I landed in London on June 23rd, 4 days ago, on a Thursday.
Since then, I’ve been exploring the city mainly by myself, but also alongside some of my friends who I met up with in the city (shoutout to Matei for coinciding his Grand Tour with mine, and Giovanni for taking time of work to hang out with me).
I’m really lucky to be able to travel like this, and thus I intend to make the most out of my experience abroad. I’ve only been here a few days, but I’d like to share a few of the things (good and bad) that I’ve found notable here in london.
The £3 meal deal
Well, it’s really £3.50 since I don’t have a club card, but the deal is still incredible. The deal includes 1 “Meal” item, 1 Drink, and 1 Snack. You can get this deal at any Tesco, Sainsbury’s, or M&S. At airports or big transit hubs, the deal gets marked up to £4.99, but it’s still a great deal.
Meal items generally include sandwiches and wraps (with great veggie options!), but I’ve also seen sushi, salads, and sausage + veggies! The snack is usually just chips, but I’ve seen sushi (4 pieces vs the 8-12 you’ll get in a meal sushi), fruit cups, and hummus/veggies. The drink options are generally standard, ranging from water to sodas to chilled coffees (some places let you get fresh costa coffee from a machine).
This is insane, coming from the US. I’ve never seen a deal like this in the US, and if I see something like this, it’s not nearly as ubiquitous as the meal deal is here. It’s an absolute lifesaver that I can find this meal anywhere in London. Unironically, if you were here on a budget, you could live on £10.50 - £14.00 a day (without cooking) if you didn’t want to cook to save money, since each meal deal is around 500 calories.
In general, I’ve noticed London to have a range of great options throughout, all with great veggie options (will talk about this more later).
Landing in London Gatwick (the second largest airport), I was able to take a train into central london, then easily transfer to a tube that took me close to my Airbnb (in Islignton), never waiting for more than 4-5 minutes for a train. The cost? £12.20. (And the airport is quite far!)
Oh, and it was also faster than the Uber would’ve been (and obviously cheaper).
London is a city with a really well designed transit system, and one that feels generally quite safe* (taking it mostly between 9am and 10pm, and I’m a male, so this point definitely has an asterisks). The Tube is super efficient and fast, and it’s really nice to know you can go basically anywhere for a pretty decent cost. Some basic googling indicates that the tube is one of the most expensive transit systems, but in my opinion it’s definitely worth it.
I never thought this would be possible, based on my impressions of Kentucky and of fast food in general, but the UK has done it again. This exists, and it’s pretty good!
The UK in general has an insane amount of vegetarian / vegan friendly food options everywhere, so I’m just going to give a list of a few of my favorites that I’ve already tried (yes, I came here to eat, that’s the best part of traveling!)
In the US, McDonalds is known for being so anti-vegetarian they put beef flavoring on the oil used for their fries. In the UK, not only are the fries vegetarian, but McDonald’s has a Vegetarian and Vegan section on their menu, with many great options. I can’t describe how surreal it was to eat a Happy Meal for the first time in my life, something that the US McDonald’s has always denied me. Odd that I was able to complete an American right of passage only in Britain, but here we are!
You cannot go more than 2 blocks without seeing one of these, and these are quite amazing. They’re basically just better Starbucks’ (and Starbucks here feels like it’s trying to copy Prett), and they have a really great amount of to-go sandwiches and wraps (and some salads). I’ve tried the Posh Cheddar & Pickle Baguette (they’ve got a half sandwich for £2.50), the Meatless Marinara Wrap, and the Tomato and Cheese Croissant, and they’re all pretty good (I think the Wrap isn’t for me personally though).
This place is quite amazing — it’s got a variety of Japanese style items, all available either for to-go or eat in. There are two veggie options for curry, with Tofu and with fake Chicken. There’s also veggie sushi boxes. Yet again, an entirely vegetarian section of the menu. It’s just amazing here.
This place is also great in terms of options, and I really like the vibe of eating here. Whereas the previous places are more of ‘grab and go’ + limited indoor dining, this place has a giant cafeteria style food hall inside, and also features an almost 50% vegetarian/vegan menu. Great options all around, though I will say you’ve got to ask them to make things spicier (or maybe that’s a UK thing).
4 Days, 4 fast food places, that’s pretty concerning LOL
All in all, I’m loving the options here.
Speaking Outloud On a more uncomfortable note, it’s always interesting to see the reaction for when I speak outloud. I (shocker) have an american accent, and people instantly shift when they notice the accent. Some are friendly, but most instantly place you as ‘ah, annoying tourist’, and while helpful, are a bit distant.
It’s honestly not really that bad, but it’s the first time I’ve ever felt conscious of when I speak (aside from when I visit India, but there it makes sense because I don’t really speak the language (Gujarati or Hindi) too well).
The accent thing definitely is what terrifies me about visiting Paris though, so wishing myself the best of luck before I visit there, since Paris is known for being anti-tourist + mildly racist + anti-anyone who doesn’t speak French (I am a classic American who only speaks English). At any rate, we’ll see how it goes!
There’s a ton of free museums here. Pretty much all the major ones are, including but not limited to: The British Museum, The Tate Modern, and the Natural History Museum. (there’s a lot more free ones).
One of the things that did strike me is the awkward question of empire - it’s impossible to miss the impact of it - after all, London was the capital of the world for a while - and countless things in the city are directly ‘imported’ from its colonies. I find it really interesting in particular to read the wording of how a museum or attraction acquired its items. As an Indian, I know that Britain brutally ruled my country of origin. For most items I’ve seen, the display will often read that the item was a ‘gift’ from the East India Company. The company was a state-sponsored unit to effectively do whatever they’d like in the colonies, and there’s a few articles on the atrocities they committed, if you google a bit. There’s even a top 10 list.
I suppose it’s only natural that the British wouldn’t want to acknowledge their ugly past, but it’s definitely something that gets to me. Seeing countless ‘gifts’ taken from India everywhere isn’t pleasant, and it does feel weird knowing I’m in the capital city of a country that once brutally oppressed my ancestors.
I’ve never really felt this way before, and so for that reason I think it’s been an interesting visit. I don’t think it’s fair to compare it to African Americans in the US, but walking around here and seeing museums has made me reconsider what it might be like to be black in the US, especially if you were to visit DC, where all the buildings were built with slave labor. It’s not at all the same - but this experience in the UK did prompt me into thinking about what it might be like to just exist in every day life in the US.
It’s a complex topic for sure, and not one I’m really qualified to unpack, but I wanted to bring it up because I found it to be something I wrestled with almost daily, since almost every exhibit or museum I went to would have some item or some attraction ‘gifted’ by the East India Company. It’s quite wild that I wasn’t even able to see the Koh-i-Noor diamond, because it was behind an (additional) pay-wall in the Tower of London with a giant line, because they were part of the British Crown Jewels. The Koh-i-Noor diamond, for context, was stolen by British during their reign.
In general, I don’t know how the British can really resolve this (governments rarely like to admit they messed up), but it’s definitely something that weighed on me as I traversed the city every day.
At any rate, these are my thoughts after a few days here - unsure if I’ll post a follow up before I get to Paris, but this was fun to write, so hopefully I’ll be able to write more on each city I visit while in Europe!