Explore the United Kingdom with tact
“Welcome to England, mate!” were the first words I heard after the plane reached the terminal. A cool fog swept over the lush green hills surrounding the Gatwick Airport. Giddy, I grabbed my backpack and jumped off the plane. Once I got through the customs interrogation process, I somehow ended up at a small train station. A confused look crossed my face as I looked at a map trying to decipher which platform to choose. Five minutes later I found the Gatwick Express to Victoria Station in London. Platform 7. Success! I danced in a small victory jig in public.
GETTING AROUND LONDON:
London is a vast metropolis where the street names change every block, and they aren’t always labeled. Make sure you have a London A to Z map book, even Londoners have them. Also, get familiar with the tube. (It’s like the subway.) It’s the quick and efficient way to get around London cheaply. I suggest buying an oyster card from any of the kiosks inside a tube stop instead of day passes. It’s like a debit card and always charges you the lowest price. The bus system is a bit tricky, so avoid that if you can. NEVER, under any circumstance, take a mini-cab. The cabbies are conniving little thieves who take long routes to get you to your destination and charge you outlandish prices. The only cabs you should ever take are the black ones. You will know what I am talking about when you are there. They will go the shortest route and charge the lowest price.
THE HOT SPOTS:
The obvious stops are Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, the Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London (the castle in central London where the crown jewels are kept), the Tate Modern, The National Gallery and the Tower Bridge. I advise getting these out of the way first as you become more familiar with the city. The Tate Modern is an expansive modern art museum where the latest and best artists display their work. The National Gallery art museum is also a place I suggest you visit, but only when you are sure your jet lag has worn off. I made a mistake of visiting it the instant I arrived and consequentially almost fell asleep while viewing Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Madonna on the Rocks.” Some areas you should explore are Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus, High Street Kensington, Hyde Park, Leicester Square and Sloane Square.
There’s a rumor going around that British food is terrible. Well, it’s true. However, the ethnic restaurants are little pieces of heaven that trickle down from the sky. The Indian and Japanese restaurants are my favorite. Just thinking about the Indian food there makes me salivate. The best curry I have ever had was at an Indian restaurant off Earl’s Court.
Around London there are various Yo! Sushi establishments. Everyone sits at a big bar, and fresh sushi is placed on a conveyor belt and travels around the bar. If you see something you like, just take if off the conveyor belt and dig in. They’ll also make you whatever you want. The plates are all color-coded, indicating the price of the dish.
EAT is a tasty sandwich chain that is worth checking out. You will have to get used to bad service. The waiters get paid a nice hourly wage, and tipping is not normally fifteen percent like it is in the States. A pound or two is quite acceptable. Also, if you order water, specify tap water, or they will charge you for bottled water; and get accustomed to not having ice in your drinks.
For lunch on a nice day try getting some cheese, wine and bread from a convenient store, and have a picnic in Hyde Park.
London is one of the most expensive cities in the world. Anything you would pay for almost costs double what you would pay for in the states. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t purchase any clothes on a tight budget. I suggest shopping at the four-storied Top Shop on Regent’s Street off Oxford Circus. Zara, and any of the various H&Ms and the boutiques dotted about are also good places to check out. When you shop, remember this: if it doesn’t have a price tag, you can always get a lower price.
EXPLORING THE UNITED KINGDOM:
Once you’ve seen the expansive metropolis that is London, it is time to explore the rest of the UK. Bath is a small town about two hours east of London that you should take a train to. It is home to world famous Roman Baths, when the Roman Empire even expanded to England. Stonehenge is close to Bath. Oxford is about an hour and a half away from London and has thirty unique colleges that make the University of Oxford. The dining hall in Harry Potter was filmed at the Christ Church College there. Edinburgh, Scotlandm, is the most essential item that needs to be included on your itinerary. The central and highest point in Edinburgh is the castle. The Castle Rock Hostel is right at the base of the castle and is in the center of Edinburgh. It’s cheap, too. There’s a lot to do in Edinburgh, so I suggest staying there for about two days.
Don’t be a typical American tourist. They are loud and obnoxious and expect to be waited on hand and foot. I despise them with every part of body.
The British drink a lot. When you find yourself at a pub and at a loss of what to order because all of the drinks are unfamiliar, try a Staropramen, Stella Artois, Strongbow or a Snake Bite. They are quite delectable and will get the job done.
The plane ride home will be one of the most depressing times in your life. Don’t feel down. If you are leaving via Heathrow airport, know that there is a liquor store complete with a bar that will give you free samples of the liquor. Do not pass up this blessed opportunity. It will also help you sleep during the nine-hour flight.