As some of you already know, I’ve spent most of this week in London, UK. My first and only time in London was back in 2009, when I went there for a PHP conference (see this post, and this post).
This trip was very different. I stayed longer than the last time. I was mostly for business. I had much less time to explore the city as a tourist. So I thought I’d write it up, in case I case I need to remember some of it later.
There were a few “first” things for me this time around. I’ve arrived to the airport that I haven’t heard about before – London Stansted Airport. I knew about City, Heathrow, Gatwich, and Luton, but not about Stansted. According to Wikipedia, there are six international airports in London, so there’s also Southend, which is new to me.
Getting from the airport to London wasn’t difficult. There are multiple options – buses, trains, taxi, Uber, etc. I’ve opted for the train. One-way ticket is about 15 GBP. Trains come and go frequently, so I only had to wait for a few minutes. The ride to London Liverpool Street station took about half an hour. And then I was a cross the road from the Tube (the London Underground, “mind the gap”).
It’s been a while since I visited a megapolis, so my city navigation skills were rusty. It took me a good 20 minutes to figure out the map, where I was, where I had to go, and so on. Evening rush hour and pissing rain didn’t help either. But I managed.
Another “first” thing was the full freedom in use of phone, texts, and 3G, as Europe has recently dropped all roaming charges. So mobile connectivity price was like I’m still in Cyprus. But with better coverage and speed, even under ground.
The third “first” thing for me this trip was Airbnb accommodation. Staying at someone’s apartment was a tidbit weird, but I spent so little time in the actual room that it was fine, and the price was unbeatable by any hotel.
Traveling quite a bit around the city, I got a chance to see more of London, unlike last time, where I was mostly around the tourist attractions. It’s a very diverse city and there is plenty to see.
One thing that I found weird, were the people. Literally everyone is staring at the phone screen 100% of the time. Some people are navigating. Some people are texting. Some people are reading news. Some people are playing games. But all I saw was tops of people’s head and no eye contact ever. During the day, the people are mostly friendly, and you can interrupt their mobile session to ask for directions and such. But after dark, it’s not the same. I had a few literally running away from me. Strange. But understandable. I’m not a pleasant sight on the best of days. Soaking wet, with a hood on, looking lost, and in the darkness – I’d probably scare myself too.
I’ve had an opportunity to eat and drink in a variety of places. Overall, the food was very good. There was a great selection of beers pretty much everywhere. But getting into places isn’t easy. I had bookings at some, and got lucky in others, so not really complaining.
What I will complain about is the pubs. Really, guys? The English pubs that I love dearly, from all of my experiences in Cyprus … WTF London? Overcrowded – one. Paying for every drink – two. Nastiness – three (smell of last week’s spilled beer everywhere … and then there are the toilets, which are some of the most horrendous images I’ve seen ever). Prices – five. No smoking area so everybody stands outside the pub but in a crowd like a moron – six. And I could go on. I think we need to organize a mass tourism event for the Brits to come Cyprus to rediscover the amazing culture for an English pub. Limassol has so much more to offer in this area.
The places that I can recommend are:
- Harwood Arms pub in Fullham, which has amazing food (one Michelin star kitchen). Chicken liver starter is out of this world, as is the lamb platter to share.
- Burger & Lobster chain, with great burgers and lobsters. Make sure you try their combo, and wash it down with a pint or two of IPA.
Now, enough with complaints. That’s talk about the weather. I think this is the number of conversation topic in UK, even though there is not much to talk about. It’s either raining or overcast pretty much all the time. Once in a while, the skies open up and the sun shows its face. When that happens, I think, it pauses all the hard work in the city, and everybody rushes off outside and into a park, of which London has plenty. People are immediately having picnics, yoga sessions, marathon preparations, and dog walks. The difference you can see in the park within 20 minutes of the rain to sun is tremendous.
Overall, it was a great trip. It was very productive work-wise, and it brought me new experiences and insights into the world around me. Hopefully, I’ll be back soon with a bit more time to explore things.