A nice tactic I got the opportunity to try out for London was to use my AirBnB as a base of operations and branch out from there. This idea really didn’t last too long, because the Knightsbridge neighborhood was extremely busy, there was a lot of construction going on, and I don’t know, there was just something about it I didn’t like as much as other neighborhoods. I actually liked the vibe of the South Kensington area better.
One thing I really did enjoy was Hyde Park. Centrally located, clean, safe, and just an amazing place to walk. Opposed to the uneven pavements and Frogger World Championship you play walking in the city, the pathways here are flat, even, and usually uncrowded. It was a nice place to just get out, stretch my legs, enjoy a coffee, and do my second favorite thing on a trip: people watching.
The first several hours in London, as I have mentioned in another post, were spent on transport from Heathrow to Knightsbridge and then locating my room for the week. A coma-like state dropped on me after a nearly-sleepless transatlantic flight, and when I woke up, I was somehow miraculously in-sync with the timezone. It was 4:30pm. It felt like 4:30pm.
Taking a deep breath, I set out from my room, looking for the telltale sign of green that would indicate Hyde Park. On my maps, it showed the park to be north, just a block up from my room. I found a good place to cross the road, looked left, crossed. Looked right. Crossed. And then found a wide swath of dirt that reminded me of a rodeo arena. The telltale signs of shod hoofprints in the sand. I had crossed by the stables of the Household Cavalry and sometimes they ride at the park. It was strange to think that a city so congested with puttering black taxis, buses, and motorbikes would have a wide open spot to ride horses. Pretty cool.
Coffee and Meandering
I followed the Serpentine to a waterside cafe, a spot where tourists had congealed and locals had gathered for coffee, pastries, and all sorts of things. The first thing (other than my Oyster Card) I bought in London was a flat white. The price was comparable to a Starbucks, even with the exchange, but the size was not. At least I got to drink it from a mug and watch people feed the most vicious animal on the face of the earth: the Swan.
Seriously. Look at the picture. That isn’t a bird, it’s a freakin’ dinosaur! They were chasing Canada geese around just for sadistic kicks and the geese were high-tailing it out of there. We all know there is no animal on this planet meaner or more fearless than a Canada goose. Except for the swan.
I watched awkward first dates, tourists, people chatting on their mobile phones, and the sun began to hang low in the sky. I set out on foot with my new oddly-shaped money jingling around in my pocket. I followed the paths past running groups, dodged the scads of rental bikes, and just couldn’t get over how green it all was. 35′ tall honeysuckle trees, lilacs, raspberry canes, cottages (which served some sort of park function) that were older than my home state. I mostly followed the Serpentine, which is a man-made lake in the middle of the park. You can go paddleboarding, paddleboating, run from swans, feed ducks, or just unwind. I took lots and lots of pictures.
My wanderings took me to the Prince Albert Memorial, a spire at the corner of the park in Kensington Gardens (which is an adjacent park that bleeds into Hyde), which is several stories of gold leaf, marble, enameled tile, and Victorian opulence from an age of Imperialism. I walked around it, taking pictures as the sun continued its descent. Then crossed the street to Royal Albert Hall where concerts and shows are held. Next time I’ll have to see a show there. I decided it was getting late and I was getting hungry, so I worked my way back to my street, getting lost, winding through the neighborhoods, college quads, and past gardens.
As long as I kept Hyde Park on my left, I knew I was headed in the right direction. I eventually found my neighborhood and that was where I sat down to enjoy a Big Fish and Chips at the tavern.
More about food
I don’t think I ever ate somewhere on this trip where the wait staff wasn’t friendly. And considering your tip is included in the bill (don’t listen to the travel guides that say you will just pay the price listed…oh no, they smack you with a service fee that emulates tax and tip in the US almost exactly for sticker shock.), they know they are going to be tipped. In America, it would be taken for granted and they would just be shitty with you.
The reason I bring up food is because when you are traveling, unless you have a kitchen and time to get groceries, you are going to be eating out a lot. I budgeted my eating out to about twice a day. With a lunch or dinner snack. This worked out well because I could have a light or heavy breakfast and that would determine how much lunch I would need to get me through the day.
When you are traveling, you are walking. A lot. My day at Hyde Park was my lightest day, at 6.3 miles. I burned off every calorie of those fish and chips and then some. The next morning was the full-English breakfast of rashers, toast, beans, sausage, and eggs and a tea, which left me fueled up for the walk to the British Museum by way of Buckingham Palace and other neighborhoods. I had not yet gotten comfortable with the tube and figured walking was a good way to orient myself.
It was, but I also beat the heck out of my feet. I’ll get into that later.
- The important thing to keep in mind about food when traveling is to eat when you are hungry. You will eat more to compensate for the calories.
- Carry snacks with you. For those of us with cranky-pants or pass-out blood sugar problems, snacks are not only a good way to stay happy, but also to explore local culture. As I have mentioned before, English Crisps are amazing. Their junk food is just sublime.
- I carried a bottle of water I constantly refiled and drank from. It was cheaper than a 300ml Coke for 2 pounds and hydrating. Which is very important with salty out-food.
- When you are no longer traveling, remember to drop your calorie intake. At home, you probably won’t be nearly as active. Fitting into your pants is probably important.