In my opinion, there are 2 driving forces that shape the character of London: business/money and multiculturalism.
On the one hand you have huge skyscrapers, like the 30 St Mary Axe, and office buildings of big corporations with a lot of people in suits walking around in haste or driving in their fancy sports cars. This is actually something I have never felt in any other city... you stop on the sidewalk or even walk slowly and you feel that you are a nuisance, you feel that people automatically recognise you as a tourist, a stranger, someone that does not really belong there - everyone around you is almost running! A busy bee-hive!
On the other hand you have a lot of different cultures from around the world working in "lower" jobs or opening their own kind of stores and restaurants. Before I went to London I imagined going down the street and seeing it full of British people, hearing the distinctive british accent everywhere...but no! You go around London and you see so many different nationalities speaking different languages! The great sink of cultures!
You might wonder why am I not mentioning the weather?? Well that's because on my first days there, the weather had been extremely good, sunny and everything. However my lucky day was 1 day before I was to leave. Weather starts fine, sunny with a few clouds and a bit of wind, nothing to indicate we would not enjoy a walk around the city. Afternoon passes and the clouds start to gather rapidly. The wind picks up, a cold, frosty wind. After a couple of hours it starts to rain, slowly in the beginning a bit harder soon. But the frosty wind wouldn't let things easy! The show-rain didn't take long to arrive too. I can tell you I've never seen so many seasons changing in one day!
If you wanna go around in London, forget about cars and taxis. The best way is walking and using the public transport. You can buy a pre-paid Oyster card. It's more or less like a debit card. You put some money in it, you pass it from the gates in the metro, you're through! Easy! It's cheaper that buying a single ticket each time, plus you can give it back when you are leaving and get refunded of the money you didn't use. Don't you love the British?
I used the Metro more ofter, or Underground or Tube as the British like to call it. The trains pass almost every minute, which really makes you wonder how they can plan the schedules so tight without crushing... However the London Underground is not as reliable you might think at first. There are often some delays, either of arrivals or even when you are on the train in-between stations.
Not to mention the best part: measures against terrorist attacks! I was on my way to get the Metro in order to reach the bus to Luton airport on my departure day. So I arrive in the Liverpool metro station 10' late, like a typical greek, and I hear some sirenes going on... I walk closer to the entrance and I see it closed with a lot of people waiting outside...I was totally stressed and confused. I thought there was an accident inside, a fire or something. So a policeman comes and tells us that there is a "suspicious pachage" in one of the wagons and they are currently checking it. Oh my God! Now, that can never happen in Greece. You leave a bag or anything in the Metro? Next minute someone else "discovers" it and it's gone forever. No time for the police to notice it, arrive, etc. No one will see your bag again! :P
One of the bad things in London (and England I guess) is the prices. First of all, the British still have the pound £as currency... 1 pound = 1,5 euro. Secondly, all the prices in pounds are the same as they would be in euro in another country. This automatically means that everything is more or less 1,5 times more expensive. For example, a main course at a restaurant is 7-8 pounds = 10-12 euro, a draft beer in a pub is around 3 pounds = 4,5 euro. If you are not careful, you can easily spend 100 euro in a couple of days!
There are some things cheaper than elsewhere though. I saw a full formal outfit (suit, shirt, tie) for around 80 euro and some nice-looking leather shoes for around 40 euros. And finally coffee: 2,5 pounds for a big special cup of cappuccino in a cafeteria. Almost like Greece even a big cheaper and very good quality! :)
There are some markets, like the one close to Liverpool Street, that you can find various stuff in various prices, including cheap fast food of various origins: Indonesian, Mexican, Arab, etc.
Finally, a visit to a place is never complete without experiencing the nightlife! Britain has pubs. Repeat with me: pubs! There are almost always open in the day but close at midnight, which is a shit for a mediterranean, since we're used to go out late at night. In the pubs there are many people going early, after work or early in the evening, they drink pints of beer, chat, watch rugby, sing, get drunk, dance (almost)... the regular stuff.
On the 17th March was St. Patrick's Day, a very special celebration for the Irish (don't know why!). We went to an Irish pub downtown at about 7 and finished already tired at 10, heading directly home. Due to the weather, the work and the schedule of the pubs, the daily schedule of the people is quite different than the south. Wake up early, sleep early!
Another great thing in London is the live stages. There are lots of bars that have live bands playing, maybe not famous ones but with good music nonetheless. We happened to go to Vibe Bar which turned out to be a very good choice afterall. Entrance 3 pounds, Bacardi lemon for 3 pounds, with a live band playing in one stage and an extra stage with dancing music. The only bad thing was that it was bloody hot in there. The BBQ in the courtyard gives the final touch. Did I mention it had cool people too? ;)
Must see in London:
- Trafalgar Square
- Piccadilly Circus
- Buckingham Palace (on the change of guard)
- St Paul's Cathedral
- Tower of London and the Tower Bridge
- St. Katherine Docks
- High Court
- British Museum
- Natural History Museum
- Hyde park (or any other)
- Madame Tussauds wax museum
- ...and the list never ends!
So when are you planning your next trip to London?
As for me, I think next time I'll prefer going for a job there and not as a tourist!