GorT and family took a trip to the UK recently – it was a great time and we all enjoyed the various (and typical) touristy sites in and around London. We saw various castles and palaces (Kensington, Buckingham, Tower of London and Hampton Court) which the British show very well. We took a bus out to see Stonehenge which, while interesting to see and contemplate the hows and whys regarding the structure, wasn’t quite the hit for our group. Possibly the mid-40º F temperatures, winds and 4 hours roundtrip in a bus had something to do with it. But it’s checked off. We stood on the Prime Meridian, toured a Football Stadium – their type of Football, and went to the Harry Potter Warner Brothers studio on its fourth day of public availability. We saw the great treasures in the British Museum, Piccadilly Circus and rode on the London Eye. We even were able to witness the oldest military ceremony – the Ceremony of the Keys which has been the means of securing the Tower of London for over 700 years. For questions, recommendations, or other zaniness fell free to ping me. In the meantime, I thought I’d share a few observations that we had from our trip.
First, getting around London is a cakewalk compared to many U.S. cities, possibly including New York City. Their public transportation system is the best I’ve used. It’s relatively clean (see below on cleanliness), reasonably priced and covers the city extremely well. We used the Underground mostly making use of youth and adult Oyster cards – which guarantee the best rate for your travel on the tube, bus and other covered services and provides a maximum daily cost (around £8 for adults or about $12.70 US) that we hit many days. We rode a few buses and even used the Thames Clipper river ferry service. The taxis or cabs were plentiful and a bit more pricey but served a purpose – for example, when headed to Easter Sunday Mass in our Sunday best and it is drizzling. Apparently, there is a bit of an issue with people falling in front of trains as it happened three times during the week or so we were there. I think American public transit systems could take a lesson or two from the apparent efficiency, pricing model and other efforts in their system.
Second, regarding the cleanliness. It was noticeable that there were few homeless people on the streets which makes me wonder a bit. There was, however, a fair amount of trash about. London is a very popular tourist attraction and we were usually surrounded by French and German tourists so I don’t attribute this solely to Londoners. We did witness, on numerous occasions, Europeans just leaving their trash on the ground – after eating some piece of food or finishing a drink. There were waste receptacles to be found. I can’t explain this behavior. The streets were periodically cleaned and by far London was not a “dirty” city but the trash was visible.
Third, we all know that the English drive on the left hand side of the road. There are historical reasons for it and historical reasons for the change on our part (and others). What we found odd was that pedestrian navigation was a total mess. Americans, by and large, tend to walk on the right side of the sidewalks and stairs and the escalators are oriented accordingly. Whether this is another aspect of the international city that London is or not, we couldn’t figure out any easy way to simply walk down a busy sidewalk. We spent most of the time dodging people – and frequently, they decided to play chicken and not move out of the way. Some escalators were oriented for left-hand based traffic and others contradicted that. In fact, on the Underground, they ask standing passengers to stay to the right and allow others to pass on the left. Clearly a difference from their roadways that are pass-on-the-left. For those unaware, GorT is a big fan of proper pedestrian navigation. So this kind of behavior does eat at me. I was pleased to see that queues (lines, for us Yanks) were maintained – whereas in other European countries that I’ve visited before, there seemed to be little concern for standing in line.
All in all, it was a great time. The English were very welcoming and the entire family had a great time at all the venues.