Friday, 13 November 2009

Visiting London

When I was growing up, I hated London. It was big, loud, grey and overcrowded, and the people were grumpy. I swore that whatever I did, and wherever I ended up, I would never ever live there.

So in 1996 I moved to London, and over the 10 years that I lived there, I learnt to love many things about it. It's still big, loud and overcrowded, but there are unexpected pockets of green among the grey, and London's parks, both large and small, are one of its best features.

As for the grumpiness of the people... well, yes, I have to admit that's still true - especially during rush hour in the summer, when the sweating commuters in their uncomfortable suits are trudging out of the office in their finely-timed daily slog to catch the overcrowded 17:53 and find their way blocked by crowds of excited tourists who are taking each other's photo in front of a real live Tube station.

But London is also steeped with history and full of theatres, shops, museums and restaurants. You can sample the cuisine of pretty much any country in the world here if you know where to look - DH meets up with a friend of his quite regularly after work, and they're working their way through the alphabet, trying a different cuisine every time they meet. So far they've done Austrian, Belgian, Caribbean, Deutsch (I think that was cheating a bit, and they could easily have done Danish instead), Estonian, Filipino, Greek and Hungarian. I think Indonesian is next - Indian would just be too easy.

During the Second World War, road signs and station names were removed throughout the country so that if the enemy landed, they wouldn't be able to find their way around. I don't think it occurred to the powers that be that the enemy might have brought maps with them.

Anyway, when you arrive in London, you may occasionally have the impression that the War is still on and we're still trying to confuse the enemy. You'll be following a signpost to something, and just when you think you must be getting close, there'll be a fork in the road and there's no sign to tell you which way you should be going.

The first time you use the Tube, it can be hard to figure out where you're supposed to go and how everything works, but amongst all the grumpy commuters there's usually someone friendly who will give you a hand.

The big secret about London, though, is that most of the places you want to visit are actually very close together. A lot of people never realise this, because places that are only a couple of hundred yards apart might be on separate Tube lines and involve three changes of train and a whole lot of hassle.

If you do like the canny enemy and invest in a London A-Z, you'll realise that Westminster Cathedral (the Catholic one), Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, Downing Street, Buckingham Palace and the London Eye are all within easy walking distance of each other. When I was living in London and had regular visitors from overseas, I worked out a walking tour which took in all the major sights, including all the above plus Tower Bridge, the Tower of London and a couple of other places, in a single day.


  1. What a great post! I am wondering if the Tube compares to the New York subway system? I am very familiar with using the subway there, and I have also done well on public transit in Munich, Berlin, Italy, and Paris as well as other major U.S. cities. So I am hoping I won't be a super obvious tourist, but maybe it is more confusing?

    Did you by chance jot down this one-day walking tour? If so, I would love to take advantage of it. I prefer walking anyway, and it would be great to see so much in a day!

    Loving your auto-posts, but looking forward to your return from your vacation. =)

  2. If you've done all those, you should be fine. The frustrating thing in London is how badly signposted things are, although some lines are better than others. The Metropolitan line is appalling in some places, but it's mostly used by commuters, so once you've had a week or two of frustration you know where you're meant to be going and just go round on autopilot like everyone else.

    Where a station is on two lines and you're changing between them, it's also amazing sometimes how far you have to walk to get from one line to the other - especially when you realise that you could have done the whole journey and not walked as far.

    I didn't make a note of the walking tour, but can probably reconstruct it without too much effort - I'll have a little think...