’s attic, sells lovely crystal brooches. I am not normally a ‘brooch-person’ but I’ve been wanting to get one that could be a statement piece on a black dress. Preferably all in one colour. After some time keeping an eye out, I found just the perfect one.

To my surprise there was a new store at the market, a brand new Tiger. Ever since discovering Tiger I like walking through them. It feels like Ikea without the commitment of a full afternoon: like Ikea they are maze-like and relatively cheap, but they are a fraction of the size and don’t sell furniture. Nothing is expensive and as is the case often with cheaply made items, they do not all work out as expected. This would be the minority of cases I think, but it happened to me this weekend. I saw a magnifying lens for your phone, which looked like a really cool concept (think: take close-ups of flowers and animals, or random small things…). Tiger lens imageGiven the low price I was already skeptical, but with the attitude of “you never know”, we got it anyways. After getting it out of the package it turns out it only works if the lens is pressed right up against the item. For example; pressing it onto a page, it magnifies as promised. Even half an inch away from the page, the camera no longer focuses. I was beyond disappointed and felt a little deceived: the packaging showed the lens working in close proximity, it does not look like the bug in the sample picture is being crushed between the leaf and the lens. Which is exactly the conditions required for the camera to focus.

Of all the fun things I saw at Tiger, this was the riskiest purchase, and the only one that did not work out. I bought a tea-pot, a tray, and a lovely Acacia wood cutting board. All for under £20! The cutting board in particular is a steal, at £8 it is not something you can leave behind when you’ve seen the same sold for $30-60.

Old Spitalfields Market is always changing ever so slightly. This time around there was also a food truck with a full pizza oven inside. I tried to get a good shot of it, without great success because there were people constantly trying to order pizza. As a little side-note, the pizza looked pretty good too.

pizza truck image

Stop 2: Ciders at Borough Market

I fell in love with Borough Market since the first time I went. The mix of local produce and interesting food vendors is heaven for any foodie. Although I do not have a sweet tooth I still love eating up the cakes and sweets with my eyes. The serious downside of Borough Market is that it is always packed. You have to make peace with shuffling along, and if you are eating anything from the food vendors just try to find a spot to sit in the church’s courtyard next to the market. It might be a little less busy during the week when the locals are at work, but given Borough Market is featured in any tourist guide, chances are the difference is subtle at best. With it being covered (mostly), it is also a great place to hide from London weather.

My friend has a love for cider, and I remembered there being a cider bar at the market. With a little shuffling in the crowds we found it. It was the only place with a bit of breathing room, and after tasting several different types of cider generously offered by the bar tender, we settled on the “medium”. Personally, I like it when cider has a bit of sparkle to it (= carbonation), and I am not enough of a connoisseur to know if flat cider is the “proper” way of making cider and the carbonated ones are perhaps less authentic (or visa versa), but I prefer a sparkling cider. After drinking a full pint, my friend mentioned it has 8% alcohol, when I said I was feeling it hitting me a bit hard. This was our queue to shuffle back into the crowd and get some lunch from one of the vendors to help soak up the alcohol.

drinking cider at borough market picture

Stop 3: The Imperial War Museum

Next we picked up some fresh bikes, and cycled over to the Imperial War Museum. It is no more than a 13 min cycle ride from borough market, so the perfect after lunch activity. Although after walking through the exhibits I would say that 8% cider would have been better after than before. The exhibits are very well put together. We managed to see most of the museum in a few hours, and like many others this museum is also free to visit.

Image of the imperial war museum

The holocaust exhibit was particularly impressive. It gave, in my opinion, a detailed and human view of the second world war. Including many accounts of survivors through interviews playing on TV screens, as well as letters and drawings from victims paired with some details of their stories. Anne Frank is probably one of the most famous victims of the holocaust, but at the Imperial War Museum she did not take center stage, and it was nice to see other stories featured alongside hers. Anne Frank’s account of daily life in the way is likely one of the best and most completely records out there, but it is one story of millions. It was interesting to see a small number of the vast range in stories that belong to the victims of the holocaust.

Even though I grew up in Holland and the second world war was very well covered in school, I still learned a few things I didn’t know before. The exhibit was in every sense of the word depressing, as anything portraying the holocaust is. After this sobering experience, we got some cycles again to head home.

Stop 4: Dinner at home!

I love a home-cooked meal. Equally, I love a great meal in a restaurant, but I get to eat out enough when I travel for work and when I am home in London I prefer just having some food out of my own kitchen. For dessert we enjoyed some snacks from borough market served on the new cutting board. There is nothing nicer than having a drink and some freshly prepared nibbles bought at the market earlier in the day.

Stop 5: Live Music at The Palm Tree Pub

The Palm Tree pub is a relic that I believe must be experienced on live-music-night. It is a quintessential East London pub with decor so old and tired it manages to be charming. Crisp pints and good service are not a given here, but the music is phenomenal. East London is changing and regulars are now an eclectic bunch of old and new residents. It is right by the canal and scary to walk to through the unlit park when you are on your own. It has become a usual spot for me to take visitors to, but I admit primarily for the music and what I perceive to be the historic value of seeing a pub that is in all ways truly old. There are many worse ways of ending a perfectly good Saturday in London!

palm tree pub image

Christine Buske is a former academic who left science at the bench, and now considers herself a woman in tech. She is a frequently invited speaker, and enjoys talking about career transformation (particularly leaving academia for the business world), tech, issues around women in tech, product management, agile, and outreach. She is a proud Canadian resident, and qualifies as a "serial expat".


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