London, the good and bad bits

This blog has been a bit anglo-centric of late and I’m not making apologies for that; my wife and I spent a very enjoyable two weeks in the UK and it was a trip that consumed a lot of our attention for several months beforehand.

That said, I ought to get one big rambly post out of the way and then get on with what people really want to read about if my referral links are to be believed, which is mostly Pokemon characters in compromising positions.

That is tarring my readers with a rather wide brush, so I will relent a bit.  You may be perverts, but you have a much wider range of interests than simply Pokemon.

But I digress.

Anyway, the first week of our trip was spent in London and I’m very glad for that.  It’s probably the city that I’ve been in with the greatest sense of History-with-a-capital-H; Kyoto is just as old but doesn’t go in quite as much for slapping dates on everything.  There’s something about wandering through Westminster Abbey, for example, and looking down to see that the memorial slab you’re standing on has a barely-visible date in the 1500s, and for a guy who went to college to study languages, there’s a particular impact to walking into the British Museum and coming face-to-face with the freakin’ Rosetta Stone.

Then too, if you happened to be a member of the idle rich and wanted to spend every night of your life attending operas or plays or concerts or what have you, London would be an excellent city to do it in.  The buses and subways are lined with posters for upcoming events and performances, and even if some of them are in questionable taste there’s something to be said for quantity.

…OK, perhaps there are SOME lines humanity was not meant to cross…

But, putting aside the history and the culture, the great thing about London is that it’s full of all the things that you really want to see when you visit the UK.  You’ve got your red double-decker buses, your black cabs, your Changing Of The Guard, takeaway fish and chips, a Big Damned Clocktower, a Biggest Damned Ferris Wheel, Piccadilly Circus lit up in neon, Harrods covered in lights, the Tube, Forbidden Planet, congestion fees, economical Vauxhall saloons, the occasional Reliant Robin still running about in the wild, the rare thrill of seeing an Aston Martin gliding by…

…It is possible that I have watched too much Top Gear.

But I did see a Reliant Robin, though it wasn’t in the process of being shot into space by three guys with more explosives than common sense:

On the other hand, it is a staggeringly expensive city to be a tourist in, there’s no two ways about it.  I have spent a fair bit of time in Tokyo, which people call an expensive place to visit, and there is no comparing the two.  It is unfortunately very easy to look at a price tag, think “well, that’s not too expensive”, and order, say, a 2.50 diet coke before you do the mental math and realize you’re paying 4 dollars for 8 ounces of cola, and a taxi ride you pay for with a single 20 pound note likewise seems quite reasonable until you do the maths.

It is also tremendously inconvenient if you are out for a day’s shopping and have no place to put your parcels, as there seem to be no coin lockers anywhere.  To be fair, coin lockers have largely disappeared from the American landscape as well; the usual excuse given is “terrorism” but I couldn’t help but notice the plethora of “left luggage” services who would be happy to hold your items at 7 pounds per bag per day.

That, and the city shuts down almost entirely at 7 o’clock at night.  That’s not an exaggeration; the shops and attractions close their doors and bring down the metal shutters at just about the time where things are getting going in, say, Los Angeles.

This is probably a boon if you happen to live in London and want to get off work at 5 and go down the pub by 6 and stay there the rest of the night, but if you are a tourist visiting London you should be aware that you will not get a full day’s worth of London out of any given day.

Also, the Tube, while very cool, tended to have a bad history of having stations out of order or down for construction or possibly on fire over the week we were trying to make use of it.

So there were some bits that were less fun than others, but I’m still going to give the city as a whole a B+.  Do something about the shop hours and the general reliability of public transport and that’s looking more like an A- which is a pretty good place to be in my book.




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