On my first day in London, I made a big mistake. I took a taxi. Tired from an overnight flight, I just wanted to get into the city easily, and I made the assumption that having someone drive me directly to my destination would be the easiest method.
I was wrong. The traffic into London was horrible. We came to a complete stop several times, and creeped forward the rest of the time, once past an office building right next to the highway, so that I could watch room after room of meetings as if I were taking part myself. By the time we reached St. James, it was still a few miles to my hotel, and we were stopped again. I watched as pound after pound was added to the fare. I said thanks, hopped out, and walked the rest of the way.
That night, I bought a London map book, figured out how to use it in just a couple of minutes, and didn’t use another taxi after that. London became a much better city to visit as a result.
Most of my movement has been by simple, old-fashioned walking, though I’ve found that a day pass on the Underground is a good part of the mix as well. I’ve worn my feet near to blistering, but I’ve also come to get a better feeling of London than I ever could have in a taxi. On foot, I’ve stopped whenever I wanted to stop, and I’ve actually taken a good look at the things that I’m passing by, instead of whipping past them in a blur.
I’ve had a funny little itch in my mind since I got here, to try to walk out of London. It’s easy to walk out of the little City of London, of course, but to leave the metropolitan area is much more daunting. Yesterday, I gave it a try. I walked West, on and on, for hours, stopping here and there to eat or just to look. Beyond Buckingham, nipping through Notting Hill, and then I finally made it. I had walked out of London…
And straight back to America. The Westfield Shopping Center? Why, wasn’t that in Orange County?
For about 24 hours here, I rented a bicycle, and it made things an awful lot easier. I had the freedom to take to the streets, moving at a fair pace when I wanted to, and the freedom to change to walking at a moment’s notice when that became more convenient. I used the London Bicycle Hire Company, located on the south bank of the Thames, between Blackfriars and Waterloo bridges.
I discovered that moving between places was the key to a meaningful stay in London for me. That meant using the Underground when I was dog tired, but not zipping from destination to destination in a motorized way. Looking around, and getting lost many times, I went through many parts of London that aren’t crafted for tourists, and saw a lot of people and things I hadn’t expected.