I was mistaken when I thought that London wasn’t exotic enough. Though after 6 months in Asia, I suppose even white bread and vanilla ice cream can seem like curiosities. I just couldn’t get over the diversity—Europeans, Africans, Russians, people from the Middle East…all of them rushing around in this busy city. One of our most fascinating outings in London was our visit to Harrods (the famous department store), where we watched women in full burka shopping for designer threads and expensive lingerie (which begs the question…why bother spending $500 on a shirt if no one is going to see it?).
In fact, our friends in London are a mini-United Nations in and of themselves: Chi-Chi (our fabulous and generous Chinese American host), Conall and Mariam (Irish and French-Caribbean), Brendan and Eela (American and Persian), and Corre Marie and Matt (Japanese American and Irish/English). And we made new friends with an English/Argentinian couple.
Brendan, Jeremy, Conall, Mariam, Chi-Chi, and Hope enjoying pints at The Cow.
Most of our buddies just moved to London in the past year, but Corre Marie (who Jeremy has known since she was in diapers) and her boyfriend Matt have lived in London for a while, so they helped explain all that confusing passive aggressiveness to us (Matt: “The English, man, they’re dour! They’re dour!). Matt’s opinion was confirmed after a late night out with the English/Argentinian couple: some guy tried to pick a fight with Jeremy after the two accidentally collided, despite the fact that he was a head shorter than either of us (he threatened both of us with “I punch you in the face!”). I’m sure the pint or ten he threw back at the pub didn’t help matters. Hey, Americans may be annoying tourists, but at least we’re loving drunks.
But I suppose any big city is going to have its share of cranky people, and luckily, we didn’t have any further run-ins with drunken killjoys. In fact, we had a great time enjoying this fabulous city…wandering around different neighborhoods by day and going out with friends at night.
Many of the sights around London charge exorbitant entry fees, which can be as high as £20 or almost US$32 per person! So we didn’t do a lot of the “typical” London sightseeing like the London Tower, Westminster Abbey, or London Eye. We did, however, visit Buckingham Palace, even though the Queen charges a royal fee for the privilege (£16.50 or US$26 per person)! The audio tour is narrated by members of the royal family, and it was a good thing to do once in our lives, though if/when we return to London, we’ll probably save our pounds for a pint.
Luckily, all the of the museums in London are free, and very impressive. I adored the V&A and its fascinating display of the historic and the futuristic. I was particularly enamored with the fashion and footwear collection (is anyone surprised?), which had 18th century corsets on display next to work by current student designers at the Royal Academy of Art. The V&A also had a fabulous temporary exhibition called Telling Tales, which was all about the role of fairy tales in contemporary industrial design. AWESOME.
Surprisingly, I was a bit disappointed with the Tate Modern. Mostly because the curation seemed a bit chaotic to me, and the pieces seemed too close to each other. Let the art breathe, Tate Modern!
Both Jeremy and I loved the Natural History Museum, though mostly for the stunning building, with its Romanesque archway entry and the collection of stone animal sculptures decorating the exterior of the building.
The parks in London are also a budget-friendly way to pass the time. Richmond Park is by far the biggest and most fabulous in the city. With deer!
We also wandered around some of the markets. Spitalfields, billed as a market for up-and-coming fashion designers, actually has a bunch of cheap made-in-China clothing for a sale. Needless to say, it was a disappointment. Portabello Market was a bit more “English authentic”, but so crowded that it was not enjoyable (unless you like that sort of thing).
Speaking of crowds, the Tube is fabulous, but can someone please do something about the ventilation in there?
We spent 10 days in London, enjoying the cool weather, eating fun Western foods that we hadn’t eaten in six months (like hamburgers and bacon), and going out with friends. London is a gorgeous city with fabulous things to do and see. Just try not to bump into any drunk English blokes.
Gordon’s (London’s oldest wine bar), housed in an underground cave.
Did you know?
- The UK ≠ Great Britain ≠ England. The United Kingdom is made up of three distinct “home nations”: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Note that England is only one “home nation” within the United Kingdom. Great Britain consists of the “continental” home nations of England, Scotland, and Wales. Therefore, Great Britain + Northern Ireland = United Kingdom.
- The queen “owns” all the animals in London’s parks. So if you accidentally kill a duck or a deer, you can be tried for treason. Really.
- Brits do not pronounce the “ce” or “w” in the middle of a sentence. So “Chiswick” becomes “Chizzick” and “Worcester” becomes “Wurster.”
- English food is good now. No really. Seriously. No, I mean it. I know it will be hard for most people to believe, but I swear it’s true. No, you’re not going to get good grub if you walk into the average sandwich shop on the street. But the rise of gastropubs means that most of the time, you can get a good meal with your pint without even looking that hard for it.
Check out our photos from London: