It is time to bring back one of my favourite sections on this blog. I started this regular love-letter to London as soon as this space kicked off more than eight years ago but inconsistency got the better of me over time and it has been a while since I shared one of my “discoveries” with you.
That is bound to change for the next few months. One positive outcome of having had builders and decorators in my kitchen during the summer as detailed in a previous post was that it gave me the perfect excuse to leave the house as often as possible. Not only did I leave the house but I went out on my bike and rode around Londontown (and walked, too, when the rain became too much to bear), the way I had always dreamt about. The result of these – chiefly cycle-driven – jaunts will hopefully provide an interesting insight, at least from an immigrant’s perspective, into what London is like today, in the 21st century.
After all, this is a big, expansive city of roughly eight million (and counting) inhabitants. The sheer size of it is enough to give you a headache. Driving or cycling around it will surely leave you with one. London is also a magical place. The magic is provided by a rich combination of people, history and modernity. Its parks, museums and old houses continue to be an attraction. At the same time with approximately 300 languages spoken in the British capital, its multicultural nature is coming to the fore more and more. It has been recognised as one of the main features of The Smoke that throughout its century-old history it has sucked immigrants from almost every corner of the planet. Far from remaining idle the new arrivals have usually brought with them new ideas and their own personal stories.
The series of posts to come have been written based on routes that I have either researched and followed because someone else came up with them before, or created myself. These routes are random, thought up by interest more than convenience. Instead of trying to get from A to B quicker, I chose to get to know better the city in which I have lived for close to twenty years.
One peculiarity I came across when cycling around London was how flat a lot of the city is. From east to west, north to south there is not a lot of elevation. There are hills, of course, some of them quite steep, but on the whole, it felt as if I were cycling through a plateau most of the time. However, when an incline appeared, it made my journey difficult. Which is what happened at beginning of one of my rides in Alexandra Palace (or Ally Pally, as most people call it) in Haringey.
|Photo taken from bbc.co.uk
This Victorian-era building towers over north London like a sentinel watching over its troops. A short puff up its mighty hilly road will leave you breathless and in the case of yours truly, wheeling my bike for only the second time in my life (the first one was in Havana when I was in my early 20s. My only excuse then, looking back, is that the bike in question was a Russian fixie with a back-pedal brake, low gear and high sprocket; worst combination ever to brave a hill). Yet, the prize of reaching the top is well worth it. What a view! From where I stood I had north London in front of me, part of northwest London to my left and northeast and east London to my right. The high-rises of Edmonton and its controversial incinerator almost straight ahead seemed to tickle the belly of the grey, imposing sky. To my left lay the - mostly - flatlands of Barnet and Finchley where I would be headed later on. To my right modern architecture was represented by the Shard and the Walkie-Talkie in the distance.
Two fires have not been able to destroy Ally Pally and what it means to Londoners and non-Londoners alike. On the day I went visitors milled about and all the various amenities on offer were choc-a-bloc with punters. There was the Boating Lake for starters, a snip at £4.95 per adult for a chance to go rowing. Perhaps the most famous activity Alexandra Palace is known for is the all-year-round ice rink where you can even be coached by professional ice-skaters for as little as a tenner for fifteen minutes. For the more adventurous there is always the skate park where you can bring your own skateboard and indulge in all sorts of stunts on the ramps and half-pipes. Another event that takes place at Ally Pally is the fireworks display on Guy Fawkes’ night every 5th of November. Fancy of a bit of history? Here's a curious fact for you: the world's first regular television service was launched from this jewel of north London by the BBC eighty years ago.
If you are in town, Alexandra Palace is a must-visit tourist attraction, perhaps a bit off the beaten path but worth the effort, even if like me you have to cycle to it. After getting some relief coming down the same mighty hill I had puffed my way up moments before, I turned left onto Alexandra Park Road and carried on northwest-bound. The next stage of my bike ride would take me to a very iconic crossing…
Next Post: “Saturday Evenings: Stay In, Sit Up and Switch On”, to be published on Saturday 3rd October at 6pm (GMT)