36 hours in London, a budget of 150 GBP and a mission to re-discover the best parts of the city. This is part two in my two part look at London. Learn more about the challenge behind this trip, issued by Tune Hotels, in part one as well as a brief overview of my long-standing mixed relationship with the flagship of the British Empire.
My second day in London got a late start. As a general rule of thumb, I’m a B person. This means I prefer late nights and late mornings to early evenings and early starts. So, Tune’s late-checkout was perfect. My flight back to Copenhagen departed from London Gatwick at 20:35 PM. That left me the majority of the day to relax and explore before catching my train back to the airport around 5:30PM.
London is a Mecca for travel writing talent, so when Dylan of The Traveling Editor and founder of The Ripple Movement heard I’d be in town, he invited me to join him for a quick chat about travel and local’s guide through Soho for lunch. The day started with a light rain – the type that I’ve become accustomed to in Copenhagen, and which some might say defines London. You know the type – enough to bespeckle your glasses, but not enough to merit an umbrella or running for the nearest doorway.
The plan was to meet Dylan at Oxford Circus shortly after 12:30. The trip from Liverpool Street Station was effortless and took no more than 15 minutes. Planning to jump around town more than I ultimately would I opted for a full-day metro pass (12 GBP). This, ultimately, was a 9 GBP mistake as I once again only utilized the metro once during the day…not good…but, hindsight is 20/20, right? Live and learn.
Despite the mild rain, the intersection that Oxford Circus ejected me into was alive with people shopping and rushing about their weekend business. Dylan found me without effort and we set off with that most primitive and classic of missions – food.
As we zig-zagged through a number of streets, Dylan pointed out places of interest, the most comical of which was the John Snow. This old pub is still alive (for those of you who may be GoT fans), but has the unfortunate distinction of being the most homophobic pub in Soho. So much so that I was reminded of an article I had read a year or two before about a grand kiss-in, staged in protest of the Pub’s obnoxious intolerant bigotry. Needless to this, this John Snow is definitely NOT a relative of GoT’s Jon Snow.
Other stops along the way included lovely old streets, the regally named Kingly Court, spunky coffee shops, and a fun mixture of quirky London venues. We eventually found ourselves at one of Dylan’s favorite local eateries – a small, busy, ramen shop quirkily named Bone Daddies. Upon our arrival I was forced to confess something rather embarrassing travel blogger to travel blogger – as I’ve yet to visit Asia I have only the most basic experience with ramen. The vast majority of my noodle-based dining has focused instead on Thai and Vietnamese variants. So, acting on Dylan’s advice I opted for a seafood heavy ramen dish and waited in curious anticipation.
What arrived was a massive steaming bowl that included not just ramen, but shrimp, muscles, kimchi, egg, corn and a number of other ingredients. With my mouth watering, I dug in and was delighted by the range of tastes, the potent but not over-powering spice, and the salty-sweet balance that was perfect for the noodles while not undercutting the flavors of the seafood.
Dylan and I discussed travel, travel blogging, caught up on life, and the rewarding experiences he was garnering from the launch of his latest journalistic project – the Ripple Movement. A very interesting initiative and collaboration between a number of leading bloggers and travel journalists, well worth exploring.
Mouth still ever so mildly on-fire, we finished our noodles and transitioned from the ramen shop to a nearby cafe. The cafe was the perfect taste of Soho – a hip/relaxed style with a varied crowd that ranged from college kids to folks doing traditional coffee shop business meetings. Our waiter was a friendly, but obviously heavily hung-over cross-dresser who had no doubt thoroughly enjoyed the previous day’s grand festivities.
Our coffee’s complete, and with me eager to explore further we wound our way out of Soho and down to Green Park. As part of our discourse we delved into politics, social behavior, and social engineering – it served as the perfect appetizer for my planned visit to Buckingham Palace. I was introduced to Social Impact Theory, which artfully sums up several recent revelations I’ve had about political discourse/change making and which is something that may interest some of you as well.
Over the course of our meal, coffee and walk to Green Park the weather transitioned from rain to a mostly sunny day that was the perfect temperature. At Green Park we said our goodbyes, and I once again made my way across the sprawling green space, taking in and enjoying the sight of Londoners out soaking up the fair weather and reclining in beach chairs. Green Park is massive and lovely as a park in the strictest sense but, the nearby St. James Park is far more charming and beautiful.
So, with minimal delay I cut down to Buckingham Palace where I paused for photos, a chat with a few other tourists, and to enjoy the sight of the Royal British Guards with their bizarre marching style and fancy uniforms.
Music in the Park
My initial plans for the afternoon had ranged from doing a bit of shopping, to making it to one of the grand British museums – hands down some of the best in the world. However, in the face of the weather and utterly intoxicatingly charming appeal of St. James Park, I instead found myself enjoying a 20 piece orchestra crammed into a small pavilion. The orchestra was playing free music and quite talented. Perfect for my relaxed mood.
So, it was with only the slightest of hesitations that I decided to do as the Londoners were doing. I found a dry spot of grass near the back of the mixed gathering that had come together to listen, laid down, and dug around in my pack for gift my Dad had left with me during his recent visit to Copenhagen.
The gift: one of two cigars to be enjoyed when a special or particularly opportune occasion arose. As I laid there, the sound of the orchestra in the background, the soft tickle of the wind blowing the grass against my skin, the sounds of children at play in the distance, and the sight of grand old trees framing passenger jets rapidly descending as they prepared to land somewhere far off in the western part of London, I found myself lost thought.
It served as the perfect backdrop to enjoy the cigar – a cigar fittingly rolled in 1990, some 25 years previous. My relaxation and reflection wandered through time. To thoughts of family, of what I’ve accomplished, where I’ve fallen short. It brought to mind thoughts of women I’ve met, and many of the musings I’ve previously outlined in my The Sojourner’s Dilemma blog post and my Turning 30 musings, reflections, and advice post. The cigar served as a catalyst for my thoughts that helped me re-visit the constant balance and nagging challenge that goes with living far from family and loved ones. Tempering that sense of longing with the joy of discovery and the rich life experiences – not only that allow us to discover and explore new places and experiences, but new sides of ourselves and which drive us to excel and develop ourselves in new ways. As I relaxed beneath a blue sky I enjoyed a mental exercise I was taught while growing up. I walked backward through time re-tracing the path through life, the decisions, and everything in-between that had brought me to that moment. It is a daunting, humbling, but also invigorating mental exercise. One that forces one to accept not just the positive, but the neutral and negative events and decisions that we’ve faced over our lives.
So, it was with a deep sense of relaxation, reflection, and satisfaction that I finished the cigar – a useful catalyst and tool for exploring how different my life could have been. After all, that cigar – just five years younger than I was, with its layers upon layers wrapped and rolled, had been transported halfway around the world, across numerous borders while passing between a smattering of owners. It may also sound a bit morbid, but as the last embers of the cigar burned out I was also reminded of the friends I’ve lost over the last few years and the fragility of life. In our modern age of unparalleled medicine it is easy to assume we’ll all live well into our 80s if not far beyond. Yet, already the number of friends I’ve lost over the last decade to disease, accidents, and I’ll fortune number beyond the count that fits on one hand.
As I stood, hoisting my bag over my shoulder, I glanced at my watch – somehow it was already 5PM. Time to make my way to Victoria Station where I’d once again make the less-than arduous journey out to Gatwick. The 20 minute walk from the park to the station was effortless and enjoyable. In some ways the day hadn’t been as productive as I had anticipated, and yet it felt as though it had been every bit as enjoyable and rewarding as it would have had I found my way to the nearby British Museum or the National History Museum. I shrugged as I walked, perhaps talking to myself in the mildest and most sane of ways – those would have to wait until next time.
The trip back to Gatwick was an opportunity to take stock of my whirlwind visit. How had it changed my relationship with London? The truth is, the trip had helped me re-discover London’s charm. When the next opportunity to return arises, I won’t hesitate. Though, I’ll do it with the knowledge that to enjoy London, I have to be selective in what I see and embrace the sides of London I like while avoiding those that leave me apathetic or disappointed. London worked beautifully as a weekend getaway. Even though my budget of 150 GBP was, perhaps, a bit generous by some standards, it was also far from unreasonable.
I grabbed dinner at the McDonalds at London Gatwick upon my arrival and despite a poorly handled power outage that set my flight back an hour and pushed my arrival in Copenhagen to well after midnight, I left London in high spirits.
Dinner at Gatwick cost 9 GBP and brought the grand total for my daily expenses and transport to 136 GBP a full 14 GBP below the challenge amount allotted by Tune Hotels for my #LondonOnABudget visit. For this trip I prioritized food and the theater. I also blew 9 GBP on an ill advised metro ticket purchase. Had I decided to take an even more stringent budget-approach to the trip, or to prioritize attractions over food, I’d have easily been able to afford entrance to some of London’s greatest attractions. Never the less, I think this trip highlighted that even without investing in entrance fees or expenses like the London Eye, you can see and enjoy London in-depth. One of the key tricks to experiencing London on a budget is to minimize your transport costs. Transit in London is painfully expensive. Take a good pair of walking shoes and enjoy the opportunity to discover the streets, alleys, and squares that stretch between each metro stop. It’s not only cheaper, it’s a far more authentic look at the city.
Missed part one of this post? Jump to the beginning now.
A special thanks to Tune Hotels and their Liverpool Street Station location for hosting me and inviting me to London for this challenge. Tune Hotels provide a ultra-budget alternative to hostels that delivers all of the benefits of a regular hotel while using a – pick and pay for exactly what you want – model. You pay for your basic room, and then choose what services and items you want to add on (late check out, wifi, a towel, TV, air conditioning).