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Going to London the backpacker way

by Véronique

29 April 2014 • On a whim I decided to attend the “Future of Tourism” evening in London hosted by sustainable tour operator G Adventures. One of the panel members was Tony Wheeler, founder of Lonely Planet, which was just one more reason to go. Booking the Eurostar was fast and easy and I managed to find a good price.

I prepared my little backpack and off I went. Good to know is that the Eurostar terminal in Brussels is a haven of peace compared to the bustling Midi station and that you can find food and magazines inside the terminal, after passport control.

After a smooth train ride I was happy to arrive in London city. The St Pancras International train station is beautiful and I must say that the subway system is easy, clean and comfortable. Also I like the fact that the trains have armrests. You can actually sit quite comfortable without sticking to a person you don’t know.

After I dropped my things in the hostel I decided to walk to the River Thames. What seemed like a short stroll actually took a lot longer (I do have excellent orientation skills – not) but arrived right on time to see a magnificent sunset, which put a golden glow on buildings and that touch of pink in the sky that I love so much.

It was a pleasant promenade past the London Eye in the Southbank area. I did not feel like going to bars by myself this time but I noted some for a next visit with Mike. 

Time for food. Near the Waterloo Station I found my happiness in the Gourmet Burger Kitchen… where they also have delicious vegetarian options. Who can say no to a burger called Billy The Kid (starring grilled aubergine and goat cheese)?

I booked my stay quite late so I had to settle for a bed in a dorm. I stayed in hostel Safestay near the underground station Elephant and Castle. It has a pink logo, pink sheets and a terrace. Do I need to say more?

When I got back in my dorm room I heard behind the curtain a voice say hello. Polite as I am, I answered. Little did I know that the girl was Skyping to her boyfriend not at least disturbed by the sleeping people in her room. I even tripped over the computer cord that was hanging over the room.

One sad thing technology changed is that nowadays everybody takes computers and smartphones on their travels. Everywhere in the hostel I saw people staring at their screens, communicating with whoever the digital way not with their friends at their table… 

The next morning I packed my belongings and went discovering London.

A good day starts with coffee. I discovered Monmouth Coffee next to Borough Market, many locals where waiting in line to get their cup of black gold…always a good sign. There was even a spot on the bench outside in the sun for me…how lucky can one be?

Borough market is the place to be for fresh British and international food beautifully presented. I was there early and could enjoy seeing the sellers prepare their food and shop. 

There is not one single thing I can remember I disliked during my short visit. I loved:

The British politeness, ‘excuse me’ all over the place;

The parks (including those where dogs and kids playing are not welcome so you can enjoy your lunch peacefully on a clean spot);

The food carts & food stalls streets;

The elevators?! in the underground stations  and the endless stairs if you want to avoid them (with a polite note mentioning the number of steps);

The vintage shops. I can recommend BLITZ for vintage clothing;

I even like it that everybody gave me wrong directions when I asked them (it seems like everybody who lives in London is foreigner); 

The diversity of restaurants for every budget, taste and allergy;

The different neighbourhoods with their own style and groove.

Old & New & ConstructionThe Tower & The Tent

Off course I’m always attracted to the water. London provides excellent chill options along the Thames. There are benches and it is clean and quiet.

My British neighbour recommended Spitalfields, which was nice with stalls selling craft, shops and restaurants. But I absolutely adored Shoreditch which was just übercool in every single possible way. Every two meter you will discover a surprising shop or bar, a parking lot with food trucks and chill area, a shopping centre in containers, a photoshoot, beautiful people? Yup it is all there.

Now if you are in for healthy food, London has also so much to offer on that side. I bought lunch at Leon in Spitalfields. I choose for the Original Superfood Salad with avocado, broccoli, cucumber and seeds neatly wrapped in a cool box. I paid 4,8 £, who said London was expensive?

Restaurant LeonMy Leon lunch bagBest spot for lunch (my superduperhealthy salad from restaurant Leon) in a park near SpitalfieldsLunch with a view

In the evening I attended “Future of Tourism” at the Royal Geographical Society. I’m happy I went and saw Bruce Poon Tip explain his passion. Here is an entrepreneur who thinks further than only quick economic advantage. Tourism can affect the world in a good way but respect is needed for the local culture and traditions. With Planeterra, G Adventures non-profit organization, they support local businesses and offering those to profit from the visiting tourists. Bruce also launched his first book Looptail, which we received that evening (a small donation was asked for Planeterra). After Bruce’s introduction there was a panel talk with one of the speakers Tony Wheeler. They gave their view on several travel related questions the moderator Lyn Hughes (editor-in chief Wanderlust Magazine) had prepared. I would love to hear Tony Wheeler speak more about his travel adventures. One day…

That evening I slept in the Generator Hostel. Located in the pleasant Bloomsbury neighbourhood. I booked a private room that night but received a dorm room all for myself. All I had to do was choose which bed I wanted to sleep in. Hostels can be a cheap solution. I was there in the Easter Holiday, which means low availability and high prices. Next time I probably would choose for Airbnb, a B&B or a budget hotel; The Guardian and Budgettraveler recommends several appealing ones.

The next day I needed to catch the morning Eurostar back to Belgium in the gorgeous St Pancras train station. I had some spare time to spend just outside the station and enjoy the morning sun and the quietness (quite unique in such a buzzing city). I even had time to get a coffee in Belgian restaurant group Pain Quotidien (also a hit in London apparently). 

Enjoying some sun just outside the train station before leaving

I’m sorry Berlin, NYC and Paris it seems I have a new big city favourite: London I love you.

www.visitlondon.com

www.eurostar.com