“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.” – Samuel Johnson
London, one of the great cities in the world, in my opinion I don’t think there can be much debate about it. So, I will not dwell on the obvious things that make London a tourist destination, but rather I will discuss some of the more off the tourist path things that my family and I enjoy about London.
However, in an effort to thinly masquerade or pretend that this is a balanced article ;-), I should start with the bad things about the city. First, it is a big city with all the normal big city problems that dwellers must face such as horrendous traffic, pollution, overcrowded public transport and expensive housing, and it certainly not a city blessed with good weather. So, those things out of the way, back to the main objective…
A Diverse City
London is a big and sprawling city with a metropolitan population of over 11 million (depending on where you draw the line) and it offers both visitors and residents an amazing array of diversity on anything form culture to food or activities for young people or families with kids.
If you are thinking of going to London to study English you have a great opportunity to not just practice your English but also, or maybe even more importantly, to explore new ways of life and new ways of thinking. If you are going to take full advantage of a city like London, you must travel there with an open open mind and ready to accept, or at least analyse and try to understand, new ideas.
In my previous article I touched on the subject of cultural diversity and certainly, from my point of view, this is an important factor in making London a fascinating city. This diversity is not just about the obvious racial diversity but it extends to all forms of thought and as a result the city is highly tolerant and an incubator for new ideas and ways of thinking. When you visit, make a point of soaking this diversity into your thinking.
A Safe City?
One could compare all sorts of statistics for violent and petty crime and come up with a figure that says that London, for its size, is a relatively safe city. However, just as important is how you feel when you move about the city, specially if you are a woman travelling on your own. Most large cities can be intimidating and aggressive but I have found London to be a place where I have never felt threatened or worried about ending up on the wrong side of town.
The London Bobby (nickname for the police) does not carry guns while out on the beat (on patrol). If the police need extra force, then there is a special unit that is called into service if guns are needed. I have found the police on foot in different areas of London to be approachable, friendly and helpful. It is also nice to see that many of the police walking the city are women. Police without guns, umm…that tells a story in itself.
Yes, there is violent crime in London, and of course there are serious encounters when the police uses excessive force. However, as a whole and certainly for its size, London is a safe place and when I have had to travel on public transport and walk home late at night on my own I have never felt threatened. My husband and I have also been out to clubs in areas that are considered dangerous such as Brixton but we happily walk at night from the tube station and, other than being offered all sorts of illegal stuff to buy, one never feels intimidated.
This is certainly one of my favourite subjects and like many of us, I love my plate of rice and beans with a good piece of beef stake. However, when I spend time in London I like to explore new cuisines, new flavours and unusual foods. There is such a variety of choice, from Vietnamese restaurants east of Liverpool St station, to our favourite Pakistani restaurant behind the East London Mosque or the small Vegetarian food place near Covent Garden that is probably one of the few paces were you can eat well for a decent price in that area of London. Spanish, Thai, Cambodian, Peruvian, Venezuelan, Brazilian, South African, Jamaican, Burmese, etc, etc…are only but few of the cuisines represented – be adventurous and experiment new flavours, new textures, new combinations and most importantly experience new ideas through your taste buds.
However is not all about ethnic foods, London is also full of top quality restaurants, from the multi Michelin Star rated restaurants to top class but decently priced family run establishments. If you are prepared to go out to eat on a Monday or Tuesday and maybe go out for lunch rather than dinner you can eat at some top rated restaurants at a big discount, 2 for 1 deals as well as well priced set menus. There is a wide choice and you can use sites such as wwww.lastminute.com or www.london-eating.co.uk but there are many others. The deals change all the time so go back and check regularly and try different places.
Sunday Breakfast – there are lots of places for a nice Sunday brunch but a particularly pleasant venue is the restaurant in the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square. Most Sundays they have a live jazz band or a string quartet up until lunch time. Another choice just around the corner is at the restaurant at the top of the National Portrait Gallery where you can have a champagne breakfast with a “Marry Poppins” view of the city as you are just above the city rooftops and all the chimneys – a very typical London view.
Other Restaurants with a View – if you want to splurge and impress you girlfriend, then take her to the restaurant at the top of the Oxo tower for a fantastic view of the city – but you better have a fat wallet before you go.
For also a great view of the city at a fraction of the price then go to the restaurant at the top of the Tate Modern or just for a walk and a drink along Butlers Wharf.
Markets – The food markets in London also offer a wide variety of produce from all over the world. There are great markets such as Borough market behind Southwark Cathedral as well as many other open air markets around the city. Many of the neighbourhood markets specialise in ethnic foods depending on where they are located – if you look for it, you can find pretty much anything you want.
Cheese – Did you know that Britain has as wide a variety of cheese as France? Go to Neal’s Yard where cheeses from all over Britain are aged to achieve the optimum maturity. If you love cheese, well then, this is the place to go.
Coffee – Did you know that London is one of the top centres for speciality coffee in the world along with cities like Sydney and Seattle? No, I am not talking about the junk that Starbucks or other chains serves but truly outstanding Single Estate coffees from all over the world (Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Indonesia, Brazil, Bolivia, etc, etc) can be found in speciality coffee shops across London which are supplied by some of the best micro-roasters in the world. Some of our favourite ones include Dose, Fernandez & Wells, The Espresso Room, Monmouth, Kaffeine, Flat White and many others. A quality coffee made by an experienced Barista is like eating a dessert on every cup, it is a delight of an experience. Sadly despite Brazil producing over 35% of the world’s coffee we have hardly any places that serve outstanding coffee made with loving care.
Having Fun in the City
Well, this is entirely up to you and limited only to your own creativity and how much money you got in your pocket. London is an exciting city that offers something for most people. I want to keep it short so here goes a few of the places and things you may not read about on a guide book:
- Jazz – The 606 Club or Ronnie Scott’s for some of the best jazz in Europe.
- Theatre – yes, of course, the West End theatres but for something more unusual try The Tricycle Theatre for all sorts of unusual stuff including troops from Brazil.
- Guide – Timeout (http://www.timeout.com/london/) it is a good City guide. It is a London publication but now they do it for cities all over the world, including SP.
- Opera – no, I am not into it but you can sign up online for a ticket lottery which sells the tickets for £10. The building is amazing and the sound incredible so even if you don’t like Opera but you like performing arts, it is worth a trip, even if it to see the pomp spectacle.
- Dancing – well, there is truly endless choice and many with good live bands. From our very own forró to dancing the night away to the sound of a 12 piece Cuban salsa band or to experiment new dance rhythms from Angola or Zaire or maybe Caribbean sounds (all live bands). For something old fashion but lots of fun, go dancing on a Sunday during summer at the Royal Festival Hall public performing area where they play ballroom music. It is free, but make sure you make an old man or lady smile by asking them to dance. Lots of other free events at South Bank in and around the Royal Festival Hall – great area.
- Film – make your way to the British Film Institute (BFI) on South Bank Centre for pretty much anything you want to watch form anywhere in the world. Many libraries have a BFI centre where you can watch any film for free in a small booth.
- Live music – all over the place and all kinds, check Timeout or the local newspaper in the area where you live. The last one we saw was a Gypsy group from Paris at a small pub near Battersea park. Most are free as long as you consume a few beers. Or head to the Jazz Cafe in Camden for a wide variety of music styles.
- The Weird and the Wonderful – try Shunt which is an amazing venue underneath the railway arches near London Bridge tube station. It is like a subterranean wonderland of the weird and amazing performing arts. It is run by an artist cooperative and the best way to describe it is that you are bound to see anything and everything that you will see nowhere else. But hurry, it is due to close in June of this year….but then again, it has been closing for the past 2 years and it is still going strong and as weird and wonderful as ever. Definitely not for everyone and you never know what is going on – don’t go if you are not open minded.
Well, this all for the moment. I am afraid it is but a tiny drop in the ocean of stuff to do in London. I could go on and on but risk putting you to sleep.
Will leave you with one of the unusual and most fun ways to see the city during the day or the evening.
Do you know how to in-line skate?
If you do, then make your way to The Serpentine in Hyde Park and join the group that skates across the city. They follow a different route every week and some of them are at night.
Skating across the city, is there a better way to see and connect with the city?
They do the same in Paris. Both London and Paris events are completely free and all you need is to know how to skate well so you can negotiate all the obstacles in the city and to keep up with the group. They have minders to control the traffic and it is all pretty safe. However, if you fall and crack you head, you will not be able to sue the city or anyone (as you would do in America – sorry, could not help myself ;-). On the serious side, does anyone know if this is done in any American cities?
On a nice summer’s evening you can have several hundred or thousand skaters going across the city – and yes, traffic has to stop for them. Some of them have a guy on a bicycle pullig a great big set of speakers playing music for the skaters. It is all pretty well organised, it has to be to stop traffic in the centre of London, and it is all run by volunteers. Great fun – if you are in London, give it a try..!!
Here is a video to the sound of a band from California (not the best video but gives you an idea of what it is all about).
Ok, that is it for now, I shall continue on the next article and will touch on:
- A Centre of Design Excellence
- The Grand City
- Pubs and Wine Bars
- Just Hanging Out
I hope you enjoyed learning a bit more about London. Remember, variety is the spice of life – if you travel to London, make sure you fill your time there with new experiences that you may not have a chance to experience back in your home town.
See you soon !
Sobre a Autora: Meu nome é Luciana, sou professora de Inglês, leciono em São Paulo e recentemente criei o Inglês Interact. Morei e trabalhei por alguns anos na Inglaterra (Londres e Cambridge).