So you want to visit London, like really visit London and you want to know what you’re supposed to do in London. You don’t want to rely on TripAdvisor and LonelyPlanet. Pfft. No no no.
You want to do it right and avoid the tourist bits. And you know someone – a proper Londoner – so you ask them, obviously.
And what do you get?
A blank stare and maybe the suggestion of: “Erm. Oxford Street?” with added commentary of “Personally I hate it but I s’pose it’s alright if you like that kind of thing…” Londoners (and by this I class people born and bred there, like me) are, in general, the most useless people at telling you what to do in London. I say in general, there are exceptions, but mostly no, we’re rubbish.
I, however, found new eyes to see London with in the head of a New Zealander.
Two years ago, when I started dating my adventurous Kiwi co-worker, he started asking me things like whether I’d been to this place or that place, places like the Tower of London, for example.
I immediately said yes, well, because I was a Londoner and it was the Tower of, you know, London. But then he would ask details.
Him: What was your favourite bit?
Me: Oh, erm, I don’t really remember. I was like 5 or something
Him: Really 5? That’s kind of creepy for a kid.
Me: Ok maybe not 5. Like 13. Or some other age that is reasonable enough to think about beheaded people but also remember little of it. Ok? Happy? Jeez. What’s with the questions…
The fact was: I hadn’t been. Or maybe I had but, if I had, it had so little impact on me it had erased itself from my brain and I didn’t want to admit that. Frankly, I was embarrassed. This wasn’t the first time it had happened; wasn’t the first time I looked blankly at my New Zealander asking me about something in my city that he had come to know so much better than me. It also happened when I discovered a different side to Krakow as a tourist.
Soon I got over my shame of being a bad Londoner and I decided instead to become a better one, actually visit things, and get to know and love London a little more. As we’d walk to work he’d point out bits of Roman wall, and tell me stories about the streets we’d walked along. Every weekend we were exploring our backyard – going to the oldest pub, looking for pirate bones in the Thames, climbing the monument, visiting museums and going on tours, finding ‘new’ parts of London to see, finding out that you can actually feed squirrels and they’ll come up and hold your hand like tiny fluffy people. All things that I had never even thought to do.
Send me to Paris for a weekend and I go devouring every museum and monument and macaroon until I’m physically exhausted but London? Meh. I had no idea you could go up Big Ben with special permission and though I’d always admired the Houses of Parliament from afar, did I ever go inside? Don’t be silly. Suddenly though, I felt like I was on holiday all the time, before we’d even started on our travels.
I didn’t need to book a trip abroad anywhere, I could just look around at things that I’d seen a 100 times before but never really looked at.
So while Londoners may laugh at tourists thinking they’re going to have tea with the queen, let me tell you something: a tourist is much more likely to see the queen than Londoners ever are. Why? Because they’re actually hanging out at Buckingham Palace or Windsor or all the other places where queens hang out while we’re down at the local pub moaning about the weather or the government or benefits.
So Londoners, you need to get out there. Our museums are free. Free! We too can go to the Tate Modern and stare at a grey canvas thinking ‘Seriously? What am I missing here’?
Our parks are beautiful, squirrels and ducks are really very amusing and our city is an actual historical marvel. If stuck, find yourself a helpful non-Londoner to show you the ropes. They don’t have to be a Kiwi. They don’t even have to be that attractive (though that’s definitely an added bonus). Aussies, Americans, Canadians, they work well too, plus anyone who’s living in London as part of some kind of life-affirming overseas experience. Though don’t go drinking with them. That can get messy.
Some of my favourite London expat bloggers are Sarah of The Wanderblogger, Emma of Adventures of a London Kiwi, Selena of Oh, the places we will go and Sammy from To the Days Like These will tell you some cool stuff to do in London. My secret weapon blogs about travels and foods over at Jono Rambles and I have, ironically, written a post about what to do in London too.
So, am I wrong about Londoners? And have you ever seen a city with “new eyes”?