Daily Wisdom

February 25, 2006

London Observations

LONDON, U.K. -- Here are a few brief observations I made during our recent trip...

The Tube
The subway system in London, known as the 'Underground' or 'Tube', is a fantastic way to get around. It seems like there is a station in almost every neighborhood, and there is definitely one near all the major attractions. They are well-lit, well-marked, safe, and generally pretty clean.

A single cash fare per trip costs £3.00 (or about $5.25), so if you plan to be on and off the tube all day or several days in a row, it pays to buy a travelcard. A daily travelcard for Zones 1 & 2 (the bulk of the city) costs £6.20 and a 3-day travelcard costs £15.40 for the same Zones. If you plan on staying in London for any length of time, you might want to consider an Oyster Card. It's sort of like E-Z Pass here in the NY and NJ metro areas. It's a pay-as-you-go type card that requires an initial deposit which must be replenished as funds are depleted.

Be prepared for some stair-climbing (not too much), steep escalators (may cause vertigo), and occasional windy hallways. Since the tube diameters are not much larger than the trains themselves, the moving trains act like pistons to push the air in front of them and suck the air behind them.

When entering a station, there are typically 2 options... you can swipe your Oyster card over the scanner, or you must insert your ticket or travelcard into a small slot. The ticket pops up a moment later from a different slot, you grab the ticket, the gates open, and you go through. (It's good to be quick about it).

When leaving a station, you have the same 2 options. However, if you purchased a single trip ticket, you won't get your ticket back after you put it into the slot. One-day and three-day travel cards will be returned.

When a tube station is located on a slight bend in the tracks, you will notice that at some point (either towards the end or the middle of each car) there is a gap between the platform and the train. Whenever a train pulls into such stations, the recurring announcement of "Mind The Gap!" will be heard. You can now buy souveneirs with this memorable slogan emblazoned on it.

The Tube is a good place to notice things like current fashion trends. On our first trip to London in the mid-90s, the trend was black pants, black socks and black shoes. All the locals, both men and women, seemed to follow the trend. You could easily spot the tourists (like us) in their blujeans and/or light-colored sneakers.

When we went back to London in 2002, the 'black' trend was still pretty much in vogue, so we felt like less of a stand-out in our black attire.

On this trip in 2006, things were quite different. Bluejeans were common. Typically they were bell-bottoms (not too wide), worn very long (in some cases ragged at the heel). A few khakis were spotted, also long bell-bottoms, occasionally with a cuff to keep them off the ground. The most common type of bluejean had a thin vertical fade at regular intervals (1/2" to 1") which somewhat gave them the appearance of pin-striping. This was combined with the more typical heavy fade on the front of the jeans from knees up to the pockets.

Although plenty of black shoes still abound, lighter multi-colored sneakers were quite common on men. Sometimes even radically-colored sneakers were evident. Amongst younger women however (and some who were merely young at heart), the trend seemed to be pointy shoes and mostly... boots. I mean long, very-tight points... 2" out in front of the toe and no more than 1/4" in diameter at the point. I even saw a few women in cowboy boots.

The London Public Houses or 'Pubs' are always a great place to relax, enjoy a meal and of course a 'pint' or two. The traditional pub has a rustic feel about it, with its dark wood paneling, creeky floor boards, and a ceilings with exposed timbers or perhaps stamped tin. Upon entering, one immediately senses that hospitality has been served in this warm, cozy environment for a hundred years. Like neighborhood taverns here in the U.S., a pub gives one a good feel for the locals. The menu will consist of basic "meat and potato" type meals like... Shepherd's Pie, Lamb shank, stews, even burgers, and the like.

Unfortunately, not every pub is a "traditional" pub. On this trip, we experienced at least two pubs that had recently been renovated into modern up-scale restaurants that completely eliminated the warm rustic feel, and the basic menu of the traditional pub. Instead, we found brightly colored sheetrock walls that were all straight, square and dismally uninteresting. A trendy menu and cloth-covered tables with miniature roses at one pub completely eliminated any pretense that this was a "traditional" pub. On that particular occasion, a bottle of wine seemed more appropriate than a "pint".

Don't get me wrong. We had fun everywhere we went... even at the "faux" pubs. But in hindsight, it is somewhat disappointing to see that which is old, familiar, warm and charming being replaced by that which is modern, different, cold and uninteresting.

In London pubs, the basic question is always the same... "Lager or Bitter?" Lagers of course, are more like your standard pilsners, and Bitters are your ales. Due to the abbreviated week, I didn't get to try out as many ales as I would have liked. I was hoping to report back to Beerme with a slew of great finds. Anyway, here were my limited taste treats...

At the 'Hereford Arms' pub in Kensington, I enjoyed a local Bitter called 'London Pride'. A reddish ale, it maintained a good head and was smooth and satisfying. You can learn more about it Here.

At the 'Red Lion' pub near the Parliament, 'London Pride' was also featured, so I went for a Guinness (on tap of course). Deep and dark with a head that just won't quit... well, it was SO good and went down SO fast, I just had to have a second... (:D)

At the 'Anchor Tap' pub near the Tower Bridge, 'Old Brewery Bitter' was the local favorite. A more golden ale with a good head, I found it to be more filling, and it took me longer to drink. Some comments from others who have tried it can be found Here. Unfortunately, the 'Old Brewery' down the street where the ale once originated, is no longer there. Apparently it is now being brewed by Samuel Smith Brewery in Tadcaster, Yorkshire.

At the 'Marquess of Anglesey' pub near the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, the featured Bitter was 'Young's Bitter'. From a local brewery, Young's Bitter is far better described Here than I could ever do. However, I would add that it didn't maintain much of a head... but it went down very smooth and quick.

Thus ends my observations for today. Cheers!


At 2/25/2006 9:17 PM , Blogger camojack said...

I'll take a Bass or Watney's any old time. Warm? No problem...

At 2/26/2006 6:38 AM , Blogger MargeinMI said...

Yay, details!

"Mind the Gap" brings back a painful memory in a rush. Visiting my mother in Seoul (she lived there for 8 years), we were taking the subway and I definately didn't 'mind the gap.' My right leg went straight down the gap and I landed full force on my left shin on the edge of the train (steel, I'm guessing). [insert appropriate expletives here, keeping it family friendly]

I looked up to see several concerned Korean faces and outreached hands (mom was behind me). They lifted me up as the tears streamed down my face. "Kamsanyeda, kamsanyeda," I said over and over (thank you).

We got off at the next stop so I could sit and cry and get it together. My tenatious mother made me carry on with the day's itinerary which included the unplanned addition of taking the wrong train and being 'saved' by a couple of Morman missionaries. My leg KILLED me the entire time, and now, thirteen years later, I can still feel the dent in my left shinbone.

Moral of the story:

When boarding trains, subways and the like, please "Mind the Gap!"


At 2/26/2006 4:59 PM , Blogger Hawkeye® said...

OUCH! Sorry to bring back THOSE kinds of memories. But I am glad that you were "saved" by the Mormons... heh, heh!

Best regards,

At 2/26/2006 6:01 PM , Blogger MargeinMI said...

Part II:

Same day, me now not in such a good mood....

The day's journey was supposed to consist of taking the subway and two trains to some touristy Korean Village (kind of like Greenfield Village in Dearborn, MI).

My mom could speak a leeeeeeetle Korean, and could read it phonetically. So she's sounding out the signs at the station, pretty sure she got us on the right train (heh). After about 40 minutes of being smashed like sardines, the two Mormans got on and we got to chatting. [Westerners stand out like a scarecrow in a cornfield there] Once they informed us we were on the wrong train to where we were going, it was just a small matter of backtracking, 2 more hours on the train. [still in pain] The Village was ok, especially the folk dancing.

It was kinda hard to enjoy cause I was still in pain.

We saw the exact thing (the village) in miniature three days later. Also saw better dancing at a great resteraunt we went to.

And more pagodas than you could shake a big stick at.

Did I mention I was in pain?

Me, me, me, me, me.

Gee camo, this IS fun. ;o)

At 2/26/2006 7:20 PM , Blogger camojack said...

I'm fairly certain that "Thank you" in Korean is Kamsamida.

But it is fun relating your experiences, huh? :-)

At 2/27/2006 5:43 AM , Blogger MargeinMI said...


Nitpicker. And yes, it is fun. Ok, I'll stop hijacking Hawkeye's blog now. :o/

At 2/27/2006 12:19 PM , Blogger Hawkeye® said...

I agree... you are a pitnicker (:D)

Feel free anytime!

At 2/27/2006 2:00 PM , Blogger Maggie said...

Did you happen to notice if the tube and London was user friendly to the handicapped and wheelchair bound?

At 2/28/2006 1:26 AM , Blogger camojack said...

Nah, I'm more of a nitwit.

I've been a picnicker; does that count?

At 2/28/2006 7:09 PM , Blogger Hawkeye® said...

Actually, I would have to say that the Tube is most emphatically NOT handicapped or wheel-chair friendly! Sorry about that.

At 2/28/2006 7:11 PM , Blogger Hawkeye® said...

Picnickers are more than welcome to 'View' anytime (:D)

At 2/28/2006 11:02 PM , Blogger Hawkeye® said...

BTW, I should mention that the trend in London is changing from "warm beer" to "chilled". In fact, some of the locals suggest that that it's that "bad American influence". That's right, the Brits are starting to drink their beers a bit chillier now, thanks to those "damn Yankees!"

At 3/01/2006 6:41 AM , Blogger Beerme said...

Fuller's London Pride is a very good ale. Actually, the brewer serves alot of their London Pride at their own pubs (Fuller's operates nearly 250 pubs in the country!). They actually designed the style of beer called "the Bitter" (in the US we call it ESB, or Extra Special Bitter), and have brewed beer on site at Chiswick for over two centuries! If you ever get a chance to try one of the Fuller's Vintage Ales, don't miss the opportunity. They produce this in limited qualities once a year and each vintage is unique. Being a "Barleywine" type of beer, it is 8.5% alcohol and will age well for up to ten years or more!

You done good! Nice assortment of the better ales in London!

Check out the following link for the Campaign for Real Ale, a group in England dedicated to not succumbing to the forces that want to chill all beer and drink only lagers:

I'm glad to hear you had fun over in jolly England! And thanks for the kind words over at my blog.

At 3/01/2006 12:43 PM , Blogger Hawkeye® said...

My pleasure.

At 3/02/2006 7:10 PM , Blogger MargeinMI said...

Did you encounter any safety issues on your trip? Every single person I know that has been to Paris was pickpocketed on the Metro. When in Seoul, I was manhandled on the subway by a really creepy looking guy. {shiver}

How was the customs/security experience? Peggy Noonan really slammed them last week.

I refuse to let this thread die. I want more details, man, details! {me sitting in my frozen little house in the middle of nowhere, going nowhere, have two friends in Fla. on vacation right now, sob, sniff, sob....c'moooonnnnn spring!]

At 3/03/2006 8:10 PM , Blogger Hawkeye® said...

No. We were not pick-pocketed... but then again, we weren't in Paris... (:D)

Actually, we feel that London is quite safe, but just to be sure, we wore our black leather jackets. My wife is only 5'-4", but in her leather she looks pretty tough... suitable for her Swiss-German heritage. (Just kidding.)

However, it's interesting that you should mention safety, because I overheard another American couple at breakfast one morning talking to a hotel employee about a situation they had the day before. Apparently, the woman's purse had been snatched and within about a half-hour or so, the culprits had gone to an ATM machine and taken out money. Now that seems pretty incredible to me, since you need to have a PIN number to use an ATM. But since the PIN number is actually on the magnetic strip of the ATM card, I guess some people have figured out how to find that PIN number and make use of it. Sorta scary, eh?

As for us, we've been to London three times without incident (Praise be to God!).

Customs/security was not too bad. Much less intense than our trip back in February, 2002. That was right after 9/11 of course, so we had three pretty intensive security screenings on that trip. My wife was one of the lucky ones that was chosen at random for additional screening. Her artificial hip doesn't help because it sets off all the metal detectors... Sheesh! Getting old is a drag!

Anyway, God bless, and... Thanks for Viewing!


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