London’s Transport and Some Food

It is really odd to have spent a week utilising London’s transport system, tube bus and even the odd taxi, and to see it graded Europe’s fourth worst system!

I really like it. Admittedly I grew up with it, and have been riding around from an early age, family legend has it that aged four, I returned home from school on the bus (as one did in those days), and seeking adventure, rode on until it reached the end of the route some forty minutes later. Having satisfied my curiosity, I rode the bus back home and could not quite understand my mother’s borderline-hysterical demeanour. But I digress.

The tube system is great and simple enough to navigate if one can count and distinguish colour. It is also instructive to look at names of distant parts of this enormous city that one never gets to, and wonder what on earth might be going on in Tooting, Ickenham, Ongar or Penge; mysteries indeed.

The system is now made simpler and more economical by the Oyster card; long the staple of Londoners, it is now gaining favour among tourists. It is simply a swipe0card that carries a value that you purchase from the system; economical, and offering individual fares well below their single-purchase price, the card also cleverly caps out at a value that you would have spent on a daily ticket. All in all a brilliant and simple invention, and one in which all visitors to London should invest.

Among the visits to my ailing father, and temporarily immobile uncle, I managed to both work and play. The work was interesting as it always can be meeting colleagues working in the same industry but in different countries, and perhaps profitable, but the fun was better.

London, I have to say, offers more economical dining than Winnipeg. This most curious fact is a function of both the exchange rates and the extraordinary rise in dining costs in the Prairies, but nevertheless, for those terrified of London’s restaurant bills I can only say “Fear ye not”.

Now, it isn’t Buenos Aires, but a substantial and amply lubricated dinner for two that would regularly set one back $120 or so in Winnipeg can be found easily in London for a C note. I visited two notable places last week, and so I shall not them.

The first is Ravel’s Bistro near Belsize Park in north London; I like the place, and it suits my temperament I think. It is small, cosy and offers a wide range of starters for £4.95 and main courses priced at £9.95; my companion that night was a friend who is a rather observant and humorous restaurant critic (I am not sure I should have done this to a small restaurant that I like, but there you are), and I look forward to his comments.

The second is really odd; the Cilantro Cafe lies on Piccadilly next door to Fortnum and Masons (where I bought some tea as one does) and opposite the National Gallery where I had just whizzed through a fabulous exhibition of Van Gogh art (as one also does from time to time). Now the really interesting thing about the cafe other then the decor, location and surprisingly economical menu were the locations of the chain’s other locations; Cairo, Alexandria, Sharm el Sheik, Jeddah and Amman. I am not sure quite why I found this amusing, but I did. And judging by the food and enthusiasm of the joint, it deserves all the success that it can muster.

And all this linked by the ubiquitous tube and terrific bus service.

I like London; and now really is the time to visit. It is always fun, perpetually in season and ready and willing to welcome visitors.