What is life in London like? Let me start by telling you that everyone’s experience in London is different. Everyone goes there for different reasons to see different things and everyone has their own unique experience. However, there are a few key things (in my opinion, of course) that nearly everyone will, by default, experience there and should, by choice, enjoy during their time in London, regardless of how long or short their stay.
You won’t see pictures of them here, but that should not stop you from heeding this advice: visit pubs. Be honest. How many times have you heard people talk about London or the UK and *not* mention a pub? Can you even think of one? Pubs are like the community centers of London and for this reason alone you should make it a point to step into as many as you can during your time there. In each you will see a representation of the community flavor where the pub is located. The topics of interest to the locals will be discussed, business debated, loves lamented, joys shared and sorrows confessed. Each pub will welcome you with a surplus of warm, wooden decorations, a padded bar edge to lean against and the smile of a bartender truly eager to dish out advice on local brews and pour you a delicious, refreshing pint of whatever you choose. If you’re as lucky as Raquel and I you might even get a round of drinks on the house, just for letting the bartender know how much you’re enjoying the beer and the ambiance of his pub. You will undoubtedly leave wondering why in the hell US bars are filled with loud, obnoxious music, television screens at every corner and patrons more concerned with the quality of their clothing than the quality of their conversation. But, I may just be a teeny bit biased. I did meet my wife in a pub.
Ride the Tube
Growing up in the suburbs of New York City I had access to some of the world’s best public transportation. London is one of two other cities I’ve ever been to where the public transport is even better! Paris is the other and you’ll here about that later. Riding the tube in London is an absolute pleasure. The efficiency of being able to get within a few blocks of nearly any place you need to in the city is wonderful. Our longest wait for a train was five minutes. The majority of the time we waited about two minutes. Then there are the stations. Wonderful, old, modern, brick, underground, aboveground, slightly submerged and all fascinating to pass through. Let’s not forget the passengers as well. From the well-heeled to the non-heeled, you will see the gamut of humans that call London home. If you’re anything like me you’ll be smiling from ear to ear at the wonderful diversity you see and how it all flows together so well. It’s how London gets around and you’ll feel the real pulse of the city as you travel it’s steel-railed arteries and veins.
Walk the Streets
Lot’s of people show up as visitors to a city with a long list of places to visit. They have their days planned to the hilt and they will waste no time wandering lest they miss a chance to check something off that list. I would like to propose that those people miss out on no less than half of the experience of that city by following this path. They will certainly be surrounded by tourists the entire time they are there. They will check many things off their lists, but can they really say they’ve seen the city? My advice is wander. Get lost. Make wrong turns on purpose. Follow the river or your heart or your instinct, but for goodness sake put down the guide book. Sure, have a list of things you want to see, but take your time getting there and don’t forget to see what the back door looks like. If the Tube is London’s arteries and veins then it’s streets are it’s capillaries and here you will see how life in London really goes down. Smokers taking a break from their office cube, workers grabbing a pint at the local pub at lunch, municipal employees keeping up London’s notoriously clean streets and perhaps the other rare tourists, purposely lost, relaxed enough to smile and meet your eye as you pass, reminding you that you’re not the only one enjoying the city in this fashion but at least you’re both smiling.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
One very ‘touristy’ thing we did in each and every city we visited was to get up high and give ourselves a new perspective on this strange place we were visiting for the first time. [The ‘we’ only applies to Munich and Lisbon since my wife had been to London, Paris and Venice more than once before.] In London our eagle’s nest was St. Paul’s Cathedral. It was actually the only place we visited in London where we physically went inside. All the other sights we saw were from the street as we wandered by. But St. Paul’s was worth every penny of entrance fee. The Cathedral itself is an absolute wonder and we thoroughly enjoyed exploring it on our way to our principle destination – the top. There were two levels on the top of the Cathedral. One at the wider base of the dome and one at the narrower top. We spent close to three hours on these two levels. Taking pictures of the view, taking pictures of each other and ourselves together with timers and remotes. Then just taking it in. All of it. You have a complete 360 degree view of the city from up there and you can see everything from above. The London Eye, the Tate Modern, the Gherkin, the Shard, the Tower of London, London Bridge, Big Ben and everything else. Every building and sight is visible below and taking it all in can really take your breath away. We were like giddy school children up there, filled with joy at watching all the comings and goings of London beneath us and how the light behind the clouds moved shadows over this spot and sunshine over this other and how the tapestry of light and life was so very alive here. In some respects we were probably also giddy with sleeplessness and jet-lag and caffeine but regardless; it was amazing up there.
Have you ever visited London? What was your experience like? Tell me just how far off (or on) the mark you think I was in my lighthearted summary.