Friday, May 15, 2009

The Cold Sun of Spring

It's kind of wrong to complain about Vancouver, especially coming back from less fortunate places abroad. That said, I'm going to do just that. Despite it having been a lovely spring, there is a kind of coldness that hasn't gone away, even on days when its been 't-shirt warm'.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

What a Difference the Weather Can Make

Often it's not just the place that leaves the strongest impression, but the circumstances under which one is there. Case-in-point: my trip to London England last week. The previous times I've been to London UK have been short stops en route to the continent, and have been during inclement (i.e. typically English) weather. My impression had been of a big, dreary, grey, expensive, complex city heaving under the weight of 18 million ugly, slightly boorish folk with bad teeth. A few weeks I found myself back in London on business with a client. The weather was spectacular and we stayed in a very decent location close to the West End. The weather was lovely and we had some time to explore and enjoy the city. My opinion has completely changed and I think London and its inhabitants are quite lovely.

A few myths to dispel;

1) The English are for the most part neither ugly nor unhealthy. The streets were filled with joggers and the women are among the most beautiful anywhere. Furthermore, they are incredibly well dressed, dapper yet distinctly individual, lacking any of the self conscious pretentiousness of North American hipster fashion.

2) The food was great. Well, most of it was. The French, Thai, Indian, and Italian food I had was delicious and made of good fresh ingredients. I did have haddock and chips, the only 'traditional' English food I ate, and it made me feel disgustingly heavy and greasy.

3) London isn't a 'hard' city. This is a bit of an ephemeral point, but I'll try to explain. Places like New York and Chicago, despite their charms, can just wear you down with their throbbing noise, thronging crowds, and complexes of walls pushing down on you at all times. I love NYC, but it makes me feel like a rat in a giant warren. By contrast, every street in London felt exciting, and open, and accessible. You have to be careful crossing the street, but the tube, though slow, is very easy to figure out and to navigate. The city doesn't stink as bad as I remember. And most of all, the English are polite, like Canadians, and don't seem to hate your presence.

4) Despite looking, I saw not a single set of bad teeth.

My impression over all is that the English have come to peace with the decision to share their excellent city and the bounties of their civilization, with others. I never felt that edgy attitude that one get's off New Yorkers which says "I had to fucking work to get here, who the hell are you and what are you doing here"?

London is a big, dense city, filled with things to do and see. I think a wise visitor doesn't bring a list of things that they must see and then trek around the city trying to see them all. Rather, find a good place to stay in an interesting part of the city and visit the cool things that are nearby on foot. There will inevitably be several. We went to two: the temple Church, home of the Knights Templar, and the Royal College of Surgeons Hunterian Museum. Both were fascinating. I couldn't take photos at the latter, but the ever-polite museum staff had no problem with me carry my camera around. None of this "you can't bring that in here" stuff you'd get in most places.

The mere act of walking around the West End, from pub to pub, was a lot of fun, and yielded plenty of interesting sights. I'm not really much of a tourist, I never try to catch the 'places of interest' when I go somewhere. I like to just walk around and run into whatever I can. London was a delight, and almost the perfect city in that respect. Every which way I turned that was something interesting to find. I look forward to going back.