Sonntag, 31. März 2013

London 2013

When some of my ex-colleagues told me they were going to London this year to visit the Devoxx conference and also spend some time in the city I figured it might be a good idea to join them.  So I talked my boss into paying me the trip to London (at least the conference related stuff) and hooked up with my former co-workers for some cultural sightseeing and enjoying some London pubs ;-)
Fortunately we had some lovely English spring weather, meaning 0-2°C snow and rain plus a chilling wind that tried to rip the flesh from our soaked bodies... man, how I hate that bloody weather over there…

Nevertheless we got to see a few really noteworthy attractions during those days, the first one being the Tower of London. On a few maze like tracks through a few dozens of towers, galleries, halls and chambers you explore the old fortress and get to know some interesting facts about the Tower’s history. Due to the narrow and steep staircases, like you only see them in the Netherlands these days ;-), this trip can be quite a challenge but is still worth it if you are keen on English history, medieval stuff or ancient architecture. Unfortunately a greater part of the tours require you to get outside into the inhabitable area of rain and chill. But as long as you stay inside, e.g. visiting the crown jewels (very impressive stuff) it is rather pleasant. As we just arrived that day, and some of us acted as if they were freezing to death, this was the only sightseeing we did that day.

For dinner we fancied some curry and the hotel staff sent us to “Brick Lane”, it took us some time to figure out that this was not the name of a specific restaurant but instead a street name where you can find a lot of Indian restaurants next to each other. And what happened there was something we have never encountered before. In front of each of those restaurants was a guy advertising rather aggressively for said restaurant, telling us that this was the best place etc. Well, we were there for the food after all so we just took one and went in, after the guy outside promised us a 20% discount on the food. Inside we saw that all tables were full and the place was rather crowded. But before we (a party of 5 people after all) could leave again we were given some drinks and told to wait as there would be a table available soon. And so the ushering began…  A two person table just got free and on the other side of the aisle a three person party seemed to finish their meal. But those two tables could not be connected on the other hand there was a small table next to the three person table where two girls just got their food and were enjoying it. So those two simply got relocated by the staff to the other side of the aisle and suddenly there was enough room for us. To be honest, something like that would get the place shut down very quickly if you tried that in Germany ;-) So we sat down... ordered… and ate the food that was IMO rather tasty. But as soon as we finished our plates were taken away, in some cases in the very same second the cutlery hit the plate (and I am NOT exaggerating here). Well, we paid up and emptied our drinks but we were not quick enough to avoid being asked to leave... politely but nevertheless it was clear they wanted us out as soon as possible… Now that was a first to all of us…

Afterwards we were to meet up with friend of one of my companions who already lives in London for a few years now. He took us to some kind nightclub in the city. As I am not much of a clubbing person that was not my favorite part of the trip ;-) But I learned that people are people no matter if you are in London or Munich or anywhere else… add loud music, enough alcohol and heat and the idiocy emerges ;-) Yes, I know… I am just too cranky about that topic so let’s just move on… When we left the club the tube was already shut so we had to find a bus line taking us back to our hotels (I stayed at a different place than my mates) but that was rather tricky as our guide had not much clue himself about the bus night lines. At least we found a line at Picadilly that took us to my mates’ hotel and I decided to join them and take a cab from their place. So we already saw Picadilly and I had London cab ride… Check ;-)

On the next day we met up at Hyde Park, had a look at Speakers’ Corner and walked south to the Buckingham Palace. Then took a turn through the government quarters looking at Downing Street and then at the Houses of Parliament as well as Westminster Abbey. Too bad it was Sunday, so Westminster was closed for tourists. After crossing the Thames to the Eye of London we walked all the way to the Tate Modern Museum too look at some crazy shit… Yeah right, I am not an art person, congrats for figuring that one out… As that was a very long walk we had, we decided to go back to the hotel and so crossed the Thames again to St. Paul’s via the Millenium Bridge and had another nice bus ride. This time we decided to go for an Italian dinner, which actually was quite nice in a rather classy place. But when it came to the check there was some confusion, the check had a service charge on it (about 12.5%) and as far as we knew that meant that we should not give an additional tip. But our waitress did not look too happy so we just asked and she told us, that this service charge was for the company only but also that it was “okay”… So we all put in some extra for a nice tip, but after some more research on the topic it now seems that the bitch screwed us over. Afterwards we headed for pub next to the hotel and had a nice chatty evening while enjoying funny named beers like “Doom Bar” or “Panzerfaust”, yes that’s right, that is how those English people name beer. The experience of a bar closing down at 11 pm, even though it was expected, was somehow weird though.

Okay, final sightseeing day. We started out at Harrods, holy cow they sell a lot of crap there… It was really impressing seeing such a big and overwhelming shopping mall especially with a lot of luxury stuff. On the top level I found the following item in the sports section, please note the very reasonable price on the sign sitting on the right side of the seabob (okay, looks like you can't zoom in, well the sign says you can buy this nifty toy for the very reasonable price of 80.000 GBP):

After about an hour we headed off to Madame Tussauds to see some wax celebrities and I must say, some of them look _really_ impressive. My favorite of live like look is Sean Connery, that face seemed almost alive. All in all there was quite a lot to see but the “horror show” does not deserve its name and the “Marvel Experience” has just nothing to do with the rest. Even though, the visit was well worth it and I can only recommend it to anyone who has the chance to see it. Afterwards we were considering to try Westminster Abbey again until we found out it had already closed down for that day, darn it! So we did call it a day and headed back to the hotel again. This time our dinner plans took us to a Mexican place that was close to the Italian we were at before, for some reason I could not interest anyone in an English dinner ;-) After a really lovely but rather expensive meal we tried a different pub which was also quite lovely.

The next two days were filled with conference stuff which I will write about in some other post. On the first evening I was at the conference until 10 pm but the others left earlier as the later talks were not interesting for them. So they went back to the pub from the day before but had a not that pleasant experience with a obviously drunk fellow that tried to get them started on “the war, that we lost” etc. When I heard about that I was pretty happy I stayed at the conference ;-) But seriously, is that really something English people need to talk about? Or do you consider it funny to annoy us? Or do you just like to make Nazi references? I really hope that one was an exception… 

On our last evening after the conference ended we went to another Italian place and a pub afterwards near the conference venue. This one got by without any trouble what so ever and was kind of a perfect ending for our trip. 

I must say despite being an awful expensive place to live London seems like a real nice place, at least for  a short vacation even though it seemed to me that an awful lot of litter was laying around everywhere. But the tube took me any place I had to go very reliably and the huge amount of signs and service people everywhere (all way more friendly and helpful than those at home) made it very easy for me as a foreigner to find my way. So I guess I will be back some day to get to see the stuff I missed this time... Beware!!!