10. 9/8 London

This entry is part 10 of 14 in the series Edinburgh-London Trip 2014

We took the train to London, then we spent the afternoon walking in Hyde Park and its vicinity.

Since we didn’t do much that day, I thought I’d take this opportunity to summarize my overall impression of London from our brief stay there.

Cleanliness. Last year when I changed trains at London, I was relieved to find it much cleaner than Paris, especially their toilets. But having been to Edinburgh this year, I found London’s cleanliness more complex than I expected, with three aspects. One, London’s toilets, underground stations and streets are surely a lot cleaner than those in Paris; but compared to Edinburgh, London is a lot dirtier. The Edinburgh streets were so clean that I was willing to sit down anywhere on the curb or stairs whenever I felt tired, but I wouldn’t do that in London. There were black stains everywhere. Second, London had a lot fewer smokers than Paris, which was great; but Edinburgh was even better. This is understandable though since London is much bigger than Edinburgh with a lot more people. Third and surprisingly, London is the most polluted city I’ve visited outside China. The evidence was, if you wiped your nose, it was black. This didn’t happen in Montreal, Vancouver, San Francisco, Boston, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Paris, or Edinburgh. But it happened in London. The smell of exhaust from traffic was overwhelming sometimes.

Safety. London is much safer than Paris. Even though there were signs warning you of pick-pocketing, we didn’t experience any such attempt; whereas in Paris, we personally experienced multiple instances of at least three different tricks of theft albeit unsuccessful. Again, Edinburgh was even better than London probably due to its smaller size and relatively lower population density.

Transportation. If you’re not a taxi fan, I’d strongly recommend London’s rechargeable transportation card, called Oyster Card, one per person. You could take the underground trains and buses with it. London’s underground network was extensive and you could reach anywhere, including Heathrow Airport and train stations. The underground trains were highly frequent and not affected by traffic. On our last day, it took us 45 minutes from the city center to Heathrow at a cost of merely £3 per person. Another benefit was we didn’t have to know in advance whether we needed a day-ticket or multiple single tickets. The card would take care of that and charge the day-ticket fare at maximum.

Photography. I found London less photogenic than Edinburgh or Paris. Edinburgh was like a Suzhou garden–wherever you were, in whatever direction, you would see a pretty picture. Paris too was a carefully designed city. But in London, fancy old buildings interleaved with new bits of different shapes or styles, a bit chaotic for a picture.

Language. Although England is where English the language was named after, you would find the pronunciation of many place names strange, especially coming from North America. For example, “Gloucester” is pronounced [glɔstə] not [glausestə], and “Buckingham” is pronounced [bᴧkiŋəm] not [bʌkiŋhæm]. It took some getting-used-to. And talking about place names, there was an underground station named St. Pancras. So I thought if pancreas could be a saint, how about other organs? There could be St. Liver and St. Kidney too. Actually, St. Kidney has a nice ring to it.

People. In Edinburgh, when we took buses or trams, people would always queue up to get on. When I took pictures, people would always, with no exception, wait until I was done, instead of walking in front of my camera. Everyone we met in all walks of life was kind and extremely considerate. But in London, it wasn’t the case. Nobody queued for trains. People would always squeeze in front of me if there was any space left. Very rarely would someone wait for me to finish my photo capture. The only exception to this rudeness was people working in restaurants. They had the same kindness and consideration, which brings me to our last topic–

Food. I confirm JQ’s observation that London has great food! On our first day in London, we had dinner at a Polish restaurant named Daquise near South Kensington underground station. The appetizers were recommended by the waiter as authentically Polish, and they were indeed very nice.

We had mixed reviews for the main course. Complicated Rain’s veal escalopes were good with an unexpected combination of flavors, but I was a bit disappointed with the rabbit dish because it had oregano in the sauce, which undermined rather than enhanced the rabbit flavor. The rabbit was always tasty, but I wished they hadn’t put any oregano in the seasoning.

Series Navigation<< 9. 9/2-9/7 Family Visit in Dawlish11. 9/9 The Tower of London >>

3 thoughts on “10. 9/8 London”

  1. In London, although the steps are black, the swans are properly white. Coincidence?

    Saint Pancreas. Yes, I get that too. Every single time. Though none of the other place names seem strange to me. Places are generally pronounced like the corresponding foodstuffs (often cheeses), just as one would expect!

    Food! Food food food! My interaction with the waiter in the Polish restaurant was quite amusing. It went something like this:
    Me: “To start, I’d like the stuffed eggs.”
    He: “No you wouldn’t.”
    Me: “What?”
    He: “You wouldn’t like them. I mean, you can order them if you like, but really, it’s just eggs.”
    Me: “So…?”
    He: “Order the smoked fish on potato pancakes instead. It’s at least as Polish, and much more interesting.”
    Me: “Ok. But now I’m nervous. I was going to order the veal, but what will you say if I say that?”
    He: “I’d say that was a very good choice.”
    Me: “Oh, that’s a relief. Let’s do that, then.”
    He: “Very good, sir. And for madam?”

    I’m sure Les Nuages will complain that I’ve misremembered this, but I’m morally certain the first two lines are exact quotes.

    Ooh, and it was tasty.

    1. Complicated Rain did misremember it. I made the order first and the waiter didn’t say anything. But when Complicated Rain was ordering, the waiter started interfering. So after Complicated Rain was done, I asked the waiter if my orders were ok, and he said mine passed his test.

      1. Yes, that’s true. Though he did something like the above to pivot back into the more usual polite interaction; it just can’t have been taking your order.

        And I think Les Nuages may be right about the fish being marinated instead of smoked.

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