Our first experiences in London occurred late in the evening on August 21. It was quite a struggle for the four of us to make our way to the hotel from the airport. Each of us had two pieces of luggage and a carry on, which we loaded into a train car and then packed into a van-sized taxi. Our taxi driver was like an angel from heaven, because even though he got lost and drove around in circles for a while, he lifted all of our bags in and out of the car and charged us less than the meter stated because of his mistake.
At about 10pm, we were checked in at the hotel and no longer had to drag around our luggage, but we were inconceivably hungry for dinner. Being used to NYC (“the city that never sleeps”), where you can find places to eat at almost any hour, we expected food to be easy to find. Unfortunately, we were sadly mistaken. We walked block after block, desperately pulling on locked doors to restaurants and asking bartender after bartender if their kitchens were still open hoping that maybe we’d find SOMETHING. Two hours later, we walked by a man who had a Burger King bag in his hand. We must’ve looked like swarming vultures when we asked him where he got it from. He directed us towards the tube station and told us that there were multiple food stands inside. We RAN into the station, quickly weighed our options and then settled for burritos. Yes, we spent our first night in London dead tired, sweaty, and gross sitting on a bench in the Victoria tube station eating spicy beef, guacamole, rice and cheese in a tortilla and drinking Coke that had the main ingredient of vegetable extract. We were not at all ashamed.
However, our first full day in London was much more of a success. We left the hotel early in the morning and purchased tickets for a hop on/hop off bus tour. As touristy as it sounds, I would recommend it to anyone who is only staying in London for a short time because it was the easiest way to cover the most ground and learn the most about the city. We saw the Palace of Westminster and Big Ben, the London Bridge, the Tower Bridge, the Globe Theatre, toured the Tower of London and saw the city from a London Eye’s View. We also passed by the childhood home of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the area where J. K. Rowling lives. Our tour bus ticket even included a boat cruise on the River Thames! (which was fun despite the constant on and off rain)
As for food, I repeatedly ordered fish and chips once I realized just how plain English food is. I was not a fan of their ham bacon or their popular side dish of mushy peas (eww). Overall, we were surprised to find that just like our first night in London, it wasn’t very easy to find food! Many restaurants stop serving dinner around 7pm and even after all of our exploring, we only walked by a grand total of TWO grocery stores. The portion sizes were also noticeably smaller than they are in the US – no wonder why our country has such major problems with obesity, diabetes and other dietary related health issues. Maybe we should make food less available like the Brits…
Other cultural and lifestyle differences that we noticed included how often Brits love to tell jokes regardless of whether or not you think they’re funny. They also continuously speak in a sarcastic tone…“was that a joke or was he being serious for once?” Additionally, even though we weren’t driving, it was still strange to see how different the roads were since they drive on the opposite side than we do in the US. We definitely witnessed some serious road rage too. Another thing that I had never seen before was that some public restrooms required payment before being allowed to enter and use the facility.
With all these differences, there were many similarities too. For instance, since there was no language barrier it was simple for us to communicate and travel around the city. Also, for the most part the tube system was almost exactly like the subways in the city or the Metro North. However, the interior of the trains in London were BEAUTIFUL when compared to those in New York.
Overall, though our time in London was short, it was still an enjoyable and worthwhile experience.