As you may have read, this week I’ve been working on an exciting project with Unite Students. They assembled 12 students with interests in journalism, blogging, photography, and film to collaborate on a guide to London for students. The central part of the project was #uStudents24, a 24-hour marathon trip around London in three teams of four students, finding unknown gems, budget solutions, and the best locations.
I’ll be posting more about the experience soon, but in the meantime – here’s a quick rundown of what we got up to through the day, told via everyone’s favourite social media channels.
5:00AM — Stratford ONE
Bright and early in the morning we all met on the top floor of Unite’s Stratford ONE building. There’s the most extraordinary view from the ‘Sky Room’, with London opening out below you to show the Olympic Park, the City, London Bridge, and glimpses of Westminster in the distance. As views go, it’s right up there with the Shard and the London Eye, but it’s all completely free if you’re a resident of Stratford ONE.
No view, however, could distract from the gruesomeness of being up at such an ungodly hour, as we soon learnt…
6:45AM — Island Gardens
The first of the day’s many selfies over and done with, we set off. We took the DLR right down to Island Gardens, near the end of the line to Lewisham, and emerged to the crisp early morning. A short walk talk us to the eponymous Island Gardens themselves, with a beautiful view out over the River Thames towards Maritime Greenwich. You can see the Old Royal Naval College, the Royal Observatory, and the Cutty Sark, all from this rather unassuming and little-known park.
7:00AM — Greenwich
We then ambled through the mysterious Greenwich Foot Tunnel, which was built between 1899 and 1902. As much as anything else, it’s an extraordinary bit of Victorian engineering, and the elevators that take you down there feel historic and special, even in spite of the shiny glass doors that have been installed in recent years.
Emerging at the other end of the tunnel, we found ourselves right next to the Cutty Sark, a historic ship with a commanding position between Greenwich village and the River Thames. We then took our time, strolling through the Old Royal Naval College, past the Royal Maritime Museum, looking up at Greenwich Park and the Royal Observatory (with the enjoyably silly Greenwich Meridian Line allowing you to straddle hemispheres, if you’re that way inclined).
It was then time to settle down to a cup of coffee and something of a second breakfast at Peyton & Byrne in Greenwich village.
We had hoped to pop into Greenwich Market, but it didn’t open until 10am. We couldn’t afford to dawdle until then, with an action-packed day ahead of us, so we marched onwards.
9:00AM — North Greenwich, Emirates Air Line
From there, we took the DLR to Canary Wharf, ambled like idiots through the throngs of smartly-dressed, hurrying, virile hyper-capitalists to the Jubilee Line station (confusingly separate) and sojourned one stop to North Greenwich.
Look at the capitalists. So many of them. We also briefly entertained the fantasy that we’d been invited as VIP guests to some sell-out concert or other, but ultimately realised this was not our destiny.
A short walk away from the tube station, we were able to get cheap tickets to the Emirates Air Line, and hopped on, heading over the river to the Royal Victoria Docks. Despite the media storm over the expense and lack of use that the air line has run into, now that it’s built it’s safe to say that it’s a lovely way to get around. Sure, you wouldn’t want it as your daily commute, but you get gorgeous views over the river; east towards the docks, and the Thames Barrier, and west towards the City and Westminster (again, glimpsed in the distance).
At this point it makes sense to introduce Stewie, our flame-haired, tender-hearted cameraman, who had the unenviable job of following us around all day in the vague hope of enticing us all to look promisingly photogenic.
10:00AM — East India, Container City, Trinity Buoy Wharf
A short stint on the DLR took us to East India, wherein we promptly got rather lost. Having taken half an hour to complete a 10 minute walk, we finally arrived at our destination – Trinity Buoy Wharf, home to Container City.
If you’re an edgy trendy type, this is a great place for you. It’s also an arts venue, host to all sorts of interesting and quirky events throughout the year. Container City itself is an ingenious housing solution, and looks pretty cool.
11:00AM — Sky Gardens, City of London
We’d then made prior arrangements to go to the Sky Gardens, at the top of the ‘Walkie Talkie’ building in the City of London. The view here is extraordinary, and you find yourself right in the middle of the action, looking down on teeny tiny people, hundreds of meters below you.
1:00PM – South Bank, Pieminister
From there, we hopped on the tube at Monument station, just a few stations down to Embankment, where we got out and headed over the bridge towards the South Bank.
To be fair, the South Bank may not be the most alternative of locations, but it’s a long-standing favourite, always changing and busy with people, events, music, street performers, and interesting exhibitions.
That, and the fact that we had lunch plans at Pieminister.
Everything else pales into insignificance in the face of lunch plans at Pieminister.
Excellent plans, lovely people, great location, and the starting point for Phase II of the day, which included us taking over the official twitter account of the London Student Experience.
Onwards and upwards, #comrades.
2:00PM – Lower Marsh, Waterloo
From there, it was a short walk over to Waterloo, where we discovered a little hideaway street, called Lower Marsh. There’s a market here most days, and lots of independent shops, cafés, and smatterings of street art.
Crucially, too, we stopped for some coffee.
Really, really good coffee. Thanks Four Corners!
3:00PM – Leicester Square, Covent Garden, Neal’s Yard
Ever anxious to keep moving, we took the tube from Waterloo to Leicester Square, surfacing to the bustle and sheen of the West End. We strolled through the Covent Garden, enjoying the ‘vibe’, before finding our intended destination, the little hideaway of Neal’s Yard.
Accessed through a tiny alleyway that looks like you’re walking straight into a Moroccan restaurant, Neal’s Yard is the ultimate in hidden gem. I’d certainly never heard of it, and although it was nicely bustling with people, it still has that untouched air to it. Aside from its atmosphere, it’s absolutely gorgeous – one of the most colourful places I’ve ever been to, and the sort of place that would be more at home in Portugal, Brazil, or somewhere similarly exciting. And yet here it is, in the heart of the West End.
STOP PRESS [moderately] FAMOUS PERSON
– At this point we interrupt our broadcast to inform you of a moderately famous person we ran into. Billie Piper! Selfies were had, quiet screams emitted, and then we all went our separate ways.
4:00PM – Lights of Soho, Soho Radio
Back to serious business, our next stop was in Soho, land of lights, nefarious activities, and a sizeable homosexual population. But we weren’t just here for all of that (*ahem*), but for the unique and special Lights of Soho. It’s a versatile and multi-function space, acting as a coffee shop and art gallery during the day, and a member’s lounge and club by night. The art and exhibitions on display are constantly changing, but when we went the focus was on the Burning Man, but the highlight as far as your tweeters were concerned were signs from God’s Own Junkyard, making for the quite the exhibition.
From there, we were innocently heading to Piccadilly Circus station when we passed Soho Radio, a coffee shop doubling up (unsurprisingly, perhaps, given the name) as a radio station. After a brief chat with someone in the know, we (hopefully) got ourselves a shoutout, though I’m yet to know if anything came of it!
5:00PM – Regent’s Park to Little Venice via Regent’s Canal
Our last tube journey of the day before the #tubestrike hit was from Piccadilly Circus to Regent’s Park, where we got out and eagerly extracted four Boris bikes from the nearest terminal (though indeed, they’re really more Ken bikes than Boris bikes, and they’re actually now called Santander bikes, which is a rubbish name).
We cycled through Regent’s Park towards the north end, where we caught the towpath of the Regent’s Canal and headed west towards Little Venice in earnest. Sadly, we first had to say goodbye to our leadership of the official twitter account.
Sad goodbyes over, we headed on our way.
We arrived in Little Venice as the relative dark of evening was starting to set in. A beautiful area with boats, canals, and a chilled-out atmosphere with canoes, speedboats, and joggers giving it a unique vibe, we took just a moment to enjoy it all after such a quick-fire day.
8:30PM – The Bus Odyssey to Pillow Cinema, Hoxton
At this point, I’ll come clean with you. We got a little lost. Without realising, we’d gone beyond the range of the Boris bike terminals, and so had to walk sheepishly through a rather bizarre part of Maida Vale, over the vulgar mass of the Westway Overpass, and into the north end of Notting Hill (Westbourne Park) to get to a bike terminal. This, to someone like me with intense controlling and over-organistaional tendencies, was a source of great distress.
That being said, we made it eventually, and began The Great Bus Odyssey across London in the middle of the tube strike. We took one bus from Westbourne Park to Warren Street station, one from there to Shoreditch Fire Station, and then one last one to Hoxton. From there, it was a short walk to the Pillow Cinema, which is on the roof of a rather inconspicuous building on the Great North Road.
We were met at the top of the stairs by a woman in a giraffe onesie, offering us wireless headphones and blankets, guiding us to one of the many huge beanbags in front of the massive screen on which all-time classic The Breakfast Club would soon be shown. We had two beanbags between four, so it was a chance to get cosy and comfy with the snacks we’d bought at a Tesco Express on the way, and potentially have a cheeky nap in the blissful sunset surroundings.
However, it was not to be. Whilst Mssrs. McGovern and Gray took the chance to nap at the near-end of an extraordinarily long day, myself and Harley were transfixed by the film. I’d never seen The Breakfast Club before, dismissing it snidely as some faux-fantastic cult film only enjoyed by flat-white-wankers and other assorted cultural trope-types. Oh, that it were not so. It’s one of the best films I’ve ever seen, and the setting only made it that much more extraordinary.
Even though it started raining, we were amply furnished with gigantic ponchos and umbrella hats (all free of charge – this being no RyanAir rooftop cinema), and enjoyed the view of sunset over the towers of the City of London in the corner of the field of vision as the film played out. The quality of the picture on the screen was incredible considering the location, and the headphones worked perfectly.
Being in a silent cinema in which everyone has their own headphones produces a similar effect to a silent disco. In a normal cinema, jokes would be met with quiet titters, sad moments with restrained attempts to hide the wipe-tear hand-action, and everyone would generally stay as British as possible at all times. With individual headsets, the gloves are off. I found myself guffawing endlessly, crying like nobody’s business (at least three times – embarrassingly), and occasionally removing my headphones to listen to everybody else doing exactly the same thing.
The Pillow Cinema was for me absolutely the highlight of the day, and something I’m really keen to do again. It’s a really memorable evening, bringing people together in a friendly, convivial, and unique environment. And it’s pretty cheap, too, considering how amazing it is.
And with a pack of M&Ms close to hand, you certainly can’t go complaining about a lack of creature comforts…
11:30PM – Shoreditch & thE CITY
Film over and done with, it was time for another few buses to get us down to Shoreditch High Street.
We had intended to go to a place called Pizza East Shoreditch, but sadly we botched up our timings. By the time we found it (again – confession; we got a little lost), it was too late for us to get in for any food, so we slumped away, sadly.
Walking out of the trend of Shoreditch to the shine of the City, we found an excellent 24-hour eatery by the name of Polo Bar. Open 24/hours, it serves drinks, food, and breakfast (all the time – what an excellent idea), and is a lovely hideaway on Bishopsgate, right by Liverpool Street station.
Ordering a handsomely-sized bottle of prosecco and a bite to eat, we toasted our success, and our fabulously long day in London.
That all done, it seemed about time to start thinking about getting home (but not before making quick work of the prosecco…).
1:00AM – Home
Thus, it was with heavy heart and sorry step that we made way for the station, and the new TfL Rail service (not on strike, thankfully) to Stratford.
We would have done something more exciting and celebratory on the train, but at that point frankly, we were all rather ready for bed.
#uStudents24 – The Day
So: one day in London, and an awful lot packed in. Here’s a little map following through where we went, made by Connor.
I embarked on a day-long vine at the beginning of the day, and quickly realised that we were doing far too much to fit in one vine, so that one had to finish at around 5:00pm.
In Polo Bar, therefore, I took the opportunity to quiz my teammates. If you could describe today in only one word, what would it be?
Exhilarating, caffeinated, edgy, and great.
Sounds like a pretty good summary of London to me.
Huge thanks go to:
Unite Students, for inviting me to take part in the London Student Experience, and for being such generous and welcoming hosts.
Peyton & Byrne, for possibly the best Bakewell Tart I’ve had in 2015. (Seriously, try it).
The Emirates Air Line, for an excellent ride.
Trinity Buoy Wharf, for dealing with us turning up unannounced at a rather strange point in the day with a camera crew.
The Sky Gardens, for a memorable experience and a great view.
Pieminister, for free pies and a welcome rest.
Four Corners, for your strong Twitter game and even stronger coffee.
Billie Piper, for strong selfie game and putting up with overexcitable students.
Lights of Soho, for putting up with rather raucous students invading your quiet haven, and for explaining the venue, club, and art installations to me. Expect my application for membership in the coming years!
Boris, for his bikes.
Ken Livingstone, for actually coming up with the idea for the bikes.
Santander, for sponsoring the bikes despite knowing full-well that nobody will ever use your name in connection with them.
Pillow Cinema, for the most beautiful and memorable evening.
Tesco Express on Shoreditch East Road, for supplying us with snacks, and for commenting (quite rightly) on how ‘rough’ Mr McGovern and myself looked.
Polo Bar, for nurturing us at the eleventh (and twelfth) hour. And the prosecco, of course.
TfL, for continuing to provide excellent travel infrastructure in the face of great disruption.
Stewie, for being an excellent travel companion, cameraman, and pie-vine-star.
Connor McGovern, for really loving London.
Channon Gray, for enforcing strong selfie game at all times.
Harley Wild, for having the decency to check whether or not I liked pickles.