Special Six: London Surprises

Walks around London’s numerous historic streets and avenues, visits to interesting museums and palaces, cruises on the Thames, picnics in the numerous, lovely parks are must-try experiences in London. Often though, it is the unplanned or unexpected experiences that become the most memorable. So here are some of my favourites of the pleasant, diverse surprises that London welcomed me with. Perhaps you might want to try out one or more of them?

  • Clipper Round The World Race:

My friend liked the restaurants at St. Katherine docks and suggested we go to the Turkish restaurant Kilikyas for lunch during the last weekend of August 2015. We noticed that there was a huge crowd, loud music and a carnival spirit outside the restaurant. Since it was the first time I was going there, I initially assumed that perhaps this was a vibrant spot in London which celebrated each weekend. It was when the drum beats started and announcements were made that I realized that some special event was going on. So once we finished lunch, we decided to go and have a look and realized that it was a race, the launch of the clipper round the world race. We managed to find a little spot where we were able to view the dock area from where the clippers left one by one.

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It was so much fun cheering the boats as they left for the 8 leg, 14 race, 11 month journey of over 40,000 nautical miles around the world. Apparently, the race does not require team members to be experienced sailors. The selected teams undergo a four level training in the UK or Australia.

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Our favourite was Team Britain’s beautiful clipper, with its 54 member crew, participating in different legs of the race and sponsored by the UK government’s ‘GREAT Britain’ campaign since 2013.

Team Britain

Photo credit: Bindu Nanu

We then walked over the tower bridge to see the parade of the sails as the twelve clippers waited for the Tower bridge to open. Qingdao sponsored by the Chinese city of Qingdao, which is the longest serving team sponsor and host port since 2005/06, led the parade.

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The race of the Americas from Panama to USA, race 11, was completed last week and the teams arrived in New York with Team ClipperTelemed+  winning this race. The website has a page for viewing where the clippers are in the ongoing race as well as a table with the team positions for the overall race. Currently, Team LMAX Exchange is in the overall lead and Team Britain in the third.

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Race 12 from New York to Londonderry will start on June 20th. The final race, race 14, is expected to finish at St. Katherine’s docks in London on July 30th when the teams sail in from Den Helder, The Netherlands. So, if you are in London that saturday, do visit St. Katherine docks, enjoy a meal at one of the numerous restaurants there and welcome the returning clippers.

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Photo credit: Bindu Nanu

Don’t you find the clipper race exciting? If you want to participate, you can actually do so by sending in your application to join a team in the 2017/18 or 2018/19 clipper races.

  • London School of Economics (LSE) Public Talks

Universities do have a tradition of hosting public talks but while at LSE, I found that the LSE calendar for public lectures was packed each term. I found it amazing that so many interesting leaders and influencers from around the world were invited to give a talk almost each evening. The lectures are free and usually on a first come, first served basis, so generally there are long queues. For some talks, registration and collecting the free tickets prior to the day of talk is required.

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So, why not check the public events page of a universit(y)ies specializing in your areas of interest and go for one of the lectures? I liked the LSE public events the best and I am somewhat biased here.

  • Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club

Inspired by the New York jazz scene, Ronnie Scott and his friend Pete King, both tenor saxophonists, opened up the jazz club in 1959. The club moved to its present location on Frith street in 1965. Jazz legends Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Stan Getz, Wes Montgomery and many more have played here and contemporary ones continue to drop by. The jazz club was recommended to me as the best place in London for some great, live jazz music by one of the baristas, at my favourite coffee shop in London, who is a part-time jazz musician.

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Photo credit: Kat Arney@ Kat Arney

I went there twice to try out both the jazz bar and club. The main club venue downstairs hosts ticketed jazz events and it is a special experience where you can enjoy some wonderful, live jazz music while dining on some delicious food. Upstairs @Ronnie’s is a bar where live jazz music is played every evening. While the doors to the bar opens at 6pm, and you can enter free till 7pm after which there is a small cover charge, live music only begins at 9pm. Upstairs bar is a place which you can go to regularly with friends or on your own.

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Photo credit: Chelsea@ Chelseas40before40

  • Taiko Drumming

This activity will definitely not be something you think of when considering a London experience. However, given the multicultural essence of the city, it was fitting that I was able to try it out while in London. My friend and I had gone to Festival Asia at Tobacco dock in Docklands. While there, we tried out a mini taiko drumming workshop by Mark Alcock. Mark taught us to play a short, original composition as a group. Not only did I find it so much fun to try out the drums, I found it such a wonderful team-building/ de-stressing activity that I contacted Mark at Taiko Meantime, and organized a workshop for a group of friends at university to celebrate the end of exams. Taiko Meantime conducts regular classes as well as special workshops, at their premises or at a location of your choice, if you are in a large group. So, do contact them if you want a taste of Japan, in London, through some Taiko drumming.

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Photo credit: Riddhi Shah

  • Pottery café

I came across the pottery café when I was searching for a special fun activity to enjoy with my friend and her daughter – something that both adults and children could participate in. The café offers group sessions, where you are given instructions, before you paint the pottery using child safe, water based, non-toxic paints. There is a studio fee of £5.99 per person, for the use of the materials, plus the cost of the hand-made pottery that you have selected to paint on. The cafe also serves hot and cold beverages, as well as some cakes and cookies, to enjoy while painting. I booked us a session at the Fulham cafe branch one weekend. Once you finish painting, you hand it in so that the painted pottery can be sent to their workshop to be finished in the kiln. You will receive a collection receipt and you can collect the finished pottery, normally a week later.

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Photo credit: Bindu Nanu

  • Crown Court Church of Scotland:

This church has been active in London since King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England in 1603. The church has been at its present site in Covent garden from 1719, though the present building was built in 1909. I came across an online article mentioning the Crown court church of Scotland in Covent Garden as the place to celebrate St. Andrew’s day in London. I looked up St. Andrew’s day and found that it was the day of the patron saint of Scotland, Greece and a few other countries. From the what’s on calendar on the church website, I also found the Rambling and Social Club entry mentioning a St. Andrew’s night party on November 29th and that all were welcome.

Since it was indicated that all were welcome to the party, a small group of friends and I decided to drop by the church that evening. What we came across was not quite what we had expected, something in the lines of a church service for St. Andrew’s day, and neither were we what the endearing group of elderly church members expected. Though surprised, they warmly welcomed us to join in for the tea and shared a little background about the church history as well as gave us a quick tour of the church chapel upstairs. We were also invited to join in for their future monthly club gatherings, especially for the Burns night celebrations. I was touched by their warm hospitality and wanted to make them something for one of their monthly gatherings as I noticed that each person had brought some homemade food to the tea party. So, I made a Sri Lankan semolina sweet dish and revisited the group for the club’s christmas party at the church in December. It was a lovely tea party with a trivia quiz at the end.

I found the experience delightful, not only because it was unexpected, but because it provided the space for meaningful interaction. I also received suggestions of places to visit in Scotland.

The church is definitely worth a visit, when you are in London, and as the Rambling and Social Club page mentions, all are welcome to attend the activities mentioned in their calendar.

Which of these surprises would you want to try out, during your next visit to London? What is one of your favourite travel surprises?

[I am linking this post to Wanderful WednesdayThe Weekly PostcardCity Tripping #36, and Weekend Travel Inspiration]

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48 thoughts on “Special Six: London Surprises

    • Thanks, Clare and yes, that was pure luck we happened to be there at the launch of the clipper race! Since then my friend and I have been following the progress of the clippers around the world. If it were a decade ago, I would have signed up for the next available clipper race team 🙂

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    • You could also join in one of the race teams in the 2017 or 2018 race! I understand, from their website, that a team member does not sail all 11 months of the race but on different legs. I think there are 16 port cities around the world hosting the race.

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    • I am delighted that you find the suggested activities interesting to consider for your next trip. Would love to hear about your experience, Sara, if you do try any of them.

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  1. What interesting things to do in London Ahila. I really liked that you saw the Clipper boats. My husband did the Jamaica to Hull final leg of the race in 2010 on the Singapore boat and had an amazing time. Highly recommended if you have an adventurous spirit!

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    • Wow! I am delighted to hear that your husband did the final leg of 2010 race! I would have certainly loved to sign up for the race, a decade ago, had I known of it then.

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  2. Great post, Ahila! I love reading about little-known things to do and you sure seem to know a lot of them 🙂 I read that Angelina Jolie is going to be a visiting professor at LSE – wonder if she’s going to give one of those public talks. I imagine it would be possible to get into that particular talk, haha

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    • Thank you, Michelle. Yes, Angelina Jolie will be a visiting professor in practice at LSE’s Center for Women, Peace and Security, which she launched last year. I can imagine it would be tough to find a spot at her public talk. However, in such instances that can be anticipated, LSE Events usually books another theatre so that people who have queued can at least watch the live screening of the talk. I remember cutting a tutorial once to go and queue nearly two hours before Judith Butler’s talk and I found the queue already over two blocks and knew I would not make it into the lecture hall. However, they did screen it live at another theatre as well as online and all public talks are shared as podcasts on the website approx. week later.

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  3. The clipper round the world race is something my husband would love to watch. He is very passionate about sailing. I, on the other hand, would definitely enjoy a jazz club.

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    • I am sure that you will love the jazz club, Anda, especially the main club venue downstairs where the food served, to accompany your music treat, is delicious.

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  4. I found Taiko drumming in Columbia U as well. I would love to reflect something that I have done in New York, after I read this post. Good job Ahila, it will be part of my travel guide to London:).

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  5. I love that I’ve lived here for 9 years and am only aware of half of your surprises. I’d definitely try out the drumming and the pottery cafe. I’d also love to go to an LSE talk – I often go to talks at Frontline club and Wiener Library but these look good.

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    • Glad you find them fun, Isabel. And yes, Taiko drumming was so much fun and team-work that I would have enrolled for the regular classes, had I been living in London this year as well.

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  6. What fantastic things you found to do in my home city -I do love the way there’s always something new to discover in the city and you found a very fun range. I used to go to Ronnie Scott’s quite a bit but you saw plenty that most Londoners wouldn’t have. Thanks for linking up with #citytripping

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  7. Great list of the more unusual things to do in London Ahila…many of which I have never done. How lucky you got to see the clipper race! I haven’t been to the pottery cafe in a while but it is a great activity to do with kids. I’ve not heard of the Crown Church of Scotland but sounds like a great experience and loved how much you were welcomed. I bet they loved your cake. Sweet story. #citytripping

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    • The Rambling Club members of the Crown Court Church of Scotland were really kind and welcoming. They even sent me an invite later for the Burns night party, which they said would include music and dancing, but I couldn’t make it to that unfortunately. And yes, I was lucky to see the start of the clipper 2015/16 race last year. Hope you are able to make it to the finish of the race at St Katherine’s docks on July 30.

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