I know this sounds silly but...
I know this sounds silly but the London tour buses really are a good start. They take you to all the great landmarks, give you loads of commentary and are done in several languages. You can get on and off at your leisure and with your ticket comes lots of discounts to London attractions. The best part is it saves on shoe leather and pepermint foot lotion!! When I have visitors from abroad I like to do this part first and then introduce them to the nightlife. The River Thames. I love the River Thames, I have lunches on the boats in summer and whenever I have an evening out I always drive home along the Embankment because it is so beautiful. You can see the Houses of Parliament (Westminster Bridge), the Millenium Wheel (Waterloo Bridge). The whole river is lit up and the buildings look amazing. You can go on a river cruise from the Embankment or Waterloo bridge, have a nice meal and dance the night away to salsa music etc whilst cruising up and down the river. It is great on summer evenings. I think the River Thames is what I miss most when away from home. (Apart from Selfridges of course)!!
The Soho Area...A Study In Contrasts....
You'll either love or hate Soho. It's a busy area filled with a profusion of places to eat, and some of them are, I think, the best in London.
We found outstanding chocolates, equisite wines, the freshest breads, the best pasta, and, by far, the finest cups of coffee in all of London!
Daily, if we wanted, we could go to the market in Berwick Street where they sell fruits, vegetables, music, and various bits and pieces.
Although it feels larger, Soho is made up of two dozen streets, a number of narrow alleys and courts, and one small square. On Wardour Street, we saw businesses devoted to advertising, media, and especially the film industry.
The name Soho comes from an old hunting call. The French came to this area first; then the Italians and Greeks. After awhile, they were joined by the Germans, Russians, and Poles. This foreign mixture added to the wild, colorful atmosphere and Bohemian flavor
At one time Soho was called "Sex-Spot" of London because of the strip parlours, clip joints, and brothels. So, the once exotic Bohemian charm gave way to seedy exploitation.
In the 1970's, some of the remaining residents banded together to save Soho, calling themselves the "Soho Society" Unfortunately, there is still the "seedier side of Soho" as you can see from the photo. Even though there are places to avoid in Soho, I loved the hustle, the great places to drink coffee, the good places to eat, and the diversity.
Avoid school holidays if you can!
School holidays can be a mini nightmare at times in London. During holidays queues are longer etc. due to the volumes of kiddies out and about. Easter week is also slightly manic, as are bank holidays.
This past weekend we went to Kew Gardens (April 2006), and I was in a really long queue, there is generally no queue! But it's their busiest day of the year (Easter Sunday). I started at 60metres, that's what the line beneath my feet said. Took about 40 minutes to actually get into the park. I wont go again at times like these!
I’d just like to clear up some stuff about tipping in England. The recent practice of tip trays in bars aside, there is a traditional way of tipping bar staff in pubs, although it may seem a bit obscure! If you feel moved to tip your bar server you say to them (when finishing ordering your round) ‘and have one for yourself’. The barperson then charges you for one extra drink. They might drink it as they work but more likely theyd say ‘I’ll take it later, if that’s okay’ – meaning (depending on how they feel/ the pubs policy) they’ll either have a drink after work or take the money as a cash tip. Yes I know this must sound weird!
In restaurants, the bill should clearly state whether service is included. If it’s not, then at least 10% is expected, unless you were unhappy with the service. Be alert, because even if the service was included, they will still (if you pay by card) bring you the signing slip with a space for you to add a ‘gratuity’. There was a recent court case where waiters took their employers to court – the employers were keeping the tips paid by customers on their credit cards, rather than paying them to their staff. Believe it or not, the employers won the case. So if you want to be sure your tip goes to the waiter, pay in cash.
Don't Forget the Drugs!!
OK, all the travel websites are telling you what to pack for where you are going to be, but somehow they always leave out the WHAT IFS!!! We thought we would start our European dialogue with a reminder to all you 50 somethings traveling for the first time to Europe. DON'T FORGET THE DRUGS!!! Sue and I are in relatively good shape, but we are 50 something and need a few extra's to keep us going. Yes, we did pack everything you see even the expired in 2007 package in the back left. The moleskin is a must. I used this after our first day of hiking through Londontown.