Travel Comment

Ponderings on all aspects of travel - both at home and abroad.

Greg Dixon: Giving tourists the warm fuzzies

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London is a great city to play tourist, and despite their reputation Londoners can be very friendly. Photo / www.britainonview.com
London is a great city to play tourist, and despite their reputation Londoners can be very friendly. Photo / www.britainonview.com

London, June 2011. After stepping off the train from York into the swirl of Kings Cross station and manoeuvering my too-heavy bags out the door to the street, I came to a decision.

Though I had half-made plans to visit the National Portrait Gallery, the British Museum or the Tate Modern - to get a bit of much-needed culture into me, you understand - there was, as I blinked in the surprisingly warm sun on that Friday afternoon, only one option that made any sense to me: to play tourist.

This may seem, well, a damned sort of obvious thing to do. I was, after all, exactly that: a tourist. But what I meant was this: instead of seeking out the more cultivated bits of London, I decided I would set about seeing and hearing as many of the cliched sights and sounds of the city as I could in the two-and-a-bit days I had.

First it was the Houses of Parliament, then the London Eye (cancelled; there was no way I was joining a queue that size), Downing St, Whitehall, Westminster Abbey (cancelled; ditto), the Mall, Buckingham Palace, a hot dog in St James' Park, a Soho pub crawl, jumping up and down in a Soho punk club, the Tower, fish and chips and a couple of cold ones on the South Bank, evensong at St Pauls, a ferry to Greenwich ...

I actually went a bit mad, though this might have because it was 27C most of the time.

Of course if there is any city in the world in which one should play absolute tourist, London is it. And this is not just because there are plenty of those cliched sights and sounds.

Despite what I had been told, Londoners, at least the Londoners I encountered on this particular balmy weekend, were nothing if not helpful as I navigated my way around by Underground, taxi and shanks' pony.

People behind counters made the effort to have a friendly chat, taxi drivers offered wry, seen-it-all advice and strangers helped with directions. The only Londoner who was a complete shit was one particular fellow at Paddington station, but I shall not bore you with him.

In other words, London made me feel welcome. And it is this feeling I will be keeping in mind over the next six weeks as an estimated 85,000 tourists from around the world descend on New Zealand for the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

Whether or not rugby interests you - and I'm on the fence there - it is up to each of us to remember and channel those positive experiences we have had as tourists in other countries so that the 85,000 visitors go home feeling they were made welcome. And that's as simple as saying "gidday".

- NZ Herald

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