*Photos and Story by Kolby Solinsky…
London’s a funny vacation spot, because it’s not a vacation spot.
You touch down at the finest airport in the world – nothing can compete with the boutique-ity or the downright intentionally charming cheesiness of Heathrow’s shops, gates, and duty free alleys – and you pay way too much for that Tube trip to the city, which will take you longer than any arriving people mover ever should.
They speak the same language as you – f*ck it, they invented it – and they’ve memorized every page of the latest thesaurus, and they can even brag that they lead the trends on social media slang, too.
Just to flex their vocabulary-based muscle, they never use the same adjective twice in one day, and they do it with precision and without thinking.
Their humour is self-deprecating, but it always feels like they’re fishing for a compliment. I mean, they hate their weather, the cost of their living, and how pale they are, but could you really imagine them living anywhere else? Could they imagine it?
I really don’t think so.
Day 1 was spent checking into the Walrus on Waterloo hostel, which I’ll assume could only be surpassed on the city’s budget lodging frontier by the St. Christopher’s Inn near London Bridge. (Roll a dice and pick one. Neither should disappoint you.)
The staff is too friendly and the beer – which is second to only the Czechs for its creativity and the atmosphere that comes for free with each mug – is a delicacy, but one that can fit in your wallet.
From London Pride to some sort of “Banana Bread”-infused beverage, the Walrus won’t charge you more than four pounds for a pint. (Trust me. That’s actually a steal.)
Immediately, we were off to the London Eye – which is just around the corner – and then just kept walking East along the Thames River. Shakespeare’s Globe is open and, if not, just stand to marvel at it from the outside.
Chances are, it will seem very familiar, even if you’ve never been and even if you have no idea how Romeo & Juliet ends. (SPOILER: Nobody dies.)
Bikes, community gardens, and beer stalls line the river’s walk, and they couldn’t care less if you carry your 0.5 litre of hops with you.
St. Paul’s stands atop the north side of the Thames and looks over the rest, and a walk from Chaucer’s favourite cathedral to Piccadilly Circus (which is like Times Square, but without all the stuff, which is nice) is a perfectly English tour of everything you’d expect from London – Christmas-like pubs that could all be called ‘Elephant Castle’, fish and chips shops with a bartender that will intimidate you to the point that you’ll just eat what they give you, and elegance that oozes from every corner and red phone booth.
Class is everywhere in London. Charm is contagious. It’s why we love their movies, and why Hollywood always fails to replicate them. Can anyone tell me an American soap opera that has even a toenail’s worth of the violently loyal followers Coronation Street does?
Would anyone watch Valentine’s Day or New Year’s Eve or New York, I Love You over Love Actually? Has Julia Roberts done anything comedically worth your admission ticket since Notting Hill? Why don’t we hate Hugh Grant?
The CBC is still hanging on to the rear bumper of the BBC, and for good reason.
Day 2 was an early wakeup. Jet lag will do that to you. By 7 a.m., I’d seen Trafalgar Square, I’d walked past the Houses of Parliament and that long green road that leads to Buckingham Palace. I’d stumbled across statues of Churchill and some guy named ‘Alanbrooke’, who was given the fortunate title of ‘Master of Strategy’. (Can someone get him for my Risk team?)
Westminster Abbey costs 20 pounds, but it’s Westminster Abbey. This is London. This is Europe. This isn’t the time to leave your wallet at home.
Like an large city (well, it’s damn huge, actually), finding food you want is no easy task. Every time you sit down somewhere simple, you feel you could do better. Every time you reach, you feel guilty for going too far.
(After all, even if you bring your wallet, you don’t need to break it.)
Day 3 was for the Tube, which wasn’t much different than Days 1 and 2, perhaps, but still something separate. Chelsea FC was calling, so I answered. I mean no disrespect to Arsenal’s pitch, but the Fly Emirates’ (oh, that isn’t their actual name?) field doesn’t ring between my ears like STAMFORD BRIDGE does, or ANFIELD or OLD TRAFFORD.
The English are great with words, and they’re great with words because they’re able to apply that greatness to everything.
They name their football stadiums with the same power and royalty that J.R.R. Tolkien used to name his characters’ neighbourhoods. Their beers comes from cold, gold taps and it sweats in your glass.
An entire section of Westminster Abbey – Poet’s Corner – is devoted to the country’s finest writers – ever – and even though you know their names, you still can’t help but marvel at just how many damn geniuses of the pen came from that one tiny island.
Milton. Tennyson. Wilde. Chaucer. Dickens. Kipling. Austen. Blake. PB Shelley. The Brontes and the Brownings. And that’s only a prick of a sample.
Three nights in London is three nights you can’t regret, and three nights that should be spread into four. You’ll treat it like your own city when you’re there – because, really, it feels like home (for better or worse) – but you’ll be fond of it forever.
With all due respect to the Greeks and the Romans, our civilization was founded by that foggy city with the large clock tower, and it isn’t even that foggy anymore.
You’ll treat their tabloids and their obsession with Harry Styles like its pointless fluff, but even a man like me couldn’t help but be disappointed that I left one damn day before the royal baby was born.
(However, in typical English fashion, they tempered their excitement for the newest royal with acutely sarcastic newspaper titles like “The royal baby pictures show privilege trying, and failing, to look normal”.
Self-deprecation at its best. And, yes, that’s from The Guardian.)