Friday, January 09, 2009

Some Thoughts on Visiting London – If You are Thinking of Going



"Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford."

Dr. Samuel Johnson


If you are thinking about visiting London, I encourage you to do so. I have just returned from my most recent visit, and fell in love with the lovely and stodgy old city all over again. London has emerged as one of my favorite cities in the world. (After Boston and London, my top 10 at the moment, in alphabetical order, would be Florence, Istanbul, Kiev, Krakow, Lisbon, Moscow, New York, Paris, Prague and Singapore.)


London has the reputation for being a very expensive city, but it is possible to stay there and enjoy its delights relatively cheaply if you know how to do it. Here are a few of my thoughts based on dozens of visits to this treasure chest on the Thames.


Accommodations – There are, of course, some of the world class 4 and 5 star classic hotels, but at the other end of the scale, there are dozens of hostels and hundreds of Bed and Breakfasts. I have had great luck using several of the boutique hotels located within a 5-minute walk from Victoria Station or Paddington Station. These lovely old row houses were once private homes, and typically offer 15-20 rooms scattered among 3 or 4 stories. There are no elevators, so be prepared to schlep your luggage up a few flights. Most offer a very edible English breakfast as part of the deal. Current prices are as low as $70-90 dollars/night.


London B&B Link


The Underground – Daily passes are available after 9:30 AM for ₤5.60 that allow unlimited access to all subways within the city (Zones 1 and 2) and all buses. The subway shuts down around midnight, but there are night buses that run all night, and your pass is good until 4:00 AM. Instead of paying for an over-priced guided tour bus, I pick a public bus route, climb to the top floor of the bus, check out the neighborhoods along the route and decide what to come back and visit, or just get off when it fits my fancy.


Walking the City – Like Boston and New York, London is a very walkable city – with each distinct neighborhood offering up its own unique blend of sights, smells, sounds and idiosyncrasies. Over the years, I have availed myself of the incomparable services of the guides provided by the Original London Walks.


London Walks Link


For ₤5 or ₤7 ($8-11), you can participate in a 2-hour group tour of any of dozens of neighborhoods or themed walks. The guides are all certified, and many are actors or professors with the ability to make history come alive. They are, without exception, gifted story tellers who make the city and its secrets accessible and delectable.

Some of the walking tours will guide you through the museums, which I recommend. The Beatles walk is fun, as are the Dickens and Shakespeare walks. More extended walks are available for Greenwich, Stonehenge, Salisbury, Oxford and other outlying places.


Theater – This is often one of the reasons why I stop in London whenever I can on my way back from Europe. There is always something worth seeing. The TKTS booth in Leicester Square is reliable and is the only official source of off-price tickets to musicals and dramas.


London TKTS Link


Be aware of some differences between London theater and Broadway. “The stalls” are the orchestra seats; the “interval” is intermission. Programs are sold and not given out for free. Another big difference is that if you have an interest in talking with the cast members after a show, very few people line up at the stage door. On my most recent trip, I had extended conversations with the stars of Zorro and Carousel. When I asked why more people did not seek out an opportunity to talk with the actors, I was told, simply: “British reserve!”


Food – Because London is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, you can find restaurants representing the cuisines of the entire former British Empire – and well beyond. You don’t have to settle for beef and kidney pie or bangers. I have found a little out-of-the-way fish and chips shop in Soho that is so good I return there every time I am in London. I am usually the only tourist there. Everyone else works or lives in the neighborhood. ₤8 will get you a whole haddock, a plate of chips (fries) and a soda. Amazing. If you plan to go, ask me for directions on how to find the place.


That is just the tip of the iceberg. Dr. Johnson would be pleased with me, for I never tire of London – nor of talking about it.


Enjoy!


Al

2 comments:

Ti Alan Chase said...

Dr. Johnson might be pleased with you, but I dare say Benjamin Barker would not agree with your assessment of the city.

For fairness sake, you should have offer Barker's counterpoint to Johnson's quote:

"There's a hole in the world like a great black pit
and the vermin of the world inhabit it
and its morals aren't worth what a pig can spit
and it goes by the name of London."

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