When I think city, I think fast pace and busy. It is busy, some places are always packed and there are always cars or people on the street. However, when people aren’t rushing around, there are moments of slowness, a pseudo peace. It translates to slowing down through a park or taking time to relax and talk when getting take-away. Oh, and if you are ever in a hurry, don’t go to a sit-down restaurant. Before my program started my mother and I decided to get lunch before our Harry Potter Walking Tour (there are many, they are free, and you should try one). The place we went to wasn’t far and we had an hour. We ended up being ten minutes late and that was after rushing our meal and check out. There is a difference between asking for the check and being close to ready to pay.
Not all places are that bad, but I would pick carefully if you’ve never been and are on a time limit. Another night we went to a pub before Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. We got in and out is half an hour to forty minutes. It was because they were across from the theatre and were used to getting such clientele. (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is amazing and if you like Harry Potter you should watch it a hundred times. Though I’m a little obsessive and it’s the first real play I had ever seen.)
Given how active the city is, especially at night, with bars, clubs, restaurants, and concerts, a lot of places are closed. Most stores close their doors around five or six. Even the ones that are open later don’t go past eight. In certain areas you’ll find some stores open till ten, but it will be one in a long row. While most restaurants are open till midnight (unless it’s quick serve) with pubs, bars, and clubs open far later. This might be a city thing, but I would think you could go to the market or a clothing store after six or eight.
Another thing, there are so many smokers. If you walk down the street for less than a minute you will pass someone who is smoking a cigarette of vaping. I knew that more Europeans smoked, but I didn’t imagine it would be so much. Even just watching the sidewalk, you’ll see hundreds of cigarette butts within ten minutes; especially in parks. Drinking at lunch and a lot in the evenings are another part of the culture I knew about in theory but didn’t see the reality of it. It’s nothing bad, but if you walk by a pub at night you will see a group of people behind a gate, overflowing to the sidewalk, drinking and having fun.
I was out last night and while walking by one of these set-ups I caught a Unicorn Head balloon. It must have been important to the people it belonged to because they started freaking out and yelling when it started floating away. I was heading back from dinner with a friend and just reached up and snatched the thing. The group was ecstatic, with lots of thanks and loud amazement. I got two high fives and a hug from someone who wasn’t behind the gate. The guy came up to me with an almost full bear in his hand, gave me a hug, and preceded to say, “that was awesome. You’re amazing. You’re an angel sent from heaven.” All because I randomly caught a unicorn balloon. The craziest thing is that they clearly weren’t drunk, tipsy, but not drunk. It was the highlight of my friend and my night.
I didn’t know about the lack of available restrooms in London either. There are a few at more bigger parks or some train stations, though you must pay for them. Besides that, most shops don’t have a bathroom and a lot of restaurants require you to buy something before you get a code to go. I still haven’t gotten used to it, so long story short, go to the bathroom before you leave a place that has one. Running around trying to find one is no fun at all. Also, ice and free water is rare in Europe so savour it.
The amount of free activities and places to go was a surprise as well. If you want to be a tourist or do something weird and fun, there are plenty of free walking tours. Through my FSU London program I will be taking a Jack the Ripper tour in November (I think). There is also a ghost tour that I might take eventually. For those you just tip the guide what you would like at the end. Then there are the parks that work if you want to rest, study, or spend time out somewhere. There is a little park about three minutes from my Study Centre and Green Park is a twenty-seven-minute walk. Anything under thirty-five minutes you walk. Then there are the museums and galleries. The British Museum is a minute or two away, the National Gallery is half an hour, and there are many closer by. They are all free with donation boxes around for support. That doesn’t consider any events going on. Like the Soho Jazz Jam last night. I spent about an hour listening to live jazz music. It was incredibly fun and unique.
For now, these are the things I didn’t know about London. If I realize more things I will add a part two later.