London Lantern

Putting the Spotlight on London

Eight Questions That Travelers Ask About London - Second Four

22/01/2004, By David McIntosh

Reader Rating: 2.9 from 13647 votes


More answers from the ever helpful David McIntosh to some of those questions that you have always wanted to ask about London but didn't know where on earth you could come across somebody to solve your conundrums for you; if you have any queries for us or for him, please let us know and maybe we could find out for you. Just E-Mail them to us.

5. If I miss the underground I can always take a cab. Right?

Yes, you can - and that brings us to our next subject, the world famous, and justifiably so, London cabs. And, London cabs and cabbies are world famous for good reasons. Unlike other big cities where a ride in taxi can be akin to a roll of the dice, youíll find taking a cab in London an experience where you will, most likely, be dealing with a competent and able driver who will get you to your destination quickly and with a minimum of hassle. To boot, you may also find your cabbie to be one of the more entertaining people youíll come across on your trip. Theyíve seen everything, have an opinion on about any subject and thereís a good chance your hack has had someone famous in the back of his cab at some time or other.

Thereís a reason London cabbies are known worldwide. Not just anyone can become a cab driver in London. The process is highly regulated - one of those fairly uncommon examples of government regulation that actually works at intended - and difficult. Becoming a licensed cabbie in London involves taking a lengthy and exhaustive test administered by the municipal government, followed by an actual driving test through the streets of London. Preparing for the test involves a process of study and cramming and memorization known as learning 'the knowledge', the knowledge being the ability to know the best route from any point in London to any other point in London. Suffice to say that getting ready to take the test is an exhaustive and some would even say exhausting process. Some individuals spend years preparing for the test, itís that hard.

As for the cabs themselves the London black cab is also an icon known worldwide. They are feisty little vehicles designed expressly for the purpose of being a taxi and a reputation for durability. To use a phrase I once heard: theyíre about as tough as a one dollar steak. Over the years they have been turned out by manufacturers such as Austin, British Leyland and Morris. Newer models are now manufactured by London Cabs International.

In a nod toward modernity not all London cabs these days sport the traditional black paint job; more and more cabs bear advertising graphics and many a colorful paint schemes can be noticed on the streets of London.

6. What about driving on the Ďwrongí side of the road, will I have much trouble getting used to that?

First off, say that to someone from the UK and they would gently remind you that itís the folks from the Ďstatesí who just so happen to drive on the wrong side of the road, thank you kindly. Letís not get tangled up with the matter of which side of the road is the one you should drive on and just say that it is important to remember which side is the correct one for the road your happen to be motoring at a particular moment, otherwise you might find yourself in an embarrassing situation trying to explain to that officer of the law just where you went wrong. Seriously, the subject of driving on a different side of the road is something thatís probably more important if youíre a pedestrian. When youíre crossing the street remember while in the UK look in the opposite direction than you would at home. Getting struck by a car is no laughing matter.

By and large making the change is not troublesome though first time visitors to the UK might not want to earn their stripes getting used to driving on the left hand side by starting off in metropolitan London; of course the same could be said about someone from a rural area of the United States trying to drive in New York City without a bit of practice driving in conditions of higher intensity than what theyíre used to. If you decide to rent a car and drive in the UK it might be best to get used to local conditions by doing a bit of driving in the countryside.

Truthfully for travel around London itís best to stick with public transport or depend on a cab. Youíll spend less time worrying about parking and the like and have more time to concentrate on the sights. And, thatís what youíre there for anyway, isnít it?

7. As much as Iím looking forward to visiting England, Iíve heard that the food leaves something to be desired. Is that true?

Letís be honest here, English cooking has gotten a bad rap over the years. Traditional fare in England may not be haute cuisine but some of it is quite good, especially if youíre an American who grew up in a part of the country with a preference towards whatís called Ďcountry cooking.í Much traditional English fare tends toward meats and vegetables, many times cooked in the form of a pie. And besides whatís a trip to England without sampling some of the dishes that have become known worldwide.

Thereís steak and kidney pie, probably known worldwide as the premier example of the typical English dish. Itís a pie comprised of steak, kidneys and mushrooms in gravy with a pastry on top. You should try it, itís very good. Thereís also shepherdís pie which is a minced meat and vegetable pie thatís covered with mashed potatoes then baked. Another English standard is toad-in-the-hole, sausage baked in a sort of batter in the form of a popover. If youíre a fan of American style pot pies youíll probably enjoy English meat pies.

Pie and Spotted Dick

Then, of course, thereís fish and chips which is fish fried in batter and french fries, often served with malt vinegar. It may not be the most heart healthy dish around but it sure is good. Another favorite for those in search of a quick bite is the ploughmanís lunch; bread, cheese and a pickled onion. It goes great with a pint.

The English are also famous for their big, really big, get you fueled up for a busy day of seeing the sights, sort of breakfasts; lots of eggs, a rasher of bacon, sausage (theyíre called Ďbangersí), baked tomatoes and beans. When they say break fast, they mean break fast.

Also famous are English desserts, such sticky toffee pudding and spotted dick (a light suet pudding with raisins and served with custard).

Under the heading of a not to be missed experience is the English tradition of high tea, a mid-afternoon break featuring sandwiches, scones, cakes and other various assorted sweets served with jam and clotted cream, and maybe even a glass of champagne; all very high-toned, very British. A number of the better hotels, restaurants and department stores serve high tea, which some people treat as an early or light supper. You havenít been to England until youíve been to high tea.

In recent years, it might be good to point to the food chauvinists among you, London has become one of the great culinary cities of the world with many Michelin starred restaurants. So, never fear, while visiting the realm lack of fare will not be a problem.

8. Iíve heard that the English can be a bit stuffy. Are they really? What sort of reception will I receive?

Youíll receive a great reception. Again, this is a case of an unfair rap over the years. Folks in England are among the nicest, most pleasant people you could ever hope to meet. They are more reserved (though not always) than, letís say Americans, who are, by and large, an outgoing bunch; but once you get to know an Englishman youíll find them to be as regular as anyone around. Getting to really know the English can be one of the highlights of your trip. A reminder, youíre visiting their country. Youíre a guest in their home, so to speak. They love their country and theyíre proud of it; and proud to show it off. Just remember how you would guests in your home to act. Do likewise, and youíll be fine.

There you have it. Answers to some of those questions you might have had while preparing for your trip to London. Now, itís time for you to get out there and enjoy London.

David McIntosh

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Re: Eight Questions That Travelers Ask About London - Second Four

By Rob 01/02/2004, (Rating: 2.9 from 13126 votes)

As a Londoner I cringed a bit when reading the description of British food. The truth is that few Fish & Chip shops are rated as 'good' by the locals, they just happen to be cheap and convenient. Americans used to McDonalds style thin & crispy fries might not be very impressed by chip shop chips which tend to be large and never crispy (though many prefer them that way) That also goes for department store restaurants & cafes etc. The only place you will get a good example of battered fish with chips is in a good restaurant and if they are that good they tend not to put 'Fish & Chips' on the menu :)

If you really want to write home about awful British food just try a motorway service station restaurants :) If you have to stop at one of these then my advice is this:

If the restaurant is the type where you take a tray and pick what you want then pay at a till before eating..dont. See if there is a McD or Burger King or sandwich bar in the complex.

If they are the type where you sit down to order then maybe you will get away with something edible. These tend to be called something like 'Little Chef; or 'Happy Eater' and are something like 'Wendys' in the US.

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Re: Eight Questions That Travelers Ask About London - Second Four

By Pamela Rogers 01/02/2004, (Rating: 2.9 from 12970 votes)

I have been an American tourist in London a number of times and have found the British to be wonderful and very nice. The only rude people I have ever come across are other tourists. As far as the cooking I have to ask myself, is it the British cooking that is not good or my ruined American tastebuds from all the overprocessed over sugared foods here in America?

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