Hello again! This week, I want to take you all back to a night London during my semester abroad. Besides experiencing what the city has to offer in amazing historical sites, cuisine, and fine arts, one of my favorite moments in London was actually when I explored it at 2 in the morning with my flatmates – via bicycle!
Some background: all around London – and many major cities, actually – are bikes that you can rent out for a certain amount of time, to ride around the city and sightsee! It’s a great way to take in your surroundings while being environmentally friendly. I’ll admit, I hadn’t made use of the bikes during my time in London until that fateful nighttime ride – but that was also because I was in Mile End, which is an area in east London that’s a little…rundown, to put it nicely. It’s definitely developing, and has some merits! But, it’s no Shoreditch. Despite this, I was coaxed into exploring Mile End (and central London) during the wee hours. How, exactly?
Well, it was around 2am on a weeknight, when I was hanging out with two of my five flatmates in our kitchen (we each had our own room/bathroom and shared the kitchen), and one of them asked if I had ever explored London “after-hours”. I hadn’t, of course, and was curious about what he was implying. It was then that he suggested the three of us rent bikes and ride from Mile End through central London, to see some of the famous sites when no one else was really around.
You would think that part of me would say “oh that doesn’t sound safe, it’s too late at night and nothing good can happen this late”. Well, perhaps that would have happened on U.S. soil! Instead, my travel-emboldened self decided to go for it, because I had made it this far during the semester (it was sometime around April) and hadn’t gotten into too much trouble yet! Plus, I figured that since I’d be exploring the city with my two male flatmates, it would be safer…I know, I know. I can imagine what some of you are thinking about that line of logic, and looking back I definitely understand how that was probably (more than) a bit naive of me. BUT, all went well, and the ride was fantastic.
Sidenote: my two flatmates – though not from London – had both been at my uni the previous semester and knew the lay of the land far better than I did. So, it ended up being a great decision on my part!
We started off by bundling up in jackets – since, in April, London was still pretty cold – and going across the street from campus to rent our bikes. If I remember correctly, we were able to rent the bikes out for certain increments of time (not 100% sure but it was 2 years ago, so forgive me!) – so we started out small since we weren’t sure how far we’d actually go. The great thing was, we could put up our bikes at any time in another rental station.
Once we got moving on our westward journey, we were out of Mile End in less than 5 minutes! Before I knew it, we were weaving through main streets and side streets and arriving at some of the better-known sights of London – but this time, not a tourist was in sight. We came upon St. Paul’s Cathedral and rode across the Millennium Bridge; coasted past the Palace of Westminster; and glided along the river to see the London Eye, get a close-up look at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (the new, rebuilt one), and the Southbank skate park.
The Southbank is essentially a skate park full of colorful graffiti that my flatmates informed me was usually packed with people, even during late hours of the night! So, we apparently had gotten very lucky, as not a single person was in the space with us as we explored. At all of these places, we dismounted our bikes and walked around, drinking in the quiet and cool night. There is something so peaceful about knowing that you are one of the few people awake in a city that is normally buzzing with activity. I highly recommend trying it!
Check out the gallery below for a few of the sights that we saw during this nighttime ride. And, excuse the grainy quality – I had an iPhone 4, and it was dropped in a hostel toilet back in January. Oops. Better than nothing!
After who-knows-how-many-miles of riding, we decided to stop on our way home and get some bagels at a late-night bagel shop called Beigel Bake in Brick Lane. All I got was a simple toasted and salted bagel with butter, but it tasted like heaven. It’s open 24 hours too, so if you’re ever in the east end of London and craving a bagel after a night out…go to Beigel Bake (you’re welcome in advance).
Well, that’s it for today everyone. I hope that I’ve inspired at least one of you to take a small risk and explore in an unconventional way. I can’t say that I would recommend doing exactly what I did – that is, a bike ride at 2am in a big/new city with friends you’ve only known for 4 months – but what I can say is: always go with your instinct, and take calculated risks.On that note, I wish everyone a safe and fun weekend since it’s almost Friday! I’m super excited because I’ve begun my countdown to Vegas + L.A. (12 days!!!) and I can’t wait for the trip – plus, the opportunity to recap what we do and share it with you.