Help me learn to love London

Old Jan 27th, 2007, 05:00 AM
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Help me learn to love London

So I'm an admitted francophile -studied French in college, spent a year at a university in France 30 years ago and have visited Paris several times in the last few years. But I've always had almost zero interest in London. I was there for a few days when I as studying in France and visited friends in Oxford. No desire to return since. I think it has something to do with growing up in countries with strong colonial ties to Britain, all that English history they forced us to study, I don't know. When I think of paris I think fascinating, exciting, charming; when I think of London I think boring...

But I just booked our flights to Paris for a 2 month stay in Europe in April and May, and since British airways had a good rate from Toronto which offered a layover in London, we decided to spend a few days there.
So now I have to start planning. Two months in Europe has been a dream for quite a while, but now that it's becoming a reality I'm starting to stress over planning activities for such a long period. And starting off with figuring out a city I have so little interest in is daunting.

So I'm turning to Fodors for suggestions that will pique my interest, create some enthusiasm. It will be me and my DH, both in our early 50's and our daughter may come over from Paris to join us. We love arts and crafts, particularly modern art and sculpture, also music and theatre and just wandering around and soaking up the culture of a place. We like nice restaurants but we're not obsessive foodies, and DD is vegetarian. Not terribly interested in historical monuments per se, but DH likes interesting architecture.
I haven't even booked a hotel yet, so I'd love to hear your suggestions for an interesting area to stay in where we can walk a lot, and unusual, fun things to do and see. Yes, I know I need to read the guide books, but just looking for some hints from knowledgeable London lovers.
Thanks for any help you can offer.
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Old Jan 27th, 2007, 05:28 AM
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I understand your feelings. The first time I went to London I was underwhelmed, Paris I loved immediately. But my first trip I was only in London a very brief time, and it was my first stop ever in Europe. I went back a few years later and LOVED it. I've been back several times since (Paris too though) and love them both. I can't really put into words why I feel as I do but I do urge you to just go, and go with an open mind. My guess is you will fall in love with it too. My daughter had the same initial reaction I did, and she also ended up loving it. She spent one year living in Paris during college, and when she decided to do a second study abroad I urged her to go back to Paris so she could really "know" the city, but she choose London for the second experience and it was really wonderful. Only one year out of college now and she can't wait to go back, she's looking at grad schools in England. So really, give it a try. And my daughter is also vegetarian, no problem in London.

One suggestion to get yourself "psyched" is to look at photos. That's how I get myself interested in a place. If you want to see mine they are at www.pbase.com/annforcier. There's a London gallery, but also one marked "England" which has some areas you can day trip to from London (like Oxford, Cambridge, Warwick, Canterbury, etc).
isabel is online now  
Old Jan 27th, 2007, 05:45 AM
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I think, given your interests, it should not be hard to get VERY excited. There is excellent modern art in London, including, of course, the Tate. I'm sure there's an area with lots of independent galleries as well. London also has some of the best vegetarian food anywhere. Go on the Happy Cow Website and read about some of the restaurants there. I loved a place called Cranks. Wonder if it's still around? And of course the Asian cuisine in London is outstanding. Consider a couple of days outside London, maybe the Cotswolds. Charming villages that should appeal to you for sure.
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Old Jan 27th, 2007, 06:51 AM
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Cranks went under some time ago, I'm afraid.

I'd have thought Bloomsbury would be a good area to stay - within easy reach of anywhere and the British Museum on your doorstep (take your husband to see the new roof on the Great Court). Come to think of it, London is awash with new buildings, though not many are that interesting.

Tate Modern and the Millennium Bridge touch both bases - modern art and architecture.

Try also

www.whitecube.com/
www.whitechapel.org/

and the surrounding area of East London for a completely different atmosphere from the "Kings and Queens" history that you suffered from (try Spitalfields markets and the upper end of Brick Lane on a Sunday).
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Old Jan 27th, 2007, 07:06 AM
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You need to pique your own interest. Nobody can do that for you. Fodor's inputs can only increase the fire of enthusiasm you lay for yourself.
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Old Jan 27th, 2007, 07:24 AM
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I like London a lot, but I can understand how some people don't. I think it is a vastly underrated city.

I've really enjoyed the classical music lunchtime concerts at St. Martin in the Fields in Trafalgar. I've been wanting to see a concert at Wigimore or Royal Albert but never have yet.

As for art, I think the Courtauld (and the other galleries in Somerset House) should be a must, and I've never understood why they are never crowded. I'd also see what is on at the National Gallery or the Royal Academy of Arts .. there is always something good. I think the Tate Britain is also vastly under-rated.

London theatre is amazing. There are so many choices, so I am sure you will find something on offer.
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Old Jan 27th, 2007, 07:47 AM
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I can't see how anyone can find British history anything but fascinating. I love it..all the intrigue, back biting, manipulating, marriages, divorces, heads rolling...amazing. And, I just like the city, the energy. I love Paris too, was there in November last year. Haven't been to London in about four years and will NOT go back to Europe again without a London stay.
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Old Jan 27th, 2007, 07:58 AM
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London's not that good for big-scale modern art. Nowhere on earth matches us for fully fledged historical museums, and practically nowhere for galleries of pre-19th century art. But you've not mentioned them, and the collection at Tate Modern (really the only major art gallery devoted to the past 150 years) is little more than so-so, though the building's jolly interesting. And I'm with Patrick on our modern buildings.

What we're gobsmackingly good at is music and theatre, and we're pretty good at lots and lots and lots of small modern galleries. You need to get a hard copy of Time Out: in fsct several hard copies (the web site's nowhere near as lip smacking) and just plough your way through the preposterous oversupply of these things.

We're good and bad at arts and crafts. The Victoria and Albert Museum is probably THE best craft museum anywhere inthe known universe. The craft markets at Covent Garden and Camden Lock include some of the most meretricious, pot-boiling, crap anywhere. But in all the schlock, there are a fair few gems. You need to devote time to finding them, though.

No restaurant in London can survive without offering a wide selection of vegetarian food at least as good as its meat offeringa. That, of course, doesn't mean they're any good: but we probably have a broader range of ehtnicities than anywhere else. The best source of advice on that though is absolutely not this board (why should you assign any weight at all to someone you know nothing about telling you they had a great meal at Chez Michel?) but a proper guide. Again, the Time Out Guide to London Eating and Drinking stands supreme, in my view (why should you assign any weight at all to my guide recommendations? Good question: but I don't eat without it)

Does all this help you love London? No, and why should you? Some of us spent years living here and hated it.

All we can do is help you have a good time.
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Old Jan 27th, 2007, 08:17 AM
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You might like Sir John's Soane's Museum in Lincoln's Inn Fields - not modern, but it fits the bill re unusual and architecture-related. There's a website at www.soane.org .
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Old Jan 27th, 2007, 09:21 AM
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Thanks so much, everyone, for all your comments and suggestions. I'm taking notes and will print out this thread to take with me as a guide.
Great photographs, Isabel, thanks for sharing those.
I will definitely pick up the Time Out guide as you suggested, flanner.
Thanks for the links to the galleries and the whitechapel gallery tour, Patrick. BTW, do you have any recommendations for reasonable (under $200) hotels or B&Bs in Bloomsbury (have to find out where that is) or elsewhere?

This has really been helpful. I actually think I may be starting to feel excited about this part of our trip.
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Old Jan 27th, 2007, 09:33 AM
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www.londontown.com and www.priceline.com are excellent sources for lodging and events.
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Old Jan 27th, 2007, 12:40 PM
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Also look into walking tours of London. This company has a wide variety of options: www.walks.com.

And, especially since you're going to be there in spring, think about getting out into the beautiful countryside. Maybe pick a nice day and go to Cambridge.
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Old Jan 27th, 2007, 01:37 PM
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Hi Baladeuse,

What sort of music do you like? Pretty much everything is on offer in London but a lot requires booking in advance. If you give us some pointers then we can direct you to the relevant venues and at least you can pick some concerts to look forward to. From your username, if it's Lieder have a look at the Wigmore Hall, Barbican and Festival Hall websites.

As previously mentioned it's very easy to find good vegetarian food in London so for restaurant choices you can pretty much take your pick and just verify on the way in that there's a good vegetarian selection. I second the recc. for the Time Out eating and drinking guide, and also suggest having a look at the website called London Eating which has lots of customer reviews.

Any further info on what you consider an interesting area or a fun thing to do? There are so many possibilities that it's difficult to second-guess.
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Old Jan 27th, 2007, 02:39 PM
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First off, I need to say that I'm just seething with envy. Two months in Europe! How wonderful!!!

I also thought about the London Walks for you. Those are enjoyable not just to get to know parts of the city, but also its little quirks. I very much enjoyed one of their excursions to Greenwich.

Been to both Camden and Covent Garden, and I do like sifting through the different booths to find that hidden gem. But it's not for everyone.

Whatever you decide, have a great trip! SO jealous.
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Old Feb 1st, 2007, 05:25 AM
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Thanks again for all the feedback. I like the idea of the walking tours, will definitely look into those.

Papagena, we like jazz, classic, "world music", a wide range of music. I'm not a huge opera fan, but one of my favourite memories of Paris is seeing Madame Butterfly at the Bastille Opera last January. It was stunning. So I'm pretty open to any recommendations of good shows or concerts to take in while in London.

Thanks for your good wishes, Melissa. Having an exended vacation has been something we've schemed and dreamed of for a long time, but now that it's about to happen I'm starting to worry how we'll keep ourselves occupied. I'm not one for those detailed itineraries I sometimes see on Fodors - I just like to have a list of interesting things to see and do, and then play it by ear. I love to read those itineraries and trip reports though, they certainly give me lots of great ideas. Hopefully it will all work out ok. I promise to try to do some kind of trip report this time.
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Old Feb 1st, 2007, 06:08 AM
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My first trip to London was in 2005. We also went this past year, and I'll be back there in April. I was underwhelmed also on my first trip, I REALLY love Paris but now enjoy heading back to London as well.

Not only to London, but to the areas around it. Windsor, Hampton Court, I hope to see Greenwich in the next couple of years. I enjoy going to Sainsbury's and Waitrose, buying tea and biscuits. We did the tour of Buckingham Palace in September (inside). Kensington Palace and Gardens are lovely, and I really like the gardens that are right outside Buckingham Palace. The British Museum is amazing! There really is a lot to see and do, and the pubs - the shows, everything. We also have photos up (at neesie.org). This trip, we spent more time out of London - Hampton Court, Windsor, um...Slough! Stonehenge Inner Circle, Bath...we had a great time. This trip we even saw Prince Charles get out of his helicopter and into a waiting car (with Camilla).

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Old Feb 1st, 2007, 06:28 AM
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That's funny, I have quite the opposite feelings toward both cities! While you studied in France and didn't care for London, I studied in London and didn't care for Paris...at all. In fact, I couldn't wait to leave!

Definitely go see a play in the West End...I loved going to the theatre (esp b/c they had great student rates!) Westminster Abbey and St Paul's of course for amazing architecture...I have to agree that Tate Modern is only so-so, but the V&A is really cool and also has really interesting fashion/costume exhibits if you're into that sort of thing. If you're not that into the historical sites I might skip Tower of London, although the crown jewels are worth a look IMO.

Glad that you're giving London another chance, I think you'll enjoy it this time! One of these days I have to get back to Paris and give it another shot



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Old Feb 1st, 2007, 06:31 AM
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You could take a day trip out to the fantastic Sculpture Park at Goodwood - it's about 1.5 hours by train from London. http://www.sculpture.org.uk/. It is run by The Cass Sculpture Foundation - a charity, recognised internationally as the home of 21st century British sculpture. Over 70 commissioned sculptures set in gorgeous parkland. Sounds just up your street!
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