Have you ever had anyone completely oversell a movie to you? Telling you it was “the GREATEST thing they’ve ever seen in their life!” only to find that when you watch it, it’s incredibly mediocre?
Well, this is how I would describe my feelings about London, England.
We arrived in “The Greatest Country in the History of the world” very late at night, in a remote airport about an hour and a half away from our AirBnB.
After a bus, to a train, to a 20 minute walk we finally arrived at our AirBnB at 1:30 AM. When we arrived we were looking forward to going to bed and sleeping in after a long day of travel from Scotland. So, like any AirBnB visitor we called up our host so they could let us into the building, and naturally they replied “Oh, the address that is listed isn’t actually my address, I’ll come get you. I’ll be there in 15 minutes.”
Cool....this isn’t a problem at all, I mean we quite like hanging outside with 4 backpacks in the middle of an unfamiliar neighbourhood in the middle of the night...
After 4 calls back and forth, our host’s husband arrived to lead us on a 15 minute walk to our actual AirBnB, which wasn’t what we had expected at all. I know that we save lessons learned until the end of our posts, but this one is super important, so here it is: ALWAYS make sure you can see pictures of all the amenities in a property before you book it.
Once we got situated and slept in, the next morning we wanted to explore London but we found out that it was still another 45 minute train away. It wouldn’t normally have been a big deal but the tickets were about $22/each/per day, a cost we hadn’t anticipated.
Needless to say, the AirBnB we had booked to “save some money” cost us a lot more than we had anticipated. We didn't feel comfortable cooking in the provided kitchen due to the mess, and we were much further away from the city centre than was advertised. But, we were not discouraged, we wanted to change our negative attitudes and enjoy London as much as we could.
On our first full day, we went into London without a plan and just ended up walking the River Thames for a few hours. We enjoyed some beautiful views, a nice meal and a pretty kick ass outdoor patio below the London Tower Bridge.
The following day, it was raining so we arranged to go for a nice breakfast and went to meet one of Krystal’s old classmates GG from Tilburg University, at the Tate Modern museum. I found the museum a little underwhelming, but that is likely because of my complete lack of art history knowledge (sorry Mom).
There was however, a very powerful display dedicated to slave trades in America. The artist, Carrie Mae Weems did a wondrous job demonstrating the inhumanity of those times.
Once we finished at the Tate Museum, we went to meet with one of GG’s childhood friends from Argentina. She had some extra tickets to an Art Show at “The Other Art Fair.” This felt like it was more our scene. The event was held in an underground area, with bumping music, a bar, and an array of talented artists.
After getting our fill of museums and rain, we were excited to take advantage of a fairly sunny third day. We were anticipating another informative and exciting free Sandeman's walking tour (see our other #adventure posts for other examples). Our tour guide was very informative, but I must say the history of London, at least the way it was presented to us, was pretty bland.
We learned about countless members of royal families and why each one had claims to the throne. Don’t get me wrong, the history can be quite interesting, but the stories weren’t shared with the same ferocity and passion that we had heard in Ireland and Scotland, so to me this part of the day felt like a dud.
Not to mention the fact that so many iconic historical landmarks are under construction; Parliament, Elizabeth Tower (aka Big Ben) and Westminster Abbey. Unfortunately,"Take a look at all of that scaffolding, now imagine the building under there” didn’t exactly add a great ambience to the tour.
Once this tour was wrapped up, we went and ordered our own makeshift Thanksgiving dinner before heading out on a Grim Reaper tour.
If I can suggest one tour to do in London, it would be this tour. The tour feels much more authentic, showing the dark underbelly of London and not just a pretty and polished monarchy.
Not only do you get to learn about all the beheadings, the tortures and murders that took place in the Tower of London but you learn extensively about Jack the Ripper, the notorious unidentified serial killer from the late 1800's.
I also have to give a lot of props to our tour guide who did an effective job setting the stage so you could better understand what kind of life prostitutes lived in the 1800’s, and no it wasn’t a sleazy one, it was one of necessity to provide for their families.
As gruesome as it was to learn about London's dark history and ghost stories, this was easily my favourite part of our time in London because it was so honestly delivered.
During our last two days we didn’t feel the desire to wander as much, and after reflecting on it we realized an important thing about our travel style: It was probably because this was the first metropolis we had been to since we left Toronto, and we’ve learned that we don’t like the hustle and bustle of big cities (which makes me a little nervous for Southeast Asia, but that is future Greg’s problem).
To wrap up our time in Greater London we explored some cafes, a library nearby and got dinner with Klara, another one of Krystal’s friends from Tilburg.
Now I know what you’re thinking, “Greg this post seems pretty negative” and you’re right it is. But during our time in Greater London, we did look for at least one positive thing per-day to concentrate on.
Such as; when thinking about the fact that the AirBnB’s kitchen was disgusting, we did agree that at least our room and bathroom were clean. Or even though the free walking tour was a bore, the same tour-guide delivered a much more passionate, albeit more gruesome history of the city later that day.
But what I’d say was probably the most positive thing was getting to see how excited Krystal was to see old friends. It’s not always the space that matters, it is the people you are with and we got to share that space with some pretty great people.
You might be wondering now after reading all of this, "Should I go to London?"
Follow your heart!
Lots of people love London, and there's a never ending list of things to do and see there, but make sure you do your research first. We just wanted to acknowledge that it hasn't been our favourite destination and it didn't fit well into our "backpacker budget".
ALWAYS look for as many pictures as possible for your AirBnB, and understand that not all hosts are created equally
Leave wiggle room in your budget for overpriced cities
Understand what is important to you, so many people told us we HAD to see London and Paris. I could have gone without London and we had decided to skip Paris in advance. What is popular to others may not always be important to you.
Look for the positives in negative situations. We had a lot of frustrating times during this stop, but it didn’t deter us. It gave us more of a “well we’re already here, let’s make this work” attitude
Pay a little more for accommodations to stay closer to the city centre (it will save you in transportation fares)
Check the proximity of your airport to your final destination before you book anything (I don’t think it’s fair to say your airport is in London when it’s 2 hours away from the city!)
Do the Grim Reaper Tour through Sandeman's (we were told that there are a lot of Jack the Ripper tours that are offered. However, some are incredibly distasteful and disrespectful to the victims of these horrendous crimes like showing photos of the victims etc.-- this one was great and did not!)
If you love art and museums, check out the Tate Modern-- it's free entry!
For a FREE bird's eye view of city, visit the Sky Garden (note: you MUST get your free ticket online first)
Cost Breakdown for 5 full days in London (in CDN$):
Flight from Glasgow to London for two via Ryanair: $145.06
Accommodations: $228.70 (AirBnB for 5 nights)
Transportation: $241.22 = 180.52 (train/underground passes) + 60.65 (train to airport)
Food: $503.29 = 447.77 (dining out, coffee etc.) + 55.52 (groceries)
Attractions: $70 (Grim Reaper Walking Tour for 3 people, tip for free walking tour)
TOTAL MONEY SPENT: $1188.27
In our next post you'll hear about the hills of Portugal, their incredible wine, and something called a Francesinha, until next time!
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