Upon arriving in London, I was extremely excited for the adventure of a lifetime. I’d lived in a foreign country before, but this was different because a) London is very different from South Korea, and b) I was doing it without parents breathing down my back. I finally felt like I was an adult – living on my own, exploring the world on my own – and I couldn’t wait to get started.
My adventures in London so far have been great, and I’ve found that the most valuable experiences come from visiting ordinary places. Every weekend, I’ve gotten on the tube and gone somewhere I hadn’t seen before, and so far, my adventures have mostly consisted of going to parks and markets. However, doing this has been a lot of fun, and I’ve learned many things about the area.
As far as markets go, I’ve been to Borough Market and Brixton Market. Comparing and contrasting, I think I like Borough Market better, but both are wonderful in very different ways.
The first market I went to was Brixton Market, and it totally reminded me of the market I went to with my Mom while living in South Korea. There was a mostly immigrant population there, selling their produce, and I was amazed at how cheaply I could buy a bag of potatoes for. In a sense, I was grateful, but in another sense, I felt bad for the people who worked so hard and made so little.
This was reflected in an experience I had buying strawberries there. Out of curiosity, I asked the price, and the man said £1.20. I thought that was very reasonable, and decided to buy them, but when I was fishing through my pocket for exact change, the man assumed I didn’t have the money and said I could have them for £1. After arguing with him for a bit about this, I tried to pay him the full amount, but when he kept saying ‘no, no, it’s really fine,’ I felt too embarrassed to argue back and left him with the £1. This experience really struck me at how poor some people must be, as they might not have a few extra pence for a box of strawberries. In hindsight, he might have been one of those people, which made me feel very guilty about not forcing him to take the full price, especially because I could easily afford it.
Borough Market is slightly more expensive, but I’ve come to the conclusion that the food is much better, and that it’s worth the price. There are a lot of small, organic farms that sell their fresh vegetables there, and there are also bakeries, cheesemakers, butchers, and street food vendors. So far, I’ve bought some delicious veggies, homemade bread, apple strawberry juice, and a venison apple burger which claimed to be fresh from the field. All of the food tasted amazing, and now I know where I am going to do most of my grocery shopping while I’m here.
The parks I’ve been to include Hyde Park and St. James’ Park. I have yet to explore these areas in full, but from what I’ve seen so far, I’ve been nothing but impressed. I went to Hyde Park during my first weekend in London, and was amazed at how big it was. There I was, in the middle of a busy city, and I’d entered into a natural area that I couldn’t see the end of. It was breath-taking! I adventurously explored its paths, enjoying the birds and squirrels going about their daily lives, as well as the trees whispering in the wind.
I also got a look at the Italian Gardens and the Princess Diana memorial playground. Two things I learned: that the English can do gardens right, and that the English can do playgrounds right. Despite it being winter, the Italian Gardens were beautiful (especially the fountains), and I wished I could have stayed longer sitting in them to get inspired (the weather was a bit cold for that). From what I could conceive of the playground, it was set up in this natural area with complex wooden play structures that kids could actually have fun on. Seeing all this, I wondered, ‘when will Americans ever learn?’
St. James’ Park was also beautiful. I went there briefly one day between classes, and managed to see some ducks, geese, pigeons, and other cool birds, and walked halfway around the pond. This park wasn’t near as big as Hyde Park, and it was much more crowded, but it was still a joy to take time off during my work day and enjoy the outdoor sunshine.
What amazed me most about both parks was the fact that they existed, and the fact that there are so many other parks like them that I have yet to explore. Since London is a big city, it’s wonderful how there are so many large, open areas for wildlife. Granted, city parks are not the most natural habitat, but the fact that people make the effort to make spaces for plants and animals is beautiful. Additionally, the parks are some of the nicest places to go to because you can get some fresh air, and are free to explore whatever you want at your own pace.
So, parks and markets sum up my travels in London thus far. However, my thirst for adventure has not been stilled, and I can’t wait to go and explore more of this amazing city.