Monthly Archives: October 2008

London on the cheap

There’s a good article posted on ABC new’s website and it’s loaded with tips to save money in London, one of the world’s most expensive cities. Though London’s hotels and high-end restaurants can bleed a travel budget, there’s so much to see and do in the city that doesn’t cost a fortune. I end up spending less there than I do in other cities.

Here are a few of my personally tested money-saving tips for London visits:

  • Buy food at a local market and eat a few meals in your hotel room at night or pack lunches for day trips. I can spend hours in Waitrose and Sainsbury’s anyway, and it’s fun to shop and eat like a native. I also keep snacks in my  daybag so I don’t have to drop a small fortune when I get the nibbles.
  • Walk. Probably the biggest reason why I love this city so much is because it’s so damn walkable. You can spend hours exploring a neighborhood, hop on the Tube, then go explore another part of the city.
  • The Tube! I love the Tube. And so will your kids if you bring them. It’s fairly cheap, and it’ll get you anywhere in the city, including back and forth to Heathrow.
  • But theater tickets for cheap a few hours before performance time. I’ve seen Vanessa Redgrave, Alec Guinness, and Edward Herrmann on stage, as well as Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera (hey, I heard that snicker), and the most I’ve ever paid is $25 per ticket. The seats aren’t the best in the house, but who cares? I either go into the box office to inquire about same-day tickets, or buy them at one of those cheap ticket kiosks if I’m desperate. (I think I used a kiosk only once — to get the Phantom tickets — because my travel companion was desperate to see the show.)
  • I haven’t done this, but try couch surfing. My brother does this — you go to this site, plug in where you want to go and find an available couch in someone’s home or flat. If that’s too iffy for you, I’ve actually stayed in dorm rooms at the University of London in the summer and during winter breaks. It’s not a luxury accommodation, naturally, but if you just need a place to rest your head at night, check it out. Plus you get breakfast in the morning and can meet some very interesting people from around the world — all in a collegial atmosphere.

Any other money-saving tips for London-bound tourists? Post them in the comments section.

The Anglo Files: A Field Guide to the British

The Anglo Files by Sarah Lyall

I read about Sarah Lyall’s The Anglo Files: A Field Guide to the British on Bethanne Patrick’s Book Maven blog a few weeks ago, and immediately knew I had to read this book. The night I purchased it, I brought it to bed to read. Within a few minutes, I was laughing so hard my son begged to know what was so funny. I couldn’t explain it to him, as it involved a joke about hemorrhoids and the British penchant for euphemism.

Some background on Lyall: she’s a reporter for The New York Times who was sent to London in the 90s to report on the British. (Nice job, eh?) While there, she met then married an Englishman, so she has something of a unique perspective on British/American relations.

Lyall’s a fine writer with a good eye for detail; it’s clear she’s done her reporting for this book (hanging out at Parliament, running around London with a man who wears gold lamé underpants) and she does a terrific job weaving threads of history, literature, and politics into her stories. Another thing I liked about the Anglo Files is that Lyall doesn’t fall into that trap of disparaging her American roots or making fun of those quaint British folks in their queues — likewise, she doesn’t pit one culture against the other culture. This is much a book about the British view of the world as it is what it means to be an American standing in the midst of that world.

There were chapters in this book that made it worth the price of admission, such as one about Brits and their attitudes toward sex, and another at the end of the book, an analysis of the British stiff upper lip and if it’s going soft (to wit: the mass outpouring of emotion after Princess Diana’s death). I also loved the chapter about the reform of the House of Lords. If you’re fascinated with the British class system and how it works, then there’s a lot in this book that’ll scratch your itch. There’s even a discussion of why Brits love to use the C word.

Other chapters I skimmed or skipped altogether, such as the one about cricket. If cricket is boring to watch, which is Lyall’s initial claim, it’s even more boring to read about. The book is loaded with footnotes, too. I’ve noticed some reviewers complain they’re too distracting, but I thought they added a lighthearted touch.

The Anglo Files is a book I highly recommend to other Anglophiles.

So what do you call an fan of American culture?

A couple weeks I posted about a CSM column discussing what fans of American culture should be called. Are they Yankiphiles or Ameriphiles?

Last night I was thinking about it and came up with Americanophiles. Actually, I came up with Americanaphile, but then thought it sounded like someone who appreciated things like country dances, lawn art, and Norman Rockwell calendars. Apparently, the Russians and Chinese use Americanophile, and have even translated it into their respective languages. Cool!

British international schools growing in popularity worldwide

According to story in yesterday’s Independent, over 1,200 British international schools were opened last year worldwide, most noticeably in Asia. I did a bit of poking around, and it looks like there are five British schools in the U.S. (including one I knew about here in Boston), with plans to open 15 more over the next few years.

I have a few friends who’ve graduated from international schools abroad. They’re all amazingly bright people … multilingual, culturally savvy, and inquisitive. I don’t know if I’d go so far to send my son to a British school here in the U.S., as cool as an idea that is, but we’ve thought about sending him to the German International School in nearby Allston once he finishes his elementary program at our local Montessori school. We speak some German at home, the we being my husband and the two au pairs we’ve had. Being that I’m painfully monolingual and because I’m the resident Anglophile, I stick with English.

I’m curious to research what the growth is in American international schools compared to British. Do British schools get a better reception abroad given how unpopular the U.S. is right now in the world? If you were or are living abroad, would you/do you send your child to an international school? What’s your opinion of this type of education?

Boston’s living history

My site stats show me that I’m getting lots and lots of visitors to my site from the UK. Too funny! So this post is a PSA for Boston tourism.

When our family goes into Boston for the day (we live about 25 miles northwest of the city), we inevitably run into a lot of British tourists. It seems to be a popular destination for Britons, especially during the summer months. In yesterday’s Boston Globe, there was a story about the living history performers who lead tours along the city’s Freedom Trail. It sounds like fun, something I’d be tempted to do even though I’ve walked that trail dozens of times. If you’ve never walked the 2.5-mile trail, I urge you to do so. There’s just so much history to see — plus, it gets you through some cool neighborhoods like Charlestown and the North End (cannoli!). Just don’t do it on a hot August afternoon. The trail can be brutal when it’s over 90 degrees.

I like how this one trail guide teases the British tourists. It reminds me of the time, years ago, I took a tour of Hampton Court in July and the living history guide there had great fun with me, going so far to chide me when I refused to bow to an imaginary king and walk backwards out of the throne room.

“You know you could have been hanged for that?” he asked.

“Well today of all days I’m certainly not bowing and scraping to your king,” I scoffed. He thought about it for a minute then burst out laughing.

It was July 4th.

Blitz tunnels for sale

Behind an unmarked door in central London, a man-made rabbit’s warren deep beneath the city protected England’s government elite during the Blitz in the 1940s, served as a telephone exchange in the 50s, and was home to dozens of engineers in the early 60s during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Now the tunnels are for sale, reports Andy McSmith at the Independent, who got a private tour of this relic of WWII. He suggests turning the tunnels into a movie set, but I think they’d make a cool museum. What do you think?

Weekend roundup

Googling with the Queen. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip tour Google’s London’s office and teachers those young billionaires a thing or two about technology. (The Times Online)

Quantum of Solace. The latest James Bond flick looks like a winner, according to the (London) Times. Opens November 14 in the U.S. Happy birthday to me!

and when Bond goes wrong. Nigel Kendall discusses Agent 007s forgettable moments. (The Times Online)

Spamalot to close on Broadway in early 2009. After 1,500+ performances … not bad. (Playbill)

British Library acquires poet Hughes’ library. Not sure why the BBC has this news filed under “entertainment,” but I suppose poetry does entertain.

Gordon Ramsay: Hotelier. The foul-mouthed chef has rooms to let … and they sound nice. (Guardian)

Sex and the (capital) City

On Wednesday, Marks & Spencer rolled out Patricia Field’s “Sex and the City” fashion collection in London, exclusive to the retailer.

(Marks & Spencer, or M&S, is something of a British shopping institution. It’s something like Macy’s here, but not quite. For instance, M&S has the best knickers. In Yankspeak, that’s underwear. No one really goes to Macy’s for their underwear.)

Personally, I hated the fashions in SATC. Especially near the end of the series, my girlfriends and I would laugh at the ridiculous outfits freelance writer Carrie Bradshaw would wear around New York. As if! Even PR pro Samantha Jones dressed mostly like a cheap ho. My New York-based friends agreed that the two character who dressed appropriately for New Yorkers were lawyer Miranda and art gallery associate/Park Avenue Princess Charlotte.

Although there were lines of shoppers at M&S’s doors on Wednesday, The Daily Mail deems the collection, “cheap, tacky, and ill conceived.” As I look at the pictures on line, I do agree with that assessment. Indeed, they look like perfect choices for this year’s tarts and vicar party, but at these prices, you might be better off shopping the last-chance sale rack at Macy’s. If you want the real thing, you can order online.

The Tudors needs tutoring?

Here in the U.S. I’ve had the first season of The Tudors in my Netflix queue for a few months. I’m waiting for the right time to start watching it: I’m thinking maybe dead of winter, when it’s too cold to go outside and what better way to wile away the hours than watch the romantic escapades of a bloated English king.

(As I wrote that, I realized it didn’t sound all that enticing — and indeed, if you know even just a tiny bit about Henry VIII, what I wrote isn’t far from the truth.)

Of course, there was a lot of religion and politics influencing Henry’s actual reign, but with a Showtime series, you know the focus is going to be on the Romance! Girls! Sex!

This morning, there was short piece in the Guardian about historian David Starkey’s dismay with the series. Starkey is one of the foremost authorities on Tudor history, having written books of his own and produced a well-received series on Henry’s six wives that was shown in the U.S. on PBS. He says and I quote, “The Tudors is terrible history with no point. It’s wrong for no purpose. I’ve got no problem with getting history wrong for a purpose – Shakespeare often got things wrong for a reason. But it’s the randomised arrogance of ignorance of The Tudors. Shame on the BBC for producing it.” The article later points out that the series wasn’t produced by the Beeb, just funded.

I’m dismayed to hear this — but not surprised. The BBC has proved that historical dramas can be not only interesting, but entertaining with Rome. (If you haven’t seen Rome, definitely make the effort — Roman history isn’t my strong point, but I found this series engaging, well done, and interesting enough to get me to read up on Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, and friends.) I’d love to see a similar series with the Tudor era’s historical figures — there’s so much there! Not just the sex and romance, but the intrigue, political machinations that changed the world, religious upheaval, and the arts, oh my God, the arts. Good for Starkey speaking up; but I’m still going to watch it. Jonathan Rhys Meyers anyone?