Christmas in London

It is Christmas in London. Yawn.

If you are coming to London for an Xmas holiday, here are a few facts to help you:

  • we rarely get snow, but it can be cold and windy, and rainy. Transport can be affected badly, so, if you are planning expeditions and have a timetable, allow extra time, just in case. There are plenty of apps and websites that keep you up-to-date with travel disruptions. Christmas is a time for major rail works too. Taxis and other alternatives can be more expensive on Christmas Day
  • most shops are open the day after Xmas Day, that is Boxing Day. Travel will be mostly working, but with an infrequent service
  • theatres tend to be quiet over the holiday period, so look for bargains, but make sure the main cast are appearing
  • sales start immediately after Christmas Day in many big stores
  • there will be places open for eating food on Christmas Day, if you need them, but make sure you book to avoid disappointment, and hunger
  • the begging fraternity seem to be out in force at this time
  • be extra careful of your possessions and beware of thieves, especially at tourist traps like Covent Garden
  • if you are staying in a hotel and staff are working on Christmas Day, give them a tip. If you visit someone’s house, a small gift is appropriate
  • avoid Trafalgar Square and the river at New Year’s Eve, unless you really like crowds
  • ’tis the season to be jolly, but Christmas tv is poor compared to the good old days…

 

Food

It’s not for us to tell you what to do if you are visiting London. What we enjoy doing may well not interest you. Just look on some web sites, get a decent travel book and ask your friends.

What we can do, what we feel we must do, is tell you things we think you should avoid. Ignore our advice if you like, of course.

This is about food.

You will recognise all the usual suspects in London, McDonald’s, Subway, Starbucks, Burger King and so on. They will probably be very different from your local outlets. They may sell different things, the items may taste different (different ingredients tuned to different tastes), probably more expensive. If you want something special, say, X but with Y not Z, the server will look at you as if you are stupid and will probably give you a sharp no! No flexibility here, they don’t bend over to accommodate your needs. And more expensive.

The UK has a number of chain restaurants. Some are OK, others may well be best avoided. Cafe Rouge, Bella Italia, Garfunkels, Prezzo, Aberdeen Angus Steak restaurants and others seem, in our experience, to offer poor quality at inflated/tourist prices. Never has the microwave worked so hard. Some have been involved in a tips scandal.

Lots of pubs serve lovely food, but beware of these terms. Some offer an extensive menu at cheap prices. Others offer ‘home cooked‘ food, which probably means bought in frozen and microwaved. Some offer ‘home made‘ food. This usually means there is one item, maybe a few, highlighted with the words home made and they should be. It does not mean necessarily that all items are home made. If you are in a pub where you order at the bar and food is brought to your table, then tips are not appropriate.

We know people who object to certain restaurants because of the companies that own them. Pret A Manger had associations with McDonald’s in the past, Giraffe and Harris + Hoole is or were owned by Tesco.

It’s really hard, near impossible, to get a really cold drink in a shop.

On a different matter, Brits eat pretty much everything with knife and fork. Well, not fast food burgers, but everything else, even pizza. We know how to use cutlery: knife in the right hand, fork in the left. We don’t use one hand, we don’t cut our food up like baby servings, then swap a fork to the other hand to eat.

Your forefinger should be along the top of the knife and fork…

and it is probably the worst bad manners ever to use your cutlery like a dagger:

A few London myths

If you see advice about coming to London, you will find a lot of misinformation. Here are a few myths about travel exploded:

  • it is always better to get an Oyster card – no, it may well be, but you don’t have to. You will have to pay a deposit. You should be able to get that back, but who bothers. It depends where you are going, and how long you are staying for. A short eg two day holiday with lots of short journeys may be best done using a one day travel card, or a contactless credit card (prices are capped).
  • never ever drive in central London – well, you do have congestion charges, one way streets, terrible parking and traffic jams but there could be circumstances where you have to drive. Personally, we would avoid it. If you are in London, perhaps for business, and need to travel out of the capital, then we can see that a car may be just the thing. But central parking is expensive.
  • don’t use minicabs – there are some very nasty incidents and some minicabs smell like public toilets, but there are some very reputable companies that are very reliable, eg Addison Lee. The advantage is that there is a fixed charge, quoted upfront for a journey.
  • the underground is underground – most of it isn’t. Outside the centre it is usually above ground, and a great way to see the suburbs. Nor is the underground the best way to travel. Do your research – some stations are so close together (eg Leicester Square and Covent Garden) that it is quicker to walk. The map is not a map, but a diagram.
  • taxis are black, buses are red – not always, if they carry advertising, for example.
  • buses stop at every stop – no, look carefully at the bus stop. The routes it serves should be written right up there. If your bus is not mentioned, look elsewhere (there is often a map to help and there are plenty of apps available to help you travel).
  • buses always stop – there are compulsory stops and request stops on routes. Buses should always stop at compulsory stops on their journey, but they don’t. If you are at a stop, wave your had to attract the driver’s attention. On the bus, ring the bell once and make sure the information sign says BUS STOPPING. Then you may be lucky.
  • you don’t have to carry dogs up escalators. If you do have dog, carry it to prevent its paws being caught in the mechanism, but if you don’t have a do with you, ignore it. assume it applies to all pets.

Just a couple of serious points. As I write this, the future of Uber in London is uncertain. You will find, especially in the outer London, minicab services run from huts or small offices. Some are good, others not so. We have had enough experiences in urine smelling cars to last us a lifetime, but if someone gives you a recommendation, minicabs can be good value, especially for longer journeys.

Also, despite what you may have heard, there is at least one bus route that runs the old Routemaster bus. These have the entrance/exit on the back and there is no door. Do not even think about getting on such a bus while it is moving, even slowly, or at traffic lights or whatever. It really is dangerous!

Again

So, apparently it went a bit wrong, which is good news for us. What am I talking about? The latest terrorist attack on Londoners.

In case you didn’t see it, on early Friday morning something the police said was an ‘improvised explosive device’ detonated on a train in west London. There was a fire, people were burned, there was disruption and panic and a tweet or two from Mr Trump.

Fortunately, it happened at an outside station, so passengers were able to evacuate quickly. In a tunnel, if it had gone off as intended, loss of life could have been huge.

For those who don’t know, although it is called ‘the tube’, most of London’s Underground system runs above ground. There’s no reason to build an expensive tunnel if you don’t have to. Of course, like most cities, the really underground bits are in the centre. At that time in the morning, trains would be very busy with people off to work and children going to school.

So, we know it did not happen in the school holidays, it happened at a time when the trains would be packed, going to school time, so you have to think that children were definitely considered targets. People have been arrested. One is an 18 year old person who was caught in Dover (possibly fleeing the country?) 18 is barely older than the people who were victims of the attack.

The device seems to have been in a plastic bucket in a bag. People on tv have been asking, what can you do to prevent it? In terms of practical things, like screening everyone at every event, tube station etc, nothing.

But Mr Trump has an idea. Mr Trump the big tweeter. He has said, ‘cut off’ the Internet. Here are his exact words: “Loser terrorists must be dealt with in a much tougher manner,” he wrote. “The internet is their main recruitment tool which we must cut off & use better!”

Mr Trump, who says he gathers all the facts before he speaks, really just should shut up.

 

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