Sunday, 3 June 2012

Why everyone should live in London (just for a little while...)


London is a funny old place. Many people, having visited, declare it to be one of best cities in the world. When you live there permanently, the opposite can seem true at times, on grey days when the streets and tube are crammed (again) and you just need to get things done. It takes some distance, a bit of time away, to re-appreciate its charm.

I'm not a 'city person' by any means, yet London (in the wider sense) has been my home for much of my life. I've left for a few years occasionally, explored elsewhere, but the good job opportunities kept pulling me back. As a child, I was overwhelmed. As a teenager, it was all 'boring' (isn't that the case for teenagers everywhere?!). As a young adult returning from living elsewhere, it was too crowded, too expensive. Now, with the benefit of having left and returned a few times, I understand why it is a dynamic, exciting place to be.

Yes, it is crowded. Very crowded. Yes, it's loud, and yes, it is expensive. The tube is a nightmare if you have to use it every day. However, look past those things, and here's why I think everyone should come along, say hi, and even stay for a while.


There's more history than you can shake a stick at

I don't think we need a history lesson on London here, but suffice to say, plenty has gone on. The big museums hold most of the artifacts themselves, but history seeps into every building, the very cobbles under your feet and the many parks. Only once you've stayed for a while would you usually seek out the more obscure blue plaques (that show the past home of a person of interest), remnants of Victorian fancies, Roman roads or stately homes. We're not adverse to celebrating a little fiction either with the Sherlock Holmes museum on Baker Street...

There's always a festival/special event going on

This links with the first point. In a place with so much history, there's always something to celebrate or commemorate. This year alone we have some particular biggies - if you can forget about the five rings and torch for a moment, there's the Jubilee this week, and also the summer of Shakespeare. Whether you're taste lies in music, or literature, food or art, there will be something happening.


Theatre and museums

One of the main reasons I made my peace with London was the theatre. A huge variety of plays, hosted in some of the most beautiful buildings in the country - if I could I'd be there all the time. The myth that it's very expensive is just that too - although musicals tend to be pricey as tickets sell so fast, most plays have a variety of price tiers, and there are always offers on websites such as lastminute.com for extremely cheap seats. In fact, when arriving to collect cut-price tickets, they'll often bump you up to a better seat if the play isn't sold out.

Visiting museums is even better, as they are usually free. Even paid special exhibitions are still much cheaper than what I handed over just to enter some museums in New York. If you visit the websites, there are also often talks or lectures or family events too. Once you've exhausted the big few (although I can't imagine ever being bored of the British or Natural History museums...), there are some smaller, more quirky places to check out, often hosting private collections (the Horniman springs to mind).


Pubs

After theatres and museums, some of the most incredible buildings in terms of architecture and decoration are the many, many pubs that line the streets. Visitors tend to stick to those nearest tube stations or hotels, but after living in an area for a while, it's easy to find more local establishments, with incredible food and a quieter atmosphere. There's whole books on 'pub walks' in London, where you can work your way through the centuries (and various brands of ale).

Acceptance

I'll admit, on the surface London is not overly welcoming. People keep their heads down on the tube, get quickly frustrated when people stand on the wrong side of the escalator, and tend to rush around (even when they don't need to). There's no excuse for actual rudeness, but in a city that is so small, yet receives so many visitors, it can be a challenge to get anywhere on time without efficiency. Look around you though, and London is a hub of diversity, and a place to be proud to live as a result.

You don't have to live in the centre

Because London has developed organically over centuries, the centre is remarkably small, but surrounded by larger boroughs. Not quite suburbs, but not the hub either, it takes barely half an hour to ride in to the very middle by train, yet feels separate enough (and is much cheaper...by London standards anyway).

If you're looking for a new city, consider London. You probably won't want to stay forever, but for a year or two, it's a pretty great place.

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