London: Random thoughts about our first visit

A summary of our trip to Great Britain’s amazing capital city

London is fantastic.

It’s also over-stimulating, overwhelming, and exciting.  But most of all, it’s fantastic.

Here are the things we loved most about it:

London is one of the most culturally diverse cities on the planet. It’s home to over nine million people and numerous nationalities and ethnicities. Over 300 languages are spoken here.   We found it fascinating to listen to the dizzying array of languages being spoken around us on the trains and streets and in the cafes and museums.

London has excellent infrastructure, and while it’s an immense city—just slightly bigger than New York City in terms of square mileage—it’s easy to get around once you get the hang of the transportation system, which includes busses and a subway.  With a metro Travel Card, we had unlimited usage of both of these and moved from one area of the city to another with ease. The subway, called the Underground and nicknamed the “Tube,” is the oldest underground railway in the world.

Sign for London Bridge Underground station
Sign for London Bridge Underground station

London’s old. It was established in 43 AD by the Romans, and it has been accumulating layer after layer of history ever since.  It seemed to us that every square inch of ground had some sort of historical significance. Hell, we ate at pubs that were built hundreds of years before America was even settled.  It has four UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Tower of London; Kew Gardens; the complex of buildings that include Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and the Houses of Parliament; and the historic village of Greenwich (which includes the Royal Observatory, by which the former world time standard, Greenwich Mean Time, was set).

London is a cultural metropolis, home to opera and ballet companies, a theater district that rivals Broadway, and over 400 museums and galleries. It’s also home to many of the world’s greatest artists, actors, and musicians, both historic and current. Several of the major museums are free, and much of the entertainment is affordable. We took advantage of this, going to several museums as well as attending a Shakespeare play at the Globe Theater and a performance of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra at Royal Albert Hall.

London is exquisite:

-Everywhere you turn there are magnificent buildings.  It’s a dizzying visual array of beauty. On this corner, there’s a castle, on that corner, a sprawling cathedral covering an entire city block. Oh, and across the street, isn’t that Buckingham Palace, home of Her Majesty, The Queen?

Buckingham Palce
Buckingham Palace

-A river runs through it, crossed by 34 bridges (a few of them pretty famous):

Tower Bridge
The Tower Bridge

-47% of the city is set aside as green space.  It has 8 royal parks (including 2 that are bigger than Central Park), 8 million trees and numerous gardens, as well as wildlife such as deer and foxes.

Hyde Park
Hyde Park

 

We spent seven very busy days exploring London.  With each passing day we got to know the city a smidgen better but quickly realized that a week here was woefully inadequate. It would take a lifetime to experience everything London has to offer. And yet each moment we spent was a revelation, each corner we turned revealed a new sight, and each place we visited taught us a little bit more about this complex, ancient city.  For all of these reasons (and many more!) it is truly one of the great cities of the world.