London has been calling me since I can remember and I finally got to visit this amazing city. I didn’t have too many preconceptions about London other than it’s an expensive city where Big Ben lives.
I was surprised in many respects about London. First of all, the metro system, or I should say underground or Tube, was the easiest to navigate when compared to the other major cities I’ve visited in Europe (Brussels,Amsterdam, Paris). Whoever was behind the concept and design of the Metro signs, which could be seen as logos now, was a marketing genius: the bright red circle with blue text on a white background. How simple. It mimics the British flag’s colours and yet it gives London’s metro system a unique memorable character. Not only were the signs a “tourist attraction” for this Canadian traveller, but also the metro itself. It was interesting to read the names of all the stops like “King’s Cross,” “Covent Garden” and “Oxford Circus.” The Tube itself was more comfortable and cleaner than any other underground train I’ve taken. I didn’t get the feeling like I should hold onto my purse a little tighter and there were no unpleasant smells. Not to mention the now famous saying “Mind the Gap.” I even saw someone wearing a T-shirt with this saying and the red, white and blue “Tube logo.” Another great feature is the directional signs and maps for the underground system. It’s like it was designed for tourists with its simple directions making navigation easy.
After a pleasant entry into the city centre, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw old-style black taxicabs, red buses and the classic red telephone booths. They still exist? They are still in use? Who’s the tourism genius that started what I would like to call the “Save London’s Character Campaign?” I don’t know if I’m the only Canadian or London visitor who was stunned to see these. I walked through the city only to discover more memorable sights. As I was about to cross the street, I noticed a red light indicating that no horses could cross. I looked left and saw a group of horses mounted by the Royal Guard coming down the street. In Canada, contrarily to what tourists or foreigners may think, you generally don’t see the Royal Mounted Canadian Police (RCMP), but you see it in London! Before I crossed the street, I looked down on the pavement and London kindly reminded me to “Look right ->.” Again, tourist friendly.
I went into Fortnum and Mason’s in Piccadilly to look at all the goodies. It’s the most impressive store with sweets I’ve visited (Belgian chocolate shops included). I was too distracted by the array of chocolates, pastries and other confections to remember to take photos. I bought some fudge and sugared fruit. I went to St. James’s Park to enjoy my treats. The grass was cut short, people dressed in suits were walking through the park to a specific destination, people were kicking a soccer ball (or football as Londoners would say) and people were relaxing on some lawn chairs. What a great idea to provide lawn chairs in addition to benches in the park. What I didn’t know was that you had to pay to sit in them. So you can sit in them if you can’t find the payment area and sure enough someone to come to you.
Before I got to London, I knew one of the must-do-things was to take a tour of the city on a classic red bus. So I did some research online and there are a few companies to choose from. It’s hard to tell the differences between them. I was debating back and forth because there was no drastic price difference. I wanted to go on a tour with a bright red open top bus, but the downside was that the tour was offered with a recorded audio guide in 8 different languages. Having experienced tours with pre-recorded audio guides, with bad speakers, and listening to 4 different languages before the English came by the time which we had passed the place which was being commented on, I wanted an English-only tour. I chose Big Bus Tours. It was the best choice. Although the bus was painted dark red with a beige top, there was a live tour guide who spoke only in English. Sitting on the top of the bus, wind swirling my hair around, I listened highly entertained as the bus drove around Trafalgar Square, went by the London Eye, through Belgravia, and over the London Bridge. A potential vacation-ruining moment occurred when it started pouring rain while sitting on the open top bus, but the comedic tour guide provided everyone with white ponchos (or Big Bus Tour advertisements) to wear.
After all, the trip to London wouldn’t have been authentic without some rain.