Photo: Rising high (and housing a Shangri-La hotel)- The Shard, London`s latest icon
Stylish, eccentric, elegant, ultramodern and traditional – what a mix!
SECOND TO NONE IN EUROPE
I have often thought about which European city is my favorite. Berlin is certainly in the top 5 and so is Hamburg. I like Paris but for my taste it is a bit too French (no kidding!). I have always loved the cities in the South – Rome, Milan, Madrid and Barcelona – and Amsterdam is definitely in my heart. But London is my number one – and here you can read why! In terms of creativity it is competing with Berlin (as a German I hope at least Berlin can compete with London). - And there is a vision for the future: just to mention one example, the Skycycle, a system of biking trails on existing railways, 220 km long and with 200 exits. Mega cities need concepts like this one to get prepared for the future and to help to save our planet.
Photo: Fancy buildings in the City of London.
WHAT A MIX!
Let`s begin with the negative stuff. I hate the traffic. I hate the small hotel rooms even more – and the exagerated prices (unfortunately I don`t belong tot he 72 billionaires which obviously live in this city). I hate the tube when I have hardly space for myself because of so many people (who may sneeze, smell bad and what not...) and when the staircases do not end (my love for exercise has certain limits). But hey, all of this is compensated by an uncomparable mix. Snobby Brits with sometimes strange habits and traditions, the most eccentric people you can imagine (including anarchists in a positive way), a beautiful old-style architecture competing with some of the most stunning modern buildings in Europe and tons of different nations living in this huge melting pot – what a show! Not to forget that nice almost 90 year old lady who has been reigning (well, let`s better call it representing...) the country for more than 60 years and who does not intend at all to leave her job to her 66 year old son (looks like the poor guy will never get it) – she is London`s oldest pop star! And her nice costumes and hats are such a cool contrast to all the young fashion styles – with the hipsters slowly disappearing (who is not tired of all these beards?) and kind of grunge style (remember Dock Martens and all that crap from the early 90s...) coming back again, mixed with the dandy style, metro and lumbersexuals and people who are just authentic and do not follow any fashion – and who cares about this in London?
Photo: Driving into a big black hole - the London Tube
WHERE TO BEGIN?
Honestly, no idea.I just recommend not to exclusively focus on the many sites – visit a few neighbourhoods and experience the colorful life of this upbeat city.
During my recent weekend quickie I walked from the Tower Bridge (yes, that is a must see) along the River Thames, passed by the crowded Tower, the crazy new buildings of the city and decided to conquer the Monument – a 61 m tall tower with 311 stairs and something golden on top. Climbing the spiral stairs is an excellent exercise if you don`t make a break like many tourists in what seemed to me a pretty scary look – shorts, trekking sandals, a knapsack with a bottle of water on their back – certainly not Londoners who are mostly well dressed (and why should they climb a tower on a Sunday?). The gorgeous view on top (attention – limited space available!) makes up for the climb – Tower and Tower Bridge, the City, St. Paul`s and the London Eye in one view. – What`s next? Tough decision. I took the Tube to Embankment, listened to an open-air concert, had a quick glimpse at the London Eye and then walked the whole afternoon – The Strand, Trafalgar Square (had it been winter I would have visited the National Gallery there but in summer noone gets me into a museum), Piccadilly Circus and Soho with its many bars and ... coffeeshops! London is heaven for coffeelovers – no kidding (I know I am saying this about a country full of tea drinkers). I cannot think of any other city (with the exception of New York) outside of Italy which has so many great Italian bars – including Italians serving your coffee (it may also be Russians though ;-)) – HEAVEN! At the end of this blog you will find a few addresses for coffee hotspots.
Photo: Spectacular view from The Monument
COVENT GARDEN AND NEALS YARD
What a little neighbourhood in a big monster of a city! Cosy streets with all kinds of shops and eating places you can imagine. A big market hall (and a big APPLE store, by the way...). Shops with organic stuff. And not to forget RELAX – a wonderful spa where you can have a little break and get a neck and shoulder massage which makes you feel 10 years younger (thanks, Isabelle). 35 GBP for half an hour – no worries, you don`t do that every day. And noone ever said London was a cheap city (remember the billionaires). – It maybe a tourist place, it may be a bit too nice but don`t miss Neals Yard – a microcosm with fancy, colorful houses, little spas, cafés and restaurants – and almost everything is organic (exotic seeds, smoothies, fair-trade coffee...I am wondering if the people here are all vegans or at least vegetarians...), sustainable and what not! Is this just a place for do-gooders, kind of a Shangri-La but just without the great landscapes? Well, then I have found the right spot for me, guided by my dear friend Michaela (a former German actress and multi-talent now living in London). My double espresso (along with a little cake...shshsh) at the Free Range People Café (what a nice name that is ...) was so delicious that I ordered a second one – and the nice owner (I assume) gave it to me for free – thanks a bunch, mate! - I found my afternoon in this area more inspiring than a whole month in my home city, honestly – and apart from these miracle-like chia seeds I could not resist to buy this „Little book of Superfoods“ – get rid of all the toxins in your body and let the muscles grow ;-).
Photo: Enjoying a massage at Relax, Covent Garden
SUNSET AT THE RIVER THAMES
I love to watch people and I love sunset and modern architecture! A perfect place to combine this is a nice promenade along the River Thames, just opposite London City. You can view The Shard, the city`s tallest building with 310 m, thru some interesting glass buildings. On the other side you have the good old London Tower Bridge – watch out for the sunset on a lovely summer evening (yes, there are sunny days even in London) when both buildings blaze in kitschy colours – spectacular. And for those who love the Mediterranean feeling, just hang out one of the deck chairs at a bar called RIVIERA – with a palm tree in the background! And nice to watch all the giggling Asians who have fun with their selfie sticks, trying to capture the best picture of them with the Tower Bridge in the background.
From the river it is not far to Bermondsey, a very hip and rather new area with many nice restaurants and coffeeshops. I would have never explored this area had I not to go there for business reasons – and luckily I did! Interesting to see all the young people (is there anyone older than 30?) sitting in offices which are way too small for so many people (yes, space is an issue in this city!) and watching an interesting mix of people sipping their coffee at „F*ck“ – no kidding, that`s the name of this cool place (which is, to be honest, a bit shabby). If you are looking for something less grungy, go to Hej (great coffee in a Swedish place) or Watch House.The choices for dinner are mostly great, but be prepared for a full house no matter what day of the week – London is booming and the economy is doing great.
Since I love Indian food, I also included an Indian place in my dining experiences. Indian Fusion ... is rather trendy for an Indian restaurant although the many colors are a bit ... hmmm ... strange. And why on earth are Indians never charming? At least I have never met one. Anyways, the food was good, WiFi was working and you get a hot towel after your meal although you are not sitting in business class, what else can you ask for?
Photo: Who would expect a palm tree in London?
EAT. DRINK. SLEEP.
I am fully aware that I have only given you a little glimpse. There was not much more I could do in less than two days. And I will be back for sure – I am even thinking of hiring an appartment for a few weeks and work from here – as I said, the inspirations you are getting here are priceless.
A quick word about my hotel – I stayed at the Guoman Tower Bridge which you can describe in a few words: ugly building in a great location (3 min fromt he bridge) with very nice staff! Small rooms (you get used to that), too many people (fully booked in July), in particular for breakfast, a tiny little gym and a great outdoor bar with a stunning view – that`s it in a nutshell.
Following are short descriptions and links of the places I have visited for coffee, drinks and food:
- Carluccio`s in Covent Garden – nice chain of Italian restaurants with great food (not expensive) and a nice service - (www.carluccios.com)
- La Bottega – Italian Delicaffé in Covent Garden - little chain of charming Italian eateries. But why was the waitress so unfriendly? Dio mio - (www.labottega.co.uk)
- Indian Fusion on Tower Bridge Road – great Indian food, many Indians are eating here! Don`t worry about the many Bollywood-style colors and the hindi music which is bubbling on you. You get that hot towel to compensate! (www.theindianfusion.com)
- Free Range People Café – a lovely coffee place in Neals Yard (where I was offered an espresso for free – not sure if this works all the time ;-). (www.sevendials.co.uk/map/13-food-and-drink/476-free-range-people)
- Itsu – Japanese eatery with outlets all over the city. I liked the one on Neal Street, Covent Garden – very fancy decor and great food at reasonable prices. Their slogan is „eat beautiful“ – agreed! (www.relax.org.uk/)
- Prêt-à- manger – eatery which you will find anywhere in London! Natural food (excellent snacks) and good coffee – great for low-budget travellers! (www.pret.com)
- Antico restaurant in Bermondsey – again, (great) Italian food in a hip ambiance, don`t miss the bar downstairs, very funky. „A new gem in Bermondsey“ according to TripAdvisor – agreed! (www.antico-london.co.uk)
- Fratelli coffeeshop at Parkside, close to the Tower Bridge. Sit outside, enjoy the excellent coffee, the great view and the nice service! „We are dedicated to providing the Caffè Fratelli customer with a real Italian experience“ – nothing more to add. (www.fratellidelicafe.com)
- HEJ coffeeshop at Bermondsey Square – what a lovely place! Run by a Swedish, great decor (even with a moosehead on the wall – luckily not a real one...), wonderful snacks and excellent coffee – and nice seating outside. Come in, say HEJ and enjoy.
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