Non-touristy things to do in London

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I’ve been living in London for a bit more than a year now and I still find new things to do every day. Which is a good thing, because as Samuel Johnson said “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”. In this post I’ll share some things you can do in London that are not too touristy, and not that expensive (or free). Click here to continue reading ūüôā

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Polo in the park

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Last weekend I went to my first polo match ever. It was truly a fabulously British experience and I must say that polo is quite an interesting sport. I did a bit of research on its origin and rules and I thought I’d share what I found in this post as well as some tips for when you’ll go to a polo match yourself.

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History

Polo was invented a really long time ago (its establishment has been dated in the range of the 6th century BC to the 1st century AD) somewhere in Central Asia, most likely in Persia. From there it slowly spread through Asia and became a popular sport among royals and other rulers. Modern day polo evolved from a similar game that was played in India, called Manipur. It was taken up by the British Military who introduced the sport in England. The British then popularised polo and spread the game throughout the world.

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The rules

Most of the time the polo traditions are followed, but the rules are sometimes changed to suit the circumstances better. At the Chestersons Polo in the Park I went to each team consisted of three players, instead of four which is normally the case. That way it was easier to follow what was going on. Just like in golf every player has a handicap. But, in polo, the higher the handicap the better, which range from -2 to 10. The team as a whole has a handicap as well, which is all individual players’ handicaps added together. Polo matches are divided into different parts called ‘chukkas’. During these periods players have to¬†change pony, because a pony can’t be used for more than two chukkas in one match. Goals are usually worth 1 point, but sometimes more points are awarded when a goal is scored from a far distance. A lot of other rules are based on the “line of the ball” which is the extended path along which the ball is traveling the field. This line enforces rules for players to approach the ball in a safe way to ensure the safety of both the players and ponies. Admittedly, it’s very hard to keep track of the line of the ball when you’re watching the game.

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Good to know

  • ¬†In polo horses aren’t called horses but ponies, polo ponies. This term is purely tradional though, and the animals are actually fully grown with a height of in between 155 and 160 cm.
  • In between chukkas spectators are often asked to come onto the field and tread divots (bits of dirt and grass that are kicked up by the ponies during the game) back into the field.¬†So if you’re a woman, make sure not to wear pumps but rather wedges or ballerinas or you’ll leave the field (and your shoes) in a worse state.

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But don’t worry too much about remembering all those rules. Everyone knows that going to the polo is more about people watching and drinking Pimm’s anyway ūüėČ

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Columbia Road Flower Market

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Flower markets are very common in the Netherlands, but in London they are quite special. Last week I visited the flower market on Columbia road, and I must say it’s quite worth a visit! The sea of flowers is really pretty, but I personally wasn’t so much intrigued by the flowers themselves, which all come *surprise* from the Netherlands, but more by what’s behind them. Hidden behind the flower stalls you find lovely shops selling things ranging from interior design, to vintage clothes, to art. Another thing that’s quite unique about Columbia road is the way the coffee shops/bars are set up. Most of them consist of little more than just a coffee machine in a tiny space between shops. All in all, Columbia Road is a lovely place to visit both on a Sunday when the Flower Market is open, as well as on any other day.

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Coffee cravings – London

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A couple of years ago the UK was definitely not a coffee country. If you wanted a proper cup you really had to just drink tea or go to a coffee chain such as Starbucks, Costa or Cafe Nero. But a lot has changed since then. Especially in London. Of course, there’s still a Starbucks on almost every street corner, but if you know where to look you’ll find¬†a lot of nice coffee bars that serve very good coffee. These are some of my favourite places which I found through¬†The London Coffee Guide (2014)¬†and by just wandering around.

Store St. Espresso –¬†This coffee bar, which is around the corner of UCL, was my coffee haven during exam time. Store St. is a really nice light cafe with friendly staff. Perfect for a quick coffee to go as well as for catching up with a friend.

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The Attendant –¬†The Attendant is located in a former Victorian public lavatory, which might as well be the most original location for a coffee bar in all of London. It does sound a bit weird to have coffee in a place that people used as a loo,¬†but it’s actually not. The place¬†is renovated in a very stylish way to make sure everyone enjoys their coffee and food to the fullest.

Monocle caf√© –¬†This cafe is a spin-off from the¬†Monocle¬†magazine. Just like the magazine it’s very polished and quite hipster chique. It’s a small cafe so perfect for a quick coffee before you go and explore the shops of Marylebone or indulge yourself in the art at the Wallace Collection.

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Appestat –¬†Appestat is a lovely cafe located in the Camden Passage in Islington. The owners are really friendly and I always find it a pleasure to go for a coffee there. Apart from coffee, they sell a range of artisan products such as cheese and charcuterie.

The Coffee Works Project –¬†Next to Appestat you can find the Coffee Works Project, which is always buzzing with life. The best thing about this cafe is the garden in the back, which, if the weather allows it, is a perfect place to enjoy a cup of coffee.

Look mum no hands! –¬†This is a coffee bar and bike shop in one, so you can have a coffee while you’re waiting for your bike to be repaired. Look mum no hands! is a very colourful place, decorated with cool bike accessories. The coffee as well as the food is delicious.

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Some other places I’d recommend are:¬†Ginger & White,¬†Nude Espresso,¬†and¬†Shoreditch Grind.¬†But this is really just a small selection of the great coffee bars in London. I’m sure that in a months time I’ve already visited places I could add to my favourites list.

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Savage Beauty

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One of the most inspiring and impressive fashion exhibitions I have been to is The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier. I didn’t think I’d see an equally or even better exhibition any time soon, but then I went to Alexander McQueen’s Savage Beauty in the Victoria & Albert museum. Wow. Just wow. I literally walked around with my mouth open, staring in awe at all the amazing designs. This wasn’t just an exhibition it was more of an 4D experience where you find yourself going through different worlds that arose from McQueen’s wondrous imagination.

Each room was decorated in a different way and music was played which fitted the atmosphere and theme of every room. The exhibition starts off rather calmly with the focus on the designs and McQueen’s early life.

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Then you find yourself in a magnificent and at the same time eerie room where the collection “Romantic Gothic” is displayed. The pieces are dark and romantic, and very expressive which in a way made it seem like they were inhabited by a presence. I must say, quite a lot of McQueen’s pieces gave me the feeling they were alive in some way, which in some ways made this exhibition similar to a haunted house.

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The next room, a cave made out of bones, featured a collection of “Romantic Primitivism” with pieces inspired by tribes and animals. This forms a sharp contrast with “Romantic Nationalism”. A collection inspired by Scotland and royalty. The pieces seem to be set in a way to simulate a gathering at court. With Scottish royals dressed in the MacQueen tartan on the one side and another royal family (maybe the English?) on the other side.

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One of my favourite displays was the “Cabinet of Curiosities”. A gigantic room consisting of cabinets filled with accessories in various of the designer’s shows. In this room it becomes apparent that McQueen was inspired by different cultures and species and he used all sorts of material for his designs, from wood to diamonds to feathers to shells. Many of his creations are so ingenious and incredibly beautiful, but a lot of them are disturbing and frightening as well. The designer himself once said: “I want to empower women. I want people to be afraid of the women I dress.” Well, he definitely succeeded. Even without anyone¬†wearing his clothes, they take up a presence in the room.

It’s fascinating to see that in all of these completely different collections McQueen incorporated elements of nature. In some of them, “Romantic Primitivism” and “Romantic Naturalism”, this is quite obvious because the designer used animal hair and flowers. In others natural elements are blended in in a very subtle way. “Plato’s Atlantis” for example, at first sight seems to be a futuristic space collection based on extraterrestrial life, but is in fact inspired by Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.

All in all, this exhibition is a must see! Not just for the fashion lover, but for anyone who would like to be baffled and have a look inside the mind of a creative genius.

You can see the exhibition in the Victoria & Albert museum until the 2nd of August.

 

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Cycling in London

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Just like most Dutch people, I love biking. For me it’s the best way of transportation within a city. You don’t have to wait for your bus or tram to arrive, you can leave whenever you want, which gives you a lot of freedom.

But when I moved to London, I wasn’t completely sure whether I would start biking or not. I’m used to biking in Amsterdam, where traffic can be just as busy as in London, but the big difference between those cities is that in Amsterdam cyclists are at the top of the traffic hierarchy, and in London they are¬†absolutely not. Another big difference is that in Amsterdam, and actually in all of the Netherlands, everyone cycles. Students, children, the elderly, business people, even the prime minister cycles to work. Whereas in London the typical cyclist is somewhere between 20 and 50, rides a racing bike and wears special bike clothing. Lots of¬†people wear a helmet, some put on a visibility jacket, and others go all the way and put on anything that is fluorescent yellow. Even shoes.

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In London, cycling is not just seen as a means to get from A to B, but as a very serious sport. As I said a lot of people wear special cycling gear and some of them also cycle as if they are training for the Tour the France. Also bicycle racing seems to be quite a ‘hip’ sport and hobby in London. I’ve also seen quite some (hipster) cafes that, apart from food and drinks, sell cycling gear and sometimes even have a bike repair place in the back. And they¬†are often¬†decorated with bike accessories such as shirts of the Tour the France.¬†I recently had lunch at one on Old Street called Look mum no hands.¬†It’s a really cool place, and the coffee and food are delicious!

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I think London has great potential to become a real bike city, just like Amsterdam. Especially now the mayor, Boris Johnson (who’s already got the public Boris (barclays) bicycles called after him), has confirmed that the city will get segregated bike lanes and a cycling superhighway. But for now, I must say that biking in the UK’s capital is a challenge and sometimes I feel like I need at least double the ears and eyes I have. Nevertheless, I’d recommend anyone to start biking, because if more people start to bike, other traffic just has to adapt and the city will ultimately become more bike-able ūüôā

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