London is a tourist hotspot and for most Londoners, venturing into the epicentre of our city on the verge of a weekend sounds like a nightmare. But what if you took a little bit of time to be the tourist for once?
Our marketing coordinator set off early and documented her early route home, via some of London's most iconic locations.
I love being in an energised and chaotic city just like the next ambitious career-seeker, but don't we all have little-to-zero tolerance for weekend-wanderers? There is nothing more 'London' than getting stuck behind someone who stops dead centre in the middle of the pavement to take a picture of a famous road sign or iconic monument, especially when you have somewhere to be. Move.
You tut to yourself just loud enough for that awkward eye-contact to ensue; oh yes, they know you're miffed. It's a wonderful moment of self-indulgent smugness as you continue your way to the tube stop and is one of many frustrations that the everyday Londoner has to endure.
But what if we all just paused in our busy lives for a moment and thought about what happens to us when we visit another city of equal fame?
I went to New York once, a metropolis probably a hundred times busier than London, and without blinking or thinking twice I became that of which I normally loathe; a camera-toting, I <3 NY hoodie-wearing, donut-scoffing 'daudler'.
It's OK to be annoyed when you're at home, but the rules don't apply elsewhere? I'm sure that American guy I bumped into on Oxford Circus that time would give me the same death-stare on 42nd Street. So, this Friday, I slowed down my normal fast-paced attitude and took in my local surroundings as if I was seeing them for the first time in all their awe and glory.
I walked down from the office to Portobello Road and instead of rushing to the nearest stall and walking back with my food without even stopping, I sat down on the pavement. I listened to the vinyl reggae coming from the Mau Mau Bar, watched the smiles and gestures from the food marketers and had one bite at a time, taking in the ordinary afternoon.
Quick tip, if you want the best street food in town, head up to the top of Portobello Road and try out Mr. Greek's stall on a Friday ... the chicken and chip wraps are out of this world.
Alongside the food market is the vintage market selling bright arrays of coloured garments and accessories. This is where the fashion is and what it's really all about. Support local traders by discovering a real 100% wool coat or silk Americana bomber jacket. Not that I'm biased, but this is the kind of apparel that the street style photographers of London Fashion Week will be snapping.
I head to Westbourne Park tube at 3pm and the sun is starting to set into a pastel-coloured sky. To make the most of the beautiful clear evening, I figured I should visit the river. Bracing myself for the Baker Street rush when I got off to switch lines, I made it to Embankment.
Straight up onto the Golden Jubilee bridge, I'm glad I decided to head this way rather than directly home, as tempting as a nap had seemed. The atmosphere was busy and electric, as always on a Friday, but there was something about my determined mindset to appreciate the little things that made the view that much more optimistic.
You think about all the shocking things going on in the world at the moment, that something as simple as a young busker singing to three servicemen really made me stop and smile.
The men had spent 11/11 in the city for the memorial services and had taken the time to listen and cheer on the girl singing on the bridge, like she was playing a concert. It made others stop too, and was a perfect 3-minute example of basic, but altogether lacking in quantity, human kindness.
Across the other side of the Thames, street entertainers continued to please the crowds with their varied talents. Nothing new to London or to any other city, but very welcome nonetheless to warm up a frosty Friday afternoon with laughter.
Up on Westminster Bridge, the tone was completely different. With the big England vs Scotland game later in the evening, streets and stations were caught up in cheerful chants from visiting Scotland supporters who managed to lift the mood .. and nearly their kilts.
The most poignant moment of my tourist trip was seeing a photography display along the pavement towards the London Eye. Images of the current situation in war-torn Syria (that looked like they should have been out of a history book) were placed here very purposefully.
Syria was brought into the spotlight in a moving yet ironic way ... against the backdrop of the Houses of Parliament. I spent 20 minutes talking with volunteers who informed me of facts and figures that I'm sure don't make it onto our TV screens or in our newspapers. And, on a day as sombre as 11/11 for British and world history, it was especially important to stop and listen.
It again provided me with a sombre moment of gratitude and appreciation that I am lucky enough to be here, whilst another my age is somewhere over there, perhaps wishing they had my Friday afternoon.
All in all, a very worthwhile time-out. London has magic dotted all over the city in both big and small doses, and that magic comes from both its everyday inhabitants, and it's visitors.
If we put our glasses on ;) ... and see that so many people wish they lived here, then maybe we will realise how lucky we are to have London on our doorstep. If anything, from now on I'm going to try my best to let weekend-wanderers and slow-walkers remind me to slow down too.