What I did in London: Impressions of an American Werewolf

17 10 2009



25 points

Originally uploaded by N-Sai

I’m going to tick someone off, and rightly so, but my recent taste of the UK gave me the impression that London is just like a city in the United States, but maybe a little wackier and a little hipper. Am I wrong? Then again, the UK has yielded things like Are You Being Served?, much of PBS programming in general, Monty Python, Mr. Bean and Thomas the Tank Engine (and Ringo Starr). Paris, on the other hand, can claim Babar and Madeleine. That should give you an idea of my experience.

I arrived on a Eurostar a few days into my trip across the pond and for the most part I was thoroughly relieved to be around people who in theory speak the same language as me. Mind you, all that “Feeling peckish?” and “lift” and “Mind the Gap” stuff was a constant reminder that I was no longer in Kansas, but things were familiar enough that I was OK with being so far from “home,” wherever that might be nowadays.

As I sit here in Arizona typing this post, I am a little floored at the culturedness of London. Its Tube underground, while crowded and filled with people who are walking way too fast and stressing way too much about missing trains that come every two minutes, is pretty good and pretty useful as long as you’re not handicapped. The whole city is pretty and cultured. The food is tasty. There are literally things to do and see around every corner. There aren’t so many skyscrapers and it’s not nearly so urbane as New York, but it is very hip and the open-air markets are a nice change. A lot of my impressions about London were wrong for the most part. The weather was nicer (still a bit chilly, but pleasantly so) and the people were all about being outdoors. It wasn’t that foggy (certainly not like San Francisco) and colorful things could be seen everywhere. The people have a delightfully wacky sense of humor and you just get the sense that culture is brimming from every chimney.

Now for the weird stuff: I got really tired of climbing stairs. Sooooo many stairs. It was really bad. There were a few escalators but in general walking around London left me hurting really bad during the trip and for about a week after. I think I’m still feeling some residual effects now that two weeks have elapsed. If you wanted to go to the restroom you had to go downstairs or upstairs (true of Paris as well) and there was just a lot of stair climbing to do.

I had a strange hotel room. Trying to find a place to stay was not easy but I found something. Coming from an odd hotel in Paris, I was sure that anything else would be normal, but I was wrong. I found a place that was safe enough, close to transit at St. Pancras and in general convenient as all hell. It even had a fresh English breakfast each morning consisting of eggs, sausage, toast, tea, juice, grilled tomato, baked beans, etc. That was a plus. But it was a strange room. I had to take the stairs to the third floor. The hallways were narrow and split by fire doors that you had to go through, and then the room itself was pretty small. The bathroom was elevated up onto a platform. My sink had separate hot and cold faucets so that your hands would never be comfortable when washing. There was no phone or clock in the room, and so no wake-up call of any sort, but there was free wi-fi. Still, not too bad, I guess. Could have been worse, and it was clean. The strange hotels are part of the travel experience methinks.

Oh yeah, so what did I see? My first stop before heading to bed was Piccadilly Circus, which had glittery neon and gawdy shops and the Trocadero mall with its weirdness and its danged pay toilets. I found an awesome souvenir shop that sold killer merch; I returned the next day to buy something and the store had been closed and completely stripped of its goods. In the morning and on the next day, I visited everything you’re supposed to: Walked by the London Eye, Parliament House, Westminster Abbey, the Changing of the Guard, St. James’s Park, Hyde Park, the Marble Arch, the Tower of London, the Tower Bridge, the Tate Modern and the Globe Theater. Bridges were everywhere and it was awesome. I took a side trip to Camden Town, which is like Atlanta’s Little Five Points on a much grander scale, and grabbed some gelato amidst the open-air markets of Notting Hill (which is sort of like Decatur, GA, on a much grander scale). Open-air markets are the thing in London. Before I left, I dropped by Turner House to pay a short visit to some of my colleagues in distant lands. To arrive at a satellite office of my workplace when so far from home was a very strange feeling. I had also browsed some neighborhoods and had Persian-Chinese fusion cuisine. Trafalgar Square was nice, as was its view of Big Ben. I liked the wacky charm of Soho and the international flavor of Chinatown. All in all, so much to see and do! I’d like to go back and see everything I missed.

It was a good trip and full of good humor and great underground art. At left is a Scrabble sign posted on a building in Notting Hill. It’s so pretty and hip in London. I want to go back and explore the UK, especially Scotland. I also want to see Ireland. So we’ll see. I also want to go to Spain, Italy, Germany, Greece, Switzerland, EVERYWHERE. Lord help me. Thanks for reading.

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