Reflections across the decades.
The first thing we noticed about our “New London” is that is has evolved from a classist, rather reserved society that swept its minorities under the cover of industry and servitude to a truly multi-ethnic nation of shared pursuits. When we lived here for several months in 1983, we worked as immigrants in a department store, a cafe and in a coffee factory. The general attitude we experienced from the native population towards “others” was to either stick their nose in the air or simply to ignore them.
Now there seems to be a celebration of differences that has made the whole city a lot more vibrant and interesting. The British “wittiness and creativity” has fresh fodder to burn and no longer wallows in the ashes of its former greatness. Like New York, we heard multiple languages on the street and the people working in virtually every establishment could only be described as extremely diverse. Even more meaningful was the positive words I saw in the newspapers I read which reflected the contributions of others. For example, one article I read attributed the decline in teen-age drug use and pregnancy to the influence of the Muslim culture. Be honest, when was the last time you read anything positive about Muslims in America?
The second thing we noticed was that it is damn expensive. The exchange rate is $1.85 to the dollar and once you factor in fees and commissions it’s really closer to 2 to 1. Yet the prices list just like the states. Everything is in effect – double what we are used to paying and triple or quadruple what we are used to spending when we travel in more financially hospitable domains. The metro was especially shocking. While there is no end to multi-day passes and various complicated discount scenarios, the bottom line is if you want to go a few miles (one zone) and back it will cost two people about Thirty Dollars. To travel further will cost at least one arm and possibly a leg.
I would advise anyone going to London to spend a little more money to be centrally located. In our case we stayed at the Apex Temple Hotel http://www.apexhotels.co.uk/en/hotels/london/apex-temple-court-hotel/ in the financial district which was only a few blocks from the super fun Soho area which is full of bars and great restaurants filled with young bohemians and old timers alike. It was also only a few blocks from the Tate, the London Bridge, Piccadilly Circus and the Theatre district. London really is like a living museum and to walk the streets is a true treat.
Enjoying the wonders of London on foot cost nothing but is truly rewarding. After an epic breakfast at the Breakfast Club http://www.thebreakfastclubcafes.com we had a blast exploring the free and wonderful Tate gallery http://www.tate.org.uk which host a plethora of art. I have also heard that theatrical productions are very affordable and would like to see a few next time I visit. General people watching is a blast and the pubs can still offer a great pint of beer for a decent price along with a far superior selection of snacks then was available when we lived there. We found the people and the service at large to be warm, fun and efficient. I am not sure where all the grouchy pasty people and their screw you attitudes went. Perhaps they moved to the southern suburbs where I have heard that dreariness is still embraced.
I remember that in 1983 when I was living in London with fellow travelers at what we called “the home of the brave”, that we used to simply sit on the sidewalk and say hello to people just to laugh and revel in their shocked reactions. Typically, they tucked their head into their dark winter coats and shuffled away as if we where trying to fleece them in a dark alleyway.
I have no doubt that now, they would smile, say hello back and perhaps even ask us where we where from.