It was my friend’s suggestion to study in London: for a lawyer, improving qualifications is much more effective in the world capital of legal thought. And since I was going to study abroad anyway, using this opportunity to see London sounded like fun. After a fascinating process of collecting documents and obtaining the appropriate visa, we began to organize our stay – finding a place to stay.
No matter how many times in my [tourist] life I have faced system problems when booking through Airbnb, this time I allowed a friend to convince me to book through this platform again. Previously, there were cases when, after a payment and an active correspondence with the owner of the property, we arrived at night only to find out that the apartment was suddenly closed for “repair” and had to wait until the morning in the pantry (because it was a public holiday and all hotels were fully booked). Or the keys have to be picked up on the other side of a town, and if you’re late and come after 9 pm, you pay a fine. Or the water supply stops working (both hot and cold water), and only an “authorized plumber” can fix it, who has a queue for 2 days, and it is not clear how we are supposed to survive for all this time without water. So it is much more convenient to deal with the hotels. At least this time the apartment was livable. Although the stated number of beddings clearly did not correspond to reality – instead of the promised 5 of them, there were 2 (we booked a larger place so that my husband could visit me). The bathroom was also “out of condition”, and going to school was not convenient, so when my husband arrived, we were forced to move to a hotel. Since then, I decided to myself – no private apartments, only professionally serviced accomodations and large chain hotels (and decent booking websites – such as Hotel Hunter).
Surprisingly, my plans to “explore the city and study a little” had to be adjusted immediately upon arrival. We studied at the London School of Economics (LSE), and the quality of teaching there is really on top. It had a downside – we had to study a lot, in-depth and we had homework after school. So it was more like”study a lot and explore the city a little” . Plus, 2 days before departure, I got a bad sore throat in Moscow, and on the day of the planned trip I had a temperature of 39 and all the accompanying symptoms. I had to urgently be treated and leave later, missing a few school days, which required additional efforts to catch up with the already concentrated curriculum.
The city itself made a strong impression on me – born in Moscow, since childhood I was used to living in a big city, and felt comfortable in its tense rhythm. But, in my opinion, London is more active than Moscow. I think this is also due to its positive tourist image because in other aspects (business activity, administrative and government agencies, internal and external migration) cities are comparable, and only in the tourism sector, London is clearly ahead of Moscow. I was pleased with the organization of tourist flows in all the public places – everything is done to avoid crowding and organize the queue, if there is one.
The first area we explored in London was Chinatown, which is part of Soho. These days, the area is more entertaining than residential and is filled with many Chinese restaurants and shops, attracting crowds of tourists. On the advice of our friend, a local resident, we explored a restaurant there with “the best Peking duck in the city”. Unfortunately, I forgot its name, but finding a decent Peking duck in this area is rather easy. One of the iconic tourist destinations is London bridge, which connects the city and Southwark. In addition to the decorative part, the bridge is a highway to exit the city, and it has a Museum, which conducts tours and tells about the engineering part of the bridge (you can see the details!) and the stages of its construction.
Tower of London deserves more attention because it contains a variety of attractions. It is a fortress on the North Bank of the Thames and is one of the oldest buildings and the main symbols of Great Britain. The sightseeing tour is definitely worth spending a few hours on. During this time, exploring the fortress and viewing its buildings with a guide, you can learn the dramatic twists and turns of British history, imagining historical characters in the Tower, in the squares and in its dungeons. A visit to the vault of royal jewels, and, in particular, crowns, is especially vivid in my memory. And it is impossible to remain calm when you see an empty space for a crown marked “in use”. According to the size of the Royal knight’s armor, you can judge the size of a historical character, and the purpose of some underground facilities is eloquently illustrated with Souvenirs at the local store. For example, kids game called “Executioner” from “collect your place of execution” series (this is not a joke!!!).
During our stay, there were 2 significant events in the public life of London. The first one was the national vote to exit the EU, the so-called”Brexit” . After speaking with teachers and students of our school, we had no doubt that the country would vote to stay, that was the most common mood. Imagine our surprise when the result was the opposite – none of the representatives of London’s “creative intelligentsia” could believe it. In our school, as in one of the institutions that are influencers of social and political life (its full name is the London School of Economics and Political Science) there was a public lecture on the results of the vote. The best analysts of the country have concluded the following: “provincial England” voted for the exit with a motivation that “the Polish plumber should be deported from our city” and multinational London which got stuck in the policy of multiculturalism, was too indifferent to the political agenda on the principle “they can decide without me”.
The second highlight was the gay parade. In our country, with its traditional values, it was not possible to personally see such an event, but in London, it was a large-scale event, anyone could join, including pedestrians, tourists, and spectators. The atmosphere was cheerful, relaxed, active participants demonstrated their themed outfits, buses passed through the main streets with open roofs, used as mobile dance platforms, participants standing along the way waved rainbow flags.
On the territory of our school, there was one conventionally historical landmark. It was The Old Curiosity Shop that inspired Charles Dickens to write a novel of the same name. Every time I passed by, I had the feeling that I’m touching something fabulous that carries the traditions of the past. After all, the British really know how to preserve their heritage! We should learn from them. In order not to sound too boring, I will only mention one demolished building, imprinted in a work of art – the house, where the main children’s blockbuster of my Soviet childhood was filmed- “Guest from the future”, based on the book of Kir Bulychev. The building where there was a time machine, accidentally opened by students, disappeared without a trace…
Continuing the theme of literary works that revived on the streets of a real city, it is impossible not to mention the residence of one of the most famous Londoners in the world literature – Sherlock Holmes, the multifaceted character of Arthur Conan Doyle . There is a museum dedicated to him on the real Baker street. It is a three-storey apartment, decorated in Victorian style in strict accordance with the description in the books of the author and the general details of the interiors of that period. We spent a lot of time in this Museum – every child read these books with a great admiration. It was especially interesting to look at the wax figure of Sherlock himself – I wanted to see with my own eyes how the British imagine him (in my imagination he looked exactly like the talented Vasily Livanov from Russian film adaptation, which was appreciated even by the British). Taking a picture in Sherlock’s chair with his legendary pipe in hands – was a must do, so we just couldn’t resist.
Actually, there is an endless list of things to do in London. There is a remarkable zoo where although the animals are in cages, the cages are designed to resemble their natural habitat as much as possible, and you are as close to them as possible. So close, that they even had to put up a sign next to the cage with tigers. A lot of London parks are so nicely decorated for a quiet and measured pastime that you stop counting time and relax. I am very pleased that they didn’t adapt the parks to the needs of tourists too much, and natural paths were preserved everywhere (without fancy curbs and fences), the shops retained their historical appearance, and there are no entertainment venues or they are not evident (there is already enough entertainment in London, so why clutter up the space of parks).
In terms of entertainment, London offers countless opportunities for every taste. Speaking of taste, I have to mention the famous Burger&Lobster, its name speaks for itself. There you have lobster quite on a budget by London standards. These restaurants (there were 2 or 3 in the city) are very popular, and the owners have adopted this concept – never book tables, only a live queue. You can wait an hour or two – with all the competition of food establishments in London, it is an indicator of unreal success. Well, the most impressive place in terms of relaxed and authentic leisure in London is Scarfes Bar in the city center, decorated in the style of an English club. There was live music, unusual cocktails, surprisingly comfortable and pleasant service, and the general feeling of pleasant leisure. I highly recommend it.
Various kinds of musicals are extremely popular in London. Frankly, this is not my favourite genre, but my friend and I still decided to see at least one play. It was “Funny Girl”, with a simple plot and an excellent production. By the time my husband arrived, we decided to see the “Phantom of the Opera”, which really impressed us, as expected. And there was one nuance associated with this. In Russia, going to the theater (even to a musical) is one of the very few traditions that have survived to the present day. People dress up, behave dignified and restrained as if everyone followed a special Protocol. In London you can enter with popcorn and beer, and the visitor’s outfits were sometimes beyond imagination (there was a girl in a swimsuit and a net tunic). At the moment when the first act ended and a special chandelier fell dramatically, the music subsided, letting the audience in pitch darkness feel the importance of the moment and enjoy the impression. But instead, all you could hear in the pitch dark hall was a continuous crunching of chips and popcorn. It was quite funny.
I don’t see much sense in listing other sights of this multifaceted city – everyone who decides to go there will choose their own set. We are definitely planning to visit this city again. And, of course, the first night of the new trip will be spent in Scarfes Bar.
For our journey we rented a car in London at cars-scanner.