It's not every morning that you wake up beaming with the thought of what to do during the day. But the prospect of doing one of my most favourite activities of all was hard not to be excited about: Exploring the markets that have been established in London for so many years that it would be criminal not to enjoy this bustling tradition. After downing a quick breakfast in the dark hall of the hostel with only bits of new light breaking its way into the room, I pushed down that inevitable early morning fatigue to find the infamous markets. The antique stalls in the Portobello Market area lay jagged by the road, some selling cheap glass while others sold expensive copper scales and cutlery. The best part of seeing these beautiful gems was being able to watch curiously as they got sold: People haggled and bantered in a cheeky and playful way before parting with smiles on their faces. The crisp but light filled air around made my cheeks turn a frost-bitten, rosy hue. It gave it a feel of realism and urged me to continue walking, allowing me to see a whole host of artistic oil paintings and colourful scarves that stood out as spots of brightness against the neutral colouring of the road. But as much as I enjoyed looking and staring and thinking about how these pieces of art were made, I will be honest in saying I was thinking about my next destination towards the end already. The way to Borough Markets made my tummy rumble and groan, as if secretly relishing at the prospect of being treated to food from the oldest food markets in England but also as if grumbling that it took me so long to get there. No market I had ever visited compared to this one, with a high interior that bounced off sounds of excited people, edging along to get to their favourite stores for a deluxe and unique lunch. Exotic smells would hit me occasionally as I headed down a new path, ones that smelt like fresh seafood and fragrant jams and creamy cheeses all looking just as mouth watering as they smelt. After I fought my way through a gathering crowd to buy a dish of calamari with chilli sauce, I picked a free spot, bit into the soft meat wrapped inside a crunchy crust and felt my body relish from the introduction of such deliciously satisfying food. The cafe in front of me worked like an oil machine, chugging out cups upon cups of steaming caffeinated drinks, yet the line outside still stretched and wrapped around the corner of the street.
I edged my way out of the crowds to approach the one and only London Bridge, but not before stopping in a huge glass dome right next to the busy market to hear a choir of young teens singing holiday carols. Their voices carried through the wind as I eased out to the bridge, clutching my coat and scarf tightly around me. With the Thames running underneath it and the Tower Bridge just in the distance standing in its gothic manner, I walked across it and back whilst braving the wind and the subtle chill that nearly knocked me off my feet. On my way back, it was the funniest thing watching a bunch of festive drinkers chugging down booze whilst wearing sunglasses on a massive cart powered by one poor man peddling to move it across this historic bridge. It made me realise that London was just full of fun and spontaneity, completely opposite to what Paris represented but had another level of attraction and lure. I could not compare these two cities with the same standard because it is their differences that make them so charming.
The historical aspect of London with all its tradition and value, or anywhere else for that matter, was an aspect that I could not say I was always interested in. Perhaps it's the fact that history as a subject had never been a big part of my education, but arriving in Europe has given me a whole new perspective of how enriching and engaging history can be. While I find myself appreciating some aspects more than others, arriving at St Paul's Cathedral opened my eyes to how important the past is; Despite the majestic grandiose of the building before me as I rounded the corner to take it at face view, what made it even more impressive was the courage and bravery of the firemen who sacrificed their lives to save it so we could preserve it for today and many years to come. The cathedral itself was much bigger than I had imagined, and trust me when I say I had big in mind. Even as I walked far from it across a bridge to the Christmas festivities in the distance, I could still see the building with all its angles and curves, accentuated further by the slow setting of the sun. It was one of those moments that could be captured on camera one hundred times and never be satisfying, and standing there to admire it from far away felt also like a privilege that needed to be savoured. But of course after those few special moments, you have to move on. There is simply no logic in waiting around - not in London anyway. It almost feels like wasting time when you could discover so much more.
In saying that, it wouldn't be hard to imagine my impatience and frustration when walking up to the biggest Christmas festivity that I have ever laid eyes on to find a line which seemed as long as the Thames itself. Standing amongst the crowd of excited people who yearned to become a part of the glowing lights and the musical celebrations happening inside the gates, all I could do was watch the lit up amusement rides repeat the same motion over and over again; Falling and rising, spinning and swinging, all with fresh laughter and screams that resonated through the unoccupied and dark areas of Hyde Park. Travelling alone had certain perks but waiting in that line was almost torturous without anybody to share the excitement with and to pass time. It moved ever the more slower with knowing that I was literally so close to being inside every holiday lover's dream. And when I finally got through under the large 'Winter Wonderland' sign, I breathed in a sharp gasp of air. If you could imagine any sort of town, overrun by some extravagant, extensive Christmas explosion, you wouldn't be too far from what I saw in front of me. People where smiling and laughing all around me, some looking relaxed as they lounged around wooden tables while some had a slightly more frantic look in their eyes as they glanced around for their friends. Everybody had a hot drink in their hand and the steam from all these cheap styrofoam cups rose slowly, only to disappear into the masses of piercing lights that glowed against the pitch dark sky. Walking away from the initial entrance, I followed the flow of the crowd onto a street that had an endless array of festive stalls. I couldn't say until this point that I had experienced anything that was so infused with Christmas spirit and holiday joy, it was just not something that can come by easily back at home. Snow globes, lights, ornaments, candles, wooden fruit bowls, soft toys... These are only a small list of the things that I saw there, sitting on the tops of the stalls so delicately in contrast to the unruly sight in front of them, waiting to be picked up and bought by curious children and fascinated adults. Holding an obligatory hot chocolate and trying not to spill it on anybody as I shuffled down was more difficult than it seems, but that didn't stop me poking my head every now and then into a stall where the lights above softly illuminated my face. It allowed me to get the occasional whiff of rich caramel fudge or hear the sounds of a candy floss machine churning and buzzing to stop the Christmas haze from being so completely overwhelming.
The scene that remains the most vivid memory in my mind however was watching the joys of the holidays unfold before my eyes in the carnival games area of the park. As I clutched some freshly bought hot French fries in one hand, trying to balance it so that none of them would fall on the cold ground, I watched groups and couples both young and old, attempting to win and take home one of the prizes that hung down from the elaborately decorated ceiling. Darts were thrown, balls were tossed, goals were scored and amongst the yelling and cheering and laughing, I found myself enjoying that scene for the better part of my night. I could only think: This is what holidays are all about. I needed to see this, to be immersed in it to understand how truly happy and enjoyable life can and should be. Nobody had any worries in there, or stress or frustration. It was an unreal place blooming with positivity and optimism that melted everything else away.
And when I finally left, walking away from the brightness and into the chilly darkness of the park to reach the metro stop on the other side, I couldn't think of any better build-up to perhaps one of the most special Christmas holidays of my entire life.