Last week’s “Travel Photo Thursday: London Classics” featured a series of iconic images that help define the U.K.’s capital city. As the 2012 London Olympic Games wind down, we take a look at that city from a more modern perspective.
“Underground”London’s subway system (often referred to as the “Tube”) isn’t new. In one form or another, bearing one name or another, it’s been carrying people into, out of, and around London for about 150 years.
Some stations are relatively modern, others need some TLC. The whole Underground system is being upgraded, but the work probably won’t be completely finished for another decade. This summer there should be free Wi-Fi in about 70 Tube stations.
Drive a car in London? You must be daft, guv! For Americans, navigating London’s streets on foot is perilous enough since automobile pass “on the wrong side of the road.” Forget renting a car, just walk, take a cab, or ride the “Tube.”
Depending on how long you’re staying in London, consider getting an “Oyster” card pass that you swipe over an electronic reader at station turnstiles to pay Tube fares. I bought one in 2006, then refilled it with British Pounds Sterling when I was next in London three years later.
Tube lines are both named and color coded, making it fairly easy to figure out which trains you need to take to get to where you’re headed in London, and where you might need to transfer from one line to another.
Unless you really love crowds and tightly congested, down-under-the-earth places, avoid riding the Tube during rush hour when you’ll feel like a sardine being forcibly crammed into a small tin can along with a few thousand fellow “fish.” At those times of day, travel by cab, or limit your time riding the Underground by walking above-ground before hopping on Tube train for a short trip.
London Tube apps are available for iPhone, Blackberry, and Android smartphones. I used the London Tube ($0.99) iPhone app on my 2009 trip to London.
City of Apples
On a rare “shopping‘til I’m dropping while traveling” trip around London, I came across the Apple retail store on Regent Street.
Regent Street has long been a major London shopping venue, so it’s not surprising that one of America’s high-tech companies would open shop there. It was the first such Apple retail outlet in Europe.
The Bohlin Cywinski Jackson Website says that the Apple store
“occupies a historic 1898 Edwardian building. Large arches, ornate stonework and colorful mosaics adorn the exterior, contrasting sharply with the store’s refined modern interior. The 23,500-square-foot, two-story space is composed in a spacious yet organized manner, using a palette of stainless steel, stone and glass. A dramatic glass staircase, glass bridge and illuminated glass ceiling dominate the interior drawing passersby into the store.”
Have Fast Feet or Be Fast Food
Just a short walk down Regent Street from the Apple Store, you’ll find an outpost for American retailer of outdoor wear, Timberland.
There you can buy footwear designed not only to keep your feet dry if it rains in London, but let you quickly sprint away from any carnivorous creatures that might be sneaking up behind you.
After giving us a tour of the venerable Liberty department store on Regent Street, the concierge recommended that we have lunch at the nearby Chinese noodle bar, Cha-Cha Moon, tucked away in an alleyway at 15-21 Ganton Street.
The low ceiling and muted lighting evoke images of an opium den right out of a Sherlock Holmes story. But you won’t find ne’er do-wells lurking about in Cha-Cha Moon, just a lot of Londoners out during their lunch hour, sharing communal tables and slurping up noodles and scarfing up other Asian fare. Sit near the open kitchen to watch the cooks stirring up your order.
But when I was in London in 2006, I found this riverside entertainment venue: The Play.Orchestra. Even if you couldn’t carry a tune in a basket, you could play an instrument in this band simply by standing on a “hotspot” or by sitting down on a plastic cube as my wife (right foreground) did as in her “First Cube” position on this river bank “stage.”
Middle East Intersects The West
When you say “London,” images of well-heeled gentlemen dressed impeccably in suits from Savile Row tailors, sporting bowler hats, and carrying “brolllys,” like Patrick Mcnee as John Steed in the “The Avengers” TV series, or Ralph Fiennes who played Steed in the 1998 movie of the same name, come to mind. But fashions for both British men and women have changed over the course of history.
Today London is an ethnically and culturally diverse city. I found evidence of London’s changing demographics while waiting to cross Oxford Street by Hyde Park’s Speaker’s Corner and Marble Arch, and near its intersection with Edgware Road. As this woman dressed in black from head to toe turned to her left, I could see that she was speaking into a mobile phone, perhaps one which she had recently purchased from the Apple store on Regent Street.
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