The full quote is ‘When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford’ and it was written by Samuel Johnson (aka Dr Johnson), who was the author of the ‘Dictionary of the English Language’ which was published in 1755. Johnson was also a renowned poet, essayist, literary critic, biographer, editor and philanthropist.
London is, according to the Globalisation and World Rankings Research Institute, one of only two cities in the world which are ranked as Alpha++. The other one is New York. Alpha+ cities include places like Singapore, Hong Kong, Paris, Beijing, Tokyo, Dubai and Shanghai. Alpha world cities (no + following their titles) include major cities such as Sydney, Moscow, Chicago, Istanbul, Milan and so on. Dublin, incidentally, is rated as an Alpha – (minus) city.
These rankings are updated by the institute every few years whereby cities are categorised as being either Alpha, Beta or Gamma (with the respective +’s and –‘s, typical of other ranking systems such as those that Moody’s use to evaluate investment values) according to a set of criteria where economic factors are deemed more important than cultural or political ones.
Why am I mentioning all this? It’s because I had to travel to London last week for some business. I was doing a ship visit to check out a new super luxury yacht that the Ponant cruise line have recently launched and which is like something out of a James Bond movie (more of this in a future blog) and I also had a meeting with the Korean tourist board. (I kept referring to South Korea so I may inadvertently have been insulting them due to my naivety concerning the sensitive politics of the Korean Peninsula. It was just a quick 24-hour visit that required one overnight and because I had no engagements that evening, I decided to research some nice restaurant to have dinner in.
Long story short, I ended up coming across a quirky little French-themed restaurant called Bel Canto which is located on the Bayswater Road just by Lancaster Gate. Bel Canto’s USP is that the waiters who serve you dinner are, in fact, fully -trained opera singers and you get to enjoy some of the finest and most popular operatic pieces while you dine. Now, this isn’t particularly unique, and I’ve been at several corporate functions over the years where the waiters reveal themselves to be, in fact, part of the entertainment but what is unusual is the fact that this fusion of dining and opera is performed nightly in a relatively small, intimate restaurant. Experiences like this are usually only possible in large cities such as London (the company that manages this experience also has a similar arrangement in Paris).
My point is that, as Irish residents, our proximity to London and the fact that many of us have visited the city on so many occasions over the years and thus are so familiar with it, tend to cause us to inadvertently undervalue it as a destination and not appreciate it for what it is — a world-class destination, virtually without equal. At this point in my life, I have visited most of the major cities in the world across all six continents and I struggle to think of one city that has more to offer in terms of scale, culture, history, shopping, entertainment, aesthetic, friendliness, accessibility, safety etc than London.
It is an amazing city that provides everything that a traveller could possibly want, and then some! And yet, it is, for many of us, a city that we have barely scratched the surface of despite its proximity to our shores. Irish people more than any other nationality should, by right, know London like the back of our hands and have explored most of what it has to offer and yet I suspect that we are more likely to be more familiar with San Francisco or Prague than we are of our nearest neighbours’ capital!
Shame on us.