Hometown Tourist: You Know You are a Londoner when…

I love living in London and have been lucky enough to call the city home on and off for 11 years now. In fact I would proudly walk around the streets wearing a “I Heavy black heart LDN” t-shirt if they were not so commercially touristy! As with settling into any new city, you slowly adopt the mannerisms of the locals. So below are a list of some of the tell tale signs you are changing. Eventually you will know you are a Londoner when…1. You don’t stop at pedestrian crossings.

 Londoners are always in a rush and despite the international reputation that the British enjoy queuing /waiting  it certainly is not the case in London. As Natalie liked to remind me “we are Londoners, we just go!”. A red crossing man is purely a light hearted suggestion to a Londoner. Like a red rag to a bull it just incites us to cross the road a little faster. Buses, lorries (that’s a truck to the rest of the world) and emergency services vehicles will have no influence on our desire to get to the other side of the road as quickly as possible. In fact next time you are waiting for the lights to change watch the locals as they make the dash, many will be shaking their heads at everyone waiting.

2. You will start to complain about all the tourists.

As London streaks towards becoming the world’s most visited city in 2014 the huge increase in tourism means the streets of central London are bulging. Saturday shopping in Oxford or Regent streets can be more like a contact sport and a venture into Primark? Forget it! Despite the need for the influx of tourism dollars, Londoners all secretly wish for the streets to be ours again! Could we really be turning into our arch rivals the Parisians?

Blimey!
Prepare to fight with the masses if you want this shot

Prepare to fight with the masses if you want this shot

3. You know a better curry house than anything in Brick Lane.

While the beloved chicken korma is now considered to be one of the UK’s national dishes, most visitors intent on experiencing British Indian food head down to the famous Brick Lane in the East End. As a Londoner you will proudly state that nothing in Brick Lane comes close to the curry house on the high street around the corner from where you live. To be honest, you are probably right!

A London institution, but you know a better place to go!

A London institution, but you know a better place to go!

4. You hit the parks at the first sign of the sun!
There is no better city in the world when the sun comes out than London. Fact! The city comes alive, the convertible roofs on cars are lowered, everyone spills into the parks (of which London has World class options) or green spaces and the streets in front or behind the local pub become THE place to be. I still find it mildly amusing that people will be sunbathing in the park as the mercury hits a stifling 18 degrees Celsius, but we have to make the most of the sun when we see it! (Maybe I am not a fully fledged local just yet). Oh and often Tesco’s sell out of burgers – sun=BBQs!

5. You will walk 10 minutes past multiple coffee shops to visit your favourite coffee chain.Costa, Cafe Nero and Starbucks monopolise the coffee shop scene in London and most Londoners have their favourite. Sometimes you will drop your standards to the second choice but everyone of us has one of the big three we wouldn’t be caught dead in. Sometimes that 15 minute walk (it would have been 20 if we waited for the lights) was worth it.

Sometimes it is worth the walk to stay loyal

Sometimes it is worth the walk to stay loyal

6. You don’t talk to strangers on the Tube.
Seriously! During London 2012 the vibe in the tube was incredible but as soon as the Olympics finished that spirit disappeared faster than Usain Bolt in the 100 metres! Whether you are on your own, travelling with your friend, boyfriend, girlfriend, wife husband or even kid, most Londoners pile onto the tube in deathly silence. No eye contact is made, a look of disdain will be flashed at the overly noisy tourists and no word uttered until the cone of silence ceases when the tube doors open and you step onto the platform!
The smiles will stop and silence ensues as the train pulls up

The smiles will stop and silence ensues as the train pulls up

7. You don’t catch black cabs.
Sure they look cool and are one of the symbols of the city but do you know how much they cost?! Unless you are a high flying banker where (our) money is no object, most locals will walk, tube or if a taxi is a must, take a mini cab. There are always exceptions but if you do have to take a ride it is never a very long one.
The Black Cab, icon of London but too expensive for most locals

The Black Cab, icon of London but too expensive for most locals

Of course this is not a definitive list. There are numerous other tell tale signs you have evolved merely from living to in London to becoming a true Londoner. Do you have any more? If so, leave a comment below or share with us on Facebook.
– Dean

 

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Hometown Tourist: Travel Inspiration in the Heart of London

The best thing about living in London is there is always something going on regardless of what you are into. So with a day off work together and a quick Google search we discovered that the Travel Photographer of the Year exhibition was on at the Royal Geographic Society, how could we not go?!

The best thing about this exhibition is it is free!

The best thing about this exhibition is it is free!

The exhibition showcases the best photos and some honourable mentions of the 1000’s of photos that are sent to the Royal Geographic Society every year. From stunning landscapes, incredible wildlife shots and intimate local interactions, the winning photos come from all around the world.

Every year there are different briefs and categories and you can even win an award taking photos with your mobile phone. If ever you where in need of some travel inspiration, this exhibition is for you!

Set in the courtyard of the Society’s London headquarters, there are about 50 photos on display. Combine that with books on show of previous years’ award winners the exhibition makes for a great escape for an hour or two. There are umbrellas on hand should you need to borrow one (we did!) to continue browsing the pictures in the outside courtyard. Wandering around an outside gallery was a novelty in itself!

The Society's courtyard

The Society’s courtyard

Sadly the Exhibition finishes this Sunday (August 17th) before it begins to tour the UK and then the world. However it is a great prelude to our favourite photo exhibit every year, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year at the Natural History Museum which starts every October. If you have a spare hour at lunchtime, then its well worth a wander!

 

Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines: RAF Museum London

We continue our Home Town Tourist series with a look at one of London’ s unique historical museums a little out of the city centre.

London is full of museums, and the best thing about them is most of them are free. You can marvel at dinosaurs a the Natural History Museum, discover the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum and even explore London’s oldest prison in the Clink Museum (you do have to pay for this one). However, one of our favourites is the RAF Museum in Hendon.

 

The entrance hangar with numerous pre-WWI planes

The entrance hangar with numerous pre-WWI planes

Originally a RAF airbase in North London, the museum now houses over 130 aircraft tracing the history not only of the Royal Air Force but also of aviation in the UK.

From the early years of flight up to modern day fighter jets, the RAF Museum has it all

From the early years of flight up to modern day fighter jets, the RAF Museum has it all

Split across four hangers all interconnected the museum contains loads of audio visual information, a chance to sit in several of the aircraft, flight simulators and air traffic control simulators, all designed to bring the various aircraft to life.

One of the greatest military aircraft of all time, the Submarine Spitfire

One of the greatest military aircraft of all time, the Submarine Spitfire

There are several highlights of the collection including the Battle of Britain Hall showcasing the famous old war birds, the Spitfire and Hurricane that helped defeat Nazi Germany in the Battle of Britain. A Lancaster Bomber and Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress take pride of place in the Bomber Hall as well as the cold war nuclear deterrent the mighty Vulcan (our personal favourite).

The enormous Lancaster Bomber taking pride of place in the 'Bomber Hall'

The enormous Lancaster Bomber taking pride of place in the ‘Bomber Hall’

A special mention must be made of the Canberra Bomber, which my Grandfather was one of the chief engineers on. There is an amazing sense of pride I feel every time I see her, and was a real buzz visiting with my Dad last year when my parents came over to the UK.

The Canberra, the plane my Grandfather worked on.

The Canberra, the plane my Grandfather worked on.

It is easy to spend several hours wandering through the hangers marvelling at everything from early RAF Bi-planes, to modern day search and rescue helicopters. There are several free 30 minute guided tours throughout the day to help bring alive the amazing history and is a fantastic museum to visit with family and children. The RAF Museum in Hendon is a must for military history buffs, for pilots and aviation fans and also the perfect big boys toys museum.

For opening times to the RAF Museum Hendon click here

For directions and location please click here.

-Dean

 

Hometown Tourist: Mind The Gap, Fine Dining on a Victoria Line London Tube

Ask any Londoner and everyone has an opinion about the tube. Increased travel costs, tube strikes, signal failures and closures due to maintenance works, we have a love hate relationship with the world’s oldest underground system. However fine dining on the tube? You have to be joking!

Well, Alex and the team at Basement Galley turned a disused London icon into an amazing pop up restaurant experience.

As we continue to explore our hometown and uncover quirky and different experiences around London, Natalie had booked the Underground Supper Club and had cryptically only told me that ‘we are going out on Saturday night’.

Whilst we walked from the Blackhorse Road tube station on the Victoria Line, I wondered where Natalie was taking me. We arrived, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, but the treasure trove of the (currently) closed Walthamstow Pumphouse Museum awaited. A miss match of semi restored London Routemaster buses, fire trucks, Bedford lorries and old military trucks greeted us, and our restaurant for this evening, a former Victorian Line tube carriage was parked up ready for boarding. This was a playground to be explored!

Not your standard restaurant entrance

Not your standard restaurant entrance

I won’t lie, when we arrived at the barbed wire gates behind which sat the skeletons of these trucks, trains and buses and Natalie proudly announced ‘We’re here!’ I was a little sceptical. I truly wondered where she had brought me. However as soon as the staff greeted us, we could tell we were going to be in for a unique experience and a great night.

It was a beautiful spring / summer evening as we milled around nursing a G&T and explored the yard of old relics. Chatting to a local enthusiast, we loved hearing all about his restoration projects with two Routemasters taking all his spare time. One had been ‘rescued’ and when he found it there was a tree growing off the back platform – he had his work cut out!

One of the Routemaster London buses currently being restored

One of the Routemaster London buses currently being restored

At just gone 7pm,we were invited to ‘mind the gap’ and board our tube carriage. Head Waiter Chi welcomed us to the Underground Supper Club before Head Chef Alex introduced himself and explained some of the history of the Basement Galley and the idea behind their pop up restaurants.

The tube carriage set for dinner

The tube carriage set for dinner

What followed was without doubt one of the most enjoyable dining experiences we have had in London. Five courses of Alex’s finest creations, with each course raising the bar, all set in the unique ambience of the tube.

Dinner is served...

Dinner is served…

The menu for these evenings changes monthly, with refinements made each time they host evenings. It was one of these experiences, much like the Melbourne Tram Car Restaurant, where you sit back and ‘think how did they produce this in that tiny kitchen’! Alex’s small team were busy bustling away in the museum cafeteria. The results of which would not have looked out of place in a Michelin-Starred restaurant. The joys of a supper club mean, generally speaking, you eat a set menu and mingle with other diners. Out of five courses the only thing Natalie and I left on our plates was the duck bone. Alex is a graduate of the Le Cordon Blue School in Paris and trained with some of France’s top chefs. Fuse this French cuisine with some Heston Blumenthal style ways of combining flavours, and the results were magnificent. Whoever knew that Green Pea soup could hold such hidden surprises (I can’t spoil the surprise!), that Kohlrabi made a great substitute for mash and that strawberry and black pepper are a match made in heaven, to name but a few.   The whole package was just brilliant, and we loved Alex’s idea of teaming up with other local specialities and business such as coffee served from local Camden coffee company ‘Black Sheep Coffee’.

Local Camden coffee provided by Black Sheep Coffee

Local Camden coffee provided by Black Sheep Coffee

The one thing that struck us was the incredible passion everyone had for their job. From the drinks and wait staff who mingled, chatted and appeared so proud to be involved, to the amazing food Alex and Christelle (Sous Chef) had created in the primitive museum cafeteria kitchen. That love and passion really shone through.

Head Waiter Chi, Natalie, and Master Chef Alex

Head Waiter Chi, Natalie, and Master Chef Alex

Now I know what you are thinking, how do we experience this for ourselves? Sadly the Underground Supper Club is coming to the end of the line. In two weeks time Alex and the team host their final weekend in the disused carriage. Following this they have some other exciting projects up their sleeve and plan to ‘pop up’ in other new settings around London.  Never has the term, ‘quit while you are ahead’ been so true. We can’t wait for their next restaurant to ‘pop up’! Our advice, if you haven’t done so already, is to sign up to the mailing list. Who knows where we may meet and in what unconventional setting in the future!

–       Dean and Natalie

You all know how much we love trains

You all know how much we love trains

P.S At the time of writing there were still some seats available for the final Friday evening of their last weekend (30th May 2014). You can buy your Travelcard for dinner here.

 

What have you got Two Loos?

Now here’s a question to get started, after all everyone needs to learn one piece of useless information every day…. What are Urilifts?

After our pledge to make the most of our hometown, we googled ‘quirky stuff to do  in London’.  Up popped a whole host of options, but before we knew it we had picked our favourite.  We found ourselves booking onto one of the more random options – The London Loo tour!  “You are doing what?” asked several of our friends.  “We are joining the London Loo Tour” we proudly responded!  

This was met with two main reactions from our friends.  Firstly why on Earth would you do it.  This was quickly followed with a… ‘but that sounds quite cool’!

Armed with my big SLR camera (no one wants to miss that prize-winning dunny shot) we set off to meet Rachel, the self-proclaimed ‘Loo Tour Lady’ (LTL).  Rachel has quite possibly one of the most random job title ever, and you get the impression she loves it!  A former drama student, she guides you effortlessly through the U-bend of toilet trivia, and from here on in she will be referred to as ‘LTL’.

 

I've seen Dean take many photos before, but never of toilets!

I’ve seen Dean take many photos before, but never of toilets!

Although there are several tours on offer, we thought we would start with the original and the best –The Waterloo Tour (no pun intended).  This tour was set to last 1 ½ hours and provides practical trips for finding the best free loos in London, as well of course as the history of loos and lots of better-than bog standard jokes.  Cross-legged with excitement we met outside the toilets at platform 19 and the adventure began.  LTL, armed with her raised loo plunger held proudly in the air, walked us out of the station and we were off.  We were all very amused by the odd looks that we received and the double takes the plunger demanded!

 

Follow that plunger!

Follow that plunger!


Our first stop was to see the Royal Jubiloos….. opened along South Bank in honour of the Queens Jubilee.  These are pay toilets, but with Union Jack toilet seats, bins and mirrors they are well work the 50p entrance fee.  Of course being part of the London Loo Tour granted us VIP free access – just proving that there is nowhere the toilet plunger can’t reach!

 

A Royal occasion

A Royal occasion

It transpired that my keenness to find free public conveniences was shared with many in the group.  When you need to spend a penny you don’t want it to cost you a pound and I’m delighted to say LTL shared her top secret best haunts – both official and unofficial!  As a proud Londoner I thought I knew lots of the back roads, but as we wound our way through toilet-graffiti alleyways and discovered hidden parks I felt like I was rediscovering my own city, all whilst having several historical facts thrown in.  Who ever knew that I would find the history of the London sewer system so interesting…

Now back to that question of the Urilift.  LTL told us how things are a bit inequitable with loos.  For men there are not only static WCs, but in an attempt to stop them watering the plants late at night, the powers that be have come up with better ideas.

 

Watch out guys...

Watch out guys…

Perhaps my favourite of which is the Urilift.  When we saw it, it looked little more than a man-hole cover on the ground.  You have never seen us looking so excited as when we returned the following week and it had ‘popped up’ and was proudly stood in all its glory.  So bowled over by it were we, that we forgot to take a picture!  So instead I present to you the official Urilift website featuring the Urilift – Solution against street urination video….. It’s worth a watch if you, like us get excited by this concept!

 

The Urilift - for all your urination needs…. unless you are a woman!

The Urilift – for all your urination needs…. unless you are a woman!

All too soon our loo tour was up and where better than to finish than in a swanky bar that was once itself a public convenience.  You might think I haven’t included much about the tour here.  Well that’s the point.  We thoroughly enjoyed the walk, the wisdom of LTL but above all, her love of the most bog standard aspect of human existence.  We would urge anyone to go and found out all about the hidden gems of the London loo scene.  There are a choice of tours and I’d bet a flush on it that you won’t be disappointed!

–          Natalie, Toileteer

More information about the tours can be found on Rachel’s London Loo Tours site:  www.lootours.com