Amanda Smith Regier

After three years in the United Kingdom, Vancouver native Amanda Smith Regier now resides in Canada’s only mega-city, Toronto. There, she edits two university magazines and writes for various periodicals, for print and web, and blogs at the front lawn. When not indulging in literary pursuits, she can be found combing Toronto’s secondhand shops and attempting to sample every cup of coffee available on Queen Street.

I Facebook, Therefore I Am

Last month I committed social suicide.

I deleted my Facebook account.

 

With no small sense of irony, I went to see The Social Network shortly after. What struck me about the film wasn’t the portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg’s lack of social skills (funny, for a guy who now runs our social lives), the speed of his success, or even how Justin Timberlake brought sexy back to hacking. All I could focus on were the dates: Facebook was created in 2004! It sounds like yesterday, yet I can hardly remember a time when Facebook didn’t exist. I climbed on board in early 2007 with trepidation, anticipating another MySpace or Bebo—too busy; little of value. Only three years later, it’s hard to fathom how we planned high school reunions, shared wedding photos, or found out if our exes are still hot before Mark Zuckerberg came along.

I intended to find out.

My intentions were noble. After nearly five years of living abroad, hubby and I were gearing up to move back home to the West Coast. It seemed like the perfect time to put an end to our virtual social lives and start focusing on our real ones.

Admittedly, I was scared. I deliberated a full week before I even researched how to delete my account, and another week before I merely “disabled” it. It took me one more week to hit the official delete button. Then I waited for the fallout.

They say withdrawal is nastiest in the first few days, but my symptoms only increased over time. Like a smoker, it was initially the ritual that I missed most. A week after quitting, I was still wondering what to do each morning once I’d checked my email accounts and my blog feed and wasn’t quote ready to delve into work. Twitter suddenly got a lot more attention.

After two weeks I really started to miss my friends. I’ve lived away from them for nearly five years, but for at least three of those years I felt very much a part of their lives. My expectation that those friends would simply revert to emailing was seriously off base. My 15-year-old cousin informed me, “Nobody emails anymore.” And with the dearth of emails also came a drought of event invitations. Sure, in the past I had to turn them down due to distance, but I appreciated the thought no less.

After three weeks, panic set in. What was I missing?! What fabulous parties had passed? Who was pregnant? Engaged? Divorced? Who was at last night’s Canuck’s game? Who hates the new Sufjan Stevens album? Who was excited about the arrival of eggnog lattes at Starbucks? Wait, are eggnog lattes available already?? How would I ever know? And would my life be complete if I didn’t?

After an entire month I was faced with a serious existential crisis. Who am I apart from Facebook? Are my social interactions less valid because I do not document them afterward? Will everyone forget about me if I never again update my status?

My husband, who hasn’t missed Facebook in the slightest and is content to have three (real) friends in the world, reminded me that, indeed I am still a valid, complete person without an online profile. He also reminded me that dissolving a Facebook friendship is not dissolving a real friendship.

If Magritte were alive today, he would say, “Ceci n’est pas un ami”. These are not my friends. They are simply virtual representations of my friends. They do not “satisfy emotionally.” Just try filling them with tobacco.

Hubby also pointed out how much more time I now spend calling my family in the evenings, reading books on public transit, and working out on weekends. These are good things.

But while we’ve all discussed the shortcomings of Facebook (it’s a time vacuum, it’s voyeuristic, it violates privacy and lacks boundaries, it substitutes virtual friendships for real ones), how often do we discuss the downside of not being on Facebook? Point blank, it’s isolating.

I’m fascinated by my one friend who isn’t on Facebook. A busy schoolteacher and a mom, she always said she preferred real relationships to virtual ones. I was pretty excited to tell her about my own departure from Facebook. But the day after I quit, she emailed to say she had finally signed up—she was tired of feeling she was always missing out on things.

Facebook has become a casual, non-threatening way to make first contact with new friends. It’s how many of my wonderful real life friendships took root in the UK. Nowadays, calling someone you don’t know well can feel intrusive and overeager. Email can be inconvenient and slow—if I want to know how Kelly is doing, I have to remember to write her, and hope she finds time to email back. As a self-employed editor, I am hugely dependent on my personal network for contracts, and Facebook has often been a source of work. And though Facebook can’t replace my relationships, it is the easiest way to facilitate them.

I resisted cell phones for years, on principle, thinking I was preserving my independence and carefree lifestyle. But when I finally bought my first Motorola I discovered cell phones just make life easier. So while deleting myself from Facebook sounded like a liberating “eff you” to technology and the constraints of modern social expectations, in fact, it just made it harder to enhance that “real social life” I had idealized.

It’s no surprise my Facebook absence is unlikely to last much longer, but my time “unplugged” revealed the lack of constructive boundaries I had previously put on my use of it. When I do venture back into that digital abyss, it will be with new parameters—I’ll never spend time on Facebook when I could be spending it with real people; I won’t use it to kill time in public places; I will not accept friend requests out of courtesy; and I will prioritize deepening my existing friendships over being nostalgic about old ones. I’ll approach it as a tool to make my relationships better, not as a relationship in and of itself.

 

A Tree Grows in Leslieville

View of Toronto skyline from Toronto Harbour. ...
Image via Wikipedia

An erroneous lead on an apartment first brought me to Leslieville. As a newcomer to Toronto, I had heard rumors of this chilled out haven in an otherwise jumping metropolis. People called it “Toronto’s Brooklyn.” And while my “bright, spacious two-bedroom loft” turned out to be a dingy partitioned attic, the neighborhood did not disappoint.

Labeled by the press as Toronto’s “next big thing,” I’m convinced Leslieville has already arrived. It was originally an industrial neighborhood that housed mostly blue-collar factory workers. It still has some of its Depression-era charm, but is now the subject of gradual gentrification.

While Toronto is mostly known to Canadians as the nation’s fashion and culture capitol, Leslieville is decidedly sleepier. In fact, it’s the closest thing this Vancouver girl has found to a West Coast vibe since moving to Ontario’s capital city in February.

This is where Toronto hipsters come to roost when they are through with the West End art scene. You’ll see them shopping for mid-century finds to fill their turn-of-the-century fixer-upper, towing their well-shod tots in Radio Flyer wagons (designer strollers are for the Midtown set) and eschewing downtown clubs and cocktails for backyard patios and microbrews.

Leslieville’s main thoroughfare is a 2km (1.24 mile) stretch along Queen Street East, just a 10 minute street car ride (or 25 minute walk) from downtown Toronto. Blink when you pass the dingy TV repair shops and landmark peeler bar, Jilly’s, and you’ll discover a quietly hip enclave of gastronomic treats, art, and a hearty sprinkling of antiques.

Here are my top picks for a perfect day in Leslieville*:

SHOP
Ethel
1091 Queen Street East
Leslieville is one big trove of mid-century finds, but Ethel is a perfectly curated collection of vintage lamps, clocks, Pyrex, telephone tables, and fondue pots. You’ll feel like you’ve walked into a Mad Men set, so it’s no surprise many of these items are rented out as props for television and movies. Owner and former interior designer Shauntelle LeBlanc is happy to chat vintage and modern design with any keen shopper, and stocks a great line of made-in-Toronto cards, alongside her retro wares.

Guff
1142 Queen Street East
If you haven’t had your fill at Ethel or prefer your vintage finds without a side of kitsch, pop over to GUFF (Good Used Furniture Finds) for pristine mid-century pieces. Plan to have a van at your immediate disposal because it’s hard to pass up the perfect teak console, Danish modern dining set, or industrial table you are sure to find at GUFF’s new Queen East space.

The Purple Purl
1162 Queen Street East
Toronto’s answer to New York knitting boutique Purl Soho, The Purple Purl is its own community within the community. On any given Tuesday night the lit-up windows reveal women of all ages sitting in a circle of cozy chairs, knitting socks and spinning yarns. On the main floor you’ll find three technicolor dream walls stocked with high quality wool, while the basement hosts knitting and crocheting classes for eager novices like me. Even if you’re not into knitting, it’s worth stopping in for the herbal teas and homemade ginger cookies.

Nathalie-Roze & Co.
1015 Queen Street East
Though Toronto’s fashion scene is ruled by the trendy West End, Nathalie-Roze is an East End gem, worth a trip in its own right. The boutique-slash-craft studio features dozens of local designers and their mostly handmade wares including jewelry, men’s ties, and baby goods. I’m a sucker for the custom onesies made out of old souvenir t-shirts.

EAT
Ed’s Real Scoop
920 Queen Street East
Ed’s serves up the best gelato in Toronto, and possibly the best in Canada. They’ve been making their own gelato for a decade, but the Leslieville shop is relatively new. Not that you’d know it by the queue out the door on sunny days. If that crowd doesn’t tip you off, the smell of freshly made sugar cones will let you know you’re in the right place. Take advantage of Ed’s liberal sampling policy, and then take home a tub (because one cone isn’t enough). I can’t get enough of the passion fruit gelato and am counting down the months until I get to try their seasonal eggnog ice cream.

Bonjour Brioche
812 Queen Street East
Bonjour Brioche is a little taste of Quebec in Toronto—slightly pompous waiters and all. This cash-only brunch spot is a Leslieville mainstay. The weekend lineup is killer, but well worth the wait. If you’re short on time, just grab a freshly made croissant or baguette to nibble on the road. If you have more time, however, the croque madame (fried egg, gruyere, and ham on a perfectly puffy slice of brioche) is amazing. Bonus, for ’80s TV fans, it’s on the corner of Degrassi Street. Yes, THAT Degrassi Street.

Leslie Jones
This unassuming restaurant is easy to locate between its two namesake streets, Leslie and Jones. When you spot a giant “Hello my name is…” sign hovering over a doorway you’ll know you’re in the right place. Leslie Jones is a perfect extension of both the neighborhood’s vintage vibe and gastro-obsession. The Italian-inspired menu is always changing, as are the records, spinning mellow tunes on a turntable at the back of the restaurant. As Leslieville becomes an increasingly popular foodie destination, it’s hard to find dinner and drinks for two south of $50. It’s also hard to find restaurants that don’t overcook their risotto, but here it’s flawlessly al dente and conveniently affordable. The patio out back is strewn with lights, perfect for Toronto’s famously hot summers.

Dark Horse Espresso
682 Queen Street East
Leslievillers are spoiled for choice when it comes to independent coffee shops. With nearly one per block it’s hard to narrow down, but this gem on the western edge of Leslieville is my favorite place to while away a Saturday morning. Ever-changing art on the walls and in my latte foam make each visit an adventure. The giant communal table is a great place to meet locals, and the super friendly staff are more than happy to chat while they work. Take advantage of free wifi (no password required) and truly delicious scones.

*Note: Don’t plan to visit over a Monday when most of the shops and many restaurants are closed.

Of Infomercials and Celebrity Trainers

My life changed one night when a minor emergency landed me in the ER. At 3:00 a.m., with nary a book or a post-2001 magazine to be found in the hospital waiting room, I spent two hours gazing at a TV screen featuring the most ridiculously cheesy (but undeniably fit) man, leaping side to side and up and down, doing a beyond-human number of chin-ups, and promising to get me in the best shape of my life!

Tony Horton, I learned, is a celebrity fitness trainer. His hour-long direct response ads for the P90X fitness program are the most frequently aired infomercials in America, and in that moment I understood why. While my good sense told me to look away, I was riveted by Tony’s goofy antics, his unnaturally firm hair, and a steady stream of before and after photos—P90X success stories—first showing pudgy, pokey men and women, and then their svelte rippling likenesses after 90 days.

Looking down at my own pajama-clad-self slouched in the waiting room chair, I discovered what camp I fell into. I’d just moved back to Canada after three years in Great Britain, and London’s pubs, pies and pints had made their mark on my 5’2″ frame. I had a bona fide muffin top—or perhaps more accurately, a scone top, with a big dollop of clotted cream.

Not one for late nights, infomercials or fitness fads, I may have been the last person in North America to hear of Tony and his P90X extreme workout series. But on the off chance that I’m not, I’ll share my findings: designed for people who are already relatively fit, P90X is a series of intense hour-long workouts that use a principle Tony calls “muscle confusion” to optimize your fitness. Not much different from cross training, it simply means constantly switching things up so your body never adapts to a particular move and you don’t plateau. The 12 P90X workout videos are a mix of cardio, strength training, and stretching. The program is divided into three 30-day phases, each with three weeks of intense strength and cardio training, followed by one yoga-filled recovery week. At the end of 90 days, Tony guarantees you’ll be in the best shape of your life.

It’s the kind of promise that should set your red flags flying, no matter how drugged and sleepy you are—but in that emergency room, my vanity trumped my common sense, and nothing has been the same since. A week later, my husband Dean and I were in possession of our own 12-part video series, raring to go.

Before beginning any sort of fitness regime, there are obstacles to overcome. For me, the great barrier was the idea that I’m not one of those people. You know, THOSE people (the ones who are awake at 3a.m., who watch infomercials, and who actually respond to them). Or worse, the kind who do all of the above and then lack enough shame to write about them on the internet.

Bottom line: P90X is not cool. Moves have silly names like Superman/Banana, Wacky Jacks, Crunchy Frog, and Sneaky Lunges. You pray no one will walk in while you’re doing them, but, as Tony promises, by the end you’re “dripping with sweat and feel like a million bucks.” Even now, seven weeks in, I tip my head and sheepishly shrug while explaining why I’m declining the office chocolates and stuffing my gob with peanuts all day. But they say acceptance is the first step.

In the case of P90X, the second step is pain management. For the first two weeks I couldn’t lift my hands above shoulder-height, or walk up stairs without the help of a handrail. When Week 4 rolled around—labeled as a “recovery week”—I was thrilled at the prospect of a few muscle-soothing yoga sessions. To my dismay, it turned out to be 90 minutes of intense lunging, reaching, and sweating—undeniably the toughest workout in the lineup!

Yoga was tough. Even tougher was adapting to a completely new lifestyle—fitting more than an hour of exercise into each day, and utterly overhauling my diet. The P90X nutrition plan prescribes only one serving of dairy and one serving of carbohydrates each day. Having yet to stick to a nutrition plan that didn’t include a semiweekly potato chip binge, carb-withdrawal consumed me for nearly a month. Integrating more protein into our diet to replace the carbs and dairy took a lot of work and forward planning.

Not that our quality of life has suffered—pizza night has been replaced by steak night. I might miss the ease of a simple pasta dinner, but I certainly don’t miss that awful bloated feeling that comes after devouring a giant bowl of penne. To keep the meat-influx from pushing our grocery budget to the limit, I’ve started experimenting with protein alternatives like tofu, beans, and nuts. The results are mixed—the nut-stuffed squash was a fail, while the chickpea patties were a roaring success—but dinnertime is always an adventure.

Okay then. P90X is tough. It takes time, lots of energy, and lots of forethought, but let’s cut to the chase. Why bother? Or, the real question on your mind: does P90X actually work?

I cannot deny that, just over halfway through the program, my body is changing. After three years of fretting over jiggly bellies and love handles, my midsection is, frankly, firm. Around week six, my abdominals put an appearance, and they’ve actually stuck around. I have unfamiliar, bulgy biceps. I think it’s working.

I’ve become increasingly convinced that Tony Horton is a robot (with his tireless pushing up, pulling up, speed squatting, karate kicking, etc., etc.) but I have yet to tire of his bad jokes, or grow bored of his high-energy workouts. On all counts, from Camp Regier, P90X is living up to its lofty claims, and we’re loving the results.

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In Defense of Quatchi

The 21st Winter Olympic Games begin today in Vancouver. At last, the world is coming to my hometown to discover that it has more to offer than Twilight location tours. In the next two weeks, 5,500 athletes representing 80 nations will perform their skills for up to 350,000 visitors.

When they get here, however, along with a surprising absence of snow, they are sure to find a large population of disgruntled locals raising placards at events around the city. A lot of Vancouverites are up in arms over the Olympics.

Along with concerns about unmanageable traffic, the Olympic Committee’s failure to sensitively address Vancouver’s problem with homelessness, and the usual Olympic cost overrun, there is one issue that has the city polarized in hot debate: the 2010 Olympic mascots.

Designed by Vancouver and Los Angeles-based Meomi Design, the painfully cute mascots are three mythical creatures, somewhat derived from Canadian aboriginal mythology. As they will be gracing your TV screens for the next two weeks, they warrant a short introduction:

The big boss and big-seller in plush-toy-ville is Quatchi—a snow-boarding, earwarmer-wearing, tattoo-sporting Sasquatch. Just your run of the mill Big Foot, really.

Miga is a sea bear (half killer whale, half Kermode spirit bear, of course) who lives in the ocean near the Vancouver Island surf town of Tofino. She has a dorsal fin on her head, but anatomical irregularities aside, Miga possesses the majority of the cute quotient in the bunch. Her pink nose makes her conveniently suited to the myriad pink backpacks, beanies and other paraphernalia she adorns.

Sumi, a sometimes wheelchair-bound thunderbird, represents the Paralympics, which take place immediately after the Olympics. Native American mythology claims the thunderbird can shoot lightning from its eyes, but Sumi’s black dot eyes seem innocuous enough.

While not an official mascot, there is actually a fourth member of the Cute Squad. When a local newspaper suggested there be a sidekick that is actually an identifiable local animal, along came Mukmuk, a Vancouver Island marmot. Never mind the fact that marmots hibernate in winter; Mukmuk keeps warm in a cozy toque (that’s a “beanie” in Canadian).

Now, having met the rascals in question, surely you can see what all the controversy is about. No?

Here are some of the charges laid against them:

They don’t represent Canada as a whole. They are too Asian. They are too aboriginal. They aren’t aboriginal enough. They are too cute. They are too simple. They are too childish. They are not real animals. They are costing the Olympic Committee too much money. Their stuffed-incarnations are made in China. Et cetera, et cetera.

One of the greatest objections to the mascots is that the “rest of the world” will not be able to understand them. But certainly the world deserves an opportunity to discover for themselves something completely new and possibly surprising about British Columbia’s past and present.

Once they do begin that process of discovery they’ll learn that anime-influenced depictions of local mythological characters are actually a stroke of design-genius. Quatchi, Sumi, and Miga are the embodiment of Vancouver — a city whose origins rest in aboriginal culture and whose evolution is largely credited to Asian immigrants (who make up around 40% of Vancouver’s population).

I wonder, did those who protest that this amalgamation doesn’t represent the rest of Canada also complain in 1988 when two polar bears in cowboy hats (Howdy and Hidi) welcomed the world to Calgary? Sure – the polar bear along with, perhaps, the mighty moose or the eager beaver, are quickly recognizable Canadian stereotypes – but frankly, any of those three icons are spotted in Vancouver about as often as the humble Sasquatch.

And while some object to the use of mythical creatures as mascots, I would challenge them to track down an ice cube with arms trotting around Torino (Winter 2006) or a dog in a three-piece suit sunning himself in Barcelona (Summer 1992). In 1996, Atlanta’s mascot was named Izzy, derived from “What is he?”—a question which, 14 years later, remains unanswered.

Certainly, appropriating native mythology for commercial gain is without excuse, but the introduction of Sumi and Miga prompted me, and thousands of others, to dig into British Columbia’s cultural heritage for the first time since fifth grade, to figure out just what a sea bear is, and if a thunderbird actually does have the legs of a black bear or the hat of an orca.

That the stuffed Quatchi dolls that now crowd Vancouver souvenir shops are made in China is problematic. But in light of complaints about the Olympic Committee’s cost overrun, you can understand their desire to save Canadian taxpayers’ money by outsourcing.

Most of the objections to Quatchi and his gang, however, overlook the very nature of the mascot: they are for children, young and old. Their sole purpose is to engage and enchant. This is best done through simple, fun and easily adaptable cartoon characters.

Finally, to those who claim they are simply too cute, I have no defense. They simply are too cute. Which is exactly why I, along with thousands of sasquatch-loving Olympic fans will be sporting a screen-printed Quatchi on my favourite Olympic hoodie while I cheer on my country’s athletes this week.

Nevermind the Gap

I was 16 when I first visited London for a whirl of a wind, five-hour tour during a Heathrow layover. I remember only snapshots revealed as I emerged from subterranean escalators: Piccadilly’s hypnotic lights, Buckingham Palace’s wedding cake font, and Big Ben watching over all the bustle like some staid judge. It was big and disjointed and, in my mind, the only thing that held these wondrous bits together was the vast network of trains rumbling underfoot – the Underground.

The Tube was a masterpiece to my suburban sensibilities – swiftly zipping London’s well-dressed from stylish abode to streamlined office to Soho gallery and back again. Armed with a pair of souvenir Tube-map socks and a Mind the Gap T-shirt, I resolved to one day join their ranks, and 12 years later I did just that.

Two months into an editing gig in central London, the romance had waned. Sure, the sheen wears off every big city dream at some point, but this was a short-lived loved affair by any standard.

London was meant to be fashion (!) and art (!) and history (!), but so far all I’d managed to see between home and work were miles of subway-tiles. I could never determine east from west or figure out where Bloomsbury was in relation to Chelsea. On the iciest of days I still arrived at work in a sweat after sharing an unventilated subway car with, it seemed, the rest of London, and my new city-chic heels were taking a beating on escalators and endless underground walkways. All this at a cost equivalent to $8 per journey*! The root of my discomfort was the very infrastructure in which I’d placed so much hope.

I loathed the Tube.

Then one fateful day the north/south running Jubilee Line was closed (as it often is) and it marked one inconvenience too many. Taking an alternate route meant dashing for two different connections in ridiculously stylish shoes. It was a time for last resorts. I caught a bus.

Up to this point, the Underground’s demerits were obvious (hot, cramped, overpriced, unexplained stops in dark tunnels, long walks between platforms, closes at midnight) but the merits of bus travel were still unknown. In the suburbs where I grew up, buses were the domain of grannies and crazies. They were slow and indirect, idling at rural stops for minutes at a time. This stigma had kept me off London’s iconic double-deckers. I see it in many of my North American visitors as well. The only bus they’ll brave is the open-top tourist variety. Over dinner with five other expats recently, each of them admitted to never taking the London bus, generally because they expect it to be confusing and they’ll miss their stop.

And here our plot takes a drastic turn, courtesy of Deus ex machina – God from the machine that issued forth my bus ticket after charging a mere pound. In the movie version of my London life, a beam of light shines down from heaven in this moment; I ascend to the upper deck and I am a convert. This is my revelation: in London, bus travel is not only cheap as chips, it is a cinematic experience – one I have since repeated at every possible opportunity.

From the upper deck, crossing the Thames equals any visit to the IMAX, and from the bottom deck, a drive along Oxford Street rivals a front row seat at London Fashion Week. In traffic I read the blue plaques on buildings around town, which denote which famous Brit lived where (Winston Churchill! Alfred Hitchcock! Charles Dickens!) and have a prime view of London’s celebrated street art. It is people-watching, history-marking, city-touring heaven. There are no drastic temperature changes; there is a greater likelihood and securing a seat; and when there’s a holdup, I know exactly why.

Those North American fears of missing a stop and winding up in an squalid no man’s land are entirely unfounded thanks to an automated voice that calls out each stop as it approaches. In keeping with London’s penchant for good design, easy-to-read maps at each bus stand show you where to catch your bus and every single stop it makes along the way.

The more I speak to seasoned Londoners, the more I discover that I’m not the only one with a passion for the bus. These insiders know that the bus is often more direct and rarely takes longer than the Tube.

Lindsey Clarke, editor of London’s authoritative city blog, Londonist.com, and a fellow bus enthusiast, tells me the top deck of a London bus is her preferred spot for city viewing and daydreaming. She lets me in on a handy tip: “If you’re nifty,” she says, “you can bus-hop across town in a very cunning manner – all the way to Zone 6 and back if you wish.”

Every rider has a favourite route. I like catching the 24 bus in the shadow of Big Ben and passing Trafalgar Square and the theatre district en route to quirky Camden Town and tranquil Hampstead Heath. Ms. Clarke has a particular soft spot for the 341 bus which connects trendy north London to the arsty south bank. “The 341 is a comfy double-decker that links Islington to Waterloo in 30 minutes or less, crossing the Thames at Waterloo Bridge with stunning views, handy for the City or the West End. And it runs 24 hours.”

Now, more than a year into my London life, I’ve yet to ride the bus without some fresh new revelation about the lay of the land. And ironically, my bus rides have proved just how walkable this city is. What was a 15-minute tube ride is often revealed to be a really pleasant 25 minute stroll; and if you get lost, handy maps at every bus stop will help you get your bearings as you move on to the next history-steeped spot, enjoying every site along the way.

Note for visitors:
– For riding the bus or the Tube, it is well worth buying a pre-loaded Oyster card which gives you big savings on pay-as-you go travel. It caps out at a daily max, so you get a day’s unlimited bus travel in all zones for ¬£3.30 or Tube travel for ¬£6.70 in zones 1 & 2.

Best routes:
– Route 10 is best for fashion-lovers, taking you from the Royal Albert Hall and Kensington Palace to the luxury of Harrod’s department store and the excess of Oxford Street.
– Route 24 is great tourist route, passing by Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square through the famous West End, and finally to infamous Camden and giant park Hampstead Heath.
– Routes 9 and 15 are heritage routes which let you ride original Routemaster double deckers for regular bus card fares. Route 15 passes tourist must-sees like the Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral, publishing mecca, the Strand and Trafalgar Square.

*£4 when paying per journey without an Oyster card.