Wednesday, November 02, 2011
GUS GUIDE: First-Time LONDON
Before we start on our mini-guide for London (incidentally, my favorite part of the trip), i've noticed that most tourists tend to use the terms Great Britain, England and United Kingdom interchangeably. Whilst no harm is normally done, it is technically incorrect.
So, let us attempt to set the matter straight:
"United Kingdom" refers to the union of four separate countries, namely: England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (the other parts of Ireland are independent).
"Great Britain" refers to only England, Wales and Scotland. (Thus, the full official name of the UK is "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland")
"England" is the largest country in the United Kingdom, and its capital is London. So, beware! England may be part of the United Kingdom, but not everyone in Great Britain or the United Kingdom is English!
Anyway, onwards to the must-sees and must-dos in London!
1. Do enter the historic buildings.
By all means, take one of those half-day or full-day city bus sightseeing tours that promise to bring you to the House of Parliament, Westminster Abbey (where Will married Kate), St. Paul's Cathedral, Tower of London (where the Crown Jewels are kept), Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Royal Albert Hall, etc. all in one go.
But do come back and go inside the places that actually interested or intrigued you, rather than just being content with photos of yourself with these historic buildings in the background.
2. Take a walk with London Walks.
A guided walking tour is the perfect way to get more in-depth commentary (and gossip) about your specific interests, and meeting fellow tourists.
London Walks operates tours on every day of the year (including Christmas); typically costs less than ten British pounds per person; and best of all, there's no need to reserve ahead of time. You just show up!
Their walks run the whole gamut, from movies (Harry Potter location spots) to music (Beatles Magical Mystery) to history to crime (Jack the Ripper) to haunted and hidden places in London, etc. So, if none of their walks interest you. . .well, you're probably not interesting.
3. Take a cab, just for the heck of it.
In my humble opinion, the London Underground / Metro / Tube is one of the most extensive and convenient in the world; and the bus system is pretty good, too.
So, why take a cab? Well, these black taxis really look cool in a retro sort of way. And the cab drivers have to pass a special test, called "The Knowledge" (sounds quite grand and impressive, doesn't it? :D), before they are allowed to get behind the wheel. Generally, it takes two to four years of study before one can take and pass the exam!
4. Notting Hill isn't for everyone.
If you love antiques, go ahead and visit Notting Hill on a weekday.
If you love markets and bargaining for antiques and other stuff, go on a Saturday morning and you'll enjoy the Portobello Road market.
But if you're a casual movie fan who was charmed by the movie "Notting Hill", starring Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant, be prepared to be disappointed. VERY disappointed.
Why? Well, the travel bookshop owned by Hugh Grant has been sold, and is now closed. And the house with the blue door, where he lived? It's just a door, not a real house; and the door ain't blue anymore (it has been painted black).
In short, don't bother.
5. Brush up on your English.
But the English speak English, you might protest. True, but there are differences in word usage. It's a "bin", not a trash can; a "lift", not an elevator; a "loo", not a toilet or (God forbid) CR; a "flat", instead of apartment; "fags" (!!!) instead of cigarettes, and so on.
And don't ever ever ever refer to "football" as soccer.