I knew way before I left for London that it won’t be like other places. I knew it’s big, there are maaany things to see, maaany things to do and maaany things to try. I knew from the start that I can’t do it all in 5 days, so I decided not to stress to much and see what I can. But I had no idea what I was in for.
I must admit that things went nothing at all according to plan prior to the trip. First of all, I was suppose to stay at a friend’s place in London. Because I knew it was an expensive city where everything is concerned, accommodation included, and that is probably why I had postponed my visit there for so long. But my initial arrangement fell through quite abruptly just a month before my trip. As a result I found out just how expensive London accommodation is. About 100 euros a night, for a plain room in a plain apartment, cu shared bathroom and everything. Nonetheless in Little Venice, a central and very nice neighbourhood. By comparison, in the north of Europe, where prices are known to be high, in Copenhagen for 100 euros I got a one bedroom apartment, and in Stockholm, for 100 euros I stayed in an excellent hotel, with and awesome breakfast included.
Second of all, I had to leave for London with a friend. So that I’d have someone to walk about with. But one night before, I found out I’m going alone. Something I never did before, from start to finish. So I was somewhat nervous, but hey, if the music plays you gotta keep dancing.
Once I got there, I felt completely overwhelmed. There is now way to peg down London. It’s the Tower of Babel. It’s a multicultural multinational anthill. It’s a great mix altogether. People of every nation. Tourists, locals, work relocated. Italian, French, African, Chinese, Indian, Spanish, Romanian.
All this foreign communities didn’t come barehanded to the British capital. They brought the traditional cuisine. I’ve never seen such culinary variation anywhere else. Specialities of all kinds. Noodles and sushi from Thailand, China or Japan, pizza and gelatto from Italy, croissants și baguettes from France, chilli and churros from Mexico and Spain, falafel and kebab from Lebanon and Turkey. Plus a tone of other typical English food that you can find everywhere, from fancy restaurants, to chain supermarkets like Tesco and Salisbury’s local. Complete taste buds debauchery. There are so many possibilities that you don’t know what to buy. At first, I was completely overwhelmed.
Architecturally speaking, the variations are also immense. From quiet neighbourhoods of houses that reminded me of Amsterdam or, in some cases, American suburbs,to the huge glass metal towers on the banks of the Thames and in the office districts. The scenery changes as you walk by, from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, from street to street, and you never know what to expect around the next corner. And we keep blaming the architect of Bucharest for not using a unitary approach when it comes to the city centre. Well London takes everything to a whole other level. It’s a different scale. But since everything is well kept and looks good, all this architectural eclecticism is quite easy on the eye.
In London, besides the material and culinary consumerism, there is also cultural consumerism. You know how malls work in Romania? That’s how museums work in London. If in our case, some people with go to the mall when they have nothing better to do, in London you can go to the museum.Because it’s free. If outside is raining and the weather is bad, you can always enter such and establishment and you have access to wi-fi, toilettes, restaurant, a chair to rest your tired bones and, BONUS, free art. A Van Gogh, a Monet, a 2000 years old stone that helped decipher hieroglyphs, some pieces of the Parthenon in Athena, and all sorts of such invaluable objects that are part of the universal history and culture, and can be seen by anyone anytime for free.
In order to get around this great city I simply need to use public transport. It’s pretty hard, from a physical point of view, to manage without, if you want things to run smoothly. And the public transport is a expensive, as well organized. First of all you need and Oyster card. You can buy it from the ticket machines in every tube station. The deposit is 5 pounds and then you recharge it as you go, with 5 pounds or more. When you are done with it, you go back to the ticket machine and cash back your deposit and remaining money, if there is any. With the Oyster card you can access all of the means of transportation in the city. Well, I only tried the tube and bus, I’m not sure about the rest. I used the tube the first couple of days, because I had a map of it and I could easily find my way around. Then I got the hang of the double deckers. Which are totally awesome. It’s like riding a tour bus, without paying a ton of money. And it’s cheaper than the tube. Like any civilized city there are schedules, that are generally respected and it’s a real pleasure after a long day of walking around to sit upstairs in the front and watch the city unfold. Keep in mind though the surface public transportation network is way more complex than the underground one and you absolutely need maps of the lines. On tfl.gov.uk you can find about all the info you need. Stops, hours, routes, maps. From there on it’s happy riding time.
Generally speaking, in all the other places I’ve visited so far, I could usually find my way around a city using just a map. I’m talking about checking some places, getting to certain points at certain hours, catching a train, and basically acting efficiently. Where London is concerned, I can only say I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t acquired a smartphone a couple of months before. As a first time visitor, at first contact, you cannot move about properly and quickly. You cannot! I used the GPS almost the whole time (thank god it didn’t use up date, because date is also expensive), I’ve looked at maps, I ran. I’ve never seen such madness. Paris can come close, but I can’t really compare since I’ve already been twice and spent a bit more time, so I know what’s it all about.
If you add the fact that the card run on the other side of the road and every time you cross the street you tend to look the wrong way, the running around becomes and extreme adventure. Luckily, London administration has thought about the hordes of unprepared tourists visiting the city and wrote in big print on the pavement, next to cross walks, “Look right” and “Look left”. So that you don’t get killed by one of those wonderful double deckers, not knowing where they come from.
Anyway, by day four I can say I had started to fell more at ease. I had done a sort of mind mapping of the place, knew how to find my way around and what the distances on the maps meant in the field. And there was one more thing I could do, that for me means I’ve gotten the hang of a new city. Offer directions to other tourists less familiarized with the place, using a map of course.
London is a consumable. And like any other consumable, the more you eat, the more you get an appetite. About the very concentrated dish I served for five days, you can read more here.