Save for one day where we ventured to Southend (which was delightfully touristy and tacky all at once) and another noodling around Romford, I’ve spent four jam-packed days in London. To cram everything in I think you’d need at least a week, so I’m hoping to have a few more days before I depart to fill in any gaps. In no particular order, my favourite (and not-so-favourite) London experiences:
Jaime’s Italian Kitchen – my parents and I decided to have a “we’re on vacation” moment and went to one of Jaime Oliver’s restaurants for dinner. Although the portions were a bit on the small side, the food (and wine, as evidenced by my mum’s despair over finishing the bottle) were excellent, and it was a fun night.
Riding the Tube – While there have been some massive problems on the new Jubilee line, I have loved riding the Underground. I love the character of each station and line (and some of the names, such as Bakerloo!), the politeness of the crew, and the thrill of sitting upstairs at the front of a double-decker bus and marveling at how the thing makes those corners. Our one-day off-peak passes have been great deals too and it’s been handy that a tube station happens to be a five-minute walk from my aunt’s house.
Family and Friends – Getting to see where my dad grew up, my parents worked and lived, spending time with relatives whom I haven’t really had a chance to connect with before (I’ll out-tourist you yet, Christian), meeting-and-greeting my aunt’s dog and finally seeing one of my bestest amigos after following him halfway around the world have been all sorts of fantastic. Thanks London for reuniting me with people!
Markets – I’ve been to Romford, Portobello Road (which I envisioned would be exactly like Bedknobs and Broomsticks had made it out to be – it was not) and Spitalfields – all good fun.
“Boris’s Bikes” – Like Bixi in Montreal, all across London you can pick up and drop off rental bikes which charge you by the hour. While you can’t take them everywhere (including some parks, like Green Park where we innocently missed the sign and a very angry man berated us for no reason), it’s a great way to get around and give your feet a well-deserved rest. And while I had expected certain death from riding on the streets after witnessing how double-decker buses motor up behind cyclists, it was actually quite manageable.
St. Paul’s Cathedral and Tower Bridge – I didn’t even go in either place and found them fascinating. That is the mark of a good tourist attraction. Hopefully third time’s the charm for St. Paul’s when I go back.
Parks – Spend a sunny afternoon loafing around a park, either on foot or by bike. It’s a great way to get off the touristy path and meet locals, spend some time in nature, and relax away from the hustle-and-bustle of London life. Oh, and it’s free! Pack a picnic or grab a sandwich or salad from basically anywhere as healthy lunch options are available on every corner.
The “They Were Okay, But Not What I Expected” Experiences:
Natural History Museum – Granted, we went during a school holiday so it was a tad busy. However, the dinosaur and mammal exhibits were a bit disappointing (some of the fossils were casts made from dinosaurs at the ROM in Toronto!) and it took forever to get around due to the sheer number of people.
Primark – Again, it was a school holiday. However the Primark on Oxford Street was a bit like a Boxing Day sale on crack. I lasted about five minutes and had to hoof it out of there before losing my mind. Yes, £2 for a t-shirt is a good deal, but I value my sanity more.
Trafalgar Square – The last time I came to London, when I was nine, there were THOUSANDS of pigeons in the Square. A bit unhygienic and nutty, yes, but all part of the character of the place. Now there are none, as they’ve been chased off.
Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace – Yes, Liz has a posh house. But standing in massive crowds a million feet away from the gates, in hot sunshine, to watch some guards walk down the street and away from view was kind of a bummer. I can’t even imagine what those crowds will be like for the royal wedding. Good luck with that, people. I’ll be watching from the comfort of my Nan’s, sipping mimosas.