For many years I have avoided visiting London. It was not because I did not want to see London, but rather the inertia from not knowing where to start. There are so many literary, historical and cultural threads that connect Americans to England that it is difficult to pick and choose what to see. I have a 300 page book that is just one the literary connections in London. As time passed, I finally realized that I had to just go, and if I missed things, I might just have to return.
We are accustomed to flying to Europe from Atlanta, and the two hours difference in flying from JFK rather than ATL was a relief, although on most days I would still rather get a root canal without anesthesia than fly through JFK. (Hey, JFK, why in the world do you make passengers go outside of the security zone to change terminals, as most international passengers must?) Admittedly, JFK is still preferable to LAX, but only narrowly. With the flat reclining seats over the Atlantic, and only 5 hours difference in time zones, jet lag was really not a problem, but we were still somewhat fatigued, and elected to
spend the day touring the city on one of the big red double-decker buses.
On the bus, I discovered that Mark Twain was right when he referred to England and the USA as two countries separated by a common language. Now, I must confess that my exposure to British English has mostly come from TV. I have learned to decipher the peculiar (to us) language mannerisms of Last Tango in Halifax. I do well with Downton Abbey, and mostly do well with Call the Midwife. But when you put my hearing loss up against a strong cockney accent, I get lost pretty quickly. There are entire videos on the various British accents Apparently the one you hear from the Queen and so forth is called RP, for "Received Pronunciation". There are those who will tell you that received is used in an old sense meaning "accepted". Be that as it may, for me it means an American can receive it as information, rather than as just sound. On the tour buses that endlessly circle London, they have plug-in headsets with narrative, but with the flash-bang productions and variable accents and loud background music, they were of little use to
What you do get on the bus is a good overview of the city, at least the "downtown" part of it. The journey seems somewhat helter skelter. London was founded in 43 CE as Londinium by the Romans. So for over 2000 years it has grown organically and seemingly haphazardly, such that there is scarcely a straight street to be found, and one way streets are everywhere. Combine that with closures in preparation for the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in June, and it is a royal mess. As an example, on our last day in England we took a taxi from Abbey Road Studios to Leadenhall Market. The distance of 5.5 miles required a journey of nearly an hour, only small parts of which were due to traffic jams. Nonetheless, we got to see most of the places we have all heard about, such as Covent Garden, Piccadilly Circus, the West End theater district, Regent Street, 10 Downing Street, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, the Eye, and many others. I would recommend the buses as a great introduction to the city.
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