Our trip to London was first supposed to take place in May last year, but it was too close to my heart operation a couple of months earlier, and since I was having serious complications in the beginning of April, we decided to cancel it.
Although we had paid in advance for airfare, lodgings at two Airbnb flats, and two plays, we got almost all of our money back. The airfare was returned because there had been a change in the departure time. This gave the Air Canada employee an “out” that allowed us to get a full refund on the plane tickets. One of the Airbnb apartment owners was just a nice guy and gave us a full refund. Ditto for the plays.
Needless to say, we were very lucky.
Fast forward 16 months and we were still okay with the idea of going with Airbnb, in fact reserving at two Airbnb apartments.
Airbnb has a few advantages. While not necessarily cheap (one went for $180 a night, the other for about $230), you do save money by being able to eat breakfast there in the morning, prepare sandwiches for lunch and go out only once a day at what in London is a relatively pricey resto. Or, you can go out for lunch, and eat in for dinner, which we also did a number of times. So, Naomi and I were able to save, considering the restaurants prices in London, at least $90 a day this way.
Also, the vibe in an Airbnb is nothing like a hotel or even a B&B. The ones we had in London were very settled, particularly the second, located on a quiet street in Southbank, not far from the Old Vic Theatre, where Kevin Spacey was recently the artistic director for a few years.
So there’s none of that speedy, more ragged energy of a hotel, nor none of the group hug feeling of a B&B. You’re on your own, and you can only hope that the reality and the photos that you saw online match.
In our first flat, in the Wapping District in East London along the Thames River, well, you might call it “idiosyncratic”. There were beautiful antique and rough wooden floors, yet more than a couple of floorboards were completely unattached to the subfloor, and they would lift up and clink every time you’d walk over them.
The shower didn’t have a curtain; the cutlery drawer had only two forks yet plenty of spoons and knives, and we were never able to figure out the faucet in the kitchen. A light at its base would turn on or off at random with the turning of the faucet handle – red for hot water, blue for cold, but which action on the handle would cause it to turn off or on, or hot or cold, remained a mystery.
I also missed my music – the TV did have some music channels but not the jazz or classical music I prefer to clean the dishes to.
I was lucky to have a nice couch in the living room where I could sleep more comfortably and successfully than in the small bedroom with Naomi, where insomnia hit with me a vengeance, as it usually does, when I go to Europe.
I got the distinct feeling that the flat’s owner was a bit distracted. You know: you’ve got a city that everyone wants to go to, you have a nice place and the money’s easy; you can get lazy and I think that our hostess did.
Still, the flat was cozy and just large enough. Plus how much time does one spend in an accommodation while traveling, anyway?
But when Naomi and I moved to our second place, we were suitably impressed. Our host met us at the door and since he lived just upstairs we were able to email him with questions or problems and he’d be down in a flash (how to turn on the clothes dryer was a mystery, for example).
This second flat was in a completely different part of town (Southbank), and I highly recommend doing this if you spend enough time in a large metropolis: Try two very different neighborhoods and take the time to explore each one a bit.
The British flair for theatre comes alive with a tour guide. The voice, the diction, the sense of drama. You just want to stop and join in but unfortunately you feel a bit like an interloper and can’t stay too long, even if you want to.
Londoners seem to have an innate respect for history, unlike a city like Montreal where the monuments and statues are completely ignored and almost meaningless. If you can’t throw a stone in Switzerland without hitting a hiking path, you can’t go anywhere in London without a building or park or square having some deep meaning, historical or otherwise.
I might get my history fix satisfied if I put the effort into seeking answers on the Internet, but nothing replaces traipsing around different historical places in an interesting city with a stimulating guide and getting the lowdown on certain locations or people. Naomi and I somehow don’t define ourselves as “Tour Types”, but that might change next time around, a little.
Going on a guided tour is a little like going to a play – the narrator narrates a story before each building or landmark or monument and you, the spectator, learn.