Tag Archives: London tourism

What to Know About Heathrow: A Survival Guide

Heathrow Airport

Taken from heathrowterminal5.com

Travel and Fashion Writer Evelyn Franklin gives us the low down this week on one of the world’s busiest airports, and how to navigate its complex organised chaos 

It can be an oasis in the desert or your worst nightmare but, at some point, you will likely encounter Heathrow Airport. It is the world’s busiest international airport serving more than 90 airlines and over 70 million passengers annually. It is also a major gateway to Europe, the United Kingdom, and of course, London. But depending which terminal you are funneled through, your experience could range from bearable to utterly tedious or even just plain ridiculous. For any that have used it, it should come as no surprise why it’s often rated one of the world’s most hated airports.

With horribly long walks to boarding gates and lengthy lines at security and border control, passengers might just find themselves taking a longer time to navigate their way out of Heathrow than it would take to fly to Spain.  The airport suffers from a chronic inability to cope with the masses of travelers. The city of London is served by four other major airports including Stansted, Gatwick, Luton, and London City. But if you find yourself on a flight bound for Heathrow from one of the more than 180 destinations in 90 countries that is directly connected to the airport, we’ve got a few tips for you to help suppress any notions of air rage.

Understanding Heathrow: Know Your Terminals

Heathrow Travel

Must. Get. To. Connecting. Flight. (taken from telegraph.co.uk)

Heathrow Airport is practically a city unto itself with four different terminals and a fifth on the way scheduled to open this June. Because of its vast size, security requirements, and that development has failed to keep pace with growth, the airport has earned a reputation for being overcrowded, inefficient, and full of delays. The airport operates at 99 percent capacity on a daily basis with a take-off or landing every forty-five seconds. The airlines at Heathrow seem to enjoy playing a constant game of “musical terminals” as they continuously shift operations from one terminal to another. As a passenger, you are advised to check the Heathrow website for the latest terminal updates and information. The long-term plan is to dedicate a specific terminal to each of the airline alliances in order to minimize the number of connecting passengers that will need to change terminals. The airport has uniformed volunteers in pink attire to assist travelers navigating the airport.

Top Travel Tips for Heathrow Airport

  • Family-Friendly Travel: If you are travelling with children, Heathrow offers special security lanes with staff that are specially trained to work with less experienced flyers and able to accommodate families with strollers as indicated by the rainbow symbol above the detectors.
  • Power Naps: If your connecting flight is delayed or you have a long layover and need a couple of hours of sleep, Heathrow offers a couple of options for travelers that need a few hours of shut-eye. Single bedrooms can be rented at the No. 1 Traveller and Yotel for a modest amount.
  • Central London in a Rush: If you need to reach the city center in a hurry, the Heathrow Express train can get you to Paddington Station in just fifteen minutes for about £25. It’s an express train with no stops along the way.
  • Save Cash on the Tube: It will take nearly an hour to reach central London on the Underground but it is one of the best deals in town at just £6 off-peak to anywhere in London that is served on the network. The biggest battle will be the lack of space for luggage.
  • Stay Charged: All travelers like to keep their mobile phones and laptops fully charged for the journey ahead but few airports were built with that in mind. If you find yourself in a part of Heathrow that lacks power sockets, search for any sockets hidden in the floor that are typically used by cleaning staff. Alternatively, you could also bring along an adapter that converts one socket into two so that you can share outlets with other passengers.
  • Beat the Security Lines: Unlike in the United States, you don’t need to present a boarding pass while passing through the metal detectors. You also don’t need to remove your laptop but be prepared to place all loose items in a tray and don’t travel with liquids.
  • Eat Before You Go: Depending which terminal you are in, Heathrow offers a wide range of dining options. However, they also come at a price. You would be much better to pick up a sandwich for a pound or two at a convenience store to eat on the way.

Getting Through Passport Control

Passport Control

Bring a good book and plenty of patience (taken from the guardian.com).

The long lines to cross the UK Border can often give passengers additional time to finish those last few chapters on their Kindle that they couldn’t finish on the flight. Frequent flyers to London know that this is to be expected as immigration officers grill passengers with five to ten questions about their intentions in the UK.  If you want this process to go smoothly and quickly, there are a few things that you should know:

  • Always carry proof of a return flight out of the country as you may be asked to produce one by the officer. If you do not have one ready, you may need to go through the tedious process of getting your airline to do it for you which will mean proceeding through security and into the long passport line for a second time.
  • Know where you are staying as it must be written onto your entry form and the border officers may ask you where you plan to reside while in the United Kingdom. That means you should not head to London without a hotel booking. Memorize the name and the street of the hotel or carry a copy of your hotel reservation with you.
  • Be able to converse in English because if you are unable to competently answer the questions posed by the immigration officer, you could be automatically diverted to another line for additional questioning and potential rejection.

Flying Out of Heathrow

plane heathrow

Taken from your.heathrow.com

If you are headed to the airport to board your return flight out of Heathrow or if you are one of the lucky folks that managed to grab a hot last minute deal on a cheap flight from London, you should be prepared to navigate Heathrow if you want your journey to get off to a seamless start. As Heathrow is an incredibly large airport, it is important to know your terminal before you depart and to allow sufficient time to check-in, get through security, and travel to your boarding gate. The recommended check-in time is typically at least three hours prior to departure. However, some passengers have reported waiting in line for up to 1.5 hours just to receive boarding cards. If you would like to save time, try to check-in online and print your own boarding card if your airline offers this service. You will also want to ensure that you are wearing comfortable walking shoes for the lengthy journey ahead.

If you are a foreign tourist and planning to take advantage of the VAT Refund, you will need to present your goods purchased and the necessary forms to UK Customs prior to checking in your luggage. You should consider whether it is worth it prior to jumping in line as some queues can take over an hour. Once you have cleared check-in and security, you can proceed to the departure lounge. It is here that you will find the majority of shops and dining outlets. You can purchase items here to bring on the aircraft with you. Take note that there are few if any shops near the boarding gates so you will want to ensure that you complete your shopping before leaving the departure lounge to avoid a lengthy walk back and forth. Some gates can take as much as forty minutes to reach and boarding commonly starts forty-five minutes prior to departure so you will need to allow yourself plenty of time otherwise you risk being left behind. Be prepared for one last line to check your boarding card before being permitted entry into the boarding lounge.

Additional Gateways to London

Heathrow’s central location makes it a convenient airport for many travelers. But if you have the opportunity to use one of London’s alternate airports, it may be a worthwhile choice that can save you a lot of time, hassle, and even money depending where you are headed in the United Kingdom. Gatwick and Stansted Airport are not nearly as busy as Heathrow and are home to less expensive charter flights. In addition, you will enjoy less congestion, shorter walks, and faster security lines. While the number of connections to London aren’t as abundant, there is always a direct link by train to the city.

Harry Potter and The American Londoner

Hogwarts The Harry Potter Experience

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

I don’t tend to trust books that are ubiquitously  popular. It’s why I came very reluctantly and very late to Dan Brown (when I read Da Vinci Code, it only confirmed my worst suspicions: watered down Foucault’s Pendulum). It’s why one of my students had to recommend, pester and finally bully me into reading The Hunger Games. I somehow feel that if everyone’s reading it, there must be something wrong with it, as though there is some embedded message washing over us like waves of radiation as we read: we must read this book, we must read this book. When it comes to books that receive near universal approbation, I feel near enough to the same way that Henry Fielding felt about Samuel Richardson’s Pamela. 

It is for this reason that I came late the Harry Potter phenomenon. I just didn’t trust throngs of commuters furtively hiding a tattered, well thumbed copy of what was initially known as a children’s book obviously behind the cover of a shiny new copy of War and Peace. Or worse still, trying to dignify their choice of reading material with an ‘adult cover’ as they were later published.

But, we all come to a point in our lives when we need pure narrative, something just to envelope ourselves in and in which to pleasantly laze away our hours after a day, or say a university course that involves a pressure cooker of thought for months to years on end. My wife was at just such a point at the end of her degree when she picked up the JK Rowling saga. I scoffed dismissively for years, but you build up a curiosity. You run into a sort of domestic critical mass, you pick up the book one day and you start reading and you find you don’t want to leave a world in which magic exists. I wasn’t hooked from the start, but I was hooked when I finally started.

Harry Potter Experience

Chocolate Feast in The Great Hall

I mean really hooked as well. All the midnight openings and launch parties, adult and child covers, and the whole magic hat full of the Potter universe. We once stood outside of The East Side Bookshop in Brick Lane with its shutters nearly closed at 2 am with our friend Aoife, driven to get Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince, begging to be let in to pay our £10.99 to take home the volume and consume the latest in the saga.

Harry Potter Experience

Eh… Does anyone speak parseltongue?

And now, with a seven year old son of my own who is consuming the books quicker than you can down a pint of pumpkin juice at the start of the school year feast (he’s currently on The Order of The Phoenix), we find ourselves in close proximity to where the magic all happened in the film adaptation of these spellbinding tales. And as luck happens, our very good friend Vikki King, worked on the first three films, making the puppetry for house elves and owls and basilisks (Oh My!) and has a son who just happens to be our little American Londoner’s schoolmate.

Sirius Black's motorbike

‘Borrowed it, Professor Dumbledore, sir. Young Sirius Black lent it to me.’

So it was off to Watford in Northwest London and the Warner Brothers Studios where the films were made to immerse ourselves in movie magic, wander wide eyed through The Great Hall, stroll past Harry’s Gryffindor dormitory with its four poster beds and it’s prep school charm, take turns riding atop a broomstick in front of a green screen on which the good employees at The HP Experience could superimpose all manner of backgrounds to make it look as though you were flying right over the Thames, through a stormy quidditch match, or banking with the winding train line through the middle of the country speeding towards Hogwarts. I have to say, it was rather spectacular. Particular highlights include The Burrow, magically cleaning itself and doing its own ironing, vegetable chopping and folding, and of course, Diagon Alley, the immersive pleasure of passing by Flourish and Blotts unsure of what brand of quills to purchase, dreaming of owning the Firebolt and using it to ascend to new heights of quidditch mastery, or mulling over spending your last few galleons on a packet of puking pastilles from Fred and George’s joke shop.

Harry Potter Experience

‘You stand, Harry Potter, on the remains of my late father.’

Alas, that is one of this venue’s shortcomings, that all of the magic creates a skin deep illusion that cannot really be interacted with beyond a visual, sometimes tactile level. It was the deal breaker for the missus, who wondered, ‘why couldn’t you actually  go into any of the shops in Diagon Alley?’ That was a bit disappointing.’

To which my response was, ‘You want Florida. That’s the Harry Potter Experience where you can actually be a part of the whole thing.’

‘Oh. It’s finally happened hasn’t it? I’m just an American in search of a theme park, aren’t I?’

‘Yup.’

Harry Potter Experience

‘I remember every wand I’ve ever sold, Mr. Potter. Every single wand.’

I sympathize utterly though. It probably could have been a more interactive experience, as though the world of Harry Potter was living and breathing before you on a loop that allowed you to enter and take part at any point. My fellow expat blogger, Sunny In London, has written a useful comparison of the Watford Harry Potter Experience and the one in her native Florida. Enjoyable though Watford was, what I’ve read does make me want to check out the Floridian Islands of Adventure that include The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Harry Potter Experience

‘I’ve been thinking. I — I want to go to Godric’s Hollow.’

And as we’re speaking of shortcomings, if you do journey to Watford (which, again, is completely worth it so long as you know what to expect), bring your own food. The comestibles available on the backlot between the two halves of the tour were dire. Dry egg and ham sandwiches or hot dogs moistened with cold saccharine butter beer (all the internet recipes we’ve ever used involve warming the Hogsmeade bevvy in the microwave to help the butterscotch and the cream soda froth up and marry and it’s damn comforting on a cold and windy Halloween night in) were the orders of the day. There was a cafe at the front that didn’t look much more edible and it goes without saying, food prices were ludicrous. We were under what now seems to have been a misconception that BYO was prohibited. I saw people unwrapping pack lunches and digging in and no one was telling them off. It seemed a pretty poor tribute to a series of books so replete with such vivid descriptions of food that can wreak a frankly Pavlovian effect on the most detached of readers.

Harry Potter Experience

‘So The Daily Prophet exists to tell people what they want to hear, does it?’

Harry Potter Experience

‘Windows stacked with barrels of bat spleens and eels’ eyes, tottering piles of spell books, quills, and rolls of parchment, potion bottles, globes of the moon…’

Harry Potter Experience

‘We’ll meet at Flourish and Blott’s in an hour to buy your schoolbooks.’

Harry Potter Experience

My friend worked on Harry Potter. My friend worked on Harry Potter!

One of the great bonuses of having a former employee of the movie franchise with us was that we were let in on the secret that in the wand room at the end of the tour, every wand box has a name of anyone who has worked on any of the films. And though it was like sifting through a mythical haystack for a magical needle, I’m quite proud to say that, in among all the writer’s and actor’s names, I found our friend Vikki’s wand box at which there was much rejoicing. I knew there was a use for my ability to sift through unconnnected symbols and make sense out of verbal chaos somewhere in the universe.

Harry Potter Experience

‘The Castle is a stronghold of ancient magic.’

I would heartily recommend the experience, though pick your times. Traffic was nonexistent first thing on a Sunday. It might well be a different story in the middle of a Saturday afternoon. Aside from your pack lunches, you need only bring your imagination and your love of the magic of stories. Now, off to put in some more hours studying occlumency. And then an essay on blast-ended screwts for Monday. Cor Blimey!

London Ate My Pocketbook

Travel and Fashion Writer Evelyn Franklin takes a look at how to make the most out of this fantastic city without it taking the most out of your bank account

Expensive London

Image taken from london.tab.co.uk Photo by Alex Macnaughton / Rex Features

There are few experiences to rival the first few minutes spent in a city you’ve spent a lifetime reading about and watching on TV. In London, your first experience is likely to be one of sensory assault, especially if you arrive at one of the stations: the chaos of the crowds, the damp, musty, smell, the overwhelming grandeur of the architecture, the incomprehensible and garbled announcements. Take a moment, breathe it in, find your way to a coffee stand to protect yourself from the chaos with a shot of caffeine, and feel the next assault: the one on your pocketbook. London is likely rivalled only by New York in terms of sheer budget strain, with even other Brits grimacing at the cost of the basics here. Still, there are ways for visitors to the city to find their way around, even on a shoestring budget. Here are my recommendations.

Mark Noad Tube Map

A more ‘realistic’ take on the tube done by artist Mark Noad in 2011, from travelandleisure.com

1. Walk

The Tube map is not an accurate representation of the actual layout of the lines and stations, and there are plenty of places where various Underground stations are actually closer on foot than they are by train. Cut down on your travelling expenses by seeing more of the city above ground. Earn your pub meal by stacking up the miles, be kind to your pocket, and see more of the sights, all in one go.

2. Choose Your Accommodation Wisely

There are a few standard accommodation options, and most of them aren’t good ones. If you’re on a budget, chances are you’re looking for a hostel: don’t. You may get lucky, but in my experience, London hostels are still horrifically expensive, and many are seedy to boot. You may end up paying an exorbitant rate to be stuck in a damp, dark room with 20 strangers, twelve of whom snore like drains and three (yes, three) of whom are having sex. Unless you’d like to have bed bugs for the rest of your life, choose a hostel very, very carefully, or steer clear. The standard alternative – a large chain hotel, even a cheap one – is not likely to be much better overall: it’ll probably be cleaner, but will also probably break the bank significantly more. So what are your options? One good avenue to explore is to look for timeshare that’s going begging – this can be a better deal and greater comfort than a cramped hostel or dinky hotel. Another good bet is to look for self-catering accommodation, especially if you’re travelling in a group: if it’s just you, it may not work out cheaper, but if you can cram four people into a one-bedroom apartment with a sofa bed, you can split the costs of grocery shopping and save cash by eating at home. And finally, if you’re really broke, look into couch-surfing, which is a sure-fire way to meet excellent people (and a few wonderful weirdos), and end up with your own friendly traveller in future months.

South Bank Book Market

South Bank Book Market, one of my faves (image from visitlondon.com)

3. Head Away From The Crowds

Let’s face it: the best bits of any foreign city are not the ones that people flock to in droves. Save your precious London cash by avoiding the most garish of tourist attractions. A wander around Southbank is definitely worth your time, and you can admire Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament at your leisure, without having to elbow-wrestle with fourteen hundred other tourists to catch a glimpse of something interesting. If historical London really floats your boat, pick a few sites that you absolutely must check out, but don’t blindly go along with what every travel blog ever tells you that you “have to see”; read the reviews, do your research, and narrow it down. Chances are high that you’ll have more enchanting memories from an afternoon’s wander round Covent Garden or a spectacular evening in a pub than you will of the overpriced stampede at the Tower of London. Even those ten minutes you spent with your cheek flattened against the train window when you caught the Piccadilly line at half past five in the evening were probably more fun (and cheaper).

London Souvenir Stall

Yup. London Tat.

4. Don’t Fall Prey to the Souvenir Junk.

What do you think you’re going to do with that “Mind the Gap” t-shirt? It’s not original, or clever. Neither is your miniature London bus. It’s understandable to want to accumulate some mementos to take home with you, but try to make them unique or useful at the very least. Buy a fantastic piece of art at a little market, or a warm scarf that will remind you of London for years to come. If you must buy a standard souvenir, keep it small and cheap, like a fridge magnet or shot glass. That way you won’t weigh down your luggage with unnecessary junk, and when you get home and realise you don’t need it after all, it won’t be difficult to find a place to keep it. Plus, you’ll have saved yourself all the expense of loading yourself up with themed coasters and umbrellas.

The American Londoner’s Mixtape Medley of Migratory Tips and Advice: What I Wish I Knew Before I Left

expat dilemmas and issues

Not me, by the way. Taken from expattutor.wordpress.com

Don’t get me wrong. I love life in London. Wouldn’t trade it for anywhere else (right now, anyway… perhaps in the future… and then I would trade it for something else… I digress). A capital city, this big metrop. If a man is tired of London, he is… yada yada and the rest of what Samuel Johnson said. Point is, it’s a great life and it’s a continuing adventure, but boy could it have been made easier. I’m not saying we don’t learn from our mistakes or that how we deal with adversity doesn’t play a key role in defining who we are in some way, but you might not want to make the same mistakes that I made or suffer the slings and arrows that I endured.

It is in this spirit of public munificence, smoother transitions, obstacles avoided and exponentially greater enjoyment from the expat life that I blog today. With the help of and somewhat at the behest of our friends at HIFX, who have put together a fantastic HIFX tip page to collate some wonderful tips from us experienced expats, I give you a somewhat random (hence the reference to that great art of my high school days in the 1990s, the magnificent mixtape) collection of tips and pointers on making the most out of that incredible journey.

What follows is categorised somewhat arbitrarily between ‘useful’ and ‘make the most’, so bear with me. You might benefit. Even if it’s only from wry amusement.

Useful: 

passports

taken from expatarrivals.com

Do Your Homework — This is going to sound obvious, but certain assumptions can lull you into a sense of security, and you know what happens when you assume. Mine was that being expat spouse, I was automatically entitled to work in any European country by virtue of my wife’s Irishness. Well, every country has its own intricate and insistently labyrinthine bureaucracy and every country has their officious public servants who, just doing their job though they are, are disinclined to ‘process’ you  efficiently if they perceive the slightest disrespect for the rules and regulations that it is their job to uphold, manage, administer, and enforce. For the first three years of living in England, I spent six months out of every year, countless pleading, begging, hours in a torturously kafkaesque waiting area down in the Home Office in warm and welcoming Croydon (sarf of the riva’), and minutes beyond measure on the phone listening to coma-inducing muzak waiting to talk to a real person who could tell me what was taking so long for a stamp to come down on my passport granting me that glorious privilege: leave. to. remain. For another year. Had I done my homework and not trusted the dodgy Scottish recruitment agency that brought us over from Ireland, I would have saved time, money, several appeals to our local MP, and the hiring of a West London immigration specialist threatening to sue The Home Office before my passport suddenly turned up. And my case is by no means unique. Take the time. Find out what you need to work and stay in the country. It could save you a headache and an early trip home.

Build yourself an identity — Sure, the love of money is the root of all evil greases the wheels of a vast capitalist global empire, but until we turn to an organic bartering system and convert to an idyllic cashless society, money and the basic bank account are key to some very basic things as an expat. Be careful with this one. Back in my day (when I emigrated from the US in 2001), you could get a letter from your employer, take it to his local bank, flash it to the manager and Bob’s your uncle, you’re suddenly a banking and contributing member of society. Only three years later when we moved to London, I had to depend on my wife’s account and the banks were so strict that even she had to make do with a ‘basic’ or a ‘step’ account, the one they give to shifty foreigners they don’t yet trust. Find out about banking in your country. In England, it’s key to build yourself an identity as soon as you get here. They like to know you’re here. Big brother is watching. Simple things like utility bills or unexpected things like getting a library card all build up an identity for those that watch and wait and decide if they want to issue you with plastic or better yet, a long term loan or mortgage. Find out what’s necessary in the country your destination country and if possible, make contact with local banks and make enquiries as to what makes good credit history. I can matter a great deal.

bureau de change

taken from theguardian.com

Shop around when exchanging —  No doubt you’ve heard of a bureau de change (took me ages to get the pronunciation right). If you travel a lot you’ve probably needed one in a hurry. It pays to shop around when you’re changing money. Some companies will charge extortionate rates on commission. The Post Office here in England is commission free! There may be a similar deal in your destination country. It may even be cheaper to pay by debit card wherever you’re going or withdraw from a cash machine while abroad. Whatever you do about it, shopping around for the best deal.

street market London

taken from homesandproperty.co.uk

Every city’s as cheap as you make it — Yeah, but London is one of the most expensive cities in the world… if you don’t know where to go. This capital is famous for its street markets. We lived above on the Roman Road in The East End for the first year and a half or our Anglo-existence. The fruit and veg was good quality for a fraction of the price of the Tesco supermarket down the road. We live in an age in which every city has hidden costs, but look a little further and you find the hidden ways to save money as well. Anything from freecycle to Airbnb, to the beautiful array of floral displays that can be acquired, “cheap as chips” from Columbia Road when you get there either insanely early or as everyone’s closing up, you don’t have to go broke to go abroad and expand your horizons.

Make The Most:

vegetarian copenhagen

Morgenstedt Christiania, taken from visitcopenhagen.com

Follow the Vegetarians — Bit of a strange one, this. Try it though, omnivore and fellow herbivore alike. All the cool places in any city, like electrons around the nucleus of an atom, cluster together, satellite fashion, around vegetarian hotspots. Soho in London, Soho in New York, Brooklyn now, West Philadephia, West Kensington Market in Toronto, Vesterbro and Freetown Christiania in Copenhagen… the list goes on and on. I had coffee in a Michael Ondaatje’s regular coffee shop this way. I don’t think it’s vegetarian, but it’s in the neighbourhood of cool. You want to find the cool cafes where the hipster locals go, the cute little vintage clothes shops, the adorable antiques with the dusted off G Plan and Eames in the window, google ‘vegetarian ____________ (your destination).’ Trust me.

When in doubt, laugh — A sense of humor is one of the most subjective and various qualities a human being on this earth can possess. It goes without saying that the British sense of humor is… well, different from the American. If you think that’s true of TV, try competing with fine cockney (or Northern or Welsh) wit in a pub conversation. For that matter, try rolling with the Irish wit, which I find to be even dryer, more deadpan, and arguably closer to teetering on the wrong side of offensive. Wherever you go, the sense of humor will be very different. Accept that. Go with it. Grow some thick skin. Laugh sometimes when it sounds too ridiculous to be true. It probably isn’t. Your colleague is just looking a tad serious to try and catch you out and see if you’ll fall for it. They’re just taking the mickey, ya know. That means having a bit of fun with you, by the by. Real pub dialogists will just tell you they’re ‘taking the piss’, which is to say the same thing, but hearing that particular gem for the first time left me somewhat open-mouthed.

Be a Yes Man — Practically cliche, I know, ever since Danny Wallace’s book, but still a truism that’s worth remembering: say yes to everything, especially when you have doubts. Those are probably the anxieties you need to get over to make the most of life abroad and learn what you were missing all your life in your place of origin. And sometimes, you get the most from that which you expected absolutely nothing from, like Belgium, which sounded like the most boring place in the world to holiday in until we got there and hit three cities in three days thanks to an efficient public transport system, a small amount of ground to cover and some aesthetically grandiose places, gladdening our hearts to that small Eurocentric nation ever since. You want to come out to the pub after spending the last 48 hours partying in Belfast? Not really. Tough. Go. My wife and I got together in just such a circumstance, very much by just such a chance. Say yes.

I could go on, but you’ve got enough to be getting on with what with researching flight prices and purchasing your Eurail passes. I hope some of these do help to save time and make the experience pleasant for you or even prove useful to file away in that mental palace in the back of your head. Enjoy and embrace the adventure!

And remember, for more tips on the life expatriate, check out HIFX’s fantastic tips page.

What You Need To Know About London Before Packing Your Belongings!

The Glitz and The Glamour Oh My. Image taken from gatewaylondon.co.uk

The Glitz and The Glamour Oh My. Image taken from gatewaylondon.co.uk

Quite excited today for The American Londoner’s first guest post (I know. Hitting the big time!). This one comes from Chris Jerome at Refresh Accommodation, a superlative short term let service based here in London. Short term lets are just the sort of thing you will find handy if you are at all interested in leading a wilfully nomadic lifestyle or staying for longer than a vacation in order to get a real taste for somewhere. Enjoy! 

Having lived in London for the past eight years, I have come to understand the many pleasures and pitfalls of this truly amazing city. There are things which will surprise you, some which you learn to love, and others you never really come to understand at all.

Whether it’s the indecipherable vocabulary of East End cockney taxi drivers, hidden gems of pubs and cafes or extortionate prices of hotels and B&Bs, London really is a place you need to pack and prepare for.

Transport

The Routemaster, iconic London. Taken from guardian.co.uk.

The Routemaster, iconic London. Taken from guardian.co.uk.

What better place to start than with the peculiarities of London transport? Getting around London is relatively easy, with a wealth of black cabs and colourful cockney drivers. Whether you are looking for a tailor in Brick Lane or a curry house in Mayfair, they will find it, using their encyclopaedic ‘knowledge’ of the streets.

Some will ask probing questions like “Is that on the corner of Liverpool Street or the one next to Greenwich park mate?”, to which the answer is usually “I’m not entirely sure”; others will merely nod and begin on their way. To really enjoy this rich experience, make sure you pack your wit, as the ride will often provide an opportunity for banter.

The London Underground provides an amazing and extensive network of locations and stops, complete with a rainbow coloured map and ‘soft’ seating. The ‘Oyster’ card system allows you to get around without having to carry one of those questionable orange tickets, while being significantly cheaper for multiple trips. However, it can be a good idea to carry a map; I would often fall asleep and miss my stop, ending up somewhere like Barking; quite maddening.

However, unlike the cab drivers, I find it amazing that you can sit on a crowded tube and not engage in any form of conversation whatsoever; while Londoners are known for being socialites, they are uncannily shy in the company of fellow travellers, so make sure you pack a book to read; a venture across the Central Line from West Ruislip to Epping can take a while.

The Great Outdoors

Picnic London

Image from fluidlondon.co.uk.

While England is hardly admired for its sunshine, the months of spring, summer and autumn show the countryside in all its glory. London is blessed with a wonderful selection of parks and gardens, which I feel are best enjoyed in the autumn, when the tree leaves start to brown and fall to the floor. Take a leisurely walk around Hyde Park or Richmond Park, just be sure to pack your thermals, the winter soon starts to bite.

Accommodation

London at night

Stay in the middle of it all. Photo from trekearth.com.

If you are going to London for a short break, beware of hotel prices, which can be really expensive. Double guestrooms in areas like Paddington or Notting Hill can cost up to £250 a night, with the contents of the mini-bar usually costing the same. However, if you want to feel more at home, serviced accommodation can be a much more cost-effective alternative, with providers like Refresh Accommodation giving you access to an entire apartment, allowing you to stock up and drink from your own fridge!

 Where to Imbibe

The French House

Still one of my favo(u)rite watering holes in the capital. Samuel Beckett drank here. From sohopubs.com.

On the subject of drinking, London is by far one of the best drinking locations in the world. With so many cosy pubs and trendy cocktail bars, you will never go thirsty; just be prepared to spend £4 on a pint of lager and drink ales at room temperature. For the classier customer, ‘gastro’ pubs provide a wealth of fancy food and wines at somewhat inflated prices.

Above all, my advice is this: pack your common sense – enjoying your time in the capital shouldn’t mean paying through the roof; there are plenty of opportunities to find a bargain, you just have to look hard enough!

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