First Impressions Count – aka Loving London

Anyone who travels among or through large cities seems to have an opinion: “City X (and its people) are so cold/warm/sweet/unfriendly/helpful/unhelpful.” or “City Y is so friendly! Much, much better than City Z!”  I’m guilty of this myself.  In fact, as far as London goes, I’m going to be guilty of it – based primarily on a (second) first impression.

My first time in London was actually about 18 months ago, when KMN and I spent 3 days in the city and 3 days outside the city during our great Round The World adventure.  At that time, we’d been in so many places for just a few days each, that I wasn’t paying much mind to the people or how we were treated.  The people were nice enough, our stay was fine, I had an awful head cold (and bronchitis?), and then we were back in New Jersey.

Requisite in-flight calf-covering socks.

Requisite in-flight calf-covering socks.

But we knew we left lots of awesome things in London undone/unseen.  So when the happy coincidence of a double-holiday, 4-day weekend coincided with some business travel KMN had to do, we jumped at the chance to spend another 5 days in London, and explore much of what we missed the first time around.

And my first impression – this second time through – is that Londoners are quite helpfully friendly.  [Cue disagreement/discussion/debate.  That’s fine.  My opinion is my opinion, and I’ll happily keep my good impression.]  Perhaps they aren’t effusive, but in my first 12 hours on the ground, I had lots of warm fuzzies, just from people being generally kind and helpful.  And they (in addition to the free museums, waterfront everything, markets/local food, history, and gorgeous weather) have made falling for London very easy.  In chronological order from my first day here, special recognition goes to:

#1: The gentleman working the ticket window at the Heathrow Tube station.  He must get one zillion bizarre questions a day, but still greeted me with a smile, and ran my “you crazy Americans still have to sign for your credit purchases” card through his machine.

#2: The Piccadilly Line on the Underground, with its special spot in the subway car for luggage.  In Singapore, bringing any sort of medium-to-large bag on the train gets you dirty looks.  Here, everyone does it.  Yes, it’s a bit annoying to dodge the bags (when they aren’t yours), but very reassuring to know that your bag *will* be allowed, and even have its own place, when you are the one heading to the airport.

#3: The Pret A Manger employee who came over and offered me a free Cappuccino, simply because one of the staff made an extra, and they didn’t want it to go to waste.

It's like he knew I'd just arrived on an overnight flight from Asia.

It’s like he knew I’d just arrived on an overnight flight from Asia.

#4: The docent at the London Canal Museum, who chatted with me for many minutes about the small museum and London Canals in general.  [I neglected to mention in my Dad’s Birthday Post that he also passed on to me a love for all transportation-related museums.]  He was so enthusiastic, it was clear that he really loved learning and teaching about this part of London’s history.

A small, but very cute, museum.

A small, but very cute, museum.

Basically, before massive amounts of rail transportation came to London, most goods were distributed throughout the region on a thorough and lengthy system of canals.  Having lived in upstate NY (home of the infamous Erie Canal) for 6.5 years, there is a very soft spot in my heart for canals.

And guess what is out behind the museum?  A part of the Regent’s Canal!

Those buildings used to be warehouses, for goods being shipped in and out.  I was pleasantly surprised by the number of canal boats that still populate this section.

Those buildings used to be warehouses, for goods being shipped in and out. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of canal boats that still populate this section.

The boats were parked not only in this mini-harbor, but all along the length of the canal:

Along the Regent's Canal.

Along the Regent’s Canal.

Some of them continue to motor up and down, others appear to be anchored as more permanent residences.  I’ll have more photos in another post, because I have already put in quite a few miles running along the Regent’s Canal on this trip!

In addition to food and fuel, the canal also served as a route for ice coming down from Norway.  Ice would be cut into large chunks, transported south from Norway by ship and canal barge, then off-loaded into two enormous underground storehouses that were below the building that now houses the Canal Museum.

One of these ice basements has been restored.  The lower section is not accessible to the public, but this is a picture taken looking down INTO the basement.  In the upper left, you can see the "Ground Level" - the floor on which I was standing.  The basement area is illuminated with blue light.

One of these ice wells has been restored. The lower section is not accessible to the public, but this is a picture taken looking down INTO the basement. In the upper left, you can see the “Ground Level” – the floor on which I was standing. The well area is illuminated with blue light.

The ice would then be further cut, and sent out in horse-drawn carriages to be distributed to businesses and the wealthy in London.  Take a moment to consider. . . the refrigerator, freezer, and ice cubes that we take for granted today were, at one time, luxuries reserved only for the rich.  This particular ice warehouse was owned by an Italian named Carlo Gatti.  Unsurprisingly, he is also the gentleman credited with bringing ice cream to Londoners.  Go figure…

And in addition to the ice well, the museum also describes life on the canal, both for the canal boat owners/captains, and the horses that pulled the boats.  As a tribute to Gatti, there is also a small exhibit on the life of Italian immigrants and the parts they played in a growing, developing London from the 1700s-1900s.

Overall, I can’t tell you that this is a grand museum with elaborate displays.  But if you are looking for a small, modest museum in the midst of the British Museums of the city, then this is a cute place to stop.  Admission is 4 pounds, and a thorough exploration of the whole place will take you no more than 60-90 minutes.

After a short walk along the canal, I was ready for lunch.  This brings me to…

#5: The friendly gentleman at the busy salad/deli counter at Kings Cross Station.  I totally froze when I tried to count change to pay – and he good-naturedly helped me dig 65 pence out of the sea of coins in my hand.  Seriously, Britain, why can’t you size your coins according to value, like Singapore does?  Why are your 10 pence pieces so large, while 20 pence so small?  Whyyyy????

The salad was well worth it, though.  And it taught me a brilliant lesson: Lightly steam your broccoli before adding it to the salad!  This reduces the "fuzzy" mouth feel and makes it quite a sweet and pleasant salad addition!  Ingenious!

The salad was well worth it, though. And it taught me a brilliant lesson: Lightly steam your broccoli before adding it to salad! This reduces the “fuzzy” mouth feel and makes it quite a sweet and pleasant salad addition! Ingenious!

Before taking my To Go salad out to a sunny lunch spot, I went on a hunt for Platforms 9 and 10, hoping to nab a cute picture on which I could draw in Platform 9¾ for all you Harry Potter fans out there.  First, I found this:

Platforms 9 & 10.  Excellent!

Platforms 9 & 10. Excellent!

But as I turned to leave, I saw this:

Platform 9.75

The Real Deal.

Meagan, I must admit that I didn’t actually wait in line to use the props and get an official photo, but apparently we aren’t the only ones who had this idea.  🙂

And that’s enough for now, I think.  Special thanks to these folks who made my first 6 hours in the city just a little easier and friendlier.  More London adventures coming up soon!

What kind of super-friendly/helpful welcome have you received when travelling to a new place?

Without a refrigerator, I would miss __________________ the most?
[Assuming I could have daily milk delivery :), I would probably miss yogurt the most…]


28 thoughts on “First Impressions Count – aka Loving London

  1. Kim

    A chef friend taught me the secret of blanching (boiling then submerging in ice) for salads and/or crudités. I fully admit that I never do it, but it definitely helps with color (and occasionally flavor).
    Without a refrigerator, I would miss cold water/iced tea the most. I drink an inordinate amount of (unsweetened) iced tea, so to cut back I’ve switched to cold water. (I assume we also don’t have ice in this exercise)

  2. misszippy

    I am jealous of you right now–I just love Europe! I have to say that the city that surprised me the most was Paris. I’d heard all these awful things about the Parisians, only to find them tres friendly and helpful! Enjoy your time.

    1. Holly @ Run With Holly Post author

      Ironically, when we were on our long trip last year, we skipped Paris. This was for several reasons – including the facts that neither of us speak ANY French except “Bonjour!”, and Paris has a pretty poor reputation as a place for Americans to visit. But perhaps we were too hasty. Ah, well – another trip, another time! 🙂

  3. Sheila

    Looks like you’re having an amazing time! And I think it’d probably be milk/almond milk- not because I drink it solo very often, but because I love me some of it in my coffee!!

    1. Holly @ Run With Holly Post author

      Ha! Well, I’m not sure about what was happening in the 1700s, but today, there are at least THREE coffee shops on every street in London, I’m sure of it. If you think NY/LA/Portland has a lot of coffee – I’m quite sure London has all three beat, in terms of density of coffee shops. It’s really quite astounding. But, I’m *very* awake! =)

  4. Nicole @ Work in Sweats Mama

    Can’t wait to read more about your trip to London! I’ve never been, but it’s on my travel to-do list. I have been to the UK on a business trip, and I’d love to go back and spend some time in London. I LOVED shopping for my daughter while I was there. British children’s fashion is the BEST!

    1. Holly @ Run With Holly Post author

      I must admit that we didn’t do much shopping, other than for food. 🙂 But it’s a fantastic city – I enjoyed it the first time, but am LOVING it the second! We’re leaving shortly, and there’s STILL so much we haven’t done/seen!

      [Although I did get in a good wave at the palace for you…not sure the royal baby was home, but I waved. Photo evidence coming soon!]

  5. Amy

    How fun! If I were in London, though, I would be itching to get to Scotland and go hiking! I have lived without a refrigerator and it is not that difficult as one might imagine. It helps to live close to fresh food markets, though! Have a great trip and enjoy Platform 9 3/4 🙂

    1. Holly @ Run With Holly Post author

      We thought about taking a day or two to go into the countryside for some hiking. But we wanted to avoid another “blitz” of London, in and out too fast for us to really appreciate a lot of what the city has to offer. So we decided to make this a city-intensive trip. Next time, though, I think we’ll spend a day or two here, then head out into the countryside! I think there’s quite a lot of “tramping” to be had – both in England and the rest of the UK!

  6. Debbie @ Deb Runs

    I’ve never been to London. I guess timing is everything… My husband spent many weeks in London for work over the course of a year. That winter he was there almost every week. I never traveled with him because of our sons’ ages and they’d have to miss school. Now I kind of regret not just pulling them from school for a few days and making the trip.

    1. Holly @ Run With Holly Post author

      Hey, we make the best decisions we can at the time – and there were plenty of reasons to keep your kiddos in school. But now, I think they’re pretty self-sufficient, so if you get the chance – there’s plenty to explore in London. Of course, a lot depends on what you like to do on vacation, but there are tons of museums (history, art, ancient civilizations, etc.) – most are free; cool historical sites (Shakespeare’s Globe Theater replica, Tower of London, etc.); and plenty of “village” charm to find, if you’re willing to do some walking. It’s also a wonderfully diverse place, AND everyone speaks English! 🙂

  7. Jess

    I’ve been to London once and I absolutely LOVED it! I knew I would enjoy it, but I didn’t realise how much I would love it either. THat was 12 years ago. I swore I would go back the next year and I still haven’t returned.

  8. Jean

    People always say New Yorkers are so mean too, but they’re really not. They’re aggressive, certainly, and they won’t typically talk YOU up, but if you stop someone to ask about something they’re usually really friendly and helpful! Just gruff.

    London sounds great! I made it to Nottingham (for less than 24 hours) when I was in Europe but not London (had friends at the university-I wasn’t dying to go there or anything). I hope to go someday.

    Without a refrigerator, I’d miss CHEESE! And, like, everything else I eat, because it all seems to be refrigerated.

    Have fun!

    1. Holly @ Run With Holly Post author

      Honestly, I think Singaporeans are, in general, a bit like New Yorkers. They’ll help you if you ask, but aren’t likely to volunteer anything, no matter how long you stand in front of the bus schedule, looking confused. [Although they are apt to strike up conversation with me – to ask me where I’m from, what I do, how I like Singapore (and the food), etc. – but only when KMN isn’t around. It’s such an interesting phenomenon.]

      I think maybe you’d like London? It’s cooler than NYC (although I guess they did have a very hot spell for a week this summer), and a bit more laid back. Plus, if you didn’t get sick with a 105 degree fever here, that’d be an immediate bonus point. 🙂

      Oh, cheese. I have been eating cheese, all kinds of cheese, left and right since we’ve arrived. I had a delicious caprese sandwich from a farmer’s market the other day. *drool!*

  9. Kristen L @ DYL

    Glad you made it safely to London! Sounds like you are having a fabulous time so far. That sure is a big line for the 9 3/4 platform. I’ve never been to London, but I have heard so many good things about it.

  10. Logan @ Mountains and Miles

    Cheese. I would definitely miss cheese the most.

    I’ve taken a photo at Platform 9 3/4! The day we went there was no one else around, though, so we felt kind of silly taking a ton of photos, ha. Clearly more people have figured it out since 2008…

    I’ve found people are usually quite friendly everywhere in the world as long as you give them the chance to be. I have no recent stories, but my dad got his wallet lifted on a train to Pompeii last year and he met a lady on the train who offered to pay for his admission and train ticket back as long as he was her “tour guide” while they were there, ha.

    1. Holly @ Run With Holly Post author

      I think that you are quite right about this. When we did our big trip, I started carrying a lot of guilt/bad mojo about being an American, speaking mostly only English, etc. But thankfully, watching (and modeling) KMN on the trip, and seeing how well virtually everyone responded to him, really made me change my mind and attitude. The fear of being unable to communicate when I had to used to leave me really fearful of travel – but I’ve learned that knowing a few words (greetings, hello, “I don’t speak Greek/Japanese/German”), smiling, gesturing, and sometimes enlisting the help of the person behind you in line….will get you pretty much whatever you need. [And photo menus helps a lot, too!]

  11. Kate

    I can’t tell you just how much I love that you went to platform 9 3/4!!

    I’m so with you on this one – I like Londoners too. Super helpful, very genuine, and everything just works.

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  14. Meagan

    I am so late commenting, but thank you for going by platform 9 and 3/4!! I can’t believe they have a line like that, but then again I can believe it. Looks like you had a great first impression of London! I’d love to go there sometime.

    Without a refrigerator, I would miss my cut fruit the most!

    1. Holly @ Run With Holly Post author

      Highly recommend it (obviously). Do you cut up lots of fruit (and veggies) in advance? Like, for the week? I’m envious of your dedication! The best I can muster is to slice up the entire half a watermelon (’cause getting out the cutting board every time is a commitment I don’t need, while dripping with sweat post-run), and to get all the lettuce washed and dried at once… I eat lots of freggies anyway, but feel like my consumption would increase, if they were all prepped, salad-bar-style, in my fridge!

      1. Meagan

        Yes, I do! If I prep it all on Sunday afternoon then when I’m hungry during the week I’m more likely to reach for the cut up cantaloupe than the bag of potato chips or box of crackers. Having all the fruit and veggies cut up in advance also makes packing lunches a lot quicker, too.

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