London, London. I lived in New York City for a few years, and I think my time there predisposed me to fall hard for this city across the pond. London has all the culture of New York with less of the psychotic intensity. Sure, finance types with perfect haircuts and expensive, unwrinkled suits dart about in a hurry in London, but I also saw a few of them remove their jackets to play tennis around lunchtime.
Like New York, London is a city whose images we are bombarded by, and setting foot in it can elicit a strangely intense feeling of familiarity. My own childhood was saturated with old-school fantasy novels by British authors and Disney movies set in London, but as an adult I was even more thrilled by its intersection of diverse cultures, free museums, and lovely parks. Although so stunned by the loveliness of St. Pancras station’s facade that I allowed my phone to be deftly lifted from my hand by a bicycle-mounted thief, I was very sad to leave.
- Seeing King Lear at the National Theatre for just 5 pounds, having picked up standing-room tickets the morning of the performance. I had the honor of standing not far from where the centuries-old words were originally performed and hearing a full modern audience gasp and chuckle at them. Incredible.
- Attending a free lunchtime concert at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, a church on Trafalgar Square. I was totally delighted by the skill of the musicians playing ten feet from me, who I’d literally just walked in off the street to hear.
- Being taken by a native Londoner to Hackney City Farm, where I hung out with goats and chickens and ate an organic meal of stuffed squash. The incongruousness of a farm in the middle of one of the world’s major cities was enchanting. Plus, I got to ride a big red double decker bus to get there.
- Listening to Evensong at St. Paul’s Cathedral brought tears to my eyes, it was so beautiful (and I’m pretty much a heathen headed straight for the lava pits…)
- Exploring the Soane Museum, a small collection I hadn’t heard of before this trip. It’s a townhouse that belonged to an eminent architect that’s crammed with artifacts and art. The place is so dim and cluttered you can’t take two steps without bumping into something expensive and ancient, but wandering around inside felt like snooping around a rich hoarder’s attic while he wasn’t home, which was fun.
- Wandering the parks, admiring the still-blooming gardens (maybe a symptom of global warming, but a pretty one), watching funny-looking dogs run around, and enjoying the relatively mild weather. I have a theory that British people exaggerate how bad their weather is to scare everyone away. I’m on to you, UK, because every time I’ve visited, your weather’s been pre-tty nice.
- On the way there, easyJet flight —> bus from Stansted —> Victoria Station: including delays, about 8 hours and 70 euros in total.
- On the way back, delayed Eurostar train, about 7 hours and 80 euros in total.
Both journeys were about the same price and duration, but I find trains incredibly relaxing and was much happier in the Chunnel than the air.
- ~175 euros, including subway and bus rides, for transportation
- ~68 pounds for hostels
- ~45 pounds for food and drink (three real meals, a couple of drinks, and the rest was free breakfast from the hostel or small snacks from coffee shops to tide me over)
- ~12 pounds for attractions
Converted to dollars, that’s about $450 for a five-day trip. It could have been much cheaper if I’d been a tidier planner, but I wasn’t quite on my game for this jaunt.
Lodging: Primarily at the Walrus Waterloo, basically located in Waterloo Station, though I found the train noises pleasant rather than disturbing (possible remnants of a New York City desensitization to noise). A cozy pub makes up the ground floor, with discount drinks for guests. Rooms were a bit cramped but clean, beds were shockingly comfortable (I’d even say cloud-like), and facilities were tidy and attended-to. Cost was rather steep for a hostel (living up to London’s reputation) but ultimately worth its central location and pleasantness, at 56 pounds for 3 nights.