London 2023

So, I recently graduated college and started work. This has required quite a few lifestyle adjustments; it’s no longer possible for me to stay up until like 5am playing cards and sleep in past 1pm the next day. It would probably be unwise for me to skip work the way I used to skip lecture, and my days are just much less spontaneous in general. I have to say that I enjoy the student life more than the working life, although I’ll admit that the money is nice.

But there is one pretty neat perk of working life that I thoroughly enjoy: I get to go on business trips! My team at work is split between New York and London; in the interest of team unity, we all meet up twice a year, once in London and once in New York. Fortunately for me, the timing worked out quite nicely: about a month after I joined the firm, we had our London summit, and I got to go on a two-week business trip to London. I think this trip was actually very beneficial work-wise, but I won’t get into that here. I’ll talk mostly about the personal travel that I managed to squeeze in after work and on the weekends.

Arrival and first impressions

I have to admit that when I think of the places I most want to visit next, London doesn’t exactly come to mind. I think the main problem is familiarity: I’ve already done two week-long trips to London within the past few years, one in 2019 and one in 2022. In fact, my family even spent some time living in London a while back, although I don’t remember anything of it since I was like four years old.

But still, London is more exciting than New York, and I was on the balance fairly excited to be spending two weeks there. I landed at around 9:30 am on Saturday, September 9, after taking a red eye from Newark, having slept around three hours on the flight.1 The flight itself was not that eventful; the firm (quite reasonably) put me in a premium economy seat, which is slightly more luxurious than my usual mode of travel in that I got a bit of extra legroom and a complimentary glass of champagne. I briefly considered seeing if I could sneak into an unoccupied business class seat just for fun (what were they going to do, throw me off the plane mid-air?), but I decided that I should be a “responsible” adult instead.

Anyway, I landed without much incident and took the Heathrow Express and Elizabeth Line to my hotel, located within Bishopsgate near the Liverpool Street Station. I was very impressed with the transit; if there’s one thing New York lacks, it’s convenient transit between the city center and any of the three airports that service it. The Heathrow express, on the contrary, was quite fast and clean.

When I arrived at the hotel, I was immediately struck by how nice the staff were to me. (Then again, I was booked for a fourteen-day stay at a nice hotel, so maybe this is unsurprising.) Fortunately, my room was already ready, despite my very early arrival. I dropped off my bags in the room and decided to head out for a stroll to explore the local area.

I passed by a somewhat attractive marketplace (Leadenhall Market) and some fantastic old church ruins (St. Dunstan-in-the-East). I do love how you can just wander around London (and many other European cities) and stumble across these things; maybe I’m too critical of New York, but I feel like this is just not the case there.

For lunch, I decided to head back to Borough Market, a place I had visited last summer and really enjoyed. It was far more jam packed than I remembered; I later found out that it had become TikTok-famous, so maybe that’s why. Still, I managed to enjoy the food and go sightsee around some other famous places. I’d already been to the Tower Bridge several times, but I guess you kind of have to check it off the list each time you visit London. I walked a bit further along the Thames than I’d been before, which was nice, I guess? I saw a barge with some trees growing on it, which was kind of neat.

Having already been to many of the big, famous museums, I decided to check out some smaller ones. I found a pretty cool one called the Old Operating Theater on Google Maps: it was an old, cramped attic full of old medical equipment and strange curiosities. It featured a neat narrow stairwell to get to the top and was just fairly interesting overall. I also found a random science gallery with some AI exhibits next door. I checked them out, but they weren’t that interesting. I decided to retire early on Saturday night, since I was a bit tired from the lack of sleep on the flight.

On Sunday morning, I attended service at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, which is Spurgeon’s old church! One of my favorite things to do when visiting foreign countries is to worship at a local church, and the UK makes this especially easy because everything is in English. I generally enjoyed the service there, which was fairly traditional in a Baptist kind of way, and I was kindly invited to share in a home-cooked meal after the service. I did notice that I was invited to what appeared to be the “Chinese” table, mostly comprised of Cantonese-speaking immigrants. As a bonus, on the way there, I briefly became the “man on the Clapham omnibus,” if you’re familiar with the legal term!

During the afternoon, I continued to do some tourist-y things. I passed by a pretty church (St. Martin’s) and couldn’t resist peeking inside; I was surprised to find a Chinese community center in the basement, apparently belonging to the Bishop Ho Ming Wah Association. After hearing some recommendations, I decided to visit the Churchill War Rooms, the underground bunker from which Churchill directed the British efforts during the Second World War. While I was there, the fire alarm went off and we had to evacuate the premises, which was pretty ironic, given where we were.

Afterward, I went to do what might be my favorite activity in London: visit Speaker’s Corner at Hyde Park (the traditional “free speech” spot in the city) to watch some entertaining debates. Well, “debate” is a bit of a generous word here; it was really a bunch of guys loudly shouting over each other, with a level of discourse not too much better than a Reddit thread. There were many Muslims and Christians debating each other, with some atheists thrown into the mix here and there. There were also a few fascinating conspiracy theorists. It was great fun to watch, although one would probably lose brain cells participating.

I had dinner at Mercato Mayfair, an old church converted into a trendy food market that I happened to stumble across. It had some cute rooftop seating, too. I ended up eating an okay nasi lemak. After dinner, I wantered around the city at night, which is probably my second-favorite thing to do in random foreign cities. I came across a pretty tree with neon lights and an interestingly lit-up church.

Anyway, after all this adventuring, it was time to head back to the hotel and catch some sleep. After all, I was ostensibly in London on a business trip, not for leisure, and I had to go to work the next day!

The first week

The first week in the London office was fairly nice. It was great getting to meet the London half of our team, and we got to play soccer together after work.2 We had a couple of dinners together, including one at the incredibly opulent Bob Bob Ricard.3

The week was pretty good overall, though I won’t dwell too much on work-related stuff on this blog.

The second weekend

When initially planning this London trip, I had wanted to do something really grand over the full weekend that I had in the UK, like visiting the fantastical Edinburgh or the famed White Cliffs of Dover. I ended up doing much more mundane things around the city, partially because of a rail strike and partially because I was too lazy to plan.

I paid a visit to the Dickens Museum, in honor of my eighth grade English teacher Mr. Ferraro, who was extremely into Dickens.4 (Also, my parents encouraged me read a good amount of Dickens as a child, so I retain a soft spot for him.) The museum was pretty cool; it was located in his old house, which was set up to look like how it would in Victorian times.

I then visited the nearby Sir John Soane’s museum, a nineteenth-century professor’s private collection bequeathed to the public as a museum. It was ridiculously cool, with narrow passageways jam packed with interesting artifacts. I was told that due to a stipulation in Soane’s will, the house was left in exactly the state it was in when he died.

Finally, I wandered around the area for a bit, admiring pretty buildings. I peeked inside Twinings, the famous tea shop, but I honestly wasn’t that impressed? Maybe I’m being a bit arrogant, but I feel like I associate “tea culture” more with China than I do with the UK. I ended the day by getting dinner with a coworker at a random pub.

The next Sunday morning, the first of October, I attended morning service at St. Helen’s Bishopsgate, an Anglican church near my hotel that I discovered while walking around. It was a wonderful church, and I ended up grabbing lunch with some people I met there.5 After lunch, I just barely caught the train to Bletchley Park, the country estate where the famous World War II British cryptanalysis efforts happened. The museum was super cool, but I wish I had had more time to explore it. I didn’t realize that the complex actually consisted of multiple buildings and that visiting them all would take several hours.

On the way back to my hotel in the evening, I made a slight detour to do my regular pilgrimage to Mornington Crescent. I have to stop by every time I’m in London, for reasons.6 I also decided to make dinner at Five Guys a London tradition. (When I was here last summer as an intern, I had Five Guys for dinner one night on the steps of St. Paul’s cathedral.)

The second week

The second week at work was also pretty enjoyable. I played some more soccer after work and even managed to score the winning goal once!7 Probably the coolest thing I did this week was waking up extra-early before work one day to visit Bunhill Fields, a graveyard about a fifteen-minute walk from the office. Many notable people are buried there; the tombs of most interest to me were that of John Bunyan (the author of The Pilgrim’s Progress) and Thomas Bayes (the statistician). It’s very hard to tell that Bayes’ grave is actually his, but the Internet assures me that I found the right grave. Other people buried in the same cemetery include Daniel Defoe, William Blake, and John Owen. Across the road happened to be Wesley’s Chapel, a notable Methodist church on the site of John Wesley’s old home. I found it funny that a Puritan cemetery and Methodist church were right across the road from each other and made a mental note to come back to visit the church during the weekend.

During the week, I also attended an evening Bible study at St. Helen’s, happened upon a cool digital “street” art exhibit, and revisited the British museum.

Overall, I’d say this was a pretty successful week.

The third weekend

I decided to book my flight back for Saturday, October 7, since I wanted to spend Sunday back in New York at First Baptist. Flying west is the easy direction; my flight was scheduled in the evening, giving me most of the day to do things. I revisited the ruins of St. Dunstan-in-the-East to get some better pictures and met a coworker at his hotel to see something pretty cool: an apparently still-active Masonic Temple that’s hidden away in the hotel. The temple is open for tours on request, so of course we had to go see it. My Latin was briefly tested when I was called on to read an inscription inside, but thankfully it was a rather simple inscription. (I think it was audi, vide, tace.) Afterward, he had to run to catch his flight, but I stayed for lunch at the restaurant attached to his hotel. I had a prawn and crawfish linguine that was ridiculously good.8

In the afternoon, I went back to visit Wesley’s Chapel. I wasn’t too sure what to expect, but this ended up being one of my favorite parts of the entire trip. When I walked inside the church, I found out that some kind of service was going on (I later found out that it was a wedding), so I skipped the main sanctuary and ducked into a small chapel on the side, called the Foundery Chapel. This turned out to be a wonderful experience; it’s a simple, small, old chapel, decorated with plain but elegant wood panels and stained glass windows, with benches that have obviously seen generations of use. I just sat there all alone for a while listening to the wedding music going on next door. I found a very large, heavy, worn Bible from 1933 and read some of my favorite psalms. It reminded me of quiet afternoon devotionals spent in the CMU chapel as an undergrad, reading the psalms. It’s an experience hard to capture in words or pictures; if you’ll excuse the momentary lapse into melodrama, it almost reminds me of that scene in Good Will Hunting, when Sean asks if Will can tell him what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel.

I also toured the church grounds and the small museum in the basement, where I had a short but lovely chat with the curator.

That more or less concluded my time in London, and I went back to the office to collect my belongings.9 I took the Elizabeth Line to Heathrow and got on my flight back without much incident. I don’t know why I accepted the free champagne again after concluding that I don’t like champagne, and the food wasn’t that good, but I did see a couple of fun movies, so the flight wasn’t a total loss.

  1. A fun thing from even before the flight: my Uber driver turned out to be super into “crypto investment,” and he talked for a while about various exciting crypto projects.↩︎

  2. I noticed that the London people were noticeably better than the New York people…↩︎

  3. Bob Bob Ricard’s big gimmick is a button that you press to request champagne, but (a) I don’t actually like champagne and (b) the button just summoned a waiter, which was a bit anticlimactic.↩︎

  4. Ah, Mr. Ferraro, one of the longest-tenured teachers at my middle school. When I had him, he had been at the William R. Satz middle school for forty-three years, I think. He hung on for a few more years after my class graduated before retiring.↩︎

  5. In fact, I later met some people in New York who had gone to St. Helen’s while living in London. It’s a small world!↩︎

  6. Hi Adrian!↩︎

  7. Those years of travel soccer in elementary school clearly paid off…↩︎

  8. I actually had to specially request this, since it wasn’t on the brunch menu.↩︎

  9. I’d stashed my suitcase at the office after checking out, although in retrospect it probably would’ve been slightly easier to just leave them at the hotel reception.↩︎