Since I live in a city where owning a car is mandatory, where pedestrians are considered suspect and where erasing history is a municipal pastime, I love visiting places with great public transportation, welcoming public spaces, and which have been proudly shaped by a very visible history.
I visited Soho (a lot) since that was where I found Compton’s (my ‘neighborhood’ pub) and Herman ze German, and watched people misbehave. Not too badly, but there were several times in Soho that it seemed British reserve was definitely taking second place to alcohol and Soho’s history and reputation as London’s naughty red-light district lingers on.
I visited Camden Town’s Stable market on Saturday morning, trapped so deep within the crowd that shopping was almost an impossibility. I apologize to the girl whose foot I stepped on; I just couldn’t see the pavement or your shoe. I beat a welcome retreat to walk along the Camden Locks for some air and hit Poppie’s for some excellent fish and chips before minding the gap and heading back to Holborn for a nap.
I walked through Piccadilly Circus on Saturday night, arm in arm with a charming Hungarian I met in Soho (see above), and the Circus ranks right up there with Times Square for population density and luminous intensity, and gives the Square a run for its money for the title of crossroads of the world. The entire population of the city and half the world’s tourists were out en masse, streaming around us to enjoy what I was told was unseasonably pleasant weather.
Apart from highlights blogged in separate posts, I saw St. Paul’s, and took advantage of London Open House, a yearly project in which hundreds of inspiring buildings were opened to the public over the weekend of 20-21 September, to see St. George’s Bloomsbury, a beautifully restored eighteenth-century church near the flat where I was staying, and the Benjamin Franklin house, the only existing residence in the world of the American patriot and libertine and one of the few existing examples of unaltered eighteenth-century residential architecture in London. There were great tours provided at all three and even though I could have seen them during the week for a fee, and avoided standing in line (on queue) for about three hours, it felt good to be taking part in a project in which the city took such pride, evident in the surprisingly few tourists waiting to see any of the buildings that I visited.
London was exhilarating and exhausting. I saw and did almost everything on my list, and most of what I thought was expected of me as a tourist.
Did I feel a little guilty having two weeks and not visiting so much else in Great Britain? Bath, Stonehenge, the Cotswolds, York…Wales? Yes, I did. But I like to think that the United Kingdom isn’t going anywhere anytime soon and I can, and will, go back.
Did I feel that any of my time was wasted in spending two weeks taking in the day-to-day life of what is one of the great cities of the world? No. Definitely not.