The largest city in Europe, Greater London is home to the British monarchy and the parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It attracts tourists and terrorists from around the world. Most of the waste cans in the city have been remoeved because they are good places to hide bombs. London is a great place though It is like no other place in the world. As far as I am concerned it is still the center of global culture.

Poem by William Blake.

I wander thro' each charter'd street,
Near where the charter'd Thames does flow
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every Man,
In every Infants cry of fear,
In every voice; in every ban,
The mind-forg'd manacles I hear

How the Chimney-sweepers cry
Every blackning Church appalls,
And the hapless Soldiers sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls

But most thro' midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlots curse
Blasts the new born Infants tear
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse

London wears many masks. It has been called a city of tribes. It grew from villages surrounding a Roman fort into one of the planet's first mega-cities. It is multi-everything. It is historic and it is broad.

You can 'Prime Minister watch' at Downing Street, go Queen spotting at Buckingham Palace, try to avoid pigeons in Trafalgar Square or stroll through the Royal parks. This is the tourism of postcards and plastic gifts, where a can of lukewarm Coke costs a quid (that's £1, or about $1.65).

But, we're looking for 'gritty London' - the bits you can just about see from the top floors of the Hilton, in Park Lane but would not venture into. Areas characterised by ethnic diversity, affordable bars, colourful markets and cracked pavements. Our London is the run-down boroughs of places like Hackney, Lambeth and Tower Hamlets where two-fifths of the city's population lives.

It may be a bit ragged and run down but its broken-toothed smile is genuine.

Not to say that being a bit down-at-heel makes these places particularly cheap. You may be able to sit down for a filling and pleasant 'all-the-trimmings' kebab for under a fiver (that's £5, or about $8.25) at the warm and hospitable Halkevi Kurdish restaurant in Stoke Newington (north-bound 149 bus from Liverpool Street station) but you'll be paying eighty quid a week (about $132) for a room in a smelly, shared flat above the place.

With the possible exception of Moscow's giant 'anything goes' flea-markets, there is no city quite like London when it comes to cheaply-priced markets which line its high streets, fill its church halls and occupy its vacant parking lots.

Ranking the city's multitude of 'free-market institutions' in any kind of order would deny them their uniqueness but if eccentricity is what you are looking for then Hackney Dogs' Car Boot Sale (Hackney Wick train station, Silverlink Train eastbound from Richmond), religiously held every Sunday morning, takes the biscuit. There are more characters here than you'll find crammed into your average Dickens novel. With temporary stalls erected wherever there's space, everything and anything is up for grabs. "Ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies" goes the sales patter - as long as you can pay in cash.

With nearly one in three of inner London's 2.7m inhabitants describing themselves as non-white many markets are a comfortable reminder how multicultural this metropolis really is. Ridley Road market (Dalston Kingsland station, Silverlink Train, eastbound from Richmond) caters to its largely Caribbean, West African, Southern Asian and Turkish consumer base with stalls selling plantain, salt-fish, oxtail, stuffed green olives and fresh coriander in one of the city's most amazing Saturday morning melting pots. Ridley 24-hour Beigel (or 'bagel' to you) Bakery serves up strong tea and colourful Jewish fare from its no-nonsense corner shop location.

Church Street (also served by the superb and old-style 73 bus) is north east London's gentrification 'frontline' with inviting pubs and well-priced restaurants pushing their way further and further into the hinterlands of 'untrendified' Clapton and beyond. In the day it is an affable part of town where moderately ostentacious wealth is tolerated but at night - like most of London - its personality changes a little. It's never threatening but it's always edgy.

If London's East End were a mental condition it would be multiple personality syndrome. Brick Lane Market (Liverpool Street Station, Central, Circle and District tube lines) is where the symptoms are most acute. Young Bangladeshi entrepreneurs selling mobile phone accessories share stall space with white East London 'geezers' knocking out sea-food spreads of cockles and mussels. Another 24-hour beigel bakery belts out familiar cuisine. On Bacon Street gangs of elderly men in long coats 'flash' curious buyers with the linings of their jackets - 'gold' watches ("nah, 'onest mate, not stolen - straight up"), pens and cuff-links dangle from the insides of their mobile 'shops'. Nearby long-established trader families operating out of trailer units sell everything from meat to stereos at prices that plummet with the speed of the Yugoslavian dinar - "I ain't asking seventy - even fifty would be unfair and, 'cause I'm good-hearted, it ain't even gonna' be forty. I want thirty pound for the pair!" shouts a man through a microphone as he holds two mock-Victorian lamps above his head.

There are a number of other markets nearby - also held on a Sunday - including the famous Petticoat Lane and Spitalfields (both served by Liverpool Street Station) but it's colour, culture and charisma we seek and without fail the fruit and veg market in Brixton (the heart of black Britain) rules the roost. Granville Arcade, Electric Avenue (made famous by reggae artist Eddy Grant), Atlantic Road and a maze of little side streets and alleyways keep the life blood flowing through this part of south London (Brixton Tube, Victoria line) where cost-cutting stalls punt out fresh produce, second-hand books, clothes, army-surplus gear and jewellery.

Brixton, like Brick Lane, is changing into a 'trendy' area. Its rapid rise from economically-deprived 'tough as boots' ghetto into trend-setting bohemia is a relatively new phenomenon. With house prices in the capital sky-rocketing it is a trend affecting London's entire inner city belt: rough areas with access to a tube line are suddenly catapulted into the status of chic des-res; fish and chip shop one moment, sushi bar the next.

If Brixton provides an example of an area in the throes of gentrification then its neighbour, Clapham, is the finished product (Clapham North and Clapham Common, Northern line on the Tube). You could eat/drink/party in a different trio of restaurant/pub/club every night for a week if you had the stamina. In conjunction with Brixton it provides south London with a serious wedge of partying infrastructure - from raves under disused railway arches to the salubrious inner core of the newly-opened Bierodrome on Clapham High Street - if it sounds like the conversation's twice as loud it's because everyone's got a mobile phone and they're all talking at once.

While Portobello Road (Notting Hill Gate Tube, Central, Circle and District line) may be situated in the inner-city it doesn't have the 'grit' of its urban siblings. It is an area that has been well and truly discovered and it lacks the substance of the 'what-you-see-is-what-you-get' redolent of its rougher brothers and sisters. But it does accommodate Portobello Road market which is arguably the most famous avant-garde market (that's posh-speak for second-hand) in London and respect is due. With enough used clothes stalls to stock any aspirant 'shabby-chic' wardrobe and the fatty wafts of the burger van thankfully substituted by the milder aromas of cappuccino and Thai curry it is a pleasant slice of the London pie.

This part of west London hosts the biggest street event in Europe, Notting Hill Carnival (on the last Sunday and Monday of August) which pulls in more than a million people a year. Revellers pack the quaint streets and squares - lined by million pound mansions - to celebrate the country's Afro-Caribbean community. Ground ice drinks, barbequed corn and solid basslines combine to make a heady brew. With the area's high-rise housing blocks nearby providing suitable accomodation for illegal broadcasting operators the area is full of pirate radio stations. On the day of Princess Diana's death 15 home-grown stations blasted everything from drum n' bass to traditional Greek grooves dedicating the music to the "People's Princess" - it was a moment in London's underground history.

There's a popular expression in a very Irish part of London: "Give us back the six counties and we'll give you back Kilburn". Kilburn High Road (Kilburn Park, Bakerloo Tube line) is testimony to the people who built this area and the pub names speak volumes: The Shamrock, O'Leary's. On a good night it's a trip to another part of the globe, on a bad night it can all be a bit heavy - men with glasses collecting for "the boyos". Without confirming cliches the Guinness here is the best you'll find outside Dublin - there's good 'craic' in County Kilburn.

What Camden Lock (Camden Town, Northern line) lacks in tradition it makes up for in size and choice - twenty shades of gothic black; every variety of velvet; joss-sticks with every scent known to science; more African drums than downtown Soweto; record stalls for all. Camden Lock is vastly over-subscribed and the crowds which fill its narrow walkways are often there to look and look alone - for all the people actually willing to buy a hand-knitted Peruvian sweater there's ten who want to watch. Still, the market and the night life the area supports, is world famous and gives swanky Camden a reason to exist.

And from this patchwork quilt of extremities the whole of London emerges. Wealth sits indifferently with poverty; new stands tall over old; tradition pokes its thumb at trend.

While to some our city may taste like a ill-mixed cocktail, to many it is what makes this ancient city so special. The ingredients in this communal cup are always changing - movement and variety is the air we breathe. Blue-haired punks share seats with pin-striped businessmen; Muslim family-run shops sell copies of the Jewish Chronicle. In many ways, anything goes.

From my homenode:

A very, very special noder has encouraged me to say something original here. I'm not good at 'original' - I imitate constantly, and I feel my best work is that which rests mainly on existing material. But one thing I almost never do on e2 is to speak about my aesthetic impressions of things. I'll give it a go.

I work in Central London. London isn't a nice place; it has terrible traffic congestion and pollution, nasty diseased pigeons, and a near-total lack of the proverbial British courtesy and reserve. But there are moments that are different. My office overlooks St James's Park, one of the city's better green spaces. In summer, I like to go out there and eat my lunch by the lake, watching the swans and the pelicans. If I hurry, I get to see the Changing of the Guard, and the tourists running after the soliders to photograph them. All this fascinates me. The behaviour of the tourists is as regular, and as ritualistic, as the marching itself. Sometimes I feel tempted to photograph the tourists.

From the park, looking east toward the River Thames, I can see the London Eye, the world's largest Ferris Wheel. I hated the wheel when it was going up. How dare they mar the sacred London skyline with this novelty? But now it's up, and especially now I've been on it, I like it. If I stand in the right place on the north-western bank of the lake, the wheel appears to revolve around the tower on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, a fascinating Indo-Classical building used almost as much for entertaining as for actual work on foreign affairs. From the bridge over the lake, with my back to Buckingham Palace, I get a different view. From there, the spires of the Liberal Club rise from behind the facade of Horseguards Parade. Together with the lake itself, they create an amazing vista.

A less romantic, but still striking, view is to be had a few hundred yards away, looking down Victoria Street. Standing opposite Starbucks, outside the huge glass front of the Metropolitan Police HQ at New Scotland Yard, you can see the London Eye, the tower on the Houses of Parliament that they call Big Ben, and the west front of Westminster Abbey, all within a small space. Victoria Street itself is a great canyon of faceless blocks, something like how I imagine parts of Manhattan to be. The contrast between that and the showy, tourist-friendly buildings around Parliament Square hits me every time.

All of these views, and a strange assortment of other things from day to day, inspire me with a great desire to break out, to shout, to change things. Something, and I can't say what, holds me back. Day after day I go past these wonders, these world-famous sites and all the rest, to sit in my hideously redecorated office and stare at databases for the government. What I want to be doing, I'm not sure. Sometimes I imagine myself walking into one of the private buildings I pass, and being let in. Sometimes I wish I could be showing the partner of my dreams these places for the first time.

I need to shout. E2 gives me a place to do that, but when I shout, all I hear is squeaking. My passions are just my own.


Webster erroneously states that the Great Fire was in 1667. It was, of course, in 1666.

Places in London, arranged by borough:

Barking and Dagenham

Barnet

Bexley

Brent

Bromley

Camden
The British Museum
Camden Town
Earlham Street
Euston Road
Euston Square
Goodge Street
Gower Street
Hampstead Heath
Kenwood
The Kenwood Ladies Bathing Pond
High Holborn
New Oxford Street
Russell Square
Seven Dials
Southampton Row
St Giles High Street
Tottenham Court Road
Warren Street

The City of London
Ave Maria Lane
The Bank of England
The Barbican
Cannon Street
Cheapside
Cornhill
Creed Lane
Farringdon Street
Fenchurch Street
Fleet Street
Gracechurch Street
Holborn Viaduct
Liverpool Street
London Wall
Ludgate Circus
Ludgate Hill
The Mansion House
The Millennium Bridge
Minories
New Bridge Street
Old Bailey
Paternoster Square
St Paul's Cathedral
St Paul's Churchyard
Threadneedle Street
Upper Thames Street
Watling Street

The City of Westminster
Abbey Road
Aldwych
Baker Street
Buckingham Palace
Cambridge Circus
Charing Cross
Charing Cross Road
Chinatown Covent Garden
Downing Street
Fitzrovia
Haymarket
Hyde Park
Leicester Square
Long Acre
Northumberland Avenue
Old Compton Street
Oxford Circus
Oxford Street
Pall Mall
Parliament Square
Parliament Street
Piccadilly
Piccadilly Circus
Queen Anne's Gate
Regent's Park
Regent Street
St Giles' Circus
St James's Park
St Martin's Lane
Shaftesbury Avenue
Soho
Strand
The Mall
Tothill Street
Trafalgar Square
Victoria Embankment
Victoria Street
Wardour Street
Westminster Abbey
Westminster Cathedral
Whitehall
Wigmore Street

Croydon

Ealing
Southall

Enfield

Greenwich

Hackney

Hammersmith and Fulham
BBC Television Centre
The Empress State Building
North End Road Market
Queen's Park Rangers FC ground
Ravenscourt Park
Shepherd's Bush
White City

Haringey
Alexandra Palace
Crouch End
Finsbury Park
Highgate Wood
Muswell Hill

Harrow

Havering

Hillingdon

Hounslow

Islington
The Angel, Islington
Clerkenwell
Highgate Cemetery
Holloway, also discussed here
Waterlow Park

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
Commonwealth Institute
Hyde Park
Kensington Gardens
Natural History Museum
Royal Albert Hall
Royal Geographical Society
Science Museum
Victoria and Albert Museum

The Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames

Lambeth
The British Airways London Eye
Lambeth Palace
St Thomas' Hospital
Waterloo International Railway Station
Lewisham

Merton

Newham

Redbridge

Richmond
Teddington

The Borough of Southwark
Borough Market
Dulwich
Guy's Hospital
London Bridge
The London Dungeon
Southwark Cathedral
Southwark Bridge
Vinopolis

Sutton

Tower Hamlets
St Katharine's Dock
The Tower of London
Tower Bridge
Wapping
Whitechapel Street

Waltham Forest

Wandsworth

Battersea Park
The Ram Brewery

This is a node in progress. If you have anything you'd like included, or any corrections, /msg me, but try to tell me which borough it's in. Thanks.
Medium sized (331,000 people) Canadian city, located in Southern Ontario approximately 300 km west of Toronto.

Home to Fanshawe College, The University of Western Ontario, London Life Insurance, Labatt Breweries, London Health Sciences Center, and birthplace of insulin.

Major industries and businesses in London include life insurance, automobile manufacturing, call centers, military vehicle and locomotive manufacturing, aircraft manufacturing, and education.
When a man is tired of London, he's tired of life, for in London there is all that life can afford.
- Samuel Johnson
The span of a human life is simply too short for one to even hope to experience all that London has to offer. I, a mere mortal, have had the privilege of making about twenty or so business trips to London (from Canada) over the past few years. During that time, I've managed to develop my own perspective on London. This perspective, i.e. my London, is what I'd like to try to give you a glimpse of in this writeup.

Geography of London

Before we begin, we need to have a quick look at the geography of London. The actual City of London or just The City is the area originally enclosed by the walls of the ancient Roman city of Londonium. It is about a square mile in size (a fact which results in it also being referred to as the square mile) and is located on the north bank of the Thames. Completely surrounding The City is the City of Westminster and surrounding that is an area known as Greater London.

Although there are many London landmarks which are actually in The City (e.g. St. Paul's Cathedral and the Tower of London), most of the landmarks which people associate with London are actually in the City of Westminster (e.g. Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, Hyde Park and Covent Garden). The Queen not only doesn't live in London, she isn't even allowed to enter the City of London without permission from the Lord Mayor of London (it's a long story).

My London

The following sections describe some of what makes London such an incredible place. Unfortunately (or not), you'll have to put up with a somewhat biased viewpoint!

When someone asks me what I like about London, my answer always includes the sense of history. Included in the following are just a few of the historic places in London which give me this sense.

It would be impossible for me to produce a list like this in any sort of order-of-preference so this list is in a pretty random order.

You may also want to check out Things to see, do and experience in London.

The Temple of Mithras

My wife and I were walking through the center of London one evening in 1998 when we happened to come across the Roman-era ruins of the Temple of Mithras. Although there wasn't really all that much to see (i.e. the foundations of an ancient building), it was a strong reminder that the history of London dates back a very long ways.

The temple was unearthed during the construction of a new building in central London. In order to preserve them, the temple's remains were moved to their current place where they're visible to anyone who happens by. Definitely worth a look if only to remind yourself that the history of London goes back a long ways (visit the Museum of London for more information).

Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square was developed as a memorial to Admiral Lord Nelson's victory and death at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. It is, without a doubt, located at the heart of London (even though it isn't actually located in the City of London). The buildings around the square include the National Portrait Gallery (north side), Saint Martin in the Fields church (north east corner), South Africa House (east side), Admiralty Arch (south side), and Canada House (west side). Many many London attractions are nearby (the Theatre district, Buckingham Palace, Covent Garden, Green Park, Westminster Abbey, etc).

Westminster Abbey

Located within walking distance down Whitehall to the south of Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey is one of many must see places in London. Many of the kings and queens of England are buried here along with many other important historical figures. If you're a literature fan, don't miss Poet's Corner and if you're a Churchill fan like myself, don't miss the memorial to Sir Winston Churchill. Britain's unknown soldier from the First World War is also buried here.

My wife and I took a self-guided audio tour of the Abbey. As we were walking around the main part of the Abbey, the audio commentary was telling us who's buried in each of a truly impressive series of tombs. Finally, we got to what was obviously a very old tomb. The commentary simply said "we've no idea who's buried here" - wow!

Covent Garden

If you head off down the twisty streets in a roughly north easterly direction from Trafalgar Square, you may find yourself in Covent Garden square (you might not as it is pretty easy to get lost!). This square was originally a garden (i.e. a place where food-producing plants were grown) which developed into a market area for local produce. Today, the market is still there but the produce is more of the sort that tourists would buy (mostly in the positive sense of that the term). My wife's grand-aunt has a stall there on Saturdays and Sundays so be sure to buy something from every vendor just to make sure that you get something from her stall!

The area surrounding Covent Garden is one of my favourite parts of London and I try to make a point of just walking aimlessly around the area for a few hours at least once per trip.

Greenwich

The village of Greenwich, including the Royal Greenwich Observatory, is one of my absolutely favourite places in London. The Royal Observatory is at the top of a hill with a commanding view of the surrounding area. It is at this observatory that the early work which led to the definition of the Prime Meridian (i.e. 0 degrees longitude) was performed. There are a series of remnants of meridian telescopes (i.e. a telescope which is oriented in a north-south direction and which can only be moved north to south). The crosshairs of the last of these telescopes is defined, by international treaty, to be at 0 degrees longitude (another personal wow!). The Observatory is now a museum which is definitely worth a visit (while in the museum, make sure you check out John Harrison's clocks).

Train stations

There are a whole series of train stations in London. Practically all of them are worth a visit for some reason or other. Here are a few of the main ones:

Charing Cross Station

This station is located just off Trafalgar Square on the Strand and mostly serves the south of England. I really like the way this building looks from across the Thames.

Kings Cross Station

Located right next to the really impressive looking St. Pancras Station, Kings Cross serves the north of England. It will soon also be the terminus of the high speed rail line that runs through the Chunnel. Lots of interesting things in this area although it is a bit on the seedy side.

Liverpool Street Station

This one is located on the north east corner of The City (i.e. the original city) and serves the north and north east of England. The surrounding area has all sorts of interesting pubs, statues, streets and sights. This is also one of the few stations that has an upper balcony from which one can stand and just watch crowds (0830 or 1700 are good times to drop by).

Paddington Station

Located just off to the north west of Hyde Park and serving the west of England, this is the termination point of the Heathrow Express which is a fast rail link from Heathrow Airport (this is how I always get from Heathrow into the city area). The station was built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and still retains a very old train station feel - definitely worth a visit (check out the Brunel statue in the small lobby entrance across from track 1 and the Paddington Bear statue in the large glassed-in lobby just above the entrance to the London Underground).

Victoria Station

As the name suggests, this station is located near Buckingham Palace. Queen Victoria's private train would run from here to her country home at Windsor Castle or wherever else she wanted to travel. This station serves the south east of England.

Waterloo Station

You havn't visited a London train station until you've visited Waterloo Station. I'm not sure exactly what it is but there's something about this station that just blows me away. It serves the south of England and is currently the terminus for the train through the Chunnel (the line between Waterloo and the English Channel is a conventional rail line which is being replaced by a proper highspeed line to Kings Cross).

I've got prints of a pair of rather famous paintings of Waterloo Station. One of them shows a very busy Waterloo Station during wartime. The second shows Waterloo Station during peacetime. The two are nearly identical right down to the individual people hustling around the station with the exception that the former has more military folks than the later.

This is not a complete list of the London train stations. Also, please take the descriptions of the area of England served by each of these stations with a large grain of salt as there is a lot of overlap in the coverage areas.

The Tube

The London Underground or the Tube is, in practical terms, the only way to get around the city. One could take a London Cab from place to place but one would quickly discover that a Cab is rarely faster than the Tube and is always much more expensive.

Unfortunately, the Tube is also dirty, noisy, generally late, unreliable and involves a lot of stair climbing (although efforts are underway to provide wheelchair access, most of the stations are simply too old to have decent access for disabled people). Yet, even though it is definitely something to be endured, I like it and use it a lot when I'm in London.

The tube map is something which has to be seen to understand (see writeups under London Underground and find an image of it on the 'net). The actual underground lines are quite curved and don't follow the above ground geography (i.e. streets) in any particularily discernible way. The tube map, on the other hand, is instantly comprehensible.

The Islands of London

When I first started touristing my way around London, I used a small London Underground Maps booklet. It had the full tube map on the back cover and about fourty maps inside, each of which showed the area surrounding a key Tube station. I quickly started to think of the booklet as being a map of the Islands of London. To travel between islands, I'd use the Tube. Once at my destination, I'd use the appropriate map to find my way around the area. Over time, the islands started to coalesce as I'd accidentally walk from one island to another. It wasn't all that long that I started to be able to view a reasonably large portion of the area around Trafalgar Square in my mind although the islands of London analogy was still useful for some time.

I now almost always travel around London without a map of any sort in my possession. When I want to get somewhere, I figure out which Tube station is nearby and then hop on the Tube to get there. If I need to know which route to take through the Tube system then I check the maps in each station (I don't do this very often any more).

You can find a much more detailed description of this metaphor in my Islands of London writeup (this London writeup, including the brief description above of the islands of London metaphor, was written a couple of months before the Islands of London writeup).

London Cabs

The Tube is fine but to really see London, one has to experience it from above ground. The only practical way to do that is by cab. Hire one at any of the train stations or just flag one down on the street and you're away. If you want a reasonably quick look at London from above, try this:
  • start at Paddington Station and hire a cab
  • take the cab to Victoria Station, Waterloo Station, Charing Cross Station, Liverpool Station and Kings Cross Station (in that order)
  • pay the driver (it will be at least £50 so be prepared)
You'll have seen more of London than you can possibly comprehend in a day.

After I'd been travelling around London by Tube and by foot for a while and had gotten to know my way around reasonably well (i.e. my islands of London analogy was starting to fade), I decided that I needed to learn how the city really looked. I hired a friend's friend who drives a London Cab to just tour me around London for a day (it cost me £160 - a true bargain for what I learned). Highly recommended.

Harrods

The ultimate tourist trap and yet an amazing place which must be seen to be appreciated. This very VERY upscale department store is a truly amazing place. The deli area is truly awesome and worth a visit all by itself (arrive hungry and have a meal as the receipt from the meal can be used to gain free access to the executive toilets which normally cost something like £2 per visit).

Harrods is a great place to go if you want to see really big numbers on price tags. The highest that I can recall seeing was a little over £100,000 and I've seen quite a few that are well over £10,000.

Tower of London

Although no visit to London is complete without visiting the Tower of London, I didn't actually make it to the Tower until about my tenth trip. It's an important place that dates back about 1,000 years. Take your time and give yourself lots of time (the lineups can be pretty long). Check out the Crown Jewels which are kept there (the security is understated yet very real in a strange sort of way). Absolutely breathtaking.

The Tower is served by the Tower Hill Tube station (just outside the station is a short section of original Roman wall).

The British Museum

A Cockney friend of mine calls the British Museum "the place where the British store all the stuff that they've stolen from around the world". Although possibly (just possibly, mind you) a bit extreme, this is actually a pretty good description. English explorers have been traveling the world and "bringing back interesting things" for hundreds of years. They need someplace to store them and the British Museum is the someplace that many of these treasures have ended up in.

The Rosetta Stone, the Elgin Marbles, the Egyptian section, and even their collection of old clocks are just some of the must sees in the museum.

This has been just a glimpse of my London which is a mere microscopic glimmer of the real London. I've missed all sorts of things, many of which are more important (to me and to London) than some of what I've included. That said, I hope that you found it interesting.

By the way, Johnson was right.


Walking tour of London


A postscript . . .

My wife and I were granted the Freedom of the City of London in a memorable little ceremony at London's Guildhall on March 7, 2014. Being Freemen of London grants us various rights and privileges including the right to herd sheep across London Bridge (there's more to being a Freeman of London than that but, to be honest, while becoming a Freeman of London used to convey quite valuable rights and privileges, becoming Freemen of London today is really an exercise in acknowledging one's interest and connections to London).

"The girls," as I'm henceforth calling Riley and Tracey, and I woke up (actually got our wake-up call) at 7:15 a.m. Due to the debilitating jetlag, though, I made like a slug until at least 8...Oops. Then we got onto our bus and our tour guide for today was a cheeky, quirky, wacky lady named Maggie. She had a flashy golden umbrella that she carried over the crowd so that our group could see her. She took us on a sightseeing tour-a "panoramic tour" in Maggie-speak. (Actually, our bus driver from Scotland did---Michael.) He drove the way to St. Paul's Cathedral with the best traffic, and she told us what we were seeing. We passed Trafalgar Square, with its awesome statue of Horatio Nelson, and its gorgeous flowing fountains, and, to the utter and ultimate disgust of Trace, lots and lots of birds: pigeons! "Pigeons aren't the bad ones," she says. "It's the seagulls that'll getcha!" We learned from Maggie that the statue of Nelson points toward Plymoth, England, where his fleets were/are. I learned a ton from Maggie! Did you know that older buildings in London are more desirable and costly even than newer, fresher, and modern ones sometimes? Also, she said something that should've been kinda obvious, but which I never thought about before. In older days, there wasn't electricity. (Duh, right?) Well, that's why old buildings have big windows! They needed every ounce of light they could get. And did you know that London has just scads of Roman remains? It was originally called Londonium. On our 'panoramic tour' we also saw Old Bailey, the British Criminal Courts. Hey! I wonder if the word 'bailiff' is derived from Old Bailey. Or vice versa. Hmm...We saw a beautiful marble arch designed by a man named Mash; it was originally supposed to be in front of Buckingham Palace for the Queen's carriage to pass under, but the arch wasn't big enough, so they just 'plopped it down' in a square, according to Maggie. Did you know that Charles Dickens was originally a court writer for Old Bailey? Well, he was, and he would look at people in court and mentally use their personalities, features, etc. to construct the characters for his stories. Cool, huh? In London there are around 350 underground stations. And at one pound-eighty for a one-way ticket on the tube, they probably make a mint of money annually. Here, McDonald's has just recently introduced...'drum roll please'...The Hot Dog! Did you know that the Thames River is 200 miles long? Its source is really small--Gloucester. We also saw "Her Majesty's Theatre."

Finally arrived at St. Paul's. It wasn't as beautiful as I remembered it being before, but we were also with a tour group and there was some renovation going on. I pretty much loathe traveling with the other half of our tour group. But oh well! They haven't spoiled it so far, and I will not allow them to spoil the rest! At St. Paul's the vast majority of the wood used is called lime wood. The darker it is, the older it is, as it darkens over time. This is why the altar is considerably lighter than the rest of the lime wood--during the bombing of London during World War II, the altar was destroyed and a new lime wood altar had to be created. Later, when we went down to the crypt, we went to the gift shop. (I will take this time as an opportunity to point out that Maggie had a peculiar habit of wanting her tour group very close to her at all times). At one point when Maggie was talking about the crypt and had moved on to another tomb, we saw the tomb of the Duke of Wellington. Mr. Vincent was standing next to me and I heard his musings. "I wonder if 'Beef Wellington' is named for the Duke of Wellington.

Miss Wagner and I were the only ones who weren't interested in going to the Tower of London excursion, so we decided to get a spot of lunch and then go to the Westminster Abbey. No matter how much I see it, I don't believe that I will ever be able to get used to grown men in business suits lying asleep on the grass in the warm sunshine (during their lunch breaks). The line for the Abbey was long, but the pleasant weather made it seem to go really fast. I got a Student discount and Miss Wagner and I went inside. I was in awe. I think it is one of my favorite places in England, both times I've been, and it's definitely been my favorite this time. It holds the bodies of famous kings and queens, military heroes, martyrs, etc., but my absolute favorite was the "Poet's Corner." There was a fabulous shrine to William Shakespeare, and buried there were Charles Dickens, all three Brontes, Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, Lawrence Olivier, and Caedmon. Also buried there was Mary, Queen of Scots, Queen Elizabeth I, Winston Churchill, and Edward the Confessor. It was a truly spiritual and amazing experience. Usually when I go to a place like this, I notice some detail that makes the trip even more enjoyable and awesome. At Westminster, it was the side entrance to the Abbey...sculptured in stone above the door was, among other things, God on his throne, but what I felt was particularly awesome was that God held the Sovereign's Orb, which is reserved only for true royalty and majesty.

The events of the next day consisted of a visit to the V & A (The Victoria and Albert Museum), Covent Garden, and the British Museum. I'm so psyched, because there was a very special, awesome exhibit at the V & A...Chihuly! (The whole time, I kept forgetting and calling him 'Chinchilla' and Tracey's personal fave: 'Chicuchi!') Chihuly is this awesome glass artist, my personal favorite. He's an American, from New Mexico, I believe. The museum also had medieval stained-glass windows and tapestries, pictures, and the like. Some people really want to see more paintings there, but but there aren't as many of them as there are artifacts.

After about two hours, we were hungry and ready for Covent Garden. We went and looked around a bit before we ate. We got food from a little restaurant and took it outside to eat. While the others shopped, I listened to the music. If there are some things about Covent Garden I remember, it's the musicians and street performers. The musicians who were playing today were quite good, consisting of a cello, two violins, and a flute. The flute was by far the best though. They played pieces from Titanic and classical music. Also, not there the first time I was there, over one of the little pit patios was an awesome collage-y kind of thing hanging from the ceiling. They were acrobats, silver with harlequin masks and bright clothes. Then I walked outside to leave, and as usual, there were street performers everywhere! One in particular caught our eyes though. His 'name' was "Lucky Rich," but he introduced himself as "The Tattooed Man." (Yeah, no lie) This guy was so covered that almost an entire leg was green. Even his scalp was tattooed! Face, hands, stomach, back--everything! He had huge gauges in his ears, and since he was bald, he looked kind of like a monkey. He wore a black bowler hat, a red tartan kilt, and red army boots. Quite a character, that one! He did all kinds of tricks: juggling apples, machetes, and butcher knives; rode a 14-foot unicycle (which wasn't cool for "Hans from Denmark," who had to hold said unicycle. Rich kept saying, "Just don't look up, Man!") Rich juggled while on the unicycle, he had people throw apples and he caught them while on the unicycle, he ate an apple while he juggled it with knives...He ate the apple while throwing it under his leg, still juggling. And not only was he good, he was hilarious! We were going to stay five minutes, but he was so cool we watched the whole show!

After the performer's prestidigitation, we got back on the metro and took it to the stop where we had to walk to the British Museum. We walked to a sign that read 'British Museum' on a REALLY tiny building. We were all thinking, 'THIS is the British Museum?' Mr. Vincent asked a shopkeeper, who said to turn the corner. What we saw when we did so took our breath away. The British Museum was humongous and beautiful...granite and white marble. Inside, we walked through a lot of rooms with Assyrian artifacts. Then we went into the library. Bookshelves lined every wall--three stories high! It was beautiful. We were late to meet the rest of our group, so really fast we took the tube to Piccadilly Circus, just in time for dinner at...Planet Hollywood for a last hurrah on our last night in Britain.

William Blake's “London” is a lament for all of the visible sufferings of humanity in its patronymic city. Despite the name of the poem, its content seems to focus mostly on the ability of humanity to sin regardless of its consequences unto others as well as the plight of the lower class. At the height of England's industrialization, urbanization has come into effect and the cities are filled with the impoverished, hoping to find work or relief from more traditional rural roles. With this transition comes social decay in all its forms, which in the poem range from the greed of the monarchy paid for in blood by soldiers to the uncaring prostitute whose child has inherited her inflictions. In “London,” Blake uses these specific instances to underline a statement about the callousness and apathy of humanity.

The first stanza of the poem serves mostly as an introduction. The narrator refers to both the streets of London and the Thames as “chartered” in the first two lines, a judgmental nod of the head to our enterprising nature (on a contextual note, the granting of “royal charters” to companies, of which the British East India Company is a memorable example, was criticized at the time by Thomas Paine for being little more than a means for class oppression). Neither the streets of the city, a human construct, or the river, an entirely natural construct, is free from the binds of commercial interests. He follows this immediately with “And mark in every face I meet / Marks of weakness, marks of woe,” tying those two thoughts together. Already, in the first four lines of the poem, one of its major themes is clear: the greater good is heavily compromised under the hand of the ruling class. Following this, in the second stanza, the narrator becomes slightly more vague. A general discontent in the poem's cast remains: the narrator states “In every cry of every Man, / In every Infants cry of fear, / In every voice: in every ban, / The mind-forged manacles I hear.” Here he again connects the “mind-forged manacles,” quite literally the binds placed (also mentioned in the form of “bans,” various prohibitive decrees) on the citizens by the upper class, to the various plights of the Londoners. The first “cry” of the stanza may also be interpreted as an announcement or advertisement by the citizens, who grow increasingly desperate under increasing economic pressure. The meter stands out in this stanza more than that of any other: while the entire poem is in iambic tetrameter, the repetition of “in every” in the first three lines of this stanza creates an interesting emphasis on the succeeding words somewhat akin to the effect of polysyndeton, making the reader believe that the narrator experiences some sort of exasperation in that repetition. More specific condemnations follow in the third stanza. For the sake of analysis, I will separate this stanza into its component clauses, “How the Chimney-sweeper's cry / Every blackening Church appals” and “and the hapless Soldier's sigh / Runs in blood down Palace walls.” The first clause is a particularly interesting one. The narrator directly correlates the chimney-sweep, often an impoverished or orphaned child who has been chosen to clean chimneys despite extreme associated health risks, with the “blackening” of the Church. “Blackening” may be interpreted as either a transitive or intransitive verb, lending to the simultaneous interpretation that the corruption inside of the Church is itself responsible for the Church's increasingly irrelevant or even malignant role in society. The connection between these two ideas specifically blames the inability for large societal institutions to execute any sort of meaningful social change, in this case the church, for the social decay that the narrator observes throughout the poem. Clergy are not Blake's only target here, however. The second clause of the stanza is much more of a direct condemnation, as he attacks the royalty of Britain for manipulating their constituents for their own means (a common theme in civilization, it seems). In saying that the soldier is “hapless,” he nearly echoes some Marxist sentiment that the monarchy's membership found their way their by chance, or, more strictly, that the soldier is simply unfortunate for being used up by the monarchy. The fourth stanza is much more abrupt than the others in its message, although the theme persists. Blake presents the most specific scenario here: “But most through midnight streets I hear / How the youthful Harlot's curse / Blasts the new born Infant's tear, / And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.” A prostitute, by the virtue of her own choices, has infected her husband and child with either vague divine retribution for her crimes affecting her fortune or, more strictly, the actual diseases with which she's been afflicted. In this stanza an interesting thing occurs: while societal institutions have been the target of Blake's accusations for the first part of the poem, personal (as opposed to institutional) responsibility receives more blame in this scenario. While her unspecified affliction is described as a “curse,” the fact that she has put herself in this role by her own choices is inescapable, granted that, conversely, poverty could be said to force them into those roles. Consequently, we arrive at two quite divergent interpretations of the poem. The first interpretation blames societal institutions unrelentingly for the social decay that the narrator observes, while the second interpretation is more of a metacommentary, describing the tendency of humans to blame others than themselves for their problems, especially when those blamed are, for all practical purposes, faceless. While these two interpretations are quite different, that's not that say that they're irreconcilable. Perhaps both observations were intended to be communicated. An interesting thing to note, perhaps lending itself slightly to the “scapegoat” interpretation, is that the poem is entirely observational. The narrator describes no interaction with any of the parties mentioned in the poem, and no personal acquaintances of any type are described in the poem, l'un sans l'autre, the narrator's plight may be transcribed. In some cold, industrial, impersonal city, the symptoms of alienation and apathy begin to arise at the onslaught of social decay.

London's a funny place.

Before I moved here, I thought it was a dirty, filthy, smelly, too-big, too-impersonal, too-anonymous metropolis of poor repute. To be fair, after having been lived here for just over a year, the conclusion is that it is, indeed, a dirty place. It's also smelly, huge, and impersonal. But it's a great place to live nonetheless. It's often said that the city is a collection of villages, which can be confirmed quite easily by taking a long stroll through it. Walking from my office in tourist-laced Covent Garden to my house in Bow, for example, takes you through a whole series of distinct feelings, each with their own feel.

Covent Garden is a mixture of tourist-trap and ex-bohemia, with buskers, jugglers, and the fantastic Covent Garden market, the impressive Masonic Grand Lodge and a hodge-podge of architectural styles. Clerkenwell (or Little Italy) is littered with good bars and a mixture of grand designs and funky little back alleys. The City is home to the once-genuine now-too-modern-for-its-own-good Spitalfields market. It's full of trendy winebars, over-priced restaurants, glass-and-steel buildings and depressed-because-of-the-depression-bankers. Hoxton/Shoreditch is the artists district which is full of people who think just a little bit too highly of themselves (but it's a pretty awesome place to people-watch for that very reason), Shoreditch is also home to the rather splendid Brick Lane and its offshoot streets; bars, clubs, quaint shops, and more curryhouses than you can shake a poppadom at. The rest of the walk comprises of Bethnal Green and Mile End, both of which have a rich local history, and quite distinctive 'feels'.

Now, these are a series of areas I'm quite familiar with, but make up only a very thin sliver of my home town. Whenever I cross south of the river, west of Soho, north of King's Cross, or east of Bow, I feel like I'm in a foreign country completely.

London is a scary place, because it's huge.

London is an exciting place, because it's huge.

I'm a bit ashamed, actually, because I don't think I've explored nearly enough of the city yet. And now that I'm leaving it - if but temporarily - I feel a sting of regret already. There's at least another 10 years of exploration to be done to feel like I really know this place... And so I'll just have to come back as soon as I can. Despite of - or perhaps because of - all its fault, it's awfully moreish...

-30-

Lon"don (?), n.

The capital city of England.

London paste Med., a paste made of caustic soda and unslacked lime; -- used as a caustic to destroy tumors and other morbid enlargements. -- London pride. Bot. (a) A garden name for Saxifraga umbrosa, a hardy perennial herbaceous plant, a native of high lands in Great Britain. (b) A name anciently given to the Sweet William. Dr. Prior. -- London rocket Bot., a cruciferous plant (Sisymbrium Irio) which sprung up in London abundantly on the ruins of the great fire of 1667.

 

© Webster 1913.

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