In some ways, London hasn’t changed that much, at least around my old stomping grounds. The buildings seem the same. London buildings are rarely more than a few stories tall, which makes things friendlier and less of a canyon. The main thing I noticed, as I have mentioned, is London seems much more crowded than I remember, and with a diversity of population that would please any American University Admissions Office. The pavements seem more populated than a dozen years ago, and a good many people are immersed in iPhones and the like. They can be dangerous, and they are ubiquitous.
It had been so many years since I was there that I had forgotten where a good many things are. There are occasional maps posted, and an iPhone helps (if one can get service). One of the things I find helpful is the London Mini AZ, or “A to Zed.” London maps are available in large foldouts or even fairly thick books, of which the “London A to Zed” is the most famous. The miniature version fits in a coat pocket and gives detailed help on where to find London streets. Look up the street in the index, and it will send you to a page with a map. Many tourists do not need such complete maps, but the “London A to Zed” can easily be found, and I recommend it if you venture far afield. It beats unfolding a street map and walking into an iPhoned punter.
Michelin used to publish its “Green Guides” to various European cities, including London and Paris, as well as areas of Europe. I know there is a London “Green Guide” out, but unless Michelin has deflated the text since I got mine years ago, it should be most helpful. Like the Michelin “Red Guide” starred restaurants, the “Green Guide” used to rate attractions from no stars to three stars. The descriptions are excellent, and give lots of information in a small space.
Time Out London is now apparently a free publication, obtainable in pubs. I used to buy it in the old days as a guide to the many things that are available to do. There is also a New York version. The website http://www.officiallondontheatre.co.uk has information on performances, though I normally book with whatever theatre has the play I want to see. The Royal Shakespeare Company had a purpose-built theatre in the Barbican, where they used to perform last year’s Stratford season in London. For some reason, probably political and unpleasant, this now no longer seems the case. There is plenty of Shakespeare in London, and while a trek to Stratford may be worth it, I am still extremely vexed that this RSC practice has fallen away.
Eating in London is much better than before, though it is not cheap. There are three-star Michelin restaurants as well as any number of fast-food places, including the ubiquitous Golden Arches. Except for Indian restaurants, London used to be a bit dull for dining; now one can do very well. I had a lunch special at a “Jamón and Tapas Bar” in Holborn that advertised £8.50 with the usual additions, so it came to £15 with tip, or just a few cents under twenty bucks. I had a salad with a bit of jamón Ibérico and large chunks of blue cheese with a delicious sweet dressing with raisins. It was not expensive, at least for London, and it was good.
I go to Waitrose for groceries, including good cellophane-packed sandwiches for under four or five bucks. I also stock my inadequate little room fridge with cold drinks. If your accommodations have a fridge, you can do very well if there is a good grocery store nearby. All sorts of drinks are available, including fruit juices and sodas, and even gin-and-tonic in cans. You can eat very cheaply this way, and Waitrose is excellent.
Getting ice is less of a problem than it was, but the British are just not as keen on really cold drinks as we Americans are. Pity. Still, one can get ice, if in limited amounts. This is very clearly a matter of cultural conditioning the British lack.
Good walking shoes are a must. The sole came off of my old Rockport Pro-Walkers, so I got a pair of Clark’s walkers on sale. Summer is the sale season, and mine were half-price and well worth it. There are also splendid Europlast blister packs if one is hobbling around in unfortunate footwear.
When I cannot wrangle an invitation to stay with friends, I stay in an academic trust in Bloomsbury, near the British Library. A small, single walk-up is still close to two hundred bucks a night, but that is reasonable for a city like London. As I say, there is a small coolish refrigerator in my room, but of course no air-conditioning. Fortunately, it has not been much needed. As a Florida resident, I find heat and sunshine overrated. Better rainy and cool, as I see it, than sweltering and sweaty.
It is also useful to belong to a club that has reciprocal arrangements with a London club, though it may be difficult to get long bookings. I am spending the last few days at my London club, where I shall overeat and generally live en grand seigneur. There is a cocktail party coming up that promises to be worth attending, provided I do not imbibe too freely – not that it is actually free.
As for terrorism, one needs to be aware, but I am not letting the bastards keep me from a life I enjoy. Then they win and I lose. I will die someday, and I would rather be doing something I love when Death comes than lying in bed with my sheets pulled over my head. Though come to think of it, I suppose in that case the sheets would still be over my head.