Dateline: London, 28/6/08 - 6/7/08
I appreciate the signs that are painted on many London streets, reminding you which way to look for oncoming traffic. The arrow is an especially nice touch, in case you've forgotten which way "right" is.
Congestion pricing, which charges drivers to drive into the central part of the city, seems to be working well in London. Traffic seemed better than I remember from previous visits. Cars are very good about stopping for pedestrians. Too bad that New York recently rejected congestion pricing.
The Underground (affectionately known as the Tube), London's subway system, is convenient and usually easy to use. Wherever you are in the city, there's usually a Tube station nearby. But we found that often either individual stations or whole lines are closed. Frequently while we were there, the line we needed to take was closed because of "communication problems". The announcements about the closings were difficult for us to understand because of the British accents. We started looking online to see if there were Tube problems before we left our apartment. Usually it's not hard to re-route.
Riding the Tube requires a lot of walking and stair-climbing. Only the deepest stations have escalators, and a few have lifts. The stairs, plus all the walking I did, are probably the reason that I gained only 3 pounds during the trip. On this trip we took the Tube to and from Heathrow airport, which required a change of trains. It worked quite well, aside from having to carry our suitcases up or down some stairs, and also deal with the infamous "gap" between the train and the platform. (There's often a recorded warning to "mind the gap" when a train comes into a station.)
On my first visit, in 1971, people who saw me looking at a map in the street would often ask if I needed help, and sometimes even offer to walk me to my destination! That didn't happen this time, although a man on the Tube offered us help as we consulted the Tube map (turned out he was from Australia and had recently moved to London). When I asked some people for directions to Liberty, a well-known department store, the people I asked said they weren't from here and didn't know. I found it pretty much by accident, about a block away. But people were very friendly when we approached them with questions.
Prices are very expensive, especially with the pound now worth about 2 dollars. (For years it was worth about a dollar and a half.) In restaurants, prices would have looked a bit high if they had been in dollars, but looked extremely high considering they were in pounds. Our pre-theater afternoon tea at Fortnum and Mason, a fancy department store that sells gourmet foods, came to 81 pounds, or $162. (Granted, it did include a glass of champagne.)
There wasn't much that was unique playing in London theaters. We saw We Will Rock You, a musical based on the rock group Queen. It has played in Las Vegas and I had planned to go see it there. Jim and I both liked it, even though it was loud, used lots of strobe lights, and had a flimsy plot that was really just an excuse for the music. We weren't exactly in its demographic, but we enjoyed it anyway.
Life in the apartment was mostly smooth, with just a few unusual occurrences. We brought electrical adapters so that we could charge our various electronics. Our dvd's wouldn't play in their player, so the Netflix we brought came home unused. (We didn't have much time for watching movies anyway, and I managed to do very little beading or knitting on the trip.) I loved the British water boiler appliance, which boils water hot enough for tea in seconds. (I've asked Jim to get me one for my birthday!) As I usually do while I'm in England, I became a tea drinker and even added milk and sugar, which I never do at home. Our only struggle was with the washer/dryer, a single machine that does both, but which refused to get our clothes dry, even after we ran it all night. I had to dry that day's underwear with a hair dryer, and we hung the rest of the clothes all over the apartment to dry. We never figured out whether we had done something wrong, or if that's just the way the machine worked.