Adventures / culture / Out and About / Things to do

An American in London Week 2 in the Moss-Ridden City

This is the seventh in a weekly series that will extend until the end of June. It will chronicle my travels in Europe and the interesting things I come upon or wish someone had told me before I left.  I will spend five weeks focusing on London.

This week I discovered that London’s public transportation is structured differently than Paris’s Metro. In Paris, you can buy a Navigo, which will cover both trains and buses in whatever zone you paid for. In London, they have what’s called an Oyster card, because ‘when you have it the world is your oyster’, or so I’m told.

On your Oyster you can get either a bus pass and Tube [train] pass or both if you feel you need it. The monthly bus pass costs £77.60 while the train pass costs upwards from £120 depending on how many zones you want to travel in. You can get both but there doesn’t seem to be a discount, so it comes out to nearly £200. Should you choose only one pass, like I did, you can still preload money for the other type of transport. For buses it’s a flat rate wherever you’re going, for the Tube you pay based on how far you’re going, which can add up pretty quick. Though taking the Tube is good if you’re in a hurry, the bus is much more scenic, especially if you sit up on the top level. Also, the buses run all night while the trains don’t.

You can buy an Oyster card even before leaving for London from the Transport for London site . I would strongly suggest getting one if you’re staying for any length of time, because paying on the bus is £2.40 while using money on your Oyster costs £1.45. Plus, if you spend more than £4.40 riding the bus with the card it converts to a day pass and you don’t have to pay anymore for the day. Also, they are phasing out the option of buying your ticket on the bus so if you don’t get an Oyster, be sure to buy your ticket before getting on.

Once you’ve figured out what transportation you want to take, where will you go? Well, if it’s nice architecture you want, I would suggest The Midland Grand Hotel, now known as the St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel, Westminister Abbey, and Big Ben. Unfortunately, Westminister Abbey is really expensive [unless you go for service] and Big Ben is only available to UK residents but their exteriors are well worth the visit or at least a drive by in a bus. If you want a place to walk around and take in street art, check out the Brick Lane area where graffiti art abounds and grab lunch at Petticoat Lane where there’s a little street of food vendors where everything is decently priced. If you’re willing to venture a little farther out, take a look around Hackney Wick and Fish Island where artists of all stripes have colonized and are gentrifying the area. There is a canal that is lovely to walk along and a lot of interesting things going on. While you’re out there, you might as well visit the Olympic Park, although the Stadium isn’t open, the Aquatic Center is and the park area is nice to walk in.

Tip of the week: If you’re feeling geeky, visit King’s Cross Station and find Platform 9 ¾ where you can pretend to run into the wall like a proper Hogwarts student. It’s free to pose for your own pictures though you can also buy the pictures they take of you. There’s also a Harry Potter themed store that’s terribly tempting.

Until next week, Cheers!

Additional Photography by Andrea Gonzalez.

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