Happy New Year! My first post in 2017 is a tribute to my favourite city and my adopted home, London. Since moving away three years ago, I reminisce about my life back then fairly often. Here are the top things that I miss about London.
- The beauty of the city, mixing the old and the modern. I used to live near Canary Wharf. Whenever I had to go to the airport, the taxi took me along the River Thames from East to West and I got to see the beauty of London, from Tower Bridge to the Shard, then going through the City past St Paul’s Cathedral before hitting London Eye and the Big Ben. We then drive past Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus and on towards South Kensington where the museums are. I can’t think of another city with such well-preserved historical monuments, quirky small streets and great character.
- If you’re into culture, London is the place to be. Entry to most museums and art galleries are free. There is something for everyone, from plays and musicals to concerts and comedy acts. I took the opportunity to watch at least a couple of musicals a year, the occasional classical or pop concert and stand-up comedy. We also discovered something else that was not only free but thoroughly enjoyable – when we could spare the time, we would sign up and join a queue to be the audience for comedy TV shows such as QI and Have I Got News For You.
- London has vast amount of greenery, with large parks located across the city. We have Hyde Park in the centre, Greenwich and Blackheath to the East, Hampstead to the North, Wimbledon and Richmond to the West and Clapham and Battersea to the South. These parks are well maintained and are great for enjoying the sunshine, people watching and just chilling out.
- London is one of the most diverse and tolerant cities. When walking through the city, other than English, you will most likely hear other European languages like Italian and French, Asian languages like Chinese, Hindi and Japanese, and of course, American and Australian English. While this is due to London’s popularity as a tourist destination, there are also many foreigners who are residents here. Hence, the city has grown accustomed to diversity and during my years there, I cannot recall a single incident where I was subject to racial discrimination.
- We all know that the English are not known for good food. However, due to London’s status as a major city, it has a vibrant and diverse restaurant scene. Even though it may not be as good as the origin country, I was able to have all sorts of cuisines. Here are a few of my top restaurants in London – Barrafina (the only restaurant I would queue over an hour for), Hawksmoor (yummy steak) and The Ledbury (pricey but the best fine dining I’ve had). P.S. I’m salivating as I write this.
- I miss the markets in London. There are quite a few – Covent Garden, Camden, Portobello, Greenwich and Borough Market are the ones that I’ve been to. If it’s food you’re after, I recommend Borough Market. For knick-knacks, Camden and Portebello are pretty good. It’s a nice, relaxing and inexpensive way to spend an afternoon in one of these markets.
- I can’t say that London is the fashion capital of the world but I really enjoy shopping in London. It is very convenient to shop in London – you can choose between Oxford/Regent Street/Covent Garden or the shopping centres like Westfield, Bluewater. If you’re into high end shopping, Knightsbridge and Bond Street are the places for you. In recent years, other than the European brands, you can also find American brands in London. The sales in the UK can be pretty meaningful, offering 50% or more discounts at certain times of the year. One thing I like is that the sales people in the UK do not hassle their customers and instead, leave us to be unless we ask for help.
- Even though it is less true of the younger generation and Londoners, the English are still some of the most polite people. Generally, people queue up, hold the door for you and say ‘thank you’ and ‘please’. When I was pregnant in Hong Kong, it was very rare for someone to offer me a seat on the MTR. I noticed the difference when I was back in London for a holiday. Even during rush hour on the Central Line, a few people offered their seats to me.
- Flying from London to other places in Europe was convenient and fairly affordable due to the frequent flights operated by budget airlines. For less than GPB100, it is possible to fly to most European cities. Since my student years, I’ve made full use of this opportunity and visited lots of places in Europe. Of the places I’ve visited, Southern Italy tops the list, with gorgeous views, great weather and fantastic food and wine.
- Last but not least, I miss the weather. Most people think of London as grey, rainy and cold, which is not far from the truth half the time. However, when it gets over 20 degrees Celsius and the sun is out, London is the best place ever. This could happen anytime between April and October. On days like these, we have picnics or al fresco lunches, read/sleep in the park or stand outside a pub with a drink in our hands. I’d also much rather have the winter in London rather than the hot and humid summer in Hong Kong where I’m stuck indoors in air conditioning day and night.
I can’t wait for my next trip back!