London Warnings Or Dangers Tips by CatherineReichardt
London Warnings and Dangers: 648 reviews and 421 photos
Attending a West End musical is one of the absolute highlights of a visit to London, and well worth the expense. Having been lucky enough to indulge in two West End musicals - the excellent Billy Elliott and the stupendously wonderful Oliver! - during my recent trip, this travel tip is written (only partly) tongue in cheek!
West End theatre has been part of London life for centuries, and many of the theatres are now a couple of hundred years old. The upside of this is that they are beautiful, atmospheric buildings steeped in history - and the downside is that you'd never be allowed to design a new theatre with the same configuration as one of the old ones because they are not compatible with modern expectations regarding public access.
I bought tickets in the 'circle' - the upstairs bit for the uninitiated - because (though hellishly expensive) they were all I could afford. I hadn't been to a theatre in the West End for over 20 years, and it came as a nasty shock to remember that few - if any - of these theatres have lifts. Most access the circle via a staircase adjacent to the foyer, and it's a long, relentless climb up!
As I emerged from the access staircase, I was struck by an unexpected wave of vertigo - something I don't usually suffer from - as I looked down towards the stage. The seating rears up from the orchestra pit at an alarmingly steep angle, and though it arguably lends an air of intimacy to the venue, I found it made me feel slightly dizzy and somewhat unsettled. The steepness of the terraces on which the seats are mounted would also make it very easy for someone taking a tumble to do themselves some nasty damage as you could fall quite a distance (although there are barriers which would stop you plummeting onto the lower level).
Stage visibility can also be limited from seats on the extreme edges of the circle, so make sure when you're booking that you select tickets as close to the centre as possible.
So, if you are a thoughtful and generous soul who is considering treating someone to a West End theatre trip, give a thought to their health and mobility before you select tickets: the elderly and those suffering from limited mobility and vertigo probably won't be able to access seats in the circle. And for those who are staying with friends or family, and are looking for the ideal gift to express their gratitude to their hosts, theatre tickets are a sure fire winner with most people, since although most Londoners wax lyrical about the wonders of West End theatre, few actually venture there regularly!
Visiting churches is one of the absolute highlights of a trip to Europe, and provides a fascinating insight into the culture which has shaped European cultures of the past couple of millenia.
Unlike some other religions - where access to places of worship may be restricted to members of that religious group or a specific gender - the vast majority of Christian churches will allow tourists to visit at most times, including routine services (although some may charge an admission fee for doing so, and access may be denied for private events such as weddings and funerals). However, tourists need to bear in mind that most churches are still active places of worship, and so visitors need to exhibit a certain sensitivity to display respect to the culture and avoid giving offence to people at prayer.
The following guidelines are based on wonderful advice offered by Homer (homaned) - who does this for a living - in a forum response, and although specifically written for Christian places of worship, would apply equally to places of worship for other religions
So, here is a general list of do's and don'ts for people wishing to photograph during a church service:
READ THE SIGNS
If photography is not permitted - because, for example, it may damage paint on delicate murals - this will usually be indicated by a pictogram of a camera with a red line through it. Under most circumstances, you can assume that photography will be allowed (unless otherwise indicated), but may not be permitted during services. If in doubt, ask for clarification - this shows respect and will very seldom be met with anything other than a helpful response.
TURN OFF YOUR FLASH!
Every camera on the market has a button on it which will turn off the flash. The number one most alarming and distracting thing that can happen during a liturgy, and one which will even get you kicked out of some churches, is the bright flash that goes off when you take a picture. Not only is it distracting, but it usually makes the picture turn out dark, because your camera's flash only has about a 10-15' range. Turn off the flash, and hold the camera up against your eye, using the viewfinder, and you will likely get a better picture (and you definitely won't have any red-eye problems!).
DON'T MOVE AROUND ALL OVER THE PLACE! (UNLESS YOU HAVE PERMISSION)
Instead of walking all over down the main aisle and in front of everybody, pick a good place from which to take a picture at the beginning of the liturgy, and stay there. Unless you're a professional photographer with practice at stealthily moving during liturgies, you're a distraction, and you're being disrespectful. Even if you're a pro, try to stick to one out-of-the-way place, and use a zoom lens and zoom in to get pictures. Walking in front of people is a surefire way to distract and disrespect and closing in on priests or other celebrants just to capitalise on a photo opportunity is offensive.
TURN OFF THE CAMERA'S SOUND!
Every camera has some way to mute all its 'cute' beeps and clicking noises. If you press a button, and hear a beep, or if you take a picture and hear an obnoxious shutter clicking sound, you need to turn off those sounds (the muting option is usually in one of the menus). Along with the flashing, it's an obvious sign that someone is taking pictures and not showing much respect for those trying to pay attention to the liturgy.
TURN OFF the 'focus assist' light!
If your camera can't focus without the little laser-light that shines in everyone's eyes before your camera takes a picture, then don't use your camera. You have to turn that light off! It is very distracting to be watching a lector or priest, and see a little red dot or lines pop up on his face all of the sudden. It's as if some rifleman is making his mark! Turn the light off (again, look in the menus for the option to turn off the 'AF assist' or 'focus assist' light). If you can't turn it off, put a piece of duct tape or some other opaque material over the area where the light is, so the light won't shine on someone.
TURN OFF THE CAMERA'S LCD!
You should never use the LCD to compose your shots anyways; just put your eye up to the viewfinder, and that will not only not distract, it will also steady your camera against your face, making for a better picture (especially if you don't have the flash on). And if you must review the pictures you've taken, hold the camera in front of you, down low, so people behind you don't notice the big, bright LCD display on your camera
CERTAIN PARTS OF THE CEREMONY ARE PARTICULARLY SENSITIVE
Photographing the blessing of the eucharist (bread and wine) and distribution of communion to the congregation are considered to be particularly sacred parts of the service, and it is offensive to photograph these activities.
The main thing is to try to be respectful of the culture and of other people present at the service. Don't distract. And, if you are asked to not take pictures, or if there's a sign saying 'no photography allowed,' then don't take pictures. You can always ask a priest's permission before the liturgy, but if he says 'No,' put away your camera and enjoy the freedom you have to focus on the privilege of being able to share an experience with people who consider these religious rituals core to their culture and identity, rather than focusing on your camera's LCD!
Homer's Rules ... Homer rules!
My husband describes Heathrow (particularly the hopelessly outdated Terminal 1) as a "third world" airport, and I am afraid that I have to concur with this uncharitable judgement! The infrastructure is undersized, the buildings are dilipidated, the facilities are outdated and the overall sense is one of pervasive dingy gloom: in short, hardly the sort of welcome that you'd wish to extend to visitors.
If you are taking an intercontinental flight, you will probably have little choice but to use Heathrow as your point of entry. However, if you are travelling from inside Europe and have the option to travel via Gatwick or Stansted or another regional airport, I would strongly suggest that you consider them as alternatives.
We were in London in December during a very cold spell - I was going to say 'unseasonably cold weather', except that this is the third cold winter in a row, so the 'surprise factor' associated with snow should be diminishing. Because of the snow and subsequent ice, Heathrow was operating only a skeleton schedule for several days, and services were further disrupted over the following period as airlines tried to catch up on the backlog. Over the same period, both Gatwick and particularly Stansted experienced nowhere near the same disruptions, due partly to the fact that they are less busy, but, more importantly, because they were better prepared to deal with cold weather. Part of the problem seems to be that in the wake of allegations about monopolistic practices, British Airways was forced to unbundle its assets a few years ago, and the airports were sold to private operators who do not necessarily place great priority on cold weather preparedness.
Travellers planning to access Central London by public transport may be tempted to favour Heathrow because it is on the underground (tube) network, whereas Gatwick and Stansted are not. However, this is not quite the advantage that it might seem, as it is a long and tedious haul out to Heathrow on the Piccadilly Line, and overground rail links (such as the Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted Express services) are much faster and more congenial.
I love almost everything about travelling, but Heathrow ranks as one of my least favourite places in the world, and for the sake of my sanity, I avoid it like the plague! And if you have no choice but to use Heathrow, and tumble off an intercontinental flight, dazed, confused and sleep deprived, wondering why you have spent all that money to come to a place as depressing as this, take heart, because it can - and will - only get better!
As of midnight tonight (3 January 2011), goods and services in the UK just got EVEN more expensive with an increase in Value Added Tax (VAT) from 17.5% to 20% as part of the Government's austerity measures. For those not familiar with VAT, it is a tax applied at the point of purchase and by law it must be included in the advertised price.
The good news is that most international travellers should be eligible for VAT refunds provided that they are willing to put in a bit of time and effort (a process which is well explained on the website listed below). Refunds are potentially applicable on most goods and services, except on the following items (with some exceptions):
•new or used cars
•a boat you plan to sail outside the EU
•goods worth more than £600 exported for business purposes
•goods to be exported as freight
•goods that need an export licence - except antiques
•bullion over 125g, 2.75 troy ounces or ten Tolas
•mail order goods, including Internet sales
•goods used or partly used in the EU, such as perfume
•service charges, such as hotel expenses
In summary, the process for reclaiming this refund is as follows (adapted from the Revenue Service website):
"WHEN YOU PURCHASE THE GOODS
First, you need to choose a shop that operates the VAT Retail Export Scheme. It's a voluntary scheme and not all shops operate it, so you need to check before you buy anything.
To obtain your VAT refund, you need one of the following documents. The shop will give you this:
•a VAT 407 form
•a shop or refund company's own version of form VAT 407
•a VAT Retail Export Scheme sales invoice
You need to fill in the form when you make your purchases, in front of the retailer. The retailer will ask to see evidence that you are eligible to use the scheme, such as your passport.
You also need to agree with the retailer how your refund will be paid. Some retailers will pay you the refund directly, others will operate through a refund company, and some will have an arrangement with a refund booth at the point where you leave the UK.
You may not get all the VAT back. The retailer and/or the refund company may make a charge to cover the cost of handling your form. If they do, this will be deducted from your refund before you receive it.
"WHEN YOU LEAVE THE COUNTRY
If you're travelling outside the EU, you must show your goods and your refund form to UK customs staff at the airport you're leaving from. Make sure you arrive at the airport early so that you have plenty of time to deal with the customs staff before your departure.
If you're travelling to another country within the EU before you finally leave the EU, then you must show your goods and refund form to customs officials in that country when you leave it.
If you are leaving the EU on a flight that stops in another EU country before leaving the EU, then you have two options:
•if you're taking your goods as hand baggage, then you must show them to customs officials along with your refund form in the last EU country you stop in before leaving the EU
•if you're checking your goods in as hold baggage, then you must show your goods and your refund form to UK customs officials before checking in
If there aren't any customs officials at the port or airport you're leaving from, there will be a telephone you can use to ring an official or a clearly marked customs post box in which you can leave your refund form. Customs officials will collect it from there and if they are satisfied that all requirements have been met, they will contact the retailer to arrange your VAT refund.
Once your form has been approved by customs officials, you can then obtain your refund in the way you agreed with the retailer when you made the purchase. You will use one of these methods:
•post the form back to the retailer to arrange payment of the refund
•post the form back to a commercial refund company to arrange payment of the refund
•hand your form to a refund booth to get paid immediately
There may be a charge to cover the cost of handling your refund. This charge will be shown on your refund form."
In summary, it's a bit of a performance and potentially quite a time consuming exercise which you probably need to give some thought to in advance so that you collect the necessary paperwork and allow sufficient time at your point of departure. However, the prospect of being able to claim back up to a fifth of the cost of an item or service is an attractive one, particularly given how expensive Britain (and particularly London) is for the tourist, and if it helps you stretch your budget that bit further, then it could be well worth the effort!
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