The View From 32


AUGUST 8, 2007  


Around and about in London

One of the first things we did yesterday was to buy 3-day Travelcards that are good on London buses, trains and even boats (sort of). Since a single ride on the Underground costs four pounds, the Travelcard is a great deal at sixteen pounds for unlimited travel. We mostly used the Underground, which can get you virtually anywhere you want to go if you don't mind transferring from line to line.

Interior of London tube stationThe London Underground is a model of clarity in signage. The map designed by Harry Beck in 1933 has become both a design icon and a symbol of the city itself. There's even a book describing its history in detail, Mr. Beck's Underground Map.

We never waited more than 10 minutes for a train, and more often it was less than 5. The stations ranged from old and plain to more modern and colorful, but in all cases they were clean and felt safe, in part because there were always people waiting for trains. Exits are clearly marked with yellow "WAY OUT" signs, and platforms for connecting lines are easy to find although they may be quite a walk apart.

One day we tried a bus instead of the tube, but that was a mistake. We just missed the first bus and waited about twenty minutes for another. Even though a congestion tax has cut down on the number of cars on London streets, they are still filled with buses. We could have probably walked almost as fast as the bus got us to our destination.

Our other negative experience with London Transport was the Thames River cruise we took. The Travelcard got us one-third off the fare, but we waited and waited, first for tickets, then for departure.

Walking tour

OK, OK, it's kind of cheesy, but we went on the DaVinci Code walking tour, not the sort of thing we usually do. But I thought we should follow the advice of Rick Steves' London guidebook. In the past his tips have helped us find unique and worthwhile things to do. His advice was to take one of the walking tours. Since on our last visit both Joanne and I had been reading the DaVinci Code, it seemed a natural.

Sean, walking tour guideWe met Sean, our guide, at the Embankment Underground station. We'd gotten there way too early, so ended up buying sandwiches and going to a nearby park to eat them. On the bench next to us I noticed an older guy with a beard and straw hat napping. He got up and walked toward the station a couple of minutes before we did the same. That was Sean.

Sean was amiable enough, and walked us briskly through a couple of nearby parts of the city. Unfortunately his tour was high on talk but low on actually visiting places from the book.

He told us at the start that we wouldn't go to Westminster Abbey because it was too far away. We stopped in at the National Gallery to see a couple of paintings related to those in the book.

Outside of Temple ChurchDisappointingly, we stood outside Temple Church but weren't able to go in. Apparently a glut of tourists has made the church limit drastically the time it is open to the public.

Here Joanne listens as Sean talks about the church.

He later described what we would have seen and showed us a worn copy of a photo of the interior. Not exactly what we'd hoped for.

It was an entertaining way to spend an hour and a half, but I didn't learn much new about either the book or the city. The most interesting anecdote he shared was how the opposing sides in the copyright infringement trial (DaVinci Code vs. Holy Blood, Holy Grail) stayed in the same hotel and ate breakfast together every day before heading for the courtroom. Since both books were published by Random House, the trial was probably aimed at promoting sales, which it did.


Car with CCTV camera on roof.No doubt London takes terrorist threats seriously. There were heavily armed police in several tube stations, and closed-circuit TV cameras are everywhere.

In the picture, circled in green you can see a swiveling camera mounted on the roof of a car parked in Covent Garden late one night. A sign on the car's trunk said "Traffic Enforcement," but I rather doubt it. Parked in an area like this there's not much traffic to enforce. This wasn't the only time we'd seen one of these little guys, either.

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