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.
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.
#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.
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!
The boats were parked not only in this mini-harbor, but all along the length of the 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.
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????
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:
But as I turned to leave, I saw this:
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…]