I have spent the last week touring London, England with my mom, so let me offer my first impressions of the city. London is old, really old. You are reminded of that fact every time you turn the corner. Almost every stone building features ornate molding or corinthian columns, and every park contains a Roman-esque statue of a general or otherwise distinguished Brit. Age is what largely distinguishes this city from others in America, but it has other unique characteristics as well. The city is not as hectic as New York, and the subways are remarkably cleaner-- and let me say that London has just about every city I’ve ever visited beaten in the public transportation department (except maybe Washington DC). It took a little bit of getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, London’s “tube” (subway) system is very clear and easy to use, much more so than NY, but maybe not as clear as Boston due to the fact that London is a larger city. The red buses are a little harder to navigate because we had a hard time figuring out where each bus made its stops, but once you know where you’re going and what signs to look for, riding the buses is a very pleasant mode of travel. London streets are even marked for tourists crossing the street; when you reach an intersection, the direction you should watch for cars is painted on the asphalt in big white letters. Thank you, Elizabeth. I also think you feel more safe walking around London at night than you would feel walking in NYC after dark.
London is truly a tourist’s city. There are tourist attractions, ice cream vendors, t-shirt, novelty shops and restaurants everywhere. My mom remarked that she had never seen a city with so many restaurants, and that is definitely true. You are never at a loss for a little cafe in which to grab a sandwich and tea, even if it means those cafes are chains-- there was a Starbucks, Pret A Manger, and a Cafe Nero on just about every street.
We met a couple from our home church who recently moved to Derby for tea at Kensington Palace one afternoon. They explained that it was exhausting to work here because of all the little things you have to do differently here that you would do without thinking about in America. For example, driving takes a lot more effort and concentration because you are driving on the opposite side of the road. (I think if I had to drive here I would have a crash within 5 minutes, what with the disorientation and all the buses barreling down on you.) The couple also said it took more concentration to read things because UK English is an “almost foreign language”. Ok, granted, they use some different phrases than we do in America, but on the whole I haven’t had a super difficult time understanding anyone (except our Polish concierge and the Chekoslavakian waitress), but maybe I’ll have more trouble in the future.
One of my favorite things we did here in London was our visit to Kensington. Unfortunately, since the olympics are going to be held here next summer, the city is in an uproar renovating everything, and Kensington was on the renovation list in a big way. This meant that all the furniture had been moved out of the palace, but the state rooms were still open for visitors because in place of the furnishings, they had created an exhibit called “The Enchanted Palace”. It was like stepping into Alice’s Wonderland. The point was that you were supposed to go around to each of the open state rooms and find clues to royal secrets and figure out which seven princesses had called Kensington their home. Modern art and weird galleries were displayed in the rooms, and you got to discover copies of old letters that the princesses had written way back when they lived there. Princess Victoria’s room was called “The Room of the Sleep-Walking Princess”, and inside the dark room was a bed with about seven mattresses on top, dolls and point shoes were strewn about the floor, and a wolf was displayed running across the ceiling. The point was that although Victoria’s childhood was unhappily very restricted, due to the Kensington system, in her dreams she wanted to run like a wild thing through the woods. All in all, we learned a lot about the Princesses who had lived in the Palace, and afterwards we walked a loooong way around the palace park grounds and then had tea in the Orangery, which was delicious!
Touring Buckingham Palace was my Mom’s favorite touristy thing we did here. We were lucky we got to tour it when we did because the palace is only open for tours during August and.. I think September. She liked it more than Windsor Castle because the palace was just as ornate and beautiful as Windsor, but the furnishings felt a little more modern, and the layout of the place is more open and airy than the castle. She said she could see herself living at Buckingham more than she could see herself at Windsor, and I agree but you can’t deny that there isn’t anything much more beautiful than that ancient castle with its lush gardens.