In love with London
In love with London

Where else in the world could you go for a wander and happen upon so many unexpected delights? That's the thing that struck me most about London: the endless surprises just waiting to present themselves to unsuspecting travellers.

It was ridiculous actually, almost unfair to other cities. The abundance of gorgeous stone architecture and the iconic Thames, reflecting the illuminated Gothic Houses of Parliament and, of course, Big Ben; it was all bad enough, but adding a temporary market on the south bank of the river? Now that was just playing dirty.

It was necessary for us poor, unacclimatised Australians to seek shelter and warmth in an adjacent cafe. Climbing a staircase, I unexpectedly found a jazz band playing for a casual, yet attentive audience.

Tables of well-dressed listeners sat around the central stage and I started to worry that I'd waltzed into a restaurant.

After making my way towards the door, however, I found a sign: "Live Music at the Southbank". I was in the Southbank Centre.

Delighted with this most recent surprise, I headed outside on to an elevated landing to see what else London might have in store for me.

Multicoloured lights hung from posts leading towards several "happening" restaurants. With these festive colours shining in front of me, the Thames and Big Ben beyond and jazz music emanating from the building behind me, I had to grin at the brilliance of it all.

It was easy to conceive a Londoner's social plans playing out here: shopping, stopping to check out some street theatre, absorbing some fine culture and then taking the view for granted while enjoying some dinner and a few drinks.

The whole place was buzzing and alive. I could picture myself living and relishing this perpetually diverting cultural landscape. This bewitching capital had it all figured out. I was hooked on London.

A few steps towards the back of the centre, however, found me looking out over another lot of markets, in fact a festival. A chocolate festival (I swear I'm not making this up).

I was met by rows of little white tents (and more glamorous Europeans) with chocolate bars, hot chocolate, baked chocolate goodies and raw cocoa beans. I quite obligingly accepted the tasters offered by each vendor, including the man with the cocoa beans. I can't honestly say I enjoyed them quite as much as the other samples but I was pleasantly surprised to find them to be far less bitter than expected.

This evening was particularly eventful but, over the next several days spent in the city, proved itself to be definitely "in character" for London.

It's just a place where walking around with open eyes, an open mind and a not-too-rushed gait is just about guaranteed to present the gloriously unexpected.

· *Monica Leslie was the winner of our first Young Travel Writer competition, in 2009. We will be running the competition again this year. *

The whole place was buzzing. This capital had it all figured out.

The West Australian

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