Reflections on London
© 12 Jul 2011 Luther Tychonievich
Licensed under Creative Commons: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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An American peripatetic’s perspective of the city of London.


Over the past several days I have been on the isle of Great Britain in the British Isles, exploring the city of London in the country of England, part of the United Kingdom. Although I have attended plays, museums, and historical sites I have preferred the time I have spent on foot walking the streets of London. Following are some of my impressions.

Looking on a map, London appears to be about thirty miles across. However, the underground fare zones and business travel appear to concentrate most of that within the central five to eight miles. What the area outside that is like I cannot say, for I stayed almost entirely within zone 1. On our brief drive out of the city, at least the outer two zones appeared to be more suburb than city.

I’ve never been to a city where I felt safer. This did not appear to be unique to myself; while walking down narrow blind allies after dark it was not uncommon to pass lone females who, to all outward appearances, were quite unconcerned for their wellbeing. I do not know how much of this is due to the pervasive CCTV coverage, CCTV, closed-circuit television, seems to cover most of London. They do not appear to be engineered in a closed-circuit way; Americans would call them surveillance cameras. how much to my being in the nice part of town, and how much to each nation and city having a different criminal culture.

London could easily amuse me qua tourist for many weeks. There are museums everywhere, a library suitable for months of exploration, lots of old churches and monuments and historic buildings. Those I visited were no mere tourist traps, either. For example, the Tower of London took five hours, and easily could have taken five more even without recourse to the not-open-to-the-public bits.

But the best of the town was the walking. I walked perhaps 15–20 miles of London’s streets, walkways, and alleys. The experience was, alas, indescribable, but a few observations can be made.

First, though London is swarming with many-centuries old buildings, for the most part they aren’t there because they are old but rather because it is easier to maintain and update an old building than it is to build a new one. Ornate stonework, arches, even a few gargoyles are decorated with neon signs and plastic trimmings. This meshing of centuries is rarely done in a sloppy way; indeed, except for the signs used by businesses, it is usually quite pleasant.

A few other oddities: it seemed less common to hear British accents than foreigners. There seemed no etiquette for which side of the sidewalk to utilize. There are very few police officers visible on the streets. An average rock climber could scale any one of the stone buildings I saw. There are very few litter receptacles. The city frequently has an unpleasant odor, but of lavatories or old food or too many sweaty bodies, not of petrol fumes. Very few lories make it into the downtown area.

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