January has been an interesting month for me. The first day was spent in an Ecuadorian embassy and the last weekend in a London courthouse. Luckily for me I was free to leave at any time. Here’s how London celebrated Chinese New Year, as seen from our visit to the Clink Hostel.
Arriving at Kings Cross Station, we made the 10 minute walk to Clink drinking in the hussle and bussle of the capital. One of my favourite things about London is the mishmash of architectural styles. Walking through Kings Cross was an opportunity to see just that. The revamped the station is a sight in itself, but we couldn’t stop and stare all day we had a date in court after all.
Despite looking through photos and reviews nothing could quite prepare me for arriving at Clink 78. The building is the former Clerckenwell magistrates court, it took a few seconds to take the building in. From the outside only a flag and plaque betrayed the ruse that this was indeed still a center of justice. An astounding structure no doubt. Walking under the curved stone archway a sense of relief washed over me. I imagine this very same walk had been much more of a nerve wracking endeavour for those awaiting trial decades prior (One such case is that of the Clash, the band who stood trial over shot pigeons… but story for another day). Fortunately I, to my knowledge had committed no crimes that day. Sauntering into the reception were met with a bright and vibrant space. Juxtaposing the traditional wooden paneling and original court floor with splashes of colour and outlandish patterns on the ceiling. The place clearly had buckets of character and we’d only just stepped in the front door.
We had checked in, but before going to see our room for the weekend we decided to have a nosy round. There were a few people making a late lunch and a few others socialising. It was a nice Friday atmosphere. Next it was off to the dock, a communal area/ internet cafe complete with book swap and board games (including carcassonne which I’d highly recommend). Once again it was apparent the work put into the remodeling of this piece of history. Old wooden docks remain, underneath a giant neon “guilty” sign. All the while a chandelier spins slowly. Lastly it was the courtroom which was another social space, containing a TV and some funky chairs. Our brief 10 minute nose about had ticked all the boxes and with that we went to see our room. The beds were comfy, made and towels were provided. Jackpot!
With an hour or two to kill we ventured down to the hostel bar, inconveniently dry January meant we were on the virgin rum and coke for the next week. Just as we were tiring of card games, the hostel staff started up music bingo! Unleashing our inner bingo passion we wet our dabbers and pricked our ears. There was a good range of music and best of all a prize for the winner. A tense few minutes ensued we were just one square from bingo it was all but won… until someone else shouted bingo. We chose to quit while we were behind and went out to explore the local area.
Clink78 is at the heart of the city, close to restaurants, clubs and venues. We took a walk and saw some more amazing buildings. We settled on a club called “Social” and social it was. A mix of everything from funk(y) music to electronic and beyond. There was an owl on the wall that was rather photogenic. When the night was over we cycled back on some electric bikes for hire. Avoiding any major collisions we were back for 1am. Safely locked up at Clink.
Saturday was the start of Chinese New Year and the festivities had truly started across the city. A trip to Chinatown felt most appropriate to be immersed in the culture. Even streets away we could hear rhythmic drumming coming from the area. The first thing noticeable was the red lanterns, so many forming a bright canopy above the packed streets . Dragons roamed free and snap bangs were thrown. The sounds meant to ward off spirits bringing bad luck. One curious tradition we witnessed but weren’t sure of its origin was that of red letters attached to lettuce above doors. It was rather amusing to see the playful teasing of children attempting to grab a lettuce, string making the red letter lettuce and its contents reeled out of reach by someone in a window above. Sticking about to see the different dragons for a while, eventually being put off by an eerie statue street performer on a bike we then went off in search of something to eat.With a short detour to M&M world, to gawk at the sheer ridiculous prices that people will pay for a sweet coated piece of chocolate. Wanting to make the most of the trip we visited the Science museum before meeting a friend. Attempting to gain access to the shard, we found it a little too busy that day. A hot tip from the night before was to check out the winter lights dotted about the Canary Wharf area. They didn’t disappoint, a whole range of bright lights, from constellations projected onto spray by the river to a tree full of bras and LEDs. A bunch of flashing sirens was the highlight for me. Eloquently described by a passerby as ” just a bunch of things off police cars” the red glow they gave off felt rather fitting for the Year of the Rat celebrations. Seeing all that was to be seen we headed back to Clink. Adventure filled day behind us, food was in order. There happened to be a delightful vegan Japanese restaurant right across from the hostel. A worthy opportunity to try some miso soup and matcha tea jelly like pudding. Perhaps it was wrong eating Japanese cuisine on Chinese new year, and yet I felt no regrets.
To top off the day we joined in with Clink’s own Chinese new year celebrations. Two DJ’s in two nights, we were spoiled. The decor was on point and so were the activities available, it only took 5 rounds of beer pong tic tac toe to realise that Lily is clearly the master of the sport. A consolatory glass of coke was my only prize for being beaten 5 games to nothing. At least I tried. As did we at making our own dragon out of paper. While my dragon looked more like a potato Lily’s definitely looked convincing. It was the end of a long day, we left the music and partying for bed in our cosy room. Preparing for our final day.
Brunch was the only real solid plan of the day. An early morning phone call from a hungover friend set the scene for the last day. She’d heard rumors of an all day breakfast spot that did a superb veggie option. Checking out at Clink then biking over to Hoxton we met her at Paulas Cafe. It was indeed a great breakfast, even if it was already 1pm. Walking and talking for a while we considered what to do until our bus left. Our friend recommended the National portrait gallery as it was nearby the bus station. A solid plan in mind and an even more solid breakfast in stomach we set off. On our way we encountered a lightsaber battle. A stage had been set up and various fighters lined up to trade swings whilst dramatic music played in the background. Tension filled the crowd as rapid light warfare commenced. The charismatic announcer hyping up each performance. Not your average entertainment. When the non stop action got too much we ambled over to the gallery to appreciate some art. It was a surreal experience, not just the dramatic change from light sabers to paintbrushes. Seeing some of the famous paintings in real life was quite profound. Many pieces being hundreds of years old, having survived all this time. Time seemed to slip away from us and upon leaving the gallery we realised we only had a few hours left.
Passing the same eerily still street performer I began to wonder if my eyes were deceiving me, that he was in fact cycling astoundingly slowly. Inch by inch wheeling his way through the city, today he had adopted a “look no hands” approach. Our attention was soon diverted however with a perfectly lip synched rendition of Britney’s hit me baby one more time complete with choreography. His spears impression was uncanny. Being on Trafalgar square we got to witness some of the planned Chinese new year events on the big stage, unfortunately because of the weather it was relatively empty. But it did mean we got half price dumplings, so swings and roundabouts. Rain coming down we spent the last hour before the bus in a waterstones, drinking hot chocolate and playing sushi go. After the packed weekend it was exactly what was needed.
A big thank you to Clink 78 for making this trip. You can find out about Clicnk78 and the other great Clink hostels on their website.