London on a Budget – 36 Hours to Explore

There are cities you love the moment you step foot in them.  Then there are other cities that take you a while to warm up to.  Of course, the flip-side of this is that there are also cities you hate instantly or fall out of love with.

My relationship with London has been a complicated one.  It’s not a city that I can say I love, but at the same time it’s also not a city I can say I hate. I’ve now visited London a number of times and each visit seems to launch me to-and-fro from loving the city to mildly disliking it and then somehow winning me back once again.

London's Charm

Of the many European cities I’ve visited as an adult, the city of London is the one I have the most complex relationship with.  In 2004 I returned to Europe for the first time as an adult.  The trip was done through Arizona State University’s Barrett Honors College and was a guided six week whirlwind taste of the British Isles with the first three weeks spent in London. Despite the incredible amount of ground we’d covered during the year-long visit to Europe my family and I had engaged in when I was 11, we’d never crossed the channel to explore the British Isles.  This made London extra exotic and the ideal place to re-launch my wanderlust as an adult. 

As you might imagine, I loved London as I wandered from the Tower to its grand Museums and then out into the countryside to Stonehenge, Bath, and the White Cliffs of Dover. Each cobblestone street teased my imagination and inspired me to explore further. Since then my visits have typically, but not always, been more utilitarian.  A trip to London for a conference, to see friends, or for a wedding.  These visits are likely at the heart of my mixed love affair with London.

The visits that have given me the best taste of the city of London as an entity were the ones where I was most involved with as a tourist. It was on many of the  more utilitarian visits that I found myself disgusted by London’s sprawling, slow and at times grossly over-crowded public transportation system. By the ludicrously short hours for the Metro, and by the sense of dystopian bleakness that defines some of the city’s suburbs. Suburbs that often remind me very much of a scifi megalopolis designed for three or four million but now lumbering under the weight of four or five times that all colored by an aging infrastructure, crime, and urban decay. While this, and the reality that Londoners in some areas are lovely, while Londoners in others are…not, is all true but I’ve come to realize misses what the city has to offer.

London – Tango Fire Argentina Tango Show

Tuesday – Woke up feeling a cold coming on. No fun. As a result I’m home a bit early 10:00ish and taking it easy tonight. Hopefully sleep, water, etc. will kick it before it takes hold.

I started the day off by going to the Imperial War Museum. It’s an incredible thing, a maze of winding rooms full of stories, happy, sad, grim, and incredible. They really do a great job of presenting the stories but not overwhelming you with content. One of the most interesting parts was a re-creation area modeled after the trenches from WWI. They have it in a seperate area, with lights dimmed, you wind through tight quarters that look like you’re in the maze and in the action. Though it’s full of manikins and plaster it is still a great bit.

From there I headed into London proper, exploring Hyde Park and wandering all over the downtown. Too many places to list, but I mainly revisited China Town, Soho, Piccadilly, etc. before eventually deciding to pick up another set of theatre tickets for this evening. In the Tube I’d seen advertisements for Tango Fire – a play of sorts. When I got to the discount ticket booth, i debated seeing Phantom or Les Mis again, and decided against it. Of the other shows discounted i saw Tango Fire and decided to go with it. Check the website for them here: I really had no idea what it was, other than it was a show, and focused on tango – so I figured it had to be good…right? =p

After picking up the tickets I killed 2.5 hours eating, relaxing, and wandering a bit more. Then I started toward the Picadilly Station to head to the Hoburn Station which was closer to the venue. Turns out there was a track failure somewhere and Picadilly was backlogged like you would’nt believe. It was fubar’d so – looking at the lines of people going in, I decided I was better off walking. The walk was a good 15 fminutes forced march, but ended up being perfect as I still arrived with time to spare.

The show itself – incredible. As I understand it, it’s a traveling performance – if it comes to Phoenix…See it! There are 10 dancers (5 male/5 female), a singer, and 4 band members. Violin, piano, bandoneon & double bass. That’s it. For the most part there were only 2 sets. The rest was all dancing or music. The program primarily consisted of the band playing as the dancers danced incredible tango routines – sometimes solo, sometimes all at once. Think of Dancing With the Stars – but 1,000 times better and more impressive. Other times the singer would sing while the band played. Other times the band performed solo. Throughout the entire performance it was tango song after tango song. The sound quality was incredible and each 45 minute half passed in what seemed like moments.

The dancers themselves performed complex steps, kicks, flips, lifts, holds, and of course dips. I’ve never seen tango quite like it. If there are video’s on the web, i’d definitely say take a look.

Now, i’m back at the hostel and preparing for bed. G’night!

Lord of the Rings – London

After getting checked in at the new hostel I caught the tube into London and got off at Picadilly Circus. From there I wandered aimlessly around Soho, China Town, and the surrounding areas. The weather this morning started out poor but cleared up during the remainder of the day – which was a blessing. Tomorrow I expect to try and make it to some of the museums etc. that I have not seen. I’ll probably start with the Imperial War Museum as it’s almost next door to the hostel.

As I was wandering around I eventually found a place with a semi-decent ‘day of’ ticket price for the LoTR. I’d narrowed it down to Macbeth (Patrick Stewart) or the LoTR. (I saw Cyrno, Les Mis, and Phantom in 04).

The sets and parts of the LOTR were incredible, and overall I think I liked it. It definitely didn’t capture me though as the others had. The music was a bit bland and they toyed with the story line in a lot of places and ways that were not needed. I think a big issue was some of the casting. The actors that played Gandalf and Stryder were both really poor, though Stryder more so than Gandalf.

The sets were incredible, the use of lighting etc. – also Galadriel was everything in the play that she wasn’t in the movie. Some truly incredible scenes there. The orcs were also a lot of fun.

Some of the other stuff was just weird – IE: They combined both human kingdoms and re-did the story to interact with the hybrid.

I definitely don’t regret seeing it and enjoyed it, but I think I’d catch a different show if I were to pick again. May try and see another tonight – or an opera. Have to figure out pricing.

After the show, I poked around Leicster Square and Picadilly a bit in the evening then made my way back to the hostel. I feel the tinglings of a cold, so i’m going to take it easy tonight and prepare for tomorrow.