Big city, bright lights, vibrant culture, music, energy - this is London!
Or is it?
My first trip to London showed me a part of our culture in the UK I do not care for. I come from a working class background, my father was a mechanic, my mother worked in a factory. My family are from the North, a very down-to-earth part of the UK, can be a tad fiesty, but more than anything it is earthy, warm and friendly.
Moving south over 10 years ago I noticed the clear differences in the North-South divide, one of generosity of spirit. People in the north will often talk to you. You stand at the bus stop someone will chat. You're in a taxi, they will chat to you; you get into a problem, someone will help; everyone pitches in. Now down south, 'some' areas (like Gloucester) can be like this. Other areas can be very snobby, pretentious and to be quite frank stuck up!
London was no exception and possibly showed me a side of the UK I would rather do without.
And to add, not everyone is like this in the UK. There are a lot of wonderful people. It is just the service industry in certain areas that seems to believe itself far more than it actually is. Funnily enough, I never experienced this in Australia or in other countries (exception - Paris). I dined out in many a fine restaurant and was never made to feel less than. The waiters and managers of restaurants and hotels went beyond the call of duty to put you at ease. My friend Mike says it is because many in the UK are overeducated and think certain jobs are beneath them. Perhaps he is right.
In a recent blog post HERE, I wrote about my first experience in what was supposed to be a 4 Star Hotel. Unfortunately, it was a 1 star trying to be a 4 Star. However, the staff and attitude of the people that worked there and the area of Belgravia (most wealthy area in the UK as it is next to Buckingham Palace) reeked of pomp and foul attitude.
One thing the working classes of this country have developed, because of life circumstances, is sensitivity, kindness and most of all empathy. Working classes have experienced much of life that could be seen as challenging and because of this they relate to people far better than some of the people I met on my trip to London.
It is sad to say the UK still has separate groups within society. The lines rarely blur between working, middle and upper class. I remember the comedian Billy Connolly saying he gets on well with working-class and upper-class as both groups of people had nothing to prove to anyone; the working-class knew who they were; the upper-class had so much money they had no need to prove anything.
You may say we have no class structure any more. I disagree. It's quite evident in society still.
London for me had an ugly side to it, but It also had some really beautiful and good qualities to it. If you are visiting for the first time and are on a budget, some of the activities in London may not be within your price range, so see here for things to do and places to see on a budget.
Many places the guidebooks recommend to visit in London are so pricey we had to walk on by. London has become a rip-off city. It used to be expensive but now it has gone above and beyond expensive. So be prepared to spend a lot of money and plan your trip wisely if you are on a budget. I have written another blog post on what to do if you are on a tight budget in London here.
On my visit we saw restaurant after restaurant serving pretentious food. Tables laid out in a way to make you feel uncomfortable. Staff that look down their noses at you if you were not spending crazy amounts of money. On a walk back one evening we walked past many many restaurants in London. Very costly (of course) but few people in these restaurants looked relaxed. The only relaxed people were those dining in groups with a few bottles of wine flowing.
|York & Albany - Gordon Ramsay's Restaurant - Camden Town|
On our last day we went to Gordon Ramsay's restaurant the 'York and Albany' in Camden Town for lunch. I had a buy-a-gift voucher which included 3 courses and a free Bellini cocktail. And after a very expensive weekend, a lot of stress, we both really needed to know that this voucher included what it said. And the manager in charge that day seemed to not listen when we questioned her about the voucher. Instead we were shown to a table and handed the wine menu. We had no intention of buying wine as we had already spent more than enough and we felt very uncomfortable by the vibes given off by the female manager that day. We also discovered we had to pay the service charge on the buy-a-gift 3 course lunch which was 12.5% and as the meal came to £60 it was over £6. We did not get the impression this was a discretionary charge either. At the end of the meal my friend was left to stand like a lemon in the corner waiting for someone to come and sort out the service charge. Nobody seemed to understand how to process this. The young man serving us on the other hand, was courteous and polite and made us feel more at ease.
|Atmosphere aside this was delicious|
Pan Fried Mackerel, Charlotte Potato Salad, Burnt Tomato Relish
YORK & ALBANY, LONDON - Camden Town
Now the food - while it tasted delicious, I cannot fault the taste and presentation at all, but it was as usual pretentiously described. A lot of food in restaurants in the UK and throughout the world do describe foods to sound more interesting and to make people feel they are getting something more than what it actually is. I am probably going to upset a lot of foodies here but this side of cuisine really gets on my nerves. It does make it sound nice but the truth of it is that when the big price tag is added it's not worth the pretentious description.
The dessert I had at the York and Albany was 'Lemon Thyme Brulee with Shortbread Biscuits'. In layman's terms this is burnt sweet custard with biscuits. Now it may not sound as good, but paying a lot of money for a food description is beyond ridiculous. And you're certainly not paying for the relaxed atmosphere.
|Lemon Thyme Brulee with Shortbread - Gordon Ramsay's York and Albany Restaurant in Camden Town London. My apologises for the half eaten meal |
but I forgot to take a photo until half with through it (grin).
So what bothered me the most about this? The feel of the restaurant. We were fortunate to be there at lunch-time on a week day, otherwise we would have had to ask our questions about the voucher in a packed restaurant. And like the hotel experience we had on Saturday, further humiliation. But this time, we laughed, because we realised this entire weekend has been all about knowing what is not for us. And while many people may like the luxury of an expensive restaurant, tables fit for a Queen, I personally do not find this comfortable or relaxing in the slightest. I also wonder whether media and tv makes us believe that appearance is what matters, not so much whether it is a relaxing experience, but if your dining at the Ritz or staying in a 4 Star in Belgravia (even if it is not a 4 Star) it is all about the label. This is something I just cannot get my head around, at all.
What amused me even more at the York and Albany was, on my visit to the bathroom, which was downstairs, I had to walk through this red dining room and it smelt so badly of fat. I would never have wanted to dine downstairs.
Give me a spit and sawdust pub with real people that have no need to wear masks to look like they belong to a better class. Chandeliers, fine bone china, crystal chalices....no... this does not make you better than anyone... give me a pint of beer anyday or a glass of pinot in an ordinary wine glass. Now don't misunderstand me here. I like quality. I love sensuous flavours and beautiful surroundings. What I don't like are places and people pretending that they are better than those they are serving. Booking the best does not mean you are the best or better. It simply means you have more money and spend more money.
I embrace my working class background. Yes I am happy to increase my resources, but I know now even with a large sum of money I would avoid the pretentious places regardless of how much money I had in favour of a relaxing and enjoyable time.
Moving on from restaurants and hotels in London, let's have some fun here. Let's look at the places we could not visit because of costs. Mike and I had a running joke going throughout our trip and I wanted to take the mickey out (joke) of the rip-off end of London.
So lets begin...
The first evening we went to the theatre. We went to what was supposed to be one of the best shows in all of London - Ben Elton's production of 'We Will Rock You'...
Aaaah.... sigh... what a load of shit this production was.
I sometimes wonder if people say they enjoy something because they 'think' they must enjoy it because everything written about it says it is wonderful. Far from it! It was utter bollocks!
The singing, yes, fine, not outstanding. The sound quality was so loud we both had our hands over our ears during some of the songs and well it was like a karaoke (with better singers admittedly) filled with the worst acting, the worst written scenes I have ever seen in a theatre. The jokes were as bad as Little Britain, Monty Python playground jokes, no real wit or intelligence to them. Call me a snob when it comes to humour but I like a joke that makes me laugh, not one that is so easy it could be a knock knock joke. The fake American accent of one of the actors was bloody irritating and well... I just could not believe the audience were clapping so loudly.
It was so bad we left during the interval.
For crying out loud. It was only Queen songs. And while Queen is amazing, simply singing the songs and filling the bits inbetween with bad jokes does not make for a wonderful performance. So, big thumbs down for 'WE WILL ROCK YOU'. I would, if I visited again, go and see 'Wicked' or 'War Horse'.
Moving on, let's see what else we could not do on our trip...
(Remember these prices are correct as of September 2012 - please check sites to see updated charges).
|Buckingham Palace - £18 per person = £36 total - The queues were around the block, so if you really really want to see this, be prepared for a long wait in line.|
The Queen rarely stays here - maybe its not worth the visit LOL
|The Tower Of London - £20.90 Per person = £41.80 for 2|
Looks nice from my boat...
- Westminster Cathedral - £16 per person = £32 per couple
Depressing reading for anyone on a budget, but do not fret. You have plenty of options for free or inexpensive pleasures around London that take in the sites and some of them are not worth the money anyway. One seriously overcharged experience is after you visit lovely Greenwich (which has lots of lovely places to see - for FREE!) is the opportunity to stand on the Greenwich Mean Time Line. So come and stand on the world famous Greenwich Meridian Line and place one foot in the east and one foot in the west...for £7 OOPS...
|My claim to fame... I stood beneath the sign that |
told me about the Meridian Line
I can stand on for £7 whoop-dee woo!
|No... this is not London's only Planetarium and |
no.... I am not going to pay £6.50 to come in....
And to end this tour of expensive rip-off London I FINALISE it with one last joyful expense I had on my last evening in London. After getting some amazingly immense intense blisters all over my feet, hobbling my whole way around London, we decided we could not make it to the Thames Festival (I had planned to see the fireworks and parade) as I could not walk. So on the way back to our 4 star (oops I mean 1 star) Tophams hotel, we stopped at the only cafe we found open (it was Sunday), it was a greasy-spoon looking place. We thought, aaah... this must be less expensive...Errrr... noooo
We had the displeasure of the tiniest cappuccino you could find, a slice of old pecan pie and it cost us £17 for the 2 of us. Oh WOW! London - what a treasure for tourists this place is.
Better off visiting Australia or America at least they do not rip of their local citizens.
POOOOO to LONDONS pomp, pretence and general expense....
AND Lets say hellooo to Kelly's budget trip of London in the next blog post HERE>> Blog Bookmark Gadgets