Getting around, London
i hope you don't feel quite overwhelmed on your first day of arrival in London. you'll get used to walking around so quickly even if you're not interested in walking (talking about myself by the way,lol).
of course you need to know your way around for meals, contact numbers for accommodation agencies or offices, pharmacies and so on. Almost in every area you step in, you'll find two popular grocery giant-brand stores, ie, Sainsbury's and Tesco. They offer ready meals, microwave stuff and all at student prices, especially if they are the products with the label 'basics' or 'reduced' for approaching their expiry date. Trust me, it took me one year to grasp all this budget-lifestyle thing,lol. i used to eat outside everyday for both lunch and dinner. Junk-food brands can still offer you reasonable meals.
browse website like www.gumtree.com if you're looking to share accommodation, though i went up to a student accommodation office Britannia off Oxford Street. You can try www.kfproperties.co.uk if you're looking for more luxurious accommodation.
obviously, you may need linen and sheets and plates and utensils. you can ask students-to-leave-soon to get their second-hand stuff at a very cheap price of course, 10 quid for the whole package;) well, my japanese friend told me so though i had my own way of getting these things, the saudi way of course. i recommend Argos store for bed sheets and pillows and it's reasonable. You can get plastic plates and spoons from those grocery stores temporarily. For cosmetics and skin-care products, you can go to Boots and SuperDrug which are everywhere.
You should get yourself a UK phone handset. By that i mean, the best phoning plan is the contract-based. you get the cheapest rate on all the domestic calls against a fixed rate you pay monthly over a 12-month contract or 18. All of the UK phone companies offer you this and it's far more affordable and money-saving than pay-and-go credit-based plans. the plus you get a free handset too.
Fondest memory: I had my japanese and chinese friends teach me all about food, saving and cooking. they started making their own meals from the second day of their arrival and i was like eating kebab and pasta everyday out,lol. that was something to learn, getting independent when it comes to food-making,lol.
oh wait, when i started to make my first meals, it would still remain somehow ready-made...like just mixing cans and pouring ready-made pasta on the plate. God bless the microwave,lol
London's favourite streets
you may feel overwhelmed first time in london as a student, with not so much in the pocket. to save you time:
- take the tube to central london or whatever you'd like to go. make sure to get an oyster card instead of paper travel card, as your travel ticket within London. it's much cheaper and handy, though i don't agree much with it, with all the routes monitored,lol. if you have a company and lots of luggage, better to take a taxi, as it will cost you up £80 as max, against £14 ticket of the Express train per person.
- if you need to go to only to central london and don't intend to travel on your first day, just ask the tube officer for a) one-single way from zone 6 to zone 1, b) one-day travel card for zone 1 only.
Fondest memory: i remember once the TfL officer tried to get me buy one-day travel card for zone 1-6 which would have costed me a fortune for not using it. not my fondest;) so be warned!
Before you arrive, you should ensure that you have done your assignment of getting around.
Please do the following:
- if you're not an EU national, have your visa ready for inspection at customs. Check (on your visa) if you need to register with the police in London, which you should do within one week of your arrival.
- Have a route map of London. You'll be walking A LOT. it's very handy to tell your way around.
- make your own search for accommodation beforehand. You have three options: Either look for a student accommodation office which is expensive if you're a budget student; arrange with a friend to stay with them temporarily; or stay at a budget hotel. there's a wide variety of budget hotel in king's cross, victoria and paddington and they're all within easy access to central london.
- check the address you want to arrive at on TfL, that will save you time asking people around even though it's handy to ask
- good to have some cash with you for transportation, one-week supply of food and pocket money. make sure your credit card can be used internationally. i've met few students who had no clue that their cards didn't work at international stores! better to have either MasterCard or Visa, or check with your bank. you may use traveller's cheque though i don't recommend it, as you need to look for an exchange bureau to use them.
- check your passport to be valid for 3 months at least. some embassies require 6 months.
i know this should come from common knowledge, but i'm stunned when i find out that many students are travel virgin. that's ok...why VT is here;^)
Fondest memory: when my friend picked me up from the airport and my two big 'arab' suitcases was my fondest memory of arrival. we hugged tightly! then he dropped me off at another friend's house that evening.
This is a special way to travel around London, its so easy to hop on and off them as they go around corners etc. Not always the best for health and safety probably, as you have to be quite daring at times, but it is more convenient.
Update (Nov 2005)
The Routemasters are being phased out now.. a few will still do historical tours, but the every day commuters will now have modern double decker buses and bendy buses to use only now. Such a pity, but it all comes down to economics :(
Update (December 2006)
If you are keen to ride in a routemaster, you still can! Everey night I see the no. 9 going from Picadilly Circus to the Royal Albery Hall... and it's a route master! It also goes to Trafalgar Square.
It could have been a scene from urban Africa, suburban America or any number of places. Instead, it was simply in the back blocks of London.
Fondest memory: I reflected that on my first visit to London that I couldn't help but notice from my base at Maida Vale that it seemed as though the Indians and Pakistanis were running the railways. The tube would certainly grind to a halt without them.
This time I sort of saw an irony in black people being booked by another black person for a parking infringement. When you consider that this scenario would have been virtually unthinkable 50 years ago I thought it was a reflection on how things had changed globally.
The best way to get to know the city and see all of the popular sites is the sightseeing bus! This is the perfect thing to do on your first day visiting. Prices are from 16 pounds and the ticket is good for 24 hours! You can hop on/ off anytime you want.
I would highly recommend seeing London, or at least central London, simply by walking around. Your get the real experience of the city, and you save a lot of money too.
I bought a map months before I left and marked all the locations I wanted to hit while I was there and despite the short time I was in London, I left feeling satisfied with all that I managed to see. Although this meant that the trip was extremely well organized, since we were on foot we still had much spontaneity, allowing us to stop and visit whatever we discovered along the way.
Hyde Park, Abbey Road, and Piccadilly Circus, were among my favourites, as were Soho, Notting Hill (where we stayed), and the path along the Thames River.
Fondest memory: One of my fondest memories has got to be seeing "Guys and Dolls" with Ewan McGregor at the Piccadilly Theatre, and crossing Abbey Road in my bare feet (like Paul of course).
(I guess there's no use mentioning that I'm a music fan!)
The Giant Peenarse (spelling changed for firewall reasons) or those who are a little less vulgar would call it the giant Gherkin has saved many a traveller lost in London. Don't think any less of me for calling that... honestly hand on my heart you can ask any person in london where this is and they'll know exactly what you're talking about!
Like a Lighthouse saving sailors on stormy nights this piece of architecture shows up like a beacon on the london skyline. Basically if you're ever lost head in the direction of this and it will take you to the City of London near Liverpool St station. On the way you may even find other landmarks that will guide you closer to your destination but if comepletely lost just remember...
"Look for the Giant Dong in the skyline"
Favorite thing: Buy a tube pass. Almost all the major sites are within walking distance of a tube stop. London is so easy to get around in I couldnt believe it. Buying a tube pass will keep you from having to pay cab fare which adds up so quickly.
If you need to leave bags, luggage etc in London whilst sight seeing then I find that the short trek down to the Victoria Coach Station from the train station is worth a saving of approximately £4 on a small backpack left for over 2hrs.
For more information:
The underground has a long and interesting history, with some parts of it being over a century old! A nice thing to do if you have time is to get a one day travel card and go and explore!
On some platforms there is some lovely artwork to be seen, namely Gloucester Road and Charing Cross. You can also look into yesteryear by trying to locate the original station for the British Museum, which is found in the tube tunnel between Holborn and Tottenham Court Road (Central line). You could also try and see if you can see the old Lords Station, near St Johns Wood (Metropolitan line)
I haven?t seen them yet, I guess being a commuter doesn?t allow me the pleasures of much free time on the tube. But I will do this one day for sure!
Favorite thing: Buying the London A-Z map guide was one of the best investments I made. It saved me so many times when I took a wrong turn. There is no need to buy them ahead of time, they're available in every souvenir and convience shop in London at a fair price. I think the spiral bound editions are best, but I got around well enough with my paperback edition. This book also includes a London rail map, a cinema and theatre map, and a Tube map.
The Millenium Wheel
Fondest memory: The views across River Thames...
How the new blends in with the old.. both holding their own, and attracting their own following.. eg St Pauls Cathedral, and Swiss Reinsurance 'gherkin' tower !
The tranquillity delivered by the gorgeous & ample River Thames.
The layout of Heathrow airport is huge. If you're used to US airports like LAX, McCarran and SFO like I am, then Heathrow will give you a workout. The most important thing I can say is to get a free luggage cart the first time you see one and put all your luggage on it, trust me, even if you have luggage with wheels, you will want the cart!
This goes for arrivals and departures as the walk can be long both ways.
Why do I care? When we flew to Heathrow last week from LAX, it was less than 500 feet from the LAX ticket counter to the security checkpoint, and then less than 300 feet to the gate from security. I'd say that from deplaning at Heathrow to getting to the Heathrow Express, it was a good 1/2 mile...
Don't wear yourself out just getting out of the airport, the carts are free and are there for a reason! Just be carefull on some of the floor areas as they can be slippery and slanted - it can make navigating the cart a bit tricky.