Welcome to London, the city of royalty and regalia.
Actually its a buzzing, modern metropolis and I love it every time I come here. I’m quite spoilt in that regard because I think this is visit #4 and counting. The difference is that this time, Maria and I are staying with the newest London locals……my parents.
Having moved to London in late-2016 and residing in leafy St Johns Wood (located near Primrose Hill and on the Jubilee Tube line), my parents currently live in a beautiful, sun-splashed* haven which is superb for exploring London and beyond that, exploring continental Europe.
*This description isn’t quite accurate due to London (like Melbourne) being host to some of the world’s most miserable, grey weather however the sun does periodically show itself.
We arrive into Heathrow Airport at about 6pm, Saturday May 6th and morally prepare ourselves for the interrogation at Immigration Control……..and it never really happens. On our landing card, we designate our address as my parents’ apartment and the female officer simply asks ‘how long are we staying in London and what are we doing here?’ My response, ‘staying with my parents for a week.’ STAMP, STAMP is added onto our rapidly-filling passports and its welcome to the UK for 6 months (but with no access to public funds or employment – a reminder to travellers that hasn’t changed since my first visit in 2009).
That week was spent living like Londoners and occasionally like tourists. Buying products at Waitrose and preparing dinner at my parents’ place or going out and enjoying the classic English pub-grub (which is actually amazing most of the time).
One night Maria, my mum and I went to a classic pub near Hampstead Heath, the Spaniard’s Inn. This pub was said to have been built in 1585 and once used as the watering hole to placate disgruntled citizens when they had tax complaints against their local lord.
The Sandeman’s free walking tour was very royal-centric but still entertaining and a thorough history lesson about the British royal family. Our guide Jake was as London as they come, actually from Greenwich, and so he was a fountain of local knowledge.
Being from Melbourne, a renowned coffee Mecca, I wanted to try the local brews in London. A word of warning; don’t expect much and if you’re like me and can only enjoy soy milk (or ‘soya’ as they say in London), definitely try to stick to black coffee varieties. The soy milk has a very strong and unpleasant taste! If you had a different view on London coffee, please let me know or suggest some good spots!
Tip #1: Take the bus around London. Buy an Oyster card for £5 (a once-off fee which is refundable if you return the card) and start using your key to the city. Each bus trip only costs £1.50, compared to £2.40 (off-peak) on the Tube and sitting on the upper level of the double-deckers, you can get a great view of the city.
Tip #2: If you do take the Tube, you’ll inevitably take an escalator somewhere in the depths of a station. Stand on the right or invite the wrath of bustling Londoners.
Tip #3: Do a Sandeman’s walking Tour. These ‘free’ walking tours are a great way to initiate yourself into London, find out what other sights might interest you and to meet fellow globetrotters. The tour guides do a great job because their fee depends on how much you think their tour was worth at the end – essentially its a tip-based service and its great for the backpacker budget.
Tip #3: Card payments are accepted basically everywhere with no minimum spend required. If paying in cash however, don’t bring those old £5 notes from 2006 that you were saving from last trip – new notes are in distribution and May 6, 2017 was the final day for accepting old notes (as we found out the hard way).
Tip #4: Having said that card payments are all the rage in London, international cards might still require a signature even for contactless terminals. SO, don’t use the self-checkout in Waitrose supermarket and assume that you can tap-and-go, because you can’t.