We could learn a thing or two from our European cousins

It’s taken me about a week, but finally  I am in my hotel room long enough to sit in front of my laptop and describe a bit of my European adventure so far. That’s the kind of week it’s been…get up early, on the road we go and don’t stop until your legs give out. Yet despite this frenetic pace, there is something about being in Europe that gives you the energy and interest to just keep on going.

You won’t see much more of the Queen Elizabeth Tower including the Big Ben bell. It will be covered in scaffolding for about two years due to much needed repairs.

I was reminded by my wife that this is actually the fourth time I’ve visited London – the first visit having taken place way back in 1991. While the city has changed over the past few decades, so much of it remains the same.

The crowds of shoppers and tourists on Regent and Oxford Streets are simply overpowering. No matter what time of day, London appears alive and the sidewalks are teeming with activity. Some of the more popular evening spots [if you like watching people and pets] don’t cost a penny such as Leicester and Trafalgar Square. The enjoyment there merely rests in being part of “the scene”.

What would a visit be to London without a snapshot of Buckingham Palace. Nobody actually lives there anymore, it is now a big office!

There are few cities like London in the world where you truly feel you are at the centre of things.

New York and Paris come to mind. But the Big Apple lacks the same historical depth…and Paris, well…it’s in a league of its own.

It’s hard not to look at how London was built and currently operates and compare to how we build our North American cities. We are so conservative by comparison…yet few would be willing to openly admit this reality.

What’s to like about London?

How about the fact that office workers can leave work at the end of the day and head to their local pub…purchase a beer…then consume it on the adjacent public sidewalk – all the whilst conversing with their colleagues. Nary a by-law officer to be found and there were no problems we could see with public intoxication or hooliganism.

If you like to shop [and I don’t] then London is your kind of town. Consider it as one big shopping mall with every different size, shape and SKU of any product you want to find – anywhere. My son was blown away by the running shoes…so many styles that are simply impossible to find in Canada.

There are taxis everywhere! Unlike Vancouver where hailing a taxi on a Friday is akin to winning the lottery, here it’s commonplace. I’m not sure how they all make a go of it…but as a consumer, there are no shortage of cabs in London and that’s great!

Public squares – everywhere! As we near completion of the new public square on the north side of the Vancouver Art Gallery…just think if Vancouver were filled with another 20 of these…packed with artisans, street entertainers and people.

The best way to visit London is to get off the busy streets and pop into the alleyways!

Public transit, transit everywhere.  The most efficient and cost-effective system is known as the “Tube”.

It’s an engineering feat which incorporates a labyrinth of underground tunnels and trains that take you from one side of town to to the other in relative ease – and at a low cost.

It makes our paltry SkyTrain network look like child’s play.  But that’s what you get when you pack 10 million people into a small area…the benefit is a great public transit system.

Old Westminster is a lot like New Westminster. It is an amazingly easy city to walk around. In fact, it’s so walkable we didn’t need to really use taxis or public transit that often. Then again, with all that traffic congestion, using your feet or a bicycle is a much smarter alternative to the car.

Lastly, who could write a blog post about London and forget to mention the incredible theater scene. I had the opportunity to see 42nd Street at the Royal Drury Lane Theatre (RDLT) and it did not disappoint.  The music, choreography, set changes  were on par with anything I had previously seen on Broadway in New York. The best part was it only cost the equivalent of around $150 Canadian…for three tickets!

The last time I was at the RDLT was a couple of decades ago when I got to see Miss Saigon. The Theatre Disctrict in London has to be one of the best on the planet serving up a multitude of offerings that will please almost everyone.

A funny side story. We were running a bit late as we had lost our way to the theater when we noticed a woman having a cigarette and reading her iPhone in a back alley. She was in a white terry cloth bath robe, covered in makeup and was wearing a bright red curly wig. We asked her for directions to the front entrance…she grumbled and gave them to us…only to discover 20 minutes later that she was one of the stars of the show!

 

What’s not to like?

London remains one of the most expensive and unaffordable cities on the planet. The locals talk about how they simply can’t afford to live and work in London…and they are being forced further and further out into the burbs. They talk about how Chinese investors and Russian oligarchs are buying up everything around them. Sound familiar?

Hard not to be captivated with the frenetic pace of Piccadilly Circus!

Notwithstanding recent efforts to improve traffic congestion – there is only word to describe it – horrible.

There are simply too many cars for the limited available road space. They aren’t building any more roads in London…and more people are driving each day, so you know this isn’t going to end well unless something dramatic happens – like even costlier road tolling.

To view my entire photostream for this part of the trip click here.

Tomorrow…it’s time to explore Paris!

I’m hoping to post something tomorrow about our incredible, albeit brief adventure in Paris. Whether it’s the amazing outdoor patio culture…or the architecture, there is very little that will disappoint you in the French capital city.