London is a truly epic city with tons to do. There is culture, history and incredible art. I highly recommend staying for at least one week and joining some sort of gym/community while you are there (Yoga, climbing, dance, fitness, whatever). Don’t miss out on “the tourist things”, even (especially) if you are on a budget: many of them are free and very much worthwhile.
But… How did you get so much time off work?
This was the first question I was asked by the officer at customs upon my arrival in London. I’m really glad I wasn’t actually teaching/earning money illegally there, because even though I was perfectly safe/legal in all of my intentions I still answered in the most sketchy/idiotic way: “I just dance, so I can travel a lot”… I couldn’t have really blamed him if he had turned me around right there.
I’ve been to London half a dozen times now, and it seems like every trip I learn to appreciate it even more. It’s clean, the public transit is great, there’s nearly infinite things to do, and it’s old which means a ton to see/explore. In many ways, my ideal city (if that were a thing). The list of activities during this 2-week trip included but were not limited to: breaking practices, Capoeira class, Yoga (mostly Ashtanga but also Vinyasa, Kundalini, Yin, Restorative and Mysore), Flying Low classes, Qi Gong, In Da House “In Da Cypher” Intensive, House class, New Style Hustle class, battles, tricking/power at Beckton Gym (East London Gymnastics Center), Parkour/Freerunning downtown, Pilates, Meditation classes, breaking class, weird Polish party/cypher night, etc. And somehow I still felt like I missed out on a lot.
First and foremost, if you want to MOVE your body in London, check out my hot spot post about that!
Screw Overpriced Hostels
I had yet another disappointing Hostel experience at the Dictionary Hostel (why is it even called that??) in Shoreditch. For $40+/night you get a shitty bed in a dirty room with 10+ other people. What? I guess it’s what I get for booking the cheapest “convenient” option, but seriously THIS IS WHY FRIENDS ARE IMPORTANT! Make some friends, use that $40 to cook them some bomb ass food. Laugh, Love and be happy. These Hostels should really be ashamed. I’m not saying that all hostels are bad, in fact i’ve stayed at some really cool/affordable ones, but I do think that the majority are just looking to make a buck and give the bare-minimum experience for the money.
Free lockers anyone? One good thing about the Dictionary Hostel is that they have some lockers on the second floor (outside of the M rooms) that seem to mostly be unused and unadvertised. Most importantly, these lockers aren’t behind the actual room’s card scanner: during daylight hours you can get in just with the door code from your stay. So even if you are checked out, you can still store your stuff. This is really great for saving some $ (£), why? Because the luggage lockers are gone. But more on that later.
Of course, the Tube and bus system in London (Google Maps integration is perfect with both, so no need to download another app) is second-to-none, but they are not cheap and hard to hustle, so here are some less-obvious transportation solutions.
Santander Cycles are a great option for getting around London, prices are reasonable if you know how to hustle, and the bikes don’t suck… Too bad. The main issue is finding a station to park at once you’ve reached your destination. This is generally pretty easy in the city center, but if you go more than a mile outside you might have a hell of a time finding one.
Walk it out. If you are looking to save $ and explore more, don’t be afraid to WALK a little bit. It’s still free (for now) to walk around London, and if you have decent shoes/feet it won’t be a problem. You will see more, and get to know the city more intimately as well. Just give yourself time to smell the roses when you are walking: it’s no fun at all walking miles if you are in a hurry.
If you are house-hopping a lot, or staying on rooftops, you might want a place to keep your stuff for the day and/or night. Many major London tube stations (say that 5 times fast) used to have these nice things called “luggage lockers” where you could pay a reasonable amount of money to keep your bags for a length of time. This no longer seems to be a thing: at least definitely not a Euston, Kings Cross OR St. Pancras Station. Instead, they have all been replaced by these silly luggage check “stores” where a sad staff of people will take a lot of money from you to watch your shit for hours (or days). After some more digging, I found that the best prices for leaving bags seems to be on bagbnb.com which charges 5£ ($6.58) for 24 hours. Not bad. But still: I want my luggage lockers back.
So what does a hyperfrugal vegabond long distance mover do in such a situation? … Well, as with most things, the best place to start is usually at the beginning. In this case “the beginning” was the silly little Hostel I stayed at the night before. Remember my comment above about the unused lockers? So, what did I do? I hopped on my handy little Santander Cycle and went back to the free locker zone at the Dictionary Hostel, and using the passcode I still had from my stay the night before, left my backpack there. Then, wearing my warmest clothes and armed with my fastest shoes (Vibram Alphas), I went in search of a rooftop for the evening.
Rooftop Sleeping or “The Real Penthouse”
Finding a roof to sleep on in London is not the easiest thing you have ever done. I was looking for 3 important factors:
Access: if you can’t get up, it ain’t happening.
Visibility: not easily seen when climbing up and also not easily seen once in position (sleeping position that is)
Escapeability: the second-to-last thing you want to do it get a ticket or arrested for sleeping on a roof. The actual last thing you want to do is die falling off of a roof because you woke up, tried to run from the cops, and made a mistake on your way down falling to your doom.
Extra credit: shelter from the elements.
These three things are pretty hard to find due to the number of tall-ass-buildings (TABs) in London. Eventually (~1 hour of searching and 3 failed spots), I was able to find a decent spot on top of an oversized “garage” next to a large building / visitor center in a park. It didn’t have any shelter from the elements, but the sky was clear and there was no rain in the forecast.
Triyoga: the best decision I made
One thing I committed to before this trip was to work hard every day on my mobility. I thought an easy way to start his routine would be to sign up for some sort of “introductory offer” at a Yoga studio in London, so that I could go to classes on a daily basis and get in some sort of groove. After a bit of digging, I decided to go with the intro “1 Month Unlimited” for 54£at Triyoga. With 5+ locations around the city, dozens of class options, showers and towel rentals, it seemed like a solid deal. It sure was.
I ended up taking 6 classes in the first 2 days at Triyoga, and probably took over 25 classes in the 2-weeks I spent in London. But this wasn’t even the best part. The best part about being a member at Triyoga was that I could stop by and shower/chill (hang in the little cafe area, use the wifi, etc) whenever I wanted to. It became a sort of home for me, and all of the Yogis were so kind and helpful always. It’s also incredible to be able to shower whenever at 5 locations around a big city, especially when doing ALL THE THINGS as stated above.
I ended up taking classes in Yin, Kundalini, Restorative, Vinyasa, Qi Gong, Hot Power, Meditation, and Pilates at Triyoga, but my favorite by far was Ashtanga. I did several lead Ashtanga classes and one Mysore morning session. I met an amazing teacher named Nik whose teaching style really resonated with my practice, and I was able to develop a daily practice which is still going strong. The great thing about Ashtanga is the consistency. It’s the same. Regardless of where/when/why you do it, the basic sequence, counts, breathing, vibe, are always the same. For an artistic traveler, this consistency is extraordinarily grounding and profound. As a mover, I also appreciate the progress transparency that this consistency allows: you can recognize growth on a daily basis.
Places to Visit
Shoreditch neighborhood, Camden Market, The National Gallery (free), The British Museum (also free), all of the movement places I mentioned in my Hostspot post.
As usual, i’ve put off finishing this post for too long, and I don’t have the heart (time) to finish strong. I’ll just say this: London is an epic city with incredible pubic transportation infrastructure, friendly people and a plethora of movement education opportunities.