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Friday, March 23, 2007

Mind The Gap

A while back, one of the answers on the Times crossword was "Mind the gap." I didn't have a clue what that meant. The Significant Other looked at me blankly and said "You know, like on the Tube, in London." Well, I didn't know. Because despite the fact that I was born in Europe, I haven't stepped foot on my native soil since age two. I am woefully undertraveled outside of this country. When most college students were backpacking through Europe picking up new languages and STDs, I was using my extra sememster to work on Capitol Hill. Then I became a journalist in the South, which pretty much ensured that I'd never be able to afford traveling again.

So now I am determined. And booked. I reserved the ticket last night and the apartment this morning.
I'll be calling this place home for about a week and a half in May. It's an apartment in South Kensington. It appears to be beautiful but I of course have a twinge of paranoia that I'll arrive and see it's located directly beneath a highway overpass, next to a fat rendering plant, across from a prison.





Here's where you come in. If you've been to London, please advise on what sights, restaurants, etc. I shouldn't miss or should avoid like the plague. Seriously--Ye Olde Plague Museum--go or no?

20 Comments:

Blogger I-66 said...

!!!

Tell me you're going to be there May 9th.

Then tell me you'll go to Stamford Bridge at 8pm local.

Then take pictures of Chelsea v. Manchester United and send them to me.

12:50 PM  
Blogger regs said...

That place looks really cute; you are always finding the best places to stay! As the true English nerd that I know you are, don’t skip Stratford upon Avon- it a little trip outside the city. Of course I was only there 14 years ago so I’m sure things have changed. And apparently they’ve recreated some version of the globe theater. At the time I also loved shopping at Harrods but to some small-town girl from SC with nothing to base that on but a crappy Belk department store I can’t honestly say if it was really that much more fantastic than say Nordstrom’s at Tyson’s. I do remember the food being terrible, lots of green peas with every meal so I wouldn’t worry about a fat tree. We spent a lot of QT in the bars/pubs.

12:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

South Kensington is a great area and it's minutes away from Hyde Park. You'll have great weather and a great time. There's a kabob place right off the S. Kensington tube stop that is to die for, so try to check it out.

1:42 PM  
Blogger JordanBaker said...

You absolutely have to take one afternoon and do the most girly/touristy thing ever--high tea in the teahouse at Kensington Palace either followed or preceded by a tour of their collection of coronation apparel.

2:16 PM  
Blogger kwest said...

We've rented apartments a couple times in Europe and I always have the same trepidation. But it always turns out to be even better than the pictures! You have to check out the half price theatre ticket booth at Leicester Square. And the London Walks walking tours are great!

2:19 PM  
Blogger Arlene said...

I studied abroad there and have developed an British Eating Strategy (BES) because everything they say about eating there is true.

1. The only traditional English food you should eat is at a pub, preferably with lots of beer. It will be good. In fact, you should plan to do a lot of eating at pubs.
2. The only time you should really enjoy a nice sit down restaurant is if it's some sort of international cuisine and -THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT- run by people who are from that country.
2a. There is no good mexican food in England. Just purge the thought from your mind altogether.
2b. Be wary of Chinese food that isn't found in Chinatown.
2c. The Indian food really is that good but it would help to do some research on the best places. MMMmmm naan. Plan to eat lots of Indian.
3. Get used to mayonnaise. On everything.
4. The nicer and hipper the place looks, the worse the food will be. Particularly if it's a sit down restaurant with wait service.
5. If you want to do an English high tea, wait until you visit a smaller town outside of London, like Bath or Oxford. It'll be cheaper and better. (Hint: The Rose in Oxford is AMAZING)
6. Everything you know and expect about "service" should be left at Customs.
7. Never, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, order something that has the phrase "brown sauce" in it's description.
8. Likewise with "salad cream."

Otherwise, have a smashing good time. And go see the Tate and Harrods and TopShop.

2:25 PM  
Anonymous etcetera said...

Yes to the Tate Modern - good tip, arlene.

harrods - just try not to get lost. also try not to buy anything.

take a day trip to oxford - great town for a day.

i was pretty underwhelmed by the London Eye when i went on it a few years ago, so made a point of stearing clear when i was there this summer, but some people love that shit.

go to brick lane and get a curry. also some great shops there - will give you the names. and whats the name of the weekend market right near brick lane? damn. really good. will find it for you.

portabello road market is also fun.

instead of taking up your whole comment section why dont i just tell you in person? like while we watch GEORGETOWN beat the SNOT out of vanderbilt tonight? fab. see you there.

2:50 PM  
Blogger Ashburnite said...

Definitely go to Harrods, and if you get a chance, take a day trip to Bath- it's a beautiful town, and very "English countryside."

Oh, and I second what arlene said about "brown sauce"- just stay away.

3:01 PM  
Blogger TravelGirlDC said...

Well I am a London junkie and go several times a year. Skip high tea at the Savoy, it is completely overrated. I personally love high at the Park Lane on Picadilly, it is much more intimate and special. If you are feeling especially fancy one night, slip on a fabulous outfit and stop into the Ritz for a glass of champagne.

For good Indian check out Soho Spice, 124-126 Wardour St. Another favorite Indian restaurant is Chowki
http://www.chowki.com/

If you have never been definitly check out Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London. Both touristy and something you should do at least once.

I have done the London Eye in the past but found it to expensive and not worth the wait. Obviously others believe it is great and fantastic but a giant ferris wheel that only makes one rotation every thirty minutes just doesn't do it for me.

Some of my favorite pubs.
http://www.londontown.com/LondonInformation/Bars_and_Clubs/Ye_Grapes/d52a/

http://www.windmillmayfair.co.uk/

3:49 PM  
Anonymous Arlene said...

Checking back, definitely treat yourself to a standing room ticket at the newly renovated globe. It was one of the best renditions of Shakespeare I had ever seen, and it was played entirely by women (sort of an experiment that season, a turn on tradition during Shakespeare's time). Don't pay to sit, unless you have leg or feet problems, the standing ticket was like 6 pounds or so and was really cool to see how the groundlings saw the play.

Also, if you only do one tour in all of England, take one at Westminster Abbey. They are generally run by men of the church, who are very passionate and informed about their church and it was just an amazing tour. Plus they show you all the cool little secrets of the church (Sort of like The Da Vinci Code).

4:36 PM  
Blogger Brunch Bird said...

All-I can't thank you guys enough. These are awesome tips. I'm sort of a 50/50 traveler: I don't mind doing the touristy biggies, but I detest getting suckered on the non-essential touristy stuff (like tea at a bum location, TGDC, that's exactly the kind of thing I hate getting shnookered by).

Arlene-Your list cracked me up. I'm going to print it, laminate it, and carry it in my wallet over there.

I'm all over the girly teas. And because I'll be in London a nice long time, I'll definitely be making a couple day trips. So on Regs, Etc., and Ash's recommendation I think Stratford-on-Avon (Regs-I was excited about this before really London in general, because yes, I am that kind of a dork), Bath and Oxford.

Definitely no London Eye for me. I am many things, and not wild about heights is one of them.

I-66-Afraid to say my friend that if it involves the futbol, it ain't happening.

JB-You've nailed my type of itinerary. Seriously. I'm all over that.
Kwest-Ditto.

Keep the tips coming people! More specific trip-related requests will come next week, too.

4:38 PM  
Blogger Kim-E said...

Hi,

I've been to London twice and the second time was to verify if I wanted to live there.

Avoid Madam Taussad's (sp?). You wait in line a loooonnng time and there's really nothing in there but wax statues and the cool ones have tons of people surrounding them making them difficult to get access to. Not worth the wait but if you could get your tix online and skip the line do so. Have someone with you as well it will help in taking pictures.

Changing of the guard is fun but I'm not sure if that will be going on when you're there it's usually for warmer weather.

Swing by the original Tate musuem it's in Kensington and may be within walking distance of your apartment. Or it may be in Chelsea which will negate the walking distance part of this comment.

Hampton Court Palace is worth a look through. I loved it. Try to approach it from the river as that's the best (i.e., prettiest, most interesting) way to get there.

Definitely go to plenty of plays. I did one a night when I was there. Go and see the Mousetrap and be sure to keep the secret of the play so the show can stay on.
However, avoid any play which says anything about being a British play or nostalgic or anything like that. Unless you're up on British pop history you'll be as bored as a parapelgic at a jump rope contest. I accidentally went to see a play based on Morecambe and Wise. Thank god for intermissions that let you escape into the night.

Good advice about the pub eating. I loved doing that. Had a good meal at the Sherlock Holmes pub. Be sure to see his little museum if you're a fan. It's OK nothing special really but I got tons of little things from the shop. Bring a camera to take pics of yourself with the scene recreations.

Hope this helps.

Kim-E

5:56 PM  
Blogger I-66 said...

But... but...

Stamford Bridge!

Chelsea/Man U!

#1 and #2 in the English Premier League!

Suitcase big enough that I-66 can fit inside!


Whoops, how'd that get in there?

6:06 PM  
Blogger Twoste said...

I could tell you everything I know/would recommend after 18 years of living there, but it would take too long.
A couple of things people are wrong about.
1) Harrods is an awful, gaudy mess of a tourist trap. They don't let anyone in carrying a backpack. Seriously. Avoid it. It will leave a bad taste in your mouth about London and it's full 24/7 of obnoxious Arabs (no, not the nice Arabs you meet in America, just very obnoxious).
2) Brown sauce and salad creme are fupping amazing, especially on an egg sandwich. But not together. That would be gross.
3) Don't go to Bath or Stratford-upon-Avon. Booooooooorrrriinng!!! I'm yawning even thinking about. Oh yeah, and tourist traps, both of them. London IS the MOST cosmopolitan city in the world. Yes, more so than NYC. Just go there and stay there.
4) Don't go and see Chelsea vs. Man Utd. They both suck and you won't, as an American, be able to appreciate what's going on. The fans in the crowd will sense you are American (they can smell fear) and may lynch you, or call you a wanker. Trust me, I've done so to many an American tourist.
5)Tate Modern. Depressing. And a tourist trap. Also full of houty touty brits most of the time. Avoid.
6) South Ken. Very nice hood. Trust me, no highways. The locals wouldn't stand for it. Just be prepared to get snooty looks if people whiff that you are an American. They'll also call you a Yank. Tell them to fup off.
7) Mayonnaise does not come on everything. That is a myth, and London is not Brussels. Please.
8)Don't go to TopShop. Just. Don't. Go.
9) High tea is a waste of time. Go to any cafe in St. Johns Wood at 4 p.m. You'll get the best tea England has to offer. There's a beautiful mosque there and Lord's Cricket Ground is right around the corner. Highly recommend you see them both.
10) Otherwise, and trust me on this, throw away your guide books. Ditch the tourist traps. Just buy a Travelcard for 6 pounds I think (last time I was there). Pick a stop on the Tube you think sounds interesting, and walk around. Trust me. London is all about just taking it in. Although if you're brave enough to go the top of St. Paul's, it'll be worth it.

Have fun.

6:52 PM  
Blogger Twoste said...

Also Kew Gardens and the whole Chiswick area is very nice! I love it down there. Have a pint outside if the weather is good. Also, I once pee-ed under a tree in Kew Gardens. If you go, try and guess which one.
tee hee, I'm so naughty!

6:57 PM  
Anonymous TravelGirlDC said...

Get an Oyster Card for the Tube, otherwise the pay as you go paper cards are very expensive. You will be there long enough that taking the few minutes to get one will be worth it.

https://sales.oystercard.com/oyster/lul/entry.do

Not sure if you are flying into LGW or LHR but taking a black cab is ridiculously expensive from the airport. To understand your airport transport options check out this thread.

http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/showthread.php?t=362477

Okay traveldork hat is off for now.

7:09 PM  
Blogger JordanBaker said...

Just remembered that the actual name of said tea house is "The Orangery."

8:06 PM  
Blogger Hammer said...

I worked there for while many moons ago and will throw in a few ideas.

* Get a copy of Time Out magazine as soon as you get off the plane, it is a glossy oracle of info. Also immediately buy the pocket/mini-sized "London A-Z" mapbook to navigate the city. Forget folding maps, the pocket-sized London A-Z book is where it's at.

* Check out Speaker's Corner in Hype Park for free speech British style. Provacative, hilarous, angry, depressing - the works. There's a wiki about it. Feel free to bring a prepared routine or rant of your own to try out.

* Avoid the Hippodrome for clubbing. Try the Ministry of Sound instead (big & established but by all accounts still good) or a smaller place you hear about via word of (non-tourist) mouth.

* Bath is not that great. York, however, in a addition to being fascinating and beautiful, is a manageable and reasonably close daytrip - give it a shot for a change of pace. Oxford is nice too.

* Try a pub full of locals and office workers that's away from the touristy areas. My coworkers and I were partial to this one: http://www.pubs.com/pub_details.cfm?ID=201

* Read up on St. Paul's Catherdral before you go and wander around at your own pace.

* If you go to any Aussie/Kiwi bars, don't be surprised to hear incessant amounts of Bon Jovi. Shake your head and chalk it up as a reason neither country will ever be a major world power. If you find that you actually enjoy Aussie/Kiwi bars, the granddaddy of them all is "The Church." (Read about it here and be very afraid: http://www.bugeurope.com/london/eatdrink.html)

* Harrod's is (aside from the name) just like any other store. I went a couple times but just never saw the appeal, but then I'm Southern boy who thinks biker boots are greatest shoes ever invented, so WTF do I know about shopping?

* The Egyptian collection at the British musem is unrivaled anywhere in the world, including Egypt. If you have even a passing interest in ancient history, prepapre to be blown away.

* There is a pub in/near Trafalgar Square called the Chandos (http://ultimatepubguide.com/pubs/info.phtml?pub_id=78) that serves nothing but Samuel Smith beer. Oh sweet mercy, it is beergasm central. (*Warning: If you do go to Trafalgar square itself, prepare to be pooped on by approximately 3.5 million pigeons.)

If I remember anything else that a guidebook might not mention, I'll shoot another comment your way.

10:30 PM  
Blogger Hammer said...

Make that "Hyde" park.

Talk about Freudian slip...

11:02 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

I was just telling someone last week that I have no urge to go to London. It's like 'eh, maybe...when I'm a millionaire'. And yet now I want to drink tea and go to Harrods and buy (more) bags and summer shirts from Top Shop.

So you know, let me know if you want to shove me in a suitecase or something.

3:10 PM  

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