London Under a Madison Microscope

Since this is my first time flying across the pond, I received a lot of advice as to what to think about London when I arrived. Well, I have been living in the London fog for about two weeks now, and I think I am on my way to becoming a true Londoner. However, I can not help but make mental notes about the advice that I received that was immediately disproved or absolutely spot-on, as well as the more subtle things that people back home weren’t able to tell me. Here’s my top 10 observations thus far:

  1. London’s food game is “on point” and not bland in the slightest. From Borough Market to Camden Market to Exmouth Market, this place offers some of the best and most diverse food that I have ever eaten — thank you BBQ Mutton. The fish and chips craze is true and they are everywhere, but for good reason because they do it well.

  1. Big Ben is just as majestic as they say. When it comes to historical London, Westminster does not disappoint. The remarkable engineering of the timeless edifices of Westminster Abbey, the Palace of  Westminster where Parliament sits and Buckingham Palace will take your breath away and fill your heart with glee. Up close and personal, a lot of the buildings are ornate beyond explanation, plated with gold casts and you will stand there in awe at how masons could make such a thing literally 1,000 years ago.

  1. London’s art scene is vast, dynamic and flourishing. I knew that fashion was big in London, however, I had not been told about the number of free art galleries, sculptures and street art that there is here. It is also funny to see that there are certain areas where tons of modern furniture design companies and architects are clustered together. Perhaps the most interesting art form that I have been exposed to has been the street art which is popular where I live (Camden Town) and in Brick Lane, which are two of the more “hipster” areas of London. I actually went on a street art tour with an actual graffiti artist and learned about the history, technique and message behind various street art pieces. Very chill indeed.
  1. The Tube is life! Seriously, London is so expansive and big that it could not function without the mass subway transit system 10 stories deep into the earth. There are so many lines that cross over and connect that you can get pretty much anywhere in the city in 30 minutes or less. And London seriously needs this because traffic on the roads does not move. Also, in terms of getting around, I’ve needed to rely on Google Maps much more than I thought I would, due to the fact that there are no straight roads anywhere. My sense of direction has never been so disoriented, but, thankfully, whenever I wander off, there always seems to be a Tube stop that shows up where I can regroup. The Tube saves lives.

  1. London Fog is actually London smog. Yes, it’s actually pretty noticeable when you get a good view from Primrose Hill near Regent’s park. There is a ton of pollution that hovers over the city throughout the days and nights. This compounds with my other observation that London is the least windy city that I’ve ever been to which is nice for the warmth, but, again, bad for the air quality. Smoking cigarettes also doesn’t help the problem, which is definitely a confirmed observation and frequent habit for a lot of locals. Having said all of this, I would not say that this is a huge hinderance to my experience, rather just an observation that I noted.

  1. Londoners enjoy a good queue. Apparently, lines are not lines in London; they are queues, which is way more fun to say. The English language spoken in a British accent is music to the American ear. Whether buying new trainers, going to the lavatory or choosing my modules, it all sounds fantastic. I find myself getting excited when my teacher tells about the “best bits” of the class or even when she mentions the “heaps” of reading that’s required. Good news or bad news, the delivery sounds impeccable.
  1. Gyms and working out in a distinct exercise venue are not as popular as in the states for good reason: Londoners walk everywhere! The tube only takes you so far, and when you get to your stop, odds are you need to walk what feels like another mile or so. So far, I’ve been enjoying the workout thanks to my long legs, however, on certain walking tours that I’ve been on, myself and other Americans tend to lag behind the British tour guide walking at light speed between stops. Clearly, we need to step our game up.
  1. Why is everything so expensive? Even though the US Dollar is strong, I still find myself crying when I look at the conversions on my credit card statement. This is partially due to the fact that when you see a sandwich for 5 pounds, you think: “oh, 5 bucks, not bad.” Well that 5 pound is equal to $6.25 USD, and 10 pound is 12.50 USD and 40 pound is 50 USD, and you see where I’m going: it adds up big time. Also, London is a huge city known for a ridiculously high cost of living, like the highest in the world. Remember how great the Tube is? Well it costs money to maintain and even locals pay a minimum of 140 Pounds ($165 USD) a month to use it like me. So, needless to say, that I’m a wee bit over-budget, but not to worry because London has tons of free things to do like tours, parks and festivals. But I for sure need to eat-out and shop a little less — but still a lot because the food is amazing and worth it.
  1. People are way friendlier than I was told! I don’t know why, but I was told by certain friends and family to expect cold and dry interactions with English people, which could not be more wrong! Anyone who I have asked for directions, chatted with at a pub or encountered at school has been extremely polite and friendly. Londoners in my experience are less likely to initiate a conversation, but once a conversation has started, they are more engaged than some of my experiences in the midwest. The only exception is in the Tube, which for whatever reason is dead quiet. It is like an unspoken rule that no one should make noise when riding the train, which is weird. But other than that, Brits love to chat!
  1. London has something for everyone. Having only been here for two weeks, I am sure that my relationship with London will grow and evolve. Still, I believe that it is already fair to say that London is the most diverse and balanced city that I have ever been to. Geographically, its neighborhoods reflect the diverse types of people that inhabit the financial district of Canary Wharf, the trendy Urban areas of Shoreditch and Brick Lane, the edgy grunge scene in Camden or the proper victorian neighborhoods of South Kensington. Each area has its own distinct character, but I believe that they balance each other perfectly to make London a fantastic city to explore.

I can’t wait to continue to learn, explore and grow in such a beautiful city.

Until next time…