The London King’s Cross is beyond hectic — it’s no wonder Harry Potter had to ask for directions.
I commuted into downtown London with my friend, who had been kind enough to let me “kip” on her couch, but she left me a few metro stops early to go to work. This was my first time visiting the city and I emerged into the melee of morning rush hour at King’s Cross, entirely overwhelmed and a little in awe. It’s a big place, filled to the brim with busy people.
I decided to put off any decision-making about my day until I at least had breakfast. There is a great spot in particular, a French-style café run by the bakery Patisserie Valerie, on the second floor of the station’s atrium. I highly recommend grabbing a coffee there and one of their sinfully indulgent pastries. If you can, steal a seat at the balcony overlooking the beautifully-renovated station, the view of the illuminated dome with cascading beams is very striking.
It’s also a great place for people-watching. While I made a complete mess of my croissant, below me, kids lined up to get a photo beside a trolley, which stuck halfway out of a wall under the sign for Platform 9 ¾. (If I had been a little younger, I might have been tempted to join them.) All around them, Londoners and day-trippers came and went in waves, dragging behind them little suitcases and laptop bags.
After enjoying my brief moment of quiet above the din of the crowds, I descended down into the fray again to try and find a tourist kiosk. No such luck. Usually, I’m pretty good with directions, but London had me all turned around. Even after asking for help from the station information desk I still managed to got lost and ended up in yet another train station, just across the road.
St.Pancras International Railway Station is a beautiful old Victorian building, with a very modern interior, full of shops and restaurants. It’s an interesting place just to stroll through, especially since there are two street pianos set up inside the station, one of them right by the Eurostar train platform. I was lucky to catch a performance by one young man, who played as if he was performing on stage at an opera house and not in the middle of a train station mall.
On the second level there is also a giant 9-meter-tall statue by British artist Paul Day called the Meeting Place. A couple frozen in an embrace stand right under the station clock, anticipating the departure of a train.
Eventually I made my way out of the train station, but not knowing which way to go without a map, I went down into the underground in the hopes of at least finding a metro map on a wall. I found something much better — a kind stranger.
Unlike Harry, I got some much appreciated help from a man who worked for the London Underground (which sounds like some kind of mobster organisation when written out like that). This man took the time to give me two different maps, one for public transport and one a general map of the city, and then even pointed out which places to see first. I saw a lot in London that day but what really stayed with me was this Londoner, taking time out of his busy morning to help a very lost stranger.