Wednesday, January 18, 2012

"It's all London, baby!" part 1

Perhaps the title is a cliché but I think it perfectly captures the excitement that is generally audible in people's voices (along with the jealousy) when I tell someone in Finland (or, indeed almost anywhere in Europe) that I live in London. "How is it?" people ask. "Do you enjoy it? What's the best thing about it? I wish I lived in London!" I thought I would actually write a series of blogs to give a small glimpse into the everyday life here - my main focus will not be on the tourist perspective and it will not be a travel story - rather, an informative account of London as I have learnt to see it during my 5 years of living here.
In short: I do enjoy living in London. To begin with it was a big culture shock and it took me a while to adjust but nowadays I love it!

And, excuse the photos, I felt rather compelled to use my own snapshots from 4,5 years ago so all the London photos have been taken with the Canon Ixus 55 and my undeveloped photography skills I had at the time :P

Location, distance and travel
I will start with this because I want to make it clear that only a very very small percentage of Londoners actually live in Central London. Many people work there but virtually no one lives there. On your first visit to the city, you will understand why. It is far too busy and noisy at every hour of night and day, it is very expensive and I am not exaggerating when I say that the first couple of times I went there, I could literally smell the pollution in the air. So where is it that I live? Greater London; Hampton to be more precise. That is in the southwest. People in Greater London do not consider themselves as living in London really. You may well hear someone from Greater London say "I'm going to London today." They mean they are going to Central London. However, for anyone who does not live in London in any kind of measure, they will just say they live in London, for clarity. But then, they do consider themselves Londoners. It is one of those things that you get the hang of and learn to use the appropriate expression.

For people like me who come from smaller cities (even Helsinki, the capital of Finland, counts as small here) it is pretty much impossible to imagine the size of London. When you see London from the plane window, it looks never-ending; it's just houses as far as the eye can see. This is why commuting tends to take a big chunk of a Londoner's time every day. Travelling an hour to work in the capital area is standard. That is the time I took getting to college each day (involved taking the bus and walking). That said, the public transport is very efficient at getting you to places (even though you will find that Londoners are always complaining about it). In London one survives without a car because public transport will take you anywhere you want in probably exactly the same amount of time as a car would (especially as you'd have to find somewhere to park your vehicle as well!). All this makes a person rethink their concept of a 'long' and a 'short' journey. In Finland a 30-minute continuous walk is a 'long' walk. Over here I would consider it relatively short. 

Here we have the infamous London tube map which I am sure everyone has come across at some point:

Click here for a larger image.
Against the contrary belief, it is not difficult to get around London by tube. It is by far the quickest way and much preferred to the bus (buses are great for sight-seeing but very slow as a mode of transport in the city centre). The signs at the tube stations indicating which line and which direction jumping on a train from a platform will take you are generally very accurate. I think that I have jumped on a train going in the wrong direction only once ever. What I have learnt: Always check the availability of the whole route before you travel, especially on weekends because there may be restoration work taking place and it might make you a good hour late if you fail to take it in account! Also, don't go London and ask for the "Subway" when you are looking for a tube station. You may be directed into a sandwich bar. 

Then there is the iconic red double-decker bus. I remember being terrified when I first sat in the front row on the upper level of one. It is so high you can't always see the car in front very well and it looks like the bus will crash into the back of it! A great experience though. A relatively cheap must-do when you visit London. 

And the final mention goes to the famous black cab (which nowadays are not always black as they may be covered in adverts). I have to admit I have never ridden one. They are very expensive and so generally only used by tourists.

What I feel I also need to point out about London travel is that it is very expensive for an adult. The current single bus fare stands at £2.30 if you buy it off the driver (buses charge by the number of buses you board and it costs you the same regardless of whether you travel two stops or 15 on that bus). If you are under 16 years old or if you are 16-18 in full-time education, you have free travel on buses and you can imagine me and my friends took full advantage of that when we still could! A return journey to London by train (aka 'Overground') from my house costs the price of a one-day travelcard, currently £8.50. So because already getting to London is fairly expensive, I do not generally go there just to hang out (most of my London visits are theatre trips). 
The Oyster card, i.e. the London travelcard that can either hold a seasonal travel pass or pay-as-you-go money.
I have learnt to enjoy long journeys, especially on the bus even though they felt frustrating to begin with. Usually I read (I don't suffer from travel-sickness at all) but sometimes I will just stare out of the window deep in thought or, if I'm really tired, doze of for a little while. While commuting you have the chance to relax. There is not much else to do! 


  1. Längtar... onneks pääsen Skontlantiin kesällä.

    1. Hoppas du har det trevligt där! Skotland är väldigt fint :)