Thursday, October 26, 2006

LONDON CALLING: Cheerio, Pip Pip

(I had considered recapping my recent trip to London in a straightforward, chronological fashion. There are two reasons I'm not going to do that: (1) it would have made more sense if I'd composed the entries during the actual trip, which I did not, and (2) that would be so boring. Then it would just be a diary. So instead, I'm going to break up my thoughts into several posts, and try and sort them into topics. Or at least, that's the idea. We'll see how that goes. For now, let's open with some initial musings.)

The first thing you do when someone comes back from a trip is to ask a simple question: "How was your trip?" So when you go on a trip, you've got no excuse for not anticipating the question. You'd better have a pretty good answer.

Right now, I've got three.

- "My trip was wet." The raininess of England is not only true. It is completely without exaggeration. Our first day in London was surprisingly clear. Even sunny. By the next morning, the grey had started to seep in. By the time we reached Stonehenge on Day 3, the rain was out in full force, and had no intention of leaving.

It was raining today in Chicago, and that helped me figure out what was so different about London rain. London had very little wind. Chicago, of course, has a reputation built upon wind. And therein lies the difference. In London, the rain just falls on you. It starts in the sky, lands on you, and there you go. The rain doesn't get thrown at you like little hailstones, the way it does in Chicago. Here, the rain beats you up. Not fun. I think I prefer the London version.

It's certainly not a torrential rain. We only heard thunder once. I can only describe it as steady. Constant. It falls and falls and there's not much you can do about it because it's not leaving anytime soon. (I suggest you bring an umbrella to the 2012 Olympics.) You won't drown in it, but you'll be damp a good portion of the time. I can see how it might get a little wearying after a while. Personally, I was just glad to experience the true Britain.

- "My trip was short." I've lived in Chicago for ten years now, and I don't totally feel like I've even fully explored my own neighborhood. Let's not even get into the South Side, which, I'm sorry to say, I haven't really gotten into. So the idea of trying to explore a foreign country for the very first time in only five days is patently ridiculous. It was never going to happen.

That said, London is absolutely huge, and I don't think there's any way on earth I could have appreciated just how outmatched I was going to be. Of the places we did get to, almost any one of them could have occupied an entire day on my itinerary. It was kind of frustrating. (Although it did inspire my brilliant idea for a travel guide series, Shane Wilson's 30 Days, 30 Ways, in which I visit a city for a month, and spend each day exploring one particular historical attraction or museum or whatever. It would be thoroughly impractical as a travel guide, but a lot of fun to research.)

What we ended up doing was what I call a checklist tour. This is where you mentally tick off all the things you actually see from a list of things you could have seen. This is a variation on what happened the very first time I came to Chicago, as the guest of my old school chum Laura Niesman, and we went to the Art Institute with very little time to spare, so we ended up racing through the museum, stopping only long enough to glance at paintings we recognized. Change the museum to one of the largest cities in the world and a couple hours to five days, and it's practically the same thing. In that sense, we did very well. Saw a lot of big London sights. Only now I have to go back to see what I missed. Which is unfortunate, because I still have the rest of Europe to race through and only scratch the surface.

- "My trip was comfortable." This was the biggest surprise, because I couldn't help but expect to find England...well, foreign. I mean, sure, they speak the same language, and sure, the bulk of my heritage comes from the British Isles. But still, it's another country. I needed a passport and everything. And yet...

You can put the cars on the other side of the street, but big cities are still big cities. I think I had this notion that I would be completely unable to get my bearings. I would be utterly lost, and everyone would recognize me as an alien, and point at me like Donald Sutherland in Invasion of the Body Snatchers and screech. And that didn't happen. From the moment I stepped off the plane, it felt like a place I could understand, that I could get along in.

I'm not explaining this well, because reading this part back, I sound like a complete idiot. But I guess I was prepared for it to feel weird. Different. Foreign. And it wasn't. Clair asked me if I thought I could live in London, and in the sense that it could be overwhelming like New York, I'd probably have to think about it. But in the sense of being comfortable? Feeling natural? Yeah, I could do it easily. And that was a pleasant surprise.

And that's how my trip was. For starters.


EuropeanTop said...

Hello and thanks for the opportunity to read and post on your blog.

I’ve just posted an article related to travel tips for seniors on my blog and I thought maybe you’d be interested in reading it. Here is short preview of some of the areas I covered:

- Prefer a backpack on wheels instead of a suitcase, you could pull it behind you when your back hurts or you are exhausted.
- Consider checking your bag in with the airlines, because it would become an unnecessary burden to be dragged all over the airport or the city if you are going to have a short visit.
- You could stay outside the city, in a hostel maybe, because it is cheaper, less crowded and the air is much fresher, but you have to walk or use the transport more, to get in the city or to the station.
- Most museums, some concert halls, railways, airlines, bus lines, ferry and shipping lines have a discount policy for seniors.
- Electronic devices are useful but sometimes they can give you a lot of headaches. You could help yourself with a micro-tape recorder to record your notes. It would be easier than to write and you would put them down on paper later, to share your notes with your family.
- If you bring a camera with you to keep the beautiful images alive along the time then make sure you know how to handle it or you might fail to record them not only on that camera but also in your eyes.

For more resources on how to travel to Europe you are welcome to visit my blog, where you can also get acces to some excellent maps of London and London hotels, together with information on restaurants adn rent a car services.

Best regards,

Michael R.