Monday, September 13, 2010

Q-Tips for Travel

"You can go with this or you can go with that..."-- Q-tip.

My preparation for moving to London largely consisted of packing one suitcase (the night before) and reading copious amounts of guide book literature. While some travel books were a bit dry, many of them were quite helpful and contained similar "Do this not that" lists, created to help one avoid expensive or disappointing tourist traps.

One month in, having accumulated a significant mass of experiences already, I thought I would put my own spin on the London "Do this not that" guide, one I will continue to update throughout the year.

1) Avoid the London Eye.
Given the tremendously long queues and the inflated price (17 pounds) it is a lot of aggravation for the somewhat boring views of the London skyline. Instead take a hike up to any of London's more pleasing summits. Primrose Hill and Hampstead Heath offer spectacular views of the city at the right price-- free.

2) Skip the Notting Hill Carnival.
Don't let the Notting Hill name fool you, you definitely won't find Hugh Grant here (unless he is on one of his late night cruises for sexual chocolate). Billed as Europe's largest street fair, the Notting Hill Carnival is exceptionally loud and somewhat dirty, while the uninspired floats and dancing that mark the parade aren't quite up to the likes of Bourbon Street. The food vendors do get a thumbs up but you can only savor the curried goat for so long before it starts getting old. Try the Thames Festival instead. Efficiently organized, family friendly, with a terrific ambience, the Thames Festival is a fantastically laid back celebration. Dine on the Southwark bridge as boats parade by or just show up for the late night fireworks on the river.

3) Don't pay to enter St. Paul's cathedral.
Instead, see Wren's baroque masterpiece for free by attending one of the daily Evensong services. The service lasts for one hour** and features sublime choir singing. Get there early and sit in the choir of the church under the same glittering mosaics that Di and Charles were married under.
The same Evensong services are held in Westminster Abbey (also free).
** Although if you linger in the back of the church you can leave whenever you like and not get stuck next to a flatulent Spanish couple. Guess that is why they call them Pews! insert rimshot)

4) Take it to GO.
Most cafes and lunch shops offer you the option of dining in or take away service. Take away is always significantly cheaper, being sometimes a pound less per item (Even Starbucks has this crazy policy. A chocolate chip cookie on a plate will cost you 2.10 whereas it is 1.60 in a bag). Take your food instead to one of the many perfectly manicured parks London has to offer.

5) Make it a Pub not a Bar.
Probably not a distinction you often times make, yet there is a significant difference between pub and bar culture. Pub food, atmosphere, and service are all very charming and decidedly more British in their sensibilities. Bars, however, are really just that-- bars, replete with swankily dressed hipsters cruising for fresh meat. How can you tell the difference? It's like porn, you'll know it when you see it.

6) Laptop over License.
Living in London but are missing the latest episodes of the "Bachelor Pad"? Ditch the pricey television license you're required to purchase to simply watch TV (sans cable!). Instead, download hotspot shield for your laptop. This free program masks your IP address allowing you to access American websites like Hulu and (Not that I would ever do such a thing...). Another option is Slingbox. Have a parent or friend at home with an extra TV? If you answered yes, slingbox might be for you. The downside is the one time $200 fee but on the upside, it allows you to access all of your co-conspirator's cable programs. If they have DVR you can even record programs and watch them the next day.

"I think I'll go with this 'cuz this is where it's at." -- Q-Tip

To be continued...

1 comment:

  1. I will have to disagree with the point about Notting Hill Carnival. I think this is a MUST DO (unless you are teetotal, then take a pass for sure). I went to both Notting Hill and Thames Festival when I first moved to England and had the most eye-opening experience at Notting Hill (eventhough I hate techno music) and found the Thames Festival to be very prescribed and predictable. However, this is one of the best things about London isnt it? There is something for everyone!