Bittersweet London

Growing up in Northern England, I dreamed of London. But childhood dreams and reality are often different. When I was 19, I got a job near London and I HATED the place. Ten years later, I decided to give it another chance, but only for a long weekend.

Bittersweet London

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by milliebell on March 23, 2004

One thing that can be said for London is that it caters for any taste or budget. Whatever you like, you will find it here. You can buy anything here, at a price. I enjoyed Camden Market the most, despite the tourist hype in places. Camden lock sold some wonderful craft pieces, at low prices, the market had some cool clothing, and there was some good cheap food to be had. I also loved Hampstead high street -- there were lots of individual shops, and it is very pretty and genuinely does have a village like atmosphere, though its pricey. If you like art, you will love London, but found the galleries too crowded for my liking. I enjoyed the Imperial War Museum. If you like literature, the British Library has good exhibitions on books, printing, writing, sound recording etc. I did a walking tour of Jack the Rippers haunts -- creepy, though not terribly atmospheric. I left after the weekend having decided London is not so bad after all, and there is so much I still want to see, but I really would not like to live there.${QuickSuggestions} Get a bus map. Open topped sightseeing buses run all day, but they run a fairly restricted route. For the cost of a one day travel card, you can get orientated around any district in London, view all the sights you want to see etc. without the commentary.

Thankfully, there’s lots in London that’s free, including some huge museums and galleries that could take days to get around. London is not as expensive as it is thought to be, as there some cheap hostels, good food can be found if your willing to wander off the beaten track, and a travel card is a real bargain, especially at weekends.

The main problem with London I found was crowds. The buses and tubes, galleries, streets, stations, everywhere was constantly packed solid. If you have introvert tendencies, like me, ensure you know in advance what relieves you when you're stressed.${BestWay} A travel card is a good idea, especially at weekends. I mostly used buses. These run surprisingly well on London’s congested roads. There are lots of them, so ensure you pick up free bus maps. Bus number 8, 11, and 73 cover most of the tourist sights. I found it much easier than I expected to get around, find bus stops etc. The old route master buses are gradually being phased out, so get your chance to ride one while you have the chance. They are more comfortable than you would expect. London is also good for getting around on foot. In Bayswater, Mayfair, Chelsea, etc., there are some nice peaceful leafy squares. Bear in mind that distances can be a lot greater than you think though. The underground is the quickest form of transport, and easy to use. Driving is feasible, but in London you have to pay congestion charges to drive in the central zone Monday to Friday, and the streets are very busy. Personally I would say don't bother - there are hundreds of taxis around if your must get around by car, but you won't get anywhere quick.

St. Pancras International

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by milliebell on March 29, 2004

I loved almost everything about this hostel. You walk into a bright, clean, spacious reception and lounge area, with huge sofas and loads of tourist info. The reception staff that greeted me was very friendly and helpful. It was not yet 2pm, when rooms officially open, but they have left luggage facilities for £1. I went into the basement to find them, and found it very clean, bright, and welcoming. Mostly basements are dark and dingy places. It had a laundry, large self-catering kitchen, and luggage locker room. There are lifts to all floors.

My room on the sixth floor was huge, with just two pairs of bunk beds. The beds were solid pine bunks, and bedding was provided. There was a locker and plenty of storage space for each bed. Most rooms are en-suite. Mine wasn't, but I found no shortage of bathrooms. The bathrooms were like proper bathrooms, rather than a room of cubicles, with each one having a toilet, shower, washbasin and plenty of hooks and a generous dressing area. As it was February, it was a quiet time of year, and I only had one or two roommates each night. Dorms are single sex, but there are numerous two- to six-bedroom units for couples and families. Despite being on the very busy Euston Road, it was quiet.

A full breakfast is provided in the price, consisting of cereal, toast or croissants, orange juice, tea/coffee and a cooked breakfast OR cold meat and cheese. I was very impressed with the cooked breakfasts as they did vegetarian sausages as well as meat ones, something I have not come across before even in hotels. I had an evening meal there one night -- they cost around £3.75 for a main course, are cooked to order, and portions are generous. The station cafe where breakfast is served is light and pleasant, with plenty of tables by the window.

The location of the hostel is great -- only a few minutes walk from Kings Cross, St. Pancras, and Euston stations. Kings Cross underground is a bit nearer than Euston. There are several shops, restaurants and bars along Euston road, and in the side streets. Tip: the 24-hour food mart a few minutes along Euston Road is much cheaper than the vending machines at the hostel for soft drinks and snacks. Camden town, the university of London and its musuems, and various other attractions are in walking distance. The hostel reception sells day and weekend travel cards, and there is a bus stop outside. I found anywhere in London easy to reach from here. I enjoyed my stay here greatly, and look forward to going again. I really cannot understand why this hostel has only four stars and not five.

YHA London St. Pancras Youth Hostel
79-81 Euston Road
London, England
0870 770 6044

Ripping Yarns

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by milliebell on May 28, 2004

I met our guide, Richard, on a cold but dry Friday evening in February ‘04. A group of about 13 of us gradually assembled - this would be busier on summer evenings. Richard was very knowledgable about local history. We walked from Tower Hill to Aldgate, with Richard pointing out various places along the way, to Petticoat Lane, Brick Lane, and various points in the Whitechapel area. These included the places where the bodies were found, or as near as we could get given the modern layout, and areas that were important at the time. This included Dorset Street, once known as Dossette Street due to the number of cheap lodging houses there at the time of the Ripper, a now derelict building that was once a major soup kitchen in the area, Hanbury Street, where Victim Annie Chapman was last seen alive, and others. We were told stories of the victims and their lives, and the social history of the area. The area was very poor in the Victorian times, and was rife with prostitution, cheap lodging houses, and alcoholism. All of the Rippers victims were involved in prostitution, making them easy targets. They were mainly homeless, attempting to make enough through prostitution for a bed in a lodging house and a supply of beer or gin. They were people who would not be missed. Although the character of the area has changed somewhat - this is very interesting in itself - the old buildings and street layout make it possible to build up a picture of the area then. The area is now a major Asian neighbourhood. The large number of curry restaurants left a wonderful smell in the air, and the prices are reasonable, plus brightly coloured sari shops, Asian supermarkets, etc. intermingled with numerous pubs, cars driving around blasting out loud music and market traders. Most of the old streets and buildings still remain, so the walk can show where things went on. However, it is, as then, a run-down area, the buildings look down at heel, there is extensive graffiti and vandalism, and its generally a part where tourists don't visit. Even if you are not interested in the Ripper, it’s still worth coming to explore a different side of London to the ones that tourists head for. At the end we were invited to solve the mystery. The Ripper was never identified and so the murders remain unsolved to this day. Richard's theory is that it was a freemason protecting the royal name. Everyone was given a sheet detailing the sites, victims and the main theories. The walk ended almost 2½ hours later at Aldgate tube station. I recommend this for the perspective it gives on London and for the introduction to a major piece of its history. It was worth the money.
Ripping Yarns
3 Maytrees
St Ives, England, PE17 4WS
+44 20 7488 2414

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