Yes, well, my friend was staying at the Savoy Hotel... and then he moved to Brown's Hotel (which is celebrating its 175th anniversary and looks fab). He was dining at restaurants and private clubs in Mayfair (Mark Birley's new establishment he liked). Against my advice to him, someone else was choosing the wine at meals. High tea alone was eighty dollars. Black cabs he found were astronomical, especially when compared to New York's yellow taxis. Wifi in the hotels were a good thirty dollars a day. And the phone bill there!
All true. But London is a vast city, as spread out as Los Angeles, and there are other neighborhoods than gold-plated Mayfair. All of London's museums are free. The underground is not particularly enjoyable but it is moderately efficient, and almost affordable. Simcards for mobile phones with data are much cheaper than in America, and would have solved his expensive hotel comms problem. Tea? Consider PG Tips, with a biscuit.
More importantly you will not get to know London, or Britain, from Mayfair, which is essentially one vast concierge service for the international wealthy. My NY friend's trip was too short, so understandably he ignored my advice, but after saying goodbye to him I went walking with a London friend. She has lived in North London near Hampstead Heath, an enormous wild park, for years and knows the trails, and the trees... and the birds. Since I'm better on the poems than the birds I pointed out that Keats composed "Ode to a Nightingale" nearby in the garden of a pub on the fringe of the Heath.
Here, below, the view from the start of our walk, at the entrance to an adjacent park. Andrew Marvell, the poet and one-time secretary to John Milton and Oliver Cromwell, lived in a house fifty yards to the right.
But this walk was not about houses, or even poets.
Below is a broad meadow on Hampstead Heath.
continued after the jump...
After a late winter, the trees were in leaf finally. A large green flash passed over our head and into this tree.
Look closely at the detail of this blow-up and you will see a red-headed, green-bodied woodpecker.
My friend and I watched some swimmers being harried by aggressive mallards in one pond. Then watched the sun set over another. We saw no nightingales.