Summer is back and most of us will be getting ready to spend some time recharging our batteries. These days there are no shortage of holiday options, whether abroad or at home (as you can see from our selection of trips around Catalonia starting on page 18), and selecting the right destination to suit your tastes is probably the first and most important issue to deal with when planning some time away.

Yet the perfect holiday depends on more than just the destination. I was in London last month, the first time I’ve been there in quite a few years. I must say it was great to be back in the city, and it’s easy to see why it is one of Europe’s main tourist powerhouses. The range of places to visit and things to do is bewildering and spending four days there barely scratches the surface of the options open to the visitor.

Overall I had a great time, although there were a couple of issues. Surprisingly, one of them was not the weather, which was perfectly fine, and both warm and dry (ironically it poured down here in Catalonia while I was away).

Another obvious issue of contention is the expense of a place like London, although the gap between the cost there and here was not as great as I have noticed in previous years. Nevertheless, there was an inevitable widening of the eyes when checking the bill, receipt, price tag wherever I went. The truth is that I wasn’t too concerned about the cost as I was expecting it, rather my problem is what I got for my money.

Let me give an example. I went to a concert in Camden Town with a couple of friends who live there. Naturally, if you’re stuck in a venue, then you expect to pay a premium because there is no competition. I went to the bar to get a round of beers and was charged 27 pounds for three pints (that is about 32 euros). A bit steep for three drinks, of course, but my problem was that the beer was a bog-standard tasteless lager served in a flimsy plastic glass that I couldn’t even finish. If you are going to charge me 10 euros for a drink, at least make sure it is half decent.

However, the biggest issue I had during my trip was the level of service I encountered in many places. It’s not that the people serving me were rude or unpleasant, it’s just that most of them seemed completely unprepared to do their jobs. One disadvantage that any tourist has is that they are fish out of water in a strange place and need a lot of help and information. Whether it was in shops, bus stations or restaurants, more often than not on my trip I found myself staring into the vacant eyes of some attendant who obviously had no idea how to answer my – relatively basic – question or request.

My assumption is that this is a consequence of the search for profit in the tourism industry by offering unqualified young people short-term and poorly-paid jobs. Considering how much they charge, you’d think they could afford to train and pay their employees better.

I hope I haven’t discouraged you from visiting London, as I say it’s a great place, just don’t expect to find out how that dish you want to order is prepared or which platform you need.


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