Map of London

There's a hole in the world like a great black pit
and the vermin of the world inhabit it
and its morals aren't worth what a pin can spit
and it goes by the name of London.
—Sweeney Todd

Since arriving in London, I've spent two days in the British Museum, all morning in Hyde, Green, and St James's parks looking for Buckingham Palace amid a hundred half-finished snowmen, fifteen minutes trying to grok a conceptual slab of metal at the Tate Modern, an hour in the middle of a Sri Lankan protest, an evening in the King's Arms pub, and not enough time sleeping -- all on less than $40 a day.

London is surprisingly diverse. On the subway to and from the shops in Soho, the royal parks in St James's, the touristy sites on the Thames, and rooms full of antiquities at the British Museum I heard French, Spanish, and a plethora of languages out of Eastern Europe.

The city has blocks of Korean, Japanese, and especially Indian restaraunts. The modest Chinatown was crowded when I arrived on Sunday with the last hurrah of Chinese New Year. Under Big Ben and Westminster Abbey I saw 2,000 Indians protesting the genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka.

Half the travelers I've met in Palmer's Lodge are staying in the hostel while they look for work, preferably the live-in kind since London is so expensive, only there are few available jobs and more people looking for them, between all the immigrants, visitors, and unemployed. One guy from France went to a bar where fifty people had applied for three positions.

London is a weird juxtaposition of antique and swanky. A block away from the bright lights of glossy restaraunts, neon clubs, and ubiquitous Starbucks in South Bank are the solid walls of Charles Dickens houses on narrow roads with a church on one corner and a pub on the other. The pubs are packed from 5 to 11, the nightclubs from 11 to 2.

A statue of Nelson Mandela looks at Oliver Cromwell across jogging Londoners in track suits, tourists with cameras, and old men in three piece suits smoking pipes on the corners of Parliament Square. Uptown shops and bars are built under the arches of stone bridges that slope off the Thames. Construction is everywhere as the British do their best to modernize or at least keep functional their proudly decaying city.

On Monday it snowed more than it had in 16 years -- six inches -- which wouldn't be a big deal to any normal northern city. London shut down. Half the city just called in sick, including all the people who were supposed to be running the subway, then the other half of the city couldn't get to work because the Tube wasn't running.

The almost universally awful London papers abandoned celebrity gossip and filled their pages with sensationalized stories of the frosted crisis: Rubbish piles up! Rowan Atkinson catches cold and cannot perform! If it snows as much tomorrow as it is supposed to, then this may be the most dangerous leg of my trip.


  1. Katy McDonald05 February, 2009

    i like the sweeny todd quote. what can't mr. beans perform?

  2. Oliver! the musical. I don't know who he plays.

  3. Katy McDonald06 February, 2009

    ohhhhhhhhhhhh! is that oliver twist?

  4. Props on the use of "plethora" : )

    and the Sweeney Todd quote.


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