Why London is awesome

On my first visit to London I was totally unimpressed.  This may be due to the fact that I was 11, it was the middle of winter, it didn’t snow, I was thoroughly sick of being dragged around to churches and medieval villages through the whole of France by my mother and just wanted to have a real holiday already, there wasn’t really that much to appeal to kids or my parents were completely ignorant of whatever was available and there is only a certain amount of sustained excitement you can experience from seeing squirrels for the first time without them becoming a little mundane.  In fact the highlight of my London trip was getting lost in Harrods the day before we were due to go home.  I was taken to the security department where all lost children and shop-lifters go and there was my brother, playing on a computer – he had noticed I was gone and got lost himself looking for me.  Mum arrived shortly after while we were enjoying hot chocolate and feeling rather proud of ourselves (and by the way the security guards are lovely, I get the feeling this might happen on a regular basis).

This time I was completely blown away by just how awesome London really is.  It may be because I was on a high from the most amazing holiday ever, it may be because I was meeting my little brother for a few days before he jetted off to parts undetermined, it may be because I had tickets to see Mumford and Sons and Arcade Fire, it may be because I was incredibly excited about all the shopping opportunities on offer and it may be because I was looking forward to catching up with a friend who has been studying at Oxford for a couple of years – who knows!  All I know is, I had the time of my life!

Lets start with the Eurostar trip – a completely awful experience.  Not because the train was bad, no the train was fine actually.  But because I missed my train due to the incredibly insane Paris traffic.  My taxi driver actually got out of the cab at one stage to verbally abuse another driver who had cut in front of him (coming from the left side of the intersection) at a completely full intersection which I am convinced only happens developing countries with few road rules and Paris.  The other driver then proceeded to attempt to reverse through another car so he could get out of the way.  Can’t believe I didn’t have my camera on me!
Anyway, so I missed my train.  Problem was it was Paris fashion week and Wimbledon so I had to grab the only ticket that was on offer – 250 Euros!!!  I nearly cried as I handed over my shoe shopping allowance.  After paying 50 for my original ticket I was completely unimpressed and even the fact that they had Haagen Dasz at the station was not enough to placate me.  Then I got on the train and someone was in my seat.

After that was all sorted out I ended up with 2 seats to myself as the couple in them had been on the wrong carriage and the guy who was travelling with the American’s in the seats over the aisle had decided to stay in Paris to be with the love of his life (whom he had met a week earlier).  I was chatting to his friends about London; what to do, where to go and how on earth I was going to find my hostel when a voice piped up from the seat behind me – ‘you’re going to Shepherd’s Bush? I know where that is, in fact that’s where I’m going’.  Turns out Angels are real and I found one on the Eurostar.  Ok I know what you’re thinking, stranger danger and tourist scams and all that so I was a little wary at first but it turned out he was just a genuinely nice guy who wanted to help out just because he could AND he even showed me how to get a transport card, helped carry my ridiculously large suitcase through the London tube which is not exactly designed for suitcases and showed me where the hostel was.  Ladies it turns out chivalry is not dead at all but unfortunately he already has a fiancee (lucky girl).

Apparently St Christopher’s hostel in Shepherd’s Bush is where all the Aussies end up and apart from the stifling heat inside due to unusually hot weather and the lack of air conditioning I really can’t complain.  They even have 2 pound bundy and coke every day and they stock Australian beer that is kept in a real fridge – not the usual English beer fridge which is warmer than it really should be!  So the next day I was able to start crossing off things from my ‘to do in London’ list

  1. Go on a walking tour;  I joined the Sandemans royal tour which was recommended at the hostel.  The tour was free and the guides are volunteers who do it for the joy of educating tourists and the occasional tip.  Our guide was fantastic.  They also have many other paid tours including a pub crawl and grim reaper tour which I wanted to do but didn’t have the time.
  2. Go to a concert in Hyde Park;  My little bro arrived on the morning of the Arcade Fire concert which was very exciting and he nearly lasted the whole concert.  The biggest event I have been to is the Big Day Out at the Melbourne Showgrounds but this concert managed to have nearly the same amount of people for one stage only.  It was massive!  I went more for Mumford and Sons than Arcade Fire who I hadn’t been overly impressed with but I was very impressed with their show, they do put on a fantastic show (even if I had to take a partly delirious jet-lagged brother back to the hostel before it was over).  And by the way, Mumford and Sons were incredible!
  3. Find some pubs;  Well this is actually quite easy, around every corner is a cute little pub with a gorgeous imaginative name.  The pubs are generally quite small so the industry has overcome this by allowing people to take their drinks outside and drink in the street near the pubs – a novel idea and definitely not going to be allowed in Australia!  But when you own an establishment that only 30 people or so can fit in comfortably there is really no alternative if you want any business!
  4. Catch a show;  I hadn’t realised how much I wanted to do this until I saw all the posters everywhere on the tube.  And as it happens, London is the home of Les Miserables, it has been playing for 25 years and is still spectacular.  This is my brother’s and my favourite show and it did not disappoint.  I am so glad we got to see it and for 25 pounds it was considerably cheaper than going to a show in Melbourne.  There are cheap ticket booths set up everywhere in Picadilly Square and some of them keep tickets for each show on hold until the day so it is possible to see a show that is sold out everywhere else (including the theatre box office), how awesome is that?!
  5. Try some truly fantastic Mexican food; Ok so this wasn’t exactly on my original ‘to do’ list but we did it anyway and it has now made my ‘memorable places’ list.  Lupita is a small but very popular mexican restaurant near Charring Cross station that has the most amazing Mexican food I have ever had – Taco Bill eat your heart out!  So we may not have a huge selection of Mexican food in Australia but I know what I like and I loved it.  If you get there try the Chicharron de Queso y Guacamole – it will blow your mind!
  6. Go Shopping;  And I did!  Check out my last post on the 10 best places I found to shop in Europe and the UK.
  7. Find and shop Portobello road and Camden market;  Being a ‘bedknobs and broomsticks’ fan I could not get the ‘Portobello road’ song out of my head every time I thought of the place and to be honest it wasn’t at all what I expected.  Ok I know the movie was made a VERY long time ago in movie years but the place really didn’t look anything like it did on the movie.  Still, it was pretty cool but I much preferred what I saw of Camden Market.
  8. Pride march;  It just so happened that our visit coincided with the London Gay Pride festival and the march.  My brother and I jumped on the tube in the morning to find a pair of girls scantily clad in sequins and feathers.  It took our hung-over brains a moment to put two and two together – that group of overtly camp guys who chatted to us in the street last night looking for Haven night club in Soho and excitedly announced they were here for pride festival and these girls must be here for the same reason AND (unless the girls were late for a newer, flashier version of the Lion King) there must be a parade/march like there is for Mardi Gras in Sydney.  So I checked it out and it was great!  Everyone from the Police to the Older gay generation, the Muslim community (who win the award for the best chant – we’re here, we’re queer, we don’t drink beer!) and London Rollergirls had a group marching, riding a float or skating.  I have never seen so many rainbow ribbons, it brought a tear to my eye.
  9. Go to Harrods;  This time, I am proud to say, neither my brother nor I got lost.  Harrods was just as I remembered it, a maze of fabulousness with the best gift shop on the planet.  My brother made friends with a life-size police bear and my brain nearly exploded trying to decide which cute cuddly harrods bear to take home with me.  The decision was too difficult so I got an umbrella and some magnets, a rubber duck with a union jack flag on it and some other trinkets.
  10. Survive the London Tube;  I am proud to say that I did not catch a cab once!  I had the handy London Tube map on my phone and my oyster card in my pocket and I conquered the London transport system.  Yes it was tough at times, yes it is dirty and crowded and hot but it is rather awesome, reasonably efficient and far more reliable than Paris transport.  And while it is true that at the end of the day you look at your hands and wonder how you got so much grime under your fingernails, particularly if you didn’t touch anything and that it is not the best place if you suffer from claustrophobia particularly at peak hour (thankfully I don’t) it is a masterpiece and a London icon.

Here is my brother with his new friend from Harrods, I think he was still suffering from a bit of Jet-lag…


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. laurahartson
    Aug 12, 2011 @ 23:45:59

    haha great post! im glad you love my city, but you didnt say if you had been to spitalfields market or not. if you havent take a trip the next time you visit, its out west and far better than portabello, although there is sadly no bedknobs and broomsticks connotations 🙂


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