Part Two of our Travel Special!
Part One: Flying the Friendly Skies
Next week: Italy for Couples!
Getting to Know the Locals
or, I'm Willing to Think of England, but Do I Have to Close my Eyes?
by Jennifer Bruni and Maggie Rosen
Contrary to what your mother told you, traveling is the perfect excuse to talk
to strangers (as long as they're not too strange). So what better place
to start your world tour than London, where -- in theory -- they speak English?
Editor's note: Naturally, as representative of the
land of the free, you'll want to be at your best. Try hitting the scene right
off the plane and you'll be asleep in your Indian food before you can get
off a good opening line. So here's some advice from Friend-of-BG Gavin
Edwards who knows of what he speaks:
My usual technique is to take the redeye flight (from NYC) and then to stagger
through as much of the day as possible. Normally, that's about lunchtime,
at which point I nap for two or three hours. You must get woken up from that
(by the hotel staff or a very loud alarm), otherwise you'll sleep right through
and never get straight. You will be unhappy and groggy for an hour or two
after waking up, but then you'll have dinner and go to sleep not too long
after that. The next day you'll be pretty much on track.
Also, when you arrive, walk around in the daylight to help your body clock
reset as much as possible. This is harder because of lack of sunshine in the
UK, but still worth trying.
Got that? Good. Now that you're on Greenwich
Mean Time, you're ready to start seeing London properly.
Out of the Flat and Into the Fire
One should catch the classic tourist spots, of course: the British Museums,
the theater scene, Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, the Changing of the Guard
at Buckingham Palace, etc. You've read the guidebooks and rented Notting
Hill; we don't need to go into the basics here. What we would advise is
that you use every opportunity, wherever you go, to talk to as many people as
Meeting people while you travel is great because there's no commitment, you're
less inhibited, and after all, you probably won't see these people again. Unless
you're lucky and really hit it off,
in which case you could have a friend for life, or better yet, you might not
even have to stay at a hotel on your next trip.
There are plenty of topics to help you strike up a conversation: the
weather, for one. Londoners tend to scurry outside at the slightest hint
of sunshine, so feel free to look for a parting of the clouds and mention how
lovely it is. It will also be painfully obvious that you're a Yank, so here's
you're chance to dispel some of those misconceptions about loud-mouthed, gun-toting
How should one actually meet these strangers? (Remember, you're the foreigner!)
A good bet is to head to your "local" -- the local pub, that is. The pub is the
great equalizer in what is still quite a class-conscious society. For good or
ill, you don't have to worry about that. As an ex-colony, you're on the lowest
rung of the totem pole anyway and there's not really much to be done about it.
Besides, you're thirsty.
laws are about to change, but for the time being, you'll notice great bouts
of concentrated drinking in the late afternoons and early evenings. Pubs close
at 23h00 (don't get excited; that's 11 PM). As an informal rule, try to avoid
any place that has a rodent or particularly disgusting critter in its name:
The Slug & Lettuce, The Rat & Parrot, and so on. The names sound traditional
but inside there's too much blonde wood and fancy food, and not enough authentic
The best pubs are ones with a good combination
of beers, darts, music, and locals. It's going to be pretty smoky, so be prepared.
If the overabundance of second hand smoke starts getting to your brain, sit
near an open door or outside if the weather is cooperating. The concept of non-smoking
sections, let alone not smoking, hasn't really caught on here yet.
Pick yourself a spot, order up a nice rich pint of Guinness
and a packet of crisps -- that's potato chips to you -- and you're on your way.
Don't leave a tip, by the way, or you'll be insulting your bartender. And you
definitely do not want to do that.
Yes, You Do Actually Sound Like John Wayne
People will notice your accent straight off and, depending on the character
of the place you've wandered into, they may feel free to call you a septic tank.
This doesn't mean a bar fight is about to break out; it simply means they know
you are a Yank. Cockney rhyming slang
is enjoying a renaissance, so you may hear a series of very strange sounding
phrases whose meaning is fairly obscure.
Just smile sweetly and call them a Barclays Banker (a wanker) and they will
roar with laughter and claim they've found the first American with a real sense
of humor. [NB: Lovely young ladies, like our contributors,
may have more success with this than the gentlemen will; gentlemen may prefer
to just smile and take it like a man, keeping in mind how badly we showed them
up in the Revolutionary War. - ed.]
Of course, you'll run into a lot of turns of phrase you've never heard of,
so you might want to study up. "Cheers"
and "Ta" mean both thanks and goodbye; kind of like "ciao" in Italy. "Pulling"
means picking somebody up. And since you've all seen Austin Powers, you know
what shag means. Snogging, by contrast, is simply making out. You might want
to dabble in that before pulling a full Monty and shagging like there's no tomorrow.
Click Here Often?
While travelling, you may be surprised to find that checking your e-mail is
a great way to meet people. How else to explain the proliferation of Internet
cafes that are as smoky, caffeine-y and sexy as they always have been? Indeed,
in many instances, 'Internet' is just the excuse for 'cafe', where alcohol is
served and music enhances the atmosphere. The mother of all Internet cafes in
London is EasyEverything,
and they are everywhere. Otherwise, there are plenty of smaller places, and
many cafes have just added computer terminals for your convenience.
Hot Off the Presses
Brits are voracious readers, which means London's new breed of mega-bookstores
and Borders are fertile ground for meeting people. While looking for the next
great reading material for train or plane, be sure to strategize your browsing.
A good aisle in which to look for a handy Londoner would be "D-I-Y" (do-it-yourself).
Likewise, if you're looking for someone sensitive yet adventurous, look in the
Gardening or Cooking sections; but check for a ring and make sure it's "Cooking
for One" or you may be wasting your time. Travel would be another obvious
possibility. Try peering over someone's shoulder and say, "You know, I bet my
favorite restaurant in Paris isn't in there." If things work out, you could
always hop the London-to-Paris Eurostar train for a quick vacation-within-a-vacation.
Be A Sport
Because the weather in London is so changeable, when the sun shines, people
burst outside, and strip down to expose shockingly pasty complexions. You'll
be a bronze deity by comparison, no matter how pale you may feel at home. Seattlites
You might rent rollerblades in Hyde Park and roll over to Speaker's
Corner on Sundays to watch the filibustering fanatics stand on their soapboxes
and spout their views. The local bobbies (police) patrol the park now in pop-off
blades. If you like men in blue then you might want to have a well-timed fall
near one of the many flower beds dotting the paths. Just stay away from the
gravel; and whatever you do, keep out of the way of the horses (front and back
Cheerio... but Come Back Soon
The only problem with romantic travel is the end of the vacation. When it comes
to romantic goodbyes, London might not lead the pack (Paris will edge it out
in this category). The platform at the Eurostar at Waterloo station is a tad
clinical and well lit, but if you look around, you'll probably be surprised
at the places you can find to bid a fond farewell.
Bridge in Chelsea, with its jewel-y lights, is postcard perfect. You can also
try almost anywhere along the Thames in Central London. The Bloomsbury area
near Russell Square is an oasis of calm near the British Museum. And the top
of the Royal Garden Hotel on High Street Kensington has a restaurant with lousy
food but beautiful views of the Gardens and the Palace. And last but not least,
nearby Holland Park is a nice place to stroll around among the peacocks.
Or, of course, if you want to say your goodbyes in true Londoner style, you
could always just head down to your local pub and hoist one last pint before
heading off. Cheers!
Jennifer Bruni picked up her husband at a store in New York by
asking his advice on mattress firmness. Maggie Rosen is a veteran of
the global dating wars.
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