After Paris, we packed our bags for a train ride* to Londontown, the homeland of my mother’s people. It’s also the homeland of some misconceptions, three of which I will now dispel:
1. English food sucks.
Antiquated much? Proper fish ‘n’ chips can be hard to come by, so you better believe I had more than my share in London. We also ate scotch eggs (don’t bother telling me they’re Scottish, the name gives that away. They’re just really popular in Englad), smashed peas with mint, bangers and mash, pot pies, cornish pasties…I could go on. Perhaps not the height of culinary sophistication, but delicious nonetheless. London also has several Micheline Star restaurants, and you can find quality, authentic food from around the world in the city center. So no, English food most certainly does not suck.
2. Everyone in England has gnarly snaggletooth.
Modern orthodontics isn’t a concept lost on London. Austin Powers may have propagated this one, but if you believed everything in that movie you’ve got bigger problems.
3. The Britts are snobbish.
As an American I may not have the most sensitive feelings about social grace, but I certainly found Londoners to be open, friendly and plenty considerate. I mean, they invented the concept of standing in an orderly queue (something I sorely missed in some EU countries). Shopkeeps were warm and friendly, locals happily answered our questions about public transit and offered directions. In fact, one fellow even offered to make us Yorkshire Pudding if we came over on Sunday. Pity we left too soon. I’m sure you could find a slew of stinkface on public transportation or a pub brawl after a lost soccer match, but that’s humanity, not just London. Visit Phoenix in July if you want to hear some real grumbling.
If you need further evidence of their jolly nature, how about the massively attended, Sci-Fi London Costume Parade? Our last morning in London, we began seeing very strangely dressed groups of young people…Star Wars casts, Dr. Whovians, morph suits galore, and an oddly high number of young men dressed as old grannies. Not sure what the reference there is, but it was a hoot. It’s basically a mobile comiccon. And it’s awesome.
I suppose some stereotypes of London are true—the tube and bus systems are crowded, it is rainy, and the people do have adorable accents (though they don’t all sound like Cockney chimney sweeps). Also true of London is that all public museums and art galleries are free to enter, the London Eye is enormous and impressive but prohibitively overpriced for those of us on backpacker’s budgets, and there are indeed those iconic red telephone booths. They make a convenient place to step away from the foot traffic and use your cell phone.
A nice thing about the layout of the Westminster area is that one can conceivably visit all of the major sites and monuments in one day. We went to Big Ben**, Westminster Abbey, the Buckingham Palace by way of Hyde Park and St. James Park, then strolled Trafalgar Square and the Southbank, all with time to spare before dinner.
Abbey Studios is a bit of a hike, but the tube made it easy enough to get there. Rumor had it Elton John was recording in the studio that day so security was high, but we were still able to add our own Beatles lyrics to the wall outside.
As all good things must, our time with my parents came to an end and we parted ways at King’s Cross. Platform 9 3/4 has become a major tourist attraction and you know by now I’m not about lines, so I snapped a quick picture from the sideline and am no worse for the wear. Cheers, England.
*this train from Paris actually travels the English channel through a tunnel underwater, which I feel is noteworthy. Because mermaids.
**Big Ben is actually the name of the bell that chimes, not the clock tower itself. Put that in your pocket for trivia night.