Travel Writing Awards Entry

By Natalie Clark

Travelling from ‘The Heart of Europe’ to the home of ‘The London Eye’ takes around seven hours. Two hours through endless fields and grazing cows to Calais for starters; thirty-five minutes of both darkness and blinding lights with a serving of violent shaking through the Euro Tunnel; followed by five hours of tarmac and dotted white lines to wherever one is staying in London to finish.

Arriving at Berkhamsted around 3pm, I was able to witness the town in full swing. I saw three people leaving the post office! Berkhamsted is a pocket-sized parish approximately a twenty minute train journey outside the centre of London. Although seemingly a country village, with countless trees blossoming here, there and everywhere, it is the monstrous shopping centre five minutes down the road that gives the game away. Berkhamsted was to be my place of residence for the three days I stayed in London.

Stepping out of the train into Euston Station is stepping into a parallel universe. An un-nameable feeling washes over you. Excitement, amazement and pure panic. It’s like a bottle neck trying to get through the ticket station and if you do not keep to the set pace – or should I say sprint? – You will be crushed alive.

It’s everyman for himself in the London underground. Floods of people rush past as fast as possible to catch the tube. I strongly believe that it should be classed as one of the major tourist attractions. It is truly spectacular. Ingenious. The oldest and one of the busiest underground railway networks in the world, with over 255 miles of track way. It is a mobile zoo, the passengers caged as it travels, sometimes so crowded that face prints are left upon the windows. A scent of haste, the sound of gasping always fills the cabins. Uncomfortable, cramped but utterly incredible.

Striding out of Oxford Circus Station onto Oxford Street and one can see why it received the name; people strolling around as if they have just finished a performance in a big orange, triangular tent. Art students with their dazzling , coloured hair; dedicated shoppers, performing a juggling act with their bags; and tourists clinging onto their maps, their life support, as they are pulled by the wind. A man, parading along the street with a microphone, enlightening the passers by, cleansing them of their sins, introducing them to God, “The Christian way is the right way,” he protests to an audience of giggles and smirks. The clowns of Oxford Circus.

There is nothing better than Oxford Street. The shops, oh the shops of Oxford Street. If I hadn’t been pushed for time I would have stared at them, soaking in their glory. However, it was a race against time to bag as much of their glory as possible. The cash desk was sweet music to my ears. I became one the clowns of Oxford Circus, performing my own juggling act with my shopping bags.

The city is like marmite – you either love it or hate it. Although home to millions of optimistic, people, full of expectations of a better life, of which they hope to find in London, it is also inhabited by many whose hopes and dreams faded a long time ago. You are reminded of this as you walked past the headquarters of the ‘The Big Issue’ where copies of the magazine are handed out and as bucket loads of citizens scream politely in your ear to buy “BIG ISSUE”. If I had the choice, I would go home with a suitcase full of them.

You would have to be pretty talented to be bored in London. It is drowning in things to do, buildings to see. There’s  Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park and Big Ben is slightly hard to miss; the family of bridges – London Bridge, Tower Bridge, and any other bridge that takes to your fancy. If you want to sit down for thirty or so minutes you could take a ride on the London Eye, the out-of-this-world Ferris wheel that allows you to see the whole of London in the comforting environment similar to that of a gold fish bowl. Although, I suppose you would like to sit down after queuing up for two hours straight.

Beautiful and abstract architectural forms create the London skyline. A Kandinsky painting. The Tate modern assists this. Located opposite St. Paul;s Cathedral and next door to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, ‘Tate Modern’ is a juxtaposition of a name for the building that it publicizes. A browny orange, bricked building, once known as ‘Bankside Power Station’ designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott in 1947. Scott also designed the renowned red telephone box, also seen dotted all over London. The power station was modified by Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron after winning an international architectural competition.

From its title, I imagined the building to be outstandingly innovative and eye catching; however, I consider it to be more of an eye sore. Nevertheless, inside is another story. The light and space created inside leads you to believe you have walked into the future. The ceilings tower above you, dauntingly. You feel small and inadequate but love every second spent there. The floors sparkle as the sun rays melt through the windows to enhance the art pieces inside.

Hollen’s snake like slides, swirl and sliver around all angles and levels of the turbine hall, bringing excitement, entertainment and wonder to every adult and child that gaze upon them; Fischli and Weiss offer mind boggling photographs and eyebrow-raising sculptures; and if all else fails there’s always the gift shop where you can purchase the bright pink ’10 reasons why it’s better to be a women artist’ by the Guerrilla Girls, or the ‘Big Book of Feminist Art’ or any other art book you could possibly ever want. Never judge a book by its cover. I suppose London city is a The Tate Modern on a larger scale – a little shabby on the outside, but remarkable on the inside.

If the Tate Modern doesn’t do it for you, there is always the Tate Britain. It is in complete contrast to the Modern. It is modest in its appearance. Inside is not as magnificent as the Tate Modern, yet it is more welcoming and homely. The decoration is old-fashioned, consisting mainly of dark wood and coloured, fading tiles, yet it stands tall and proud, hosting masterpieces of Britains finest artists, such as the Holbein’s paintings of Henry VIII and his third wife, Jane Seymore.

Cities are like marmite. You either love them or hate them. London is a truly breath of fresh air. Although breathing in London is said to be like smoking twenty cigarettes a day, for me, and thousands of other people, it is ‘the’ place to be. With endless amounts of opportunities to learn or just to enjoy, it will never let you down.
I don’t like Marmite, but I love cities. I am a city-a-holic!