In Foggy London Town the Sun was Shining Everywhere (learning to love London) [Travels with my Uke]
In the 1937 movie, "Damsel in Distress", Fred Astaire's character sings, "A Foggy Day (in London Town)" to describe his initial feelings of being in London, which were then transformed when he saw a beautiful English Lady with whom he fell in love.
We arrived in London in mid-March, 2022, to a pouring-down rainstorm. Talk about confirming negative stereotypes! Our trip to London followed a 2-month stay in Lisbon, and for a few days, I experienced culture shock. I described it this way at the time in a social media post :
"Well, in London (realizing we've only been here two days) everything seems really big and wide and flat. All the signs are in English. The bakeries have nice sweets but the bread seems a little ho hum. People are dressed every which way. It's more like the US than I would have thought. It's really more of a feeling than reasoned thoughts....like things are "off." Buildings are huge but largely undecorated (remember, we were just in Lisbon). I [feel a little] overwhelmed by the crush of people."
I’ll be honest – London has been hard for me to love. Strangers here are a bit stand-offish, rarely saying more than what is strictly required in the situation. A local friend said to me, "If you were to chat with someone on the subway, they might just die on the spot!" The city is vast. It lacks a certain raucous energy. One can feel the origin of the phrase, "Keep calm and carry on."
When I described my feelings to an American friend who lived in London years ago, he replied:
"Glad you’ve warmed up to the City as the weather has done the same…yep, you have to find it’s charm under that buttoned-up upper-lip (forgive the mixed metaphor) British exterior that’s not as obvious as glossy in-your-face Paris or even sunny classic Athens or Fellini decadent Rome…but worth the wait…it’s more intellectually permanent…like a Harold Pinter play…!"
Well, the weather improved from our first night, and so have my feelings about London.
I consulted Paul to develop our top 10 things we love about London. (I should note, he never felt out of place here from the beginning).
Kim & Paul's Top 10 Things We Love About London (in no particular order):
1. Theatre (or, as we would call it, theater). Shakespeare, Royal Opera, West End plays – London has it all, in world-class venues with world-class casts. The prices are reasonable and the variety is astounding. For us, Shakespeare is the original English poet, sociologist, and political commentator, and we're soaking it in. We saw productions at the new Globe Theatre, a reconstruction of the original theatre where Shakespeare worked in the 16th century. The productions are fun and innovative. Bonus: you can take a side trip to Stratford-upon-Avon, as we did, and see where Shakespeare was born, how he lived, where he is buried, and the theatre that is the home of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
2. Public transportation. The London Underground (tube) goes everywhere, pretty quickly and for a decent price if you use it regularly. Even less expensive are the many iconic red double-decker buses that dot the city. There are ferries across the Thames and light rail to the suburbs and smaller cities, and the Eurostar that connects London to Paris is under 3 hours. You can use a touchless card or Google Pay for city transit, which is incredibly convenient, and tickets for everything else are available online, creating QR codes which you can use from your phone directly or transfer to Google Pay. The convenience can't be beat. And, the city is very walkable – flat and pretty logically laid out.
3. Curry. Yum. We did a whole blog on the curry.
4. Borough Market, Camden Market, smaller markets everywhere. Like a lot of European venues (and unlike most of the U.S.), London has small vendors scattered everywhere, making it easy to pick up what you need, when you need it. They are walking distance to the flat and public transit. We especially love our coffee roaster - Camden Coffee Shop - a one-man shop with great aromas! London also has plenty of large chain stores, but we enjoyed the smaller local shops.
5. Parks and outdoor squares. They are big and small, but all pretty, well-manicured, and people-friendly. They are everywhere throughout the city, and easy to walk to and take public transit. Hyde Park, Regent’s Park, St. James Park, and the South bank of the Thames are a few we’ve visited.
6. Doner.* This one has an asterisk, because Paul loves this and Kim does not. These are meat fast-food similar to Gyros, and they come in German style and Indian style. Paul thinks they are delicious. (Kim would rather just have leftovers. Paul says, make sure you say that you are not eating leftover doner, because they are so delicious there are never leftovers).
7. Historic palaces.* This one has an asterisk because Kim thinks these are cool and interesting and Paul has more complicated feelings about them, primarily related to what he thinks of as an unhealthy obsession with royals and a lack of social responsibility in some of the exhibits in the royal palaces. Kim credits this observation, but thinks the history outweighs the negatives. Both of us were especially moved by the graffiti-like etchings by prisoners in the walls of the London Tower – the last efforts of desperate people to not be forgotten by the world. It is always amazing when you can walk through buildings dating back to the 12th century and see how other people lived in the time.
8. Food from our local M and S food court. While British food is not known for its innovation, we have found British locally made yogurts and cheeses to be delicious, and a steady source of them can be found at our local Marks & Spencer food court (grocery store). We've been surprised by the variety of English cheese (also picking those up at the markets) and enjoyed them. M and S also has very reasonably priced wines from the world - we've especially enjoyed their French wine selection, and very nice fruits and vegetables.
9. Museums. While we haven’t taken advantage of as many museums as we had hoped (where did the time go) – the British Museum was over the top amazing. We also discovered lesser known places, thanks to a friend who works at the Bishopsgate Institute and formerly worked at the Black Cultural Archives. At those venues, we saw interesting bits of some of the histories of social protest movements in London. And, we ventured outside London to see Stratford-upon-Avon and Coventry, both rich with history.
10. Warm, engaging people. While Londoners seem to rarely interact with strangers, when you have an introduction, you meet incredible people. We met with several friends and family (who live in or near London) of friends and family (from the U.S.). Each of them was warm, welcoming, generous, interesting and helpful. We can't thank you enough - Issa, Claire, Iris, Paul, Kate, Neil, and Georgia - for your hospitality and for making our stay in London so terrific.
I learned the song, “A Foggy Day in London Town” because I think the spirit of the song reflects my journey in learning to love London. The song was first performed by Fred Astaire in the movie A Damsel in Distress in 1937. Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald sing it wonderfully in 1959. The most riveting version I have heard, though, is by Billie Holiday.
To hear Kim sing “A Foggy Day in London Town”, click here.