London: Singular Sunlit Solstice

London.

There is something inherently exhilarating about megacities that compel us to marvel at the achievements of human existence – the skyscrapers that seem to stretch for eternity into the sky; the varied architecture that hints at periods of intense demolishing and then robust development; the multitude of people that crowd the streets, each with his/her own story to tell…

The urban cityscape. Somehow so very similar in all of the world’s big cities, and yet so uniquely different.

We essentially had a day in London (the next was spent gallivanting about in Oxford), so apart from the multiple Starbucks coffee-and-biscuit drop-ins, we didn’t go to many restaurants at all. But I did get to meet up with one of my closest friends at PJ Bar & Grill – a small, cosy, and swelteringly warm nook situated quite conveniently opposite Covent Garden. Entirely unexpectedly, the food there turned out to be pretty stunning. Perhaps I’m not quite attuned to the value of the Euro so everything seemed decently priced for the quality of the food we were getting; until I realized everything was about 1.7x more expensive… Nevertheless, by London’s terms, this was pretty amazing food for a good price. It definitely wasn’t cheap, but it wasn’t extravagant either (try any of the upscale restaurants around and you could easily end up forking out €100 per person!). The baby back ribs my mom ordered came in a gargantuan mound the height of Mt. Everest (unconquerable but quite willingly devoured by the rest of us), and hey, how could baby back ribs ever be a let down? The scallop was plump, juicy, and perfectly cooked (nothing exquisite, but delicious nonetheless). If you’re feeling just a tad adventurous – although I wouldn’t quite call it an adventure, just think of the pigeons in Piazzo San Marco in Venice – the wood pidgeon and partridge terrine is quite a culinary delight. The wholesome grains of salt beautifully augment the smoky flavour of the bird, and when paired with a singular crisp stick of rosemary bread – voila. C’est magnifique. 

We took a tour of the City of London on the Sunday we arrived; and surprisingly enough the city was in an uncharacteristic hush. Turns out, the exorbitant prices of the CBD mean that no one actually stays within the city itself, and so the typically bustling downtown is largely devoid of people during the weekends. One can simply imagine the hustle-and-bustle on the weekdays – the lawyers and businessmen marching across the streets decked out in their suits, the students clutching at their laptops and books, the elderly proprietors adjusting their spectacles…

We were exceedingly lucky in that we caught London on a sunny day – no smog, fog, or whatever blasted pollution that typically clouds the city in a gloomy pallor. London is a beautiful city; modern, busy, and incredible.

Just an hour’s ride away lies Oxford, a rather contrastingly quaint city (yes, city – it isn’t a town! “Quaint town” seems a more apt description, however) that seemingly pulsates with knowledge and years upon years of rich intellectual history. Let the photos speak for themselves.

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I could have spent hours upon hours in that little (well, not little – don’t underestimate its unassuming exterior! It’s pretty extensive!) bookstore of Blackwell – ended up buying Love + Maths by Edward Frenkel (admittedly still haven’t finished it yet, but I’m getting there. One day.)

Oxford is a beautiful city; and although my parents found it rather boring and perhaps stuck in past ages, I found something incredibly compelling in its rustic charm. A sort of intellectual haven. A very different feel from the emerging, promising and vibrant hubs of MIT and Stanford – somehow a more contained (but not necessarily less inviting) vibe.

The more I see, the more uncertain I become.

And after all, who can say no to having three Shanghainese restaurants in the vicinity?

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