Nevertheless, the best place to see street art remains the street. Around the world, street artists express emotion, give voice to the marginalized or downtrodden, protest, or simply create beauty. They use a variety of tools, including yarn, stickers, magazines, found objects, tiles, LED or laser displays, and brooms, as in the case of “reverse graffiti,” in which a dirty area is cleaned such that the removal of dust or detritus forms an image. Most of the time, street artists don’t have permission to put their work up in public spaces.
On the day that I had finally collected enough tokens, my cousin Ruth, an 81-year-old with impeccable taste in restaurants, invited me over to lunch with a friend and with my cousin Lindsey. Ruth and her friend pored over the newspaper’s list, dismissing many of the locations as chain bars and pointed me toward Chimes, which serves English food and hard ciders in Pimlico. Chimes was offering a three-course meal for £10 a person. I decided to go that evening with Lindsey.
The restaurant’s décor was utterly unfussy – with wooden tables and old photos on the wall, it could have been a student bar if the clientele weren’t young couples and middle-aged groups. We feasted on their sophisticated take on British cuisine: stuffed mushrooms topped with hazelnuts, cidered cod and haddock, chicken pie with gooseberries, and bread-and-butter pudding. For £20, we got £50.30 worth of food (I checked the standard menu) and added a “rough, farmhouse style” Weston’s Old Rosie cider for me and a sparkling elderflower drink for Lindsey, which raised the check to £26.
I soon realized that when you don’t pay for museums, it changes the whole experience. When Lindsey and I arrived at the Natural History Museum just a half-hour before it closed, we just zoomed right in, whizzed by some cool dinosaurs, and sped right out, our wallets unscathed. When I had just an hour free and was passing by the Tate Modern, I strolled in and focused on the surrealists on Level 3. It felt like a guilty pleasure, sort of like sneaking into an expensive breakfast buffet just to pilfer a pain au chocolat, knowing you could come back any time for the poached eggs or fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice.
Still, while students had some excellent advice, I soon realized that planning an entire trip around their tips was folly, and turned to some other friends and relatives for more tips.
More on that next week.
But before I forget: I did end up finding a chain that was worth the trip. Many students I questioned practically urged me to visit Nando’s, a South Africa-based grilled chicken chain that has practically taken over London near universities. I nodded appreciatively as people spoke glowingly of something called peri-peri chicken. I just couldn’t resist heading to the Covent Garden branch on my final night. To my surprise, I found myself led down a spiral staircase to a pleasant dining area — nicer than Applebee’s — and though I ordered at a counter, myquarter-chicken with two sides and choice of six sauces for £6.59, was delivered to my table by friendly servers. The spicy peri-peri sauce — which is promoted as a traditional Portuguese-Mozambican creation, was a step up from most bottled or chain-store sauces.
London can look like a storybook city to a new visitor, but behind the façade of gray palaces, red buses and black iron railings, is a vast city of numerous neighbourhoods that are often villages unto themselves. Sure, there is wonderful theatre and constant cultural events, but it is the street fashion in Dalston, pop-up restaurants in Borough, roof-top farm/art installations in Shoreditch and literary salons in Notting Hill, that are among the joys of living here.
The only thing that is really a factor in travelling from London is time. Do you want to take a two-hour train journey to Paris or a two-hour flight to Portugal? Do you want to spend four hours to get to Edinburgh or the same amount to get to a coastal village in the heart of Devon? You could spend weekends walking the sheep-cropped hills of Shropshire or Wales, or the boulevards of Barcelona or Madrid. Dubai, Oman and other Middle East points are about seven hours away, and New Delhi only eight.
Today, the inhabitants of Sark, the smallest of the four main Channel Islands, celebrate a unique addition to their list of attractions, one they hope will bring more visitors in the cold, dark winter season. Lying 80 miles off the south coast of England, Sark has been declared the first “dark sky island” in the world.
The award is in recognition of the exceptional blackness of the night sky that makes for spectacular stargazing on the island. On a cloud-free night, countless stars and hurtling meteors are visible against a backdrop of the Milky Way that reaches across the sky from one horizon to the other.
The announcement, by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA), a US-based organisation devoted to preserving the darkest and most beautiful night skies on Earth, follows more than a year of work with the island’s 600-strong community to ensure as little light as possible spills upwards into the sky, where it can blot out starlight.