A Lovely Citaaay

Detroit’s got nothing on London. Okay I’ve never been, but having thoroughly explored New York, Berlin, Vienna, Rome, Florence and Venice I’m confident that this city is pretty much as good as they get. There’s no denying that only three months ago I was a little more dubious. I was sick of the rain, tired of the tube, bored of the coffee chains and duly ready for a break. The last thing I expected was to return with a grin and a list of 8 reasons to love this city…

1. Capitalism with a Conscience.

By no means do I subscribe to the Danny Boyle school of neo-Beveridgism. Obviously the Olympic Opening Ceremony was awesome. But like a number of observers at home, I found Boyle’s extensive celebration of the NHS delusional, somewhat inappropriate and so more than a little cringe worthy. But it’s easy for us Brits to be cynical. Imperfect as our modern welfare state may be, it is rare that we witness a stiletto heeled commuter step over the strewn body of one of the city’s less fortunate as she hurries towards her morning cappuccino. Glorious as Barneys, Bleeker Street and the Boom Boom Room are, the divide between those in New York who have and those who have-not is shockingly apparent. For those who have, the city offers no end of opportunities, comforts and fresh concept restaurants. But for those who have not, there’s no Crisis, no Shelter, no Big Issue Foundation and no NHS Walk In Centres. It may be through force rather than choice that British capitalists have a conscience, but it certainly makes London’s cocktails taste a little sweeter.

2. God Bless Accessibility.

The delights of NYC aren’t much good if you can’t frickin get to them!  12 blocks to the nearest subway? And why, oh why, has no New York mayor redesigned the cab light system? It seems that London’s taxi system of light on/ light off is too simple for the Yanks. Instead, they have a three-facet lighting code that one is expected to decipher as the cab is hurtling towards you on a busy street. Centre light on – the cab is free. If the centre light and both the two side lamps are lit then bad luck, the cab’s off duty. When it’s pouring with rain and all you can see is the distant blur of yellow light… who bloody knows!

3. Three Cheers to the British High Street!

The Leggy Blonde and I arrived in NYC with half empty suitcases, fully loaded cash passports and every intention to pick up some “cute” Stateside pieces. And while the streets of Soho do play host to a number of great boutiques (step forward Rebecca Taylor, INA, Nanette Lapore…) it’s the European brands that New Yorkers are currently going gaga for. While Londoners have been enjoying the Gallic duo, Sandro and Maje, for years, their arrival in Manhattan has left their US competitors looking slightly eclipsed. Similarly, upon asking the New York It Girl where to pick up something a little more affordable, she recommended we bypass Forever 21, forget GAP, ignore Old Navy and head straight to Zara, H&M or Topshop. And kudos to the girl, she was spot on. While the lower-end US stores appear to be under the illusion that the off duty woman wants to dress as though she’s on summer camp, our home grown labels are providing inexpensive, sophisticated and bang on trend pieces for every occasion. Even the girls at Vogue are kitting themselves out in Zara V-neck tees. Well, if they’re good enough for Ms Wintour…

4. Rainy Days come Free.

Granted we Londoners do have to endure more showers than most. But we are still fortunate in that we can seek free shelter from the storms in any of London’s countless and world famous museums and galleries. How awesome is it that we can so easily take a break from brunching/shopping/drinking in Covent Garden to pop into the National Gallery and catch a glimpse of Botticelli’s Venus and Mars. To see his other works in Florence’s Uffizi requires a pre-booked ticket and will set you back €12! These free spaces are a gift and after forking out for similar experiences abroad I plan to show my full appreciation.

5. Speaking of Pleasant, Free Experiences…

London lavatories are no less of a gift than the museums and galleries in which they are sometimes found. Sure, the ladies’ loos in All Bar One can sometimes be a little cramped and the floor a little sticky, but after a month in Italy they seem like positively 5* service. ‘Squatters’ are no myth. Even in the classiest Tuscan joint, loo seats were a rare luxury and a standing affair was not beyond the realms of possibility. Meanwhile in Berlin, all feminine whiles proved useless in the face of the local stinginess with the bathroom keys. What London lady hasn’t nipped into Starbucks to quickly use their facilities? Imagine the monstrosity of needing a code that can only be discovered on the receipt for your coffee. Nifty swines!

6. No One Wants a Bad Rep.

I feel ever so sorry Germans. First up, the guilt. It’s been nearly 70 years since the you-know-what and they’ve been working frickin hard ever since. They offer retrospective remorse in numerous museums, galleries and architectural spaces but still the Germans are expected to share the fruits of their endeavours with their pesky, siesta-taking neighbours. Of course some international acknowledgement might make it worth their while. We Brits have recently been jolly happy to put on a good show for the rest of the world in total confidence that our monarch, our institutions and our achievements will be lauded by the international community. But when an alarming number of my contemporaries have recently asked who is Angela Merkel, you’ve gotta wonder why the Germans bother.

7. London Lunchtimes.

The New York It Girl eats her lunch in Pret. It’s been over two years since her and I sat in their Holborn outlet and discussed how she needed to get out of London. Yet despite all the pizazz of NYC, it appears that she and her fellow New Yorkers can’t get enough of our city’s lunchtime institutions. Of course Manhattan has innumerable delis offering chicken ceasar salads and pastrami sandwiches, but it’s running low on outlets that sell simple, fresh sarnies. It is a breath of fresh air to visit a city that has corner ‘markets’ as opposed to supermarket chains, but I have no doubt that after a couple of months I’d start to miss them. European cities of course have no end of Co-ops and Lidls, but if you’re hoping for a bite on-the-go it’s slim pickins. As the architects of some of the world’s most loved dishes, you’d have thought the Italians might want to shake up their lunch time cafes by offering some variation on the ham and cheese ciabatta. Similarly, I can’t believe that all Viennese folk crave bratwurst and ‘black bread’ on a daily basis. As we continue to enjoy ever more varied lunch time pop-ups and cute cafes, I’ve never been more appreciative of the London lunchtime.

8. Millennia of History.

Of course Italian cities can make the same claim. But London is unique in that it is one of the world’s most developed urban centres, boasting of-the-minute technology, pioneering architecture and complex transport systems while still containing alleyways dating from the sixteenth century. The scale of Manhattan’s cityscape is undeniably mind blowing and the visionary design of Berlin is inspirational. Vienna too has vast streets that have been mindfully planned to create the impression of a garden city. But none possess the variety, unpredictability and ye olde charm of London. After three fantastic days in the Austrian capital, The Boyfriend and I felt like we had got to grips with what the city was about. With four days in Berlin with the Minxie Pixie, we were able to tick off the top hot-spots. Kreuzberg was cool and Alexandraplatz was a great day out, but after such a short stay in London surely you’d leave feeling as though you’d only scratched the surface? Indeed the frontiers of London cool appear to be constantly stretching as only this summer the Dalston Roof Park has emerged as one of the capitals hippest hangout. Of course NYC has no end of new offerings, but with its gridded streets you can never feel like you’re truly getting lost in your wanders. You see, if New York were a woman, she’d be a lot like Stephanie Seymour: dynamic, statuesque and ever so sexy. The London lady has a very different sort of charm. She’s less conventional. She’s not as orderly, imposing or exotic as her foreign counterparts. But it’s her quirks, her chameleon quality and her rich past that keep us wanting more. Step forward Miss Moss. Like our homegrown girl, London’s not perfect, but it is its ability to wow us with old and new angles that keeps us falling in love with it over and over again.






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