Overview and History
"When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford." - Samuel Johnson
Do you know all the verses to the children's song, "London Bridge is falling down"? They will take you through the history of London so let's have a look, shall we?
First we need a bridge, in order for it to fall down. The Romans were nice enough to build the first one, probably using a combination of floating platforms and walkways. During Roman times the River Thames was much wider and shallower than it is today, so you could get away with mud hopping. As London has grown it has continually reclaimed the riverbank and funneled the river into a tighter channel, causing no small floods in the lower-laying areas.
Now, London Bridge first fell down and became a song when the English were fighting Viking invaders from Denmark. The English won by pulling down the Danish garrison and the bridge along with it.
Whoops! Wood and clay will wash away, wash away, wash away. Well.. that's part of the story. In 1014 more Viking invaders decided the bridge was in the way of their tall ships, so they tied ropes to it and rowed at full speed to help the bridge wash away.
Verse Three: "Build it up with bricks and mortar, bricks and mortar, bricks and mortar." The first stone construction began in 1176 and took thirty years to finish. This one lasted six centuries, but it still caught on fire and nearly collapsed a few times. This was the famous long-standing bridge bearing not only a church and houses, but also the heads of traitors preserved in tar and mounted on stakes.
Of course, a multi-colored thread of zany events came to pass in the seven-century lifespan of the stone London Bridge -- witch burnings, boating collisions and drownings, the Plague -- it's all part of becoming the world's largest city, a rich title which London achieved in the nineteenth century.
Oops! "Bricks and mortar will not stay, will not stay, will not stay." Build it up with iron and steel. The then-decrepit and chokingly narrow stone bridge was rebuilt by John Rennie in the 1830's. Legend has it that the British custom of driving on the left-hand side of the road was an early attempt to solve the congestion on the bridge.
If you can believe what comes next, Rennie's bridge was SOLD to an American investor who carted it off to Arizona. That was 1968.
The current London Bridge was dedicated in 1973. Its concrete and steel construction was financed by the sale of Rennie's stone bridge. Hmm... was this sale an elaborate financier's gambit, or just clever adaptation of existing circumstances?
Heathrow Airport is the main one, although there are eight airports in the greater London area. Heathrow is the world's busiest airport in terms of international flights.
Other main airports are Gatwick and Stansted, all have good transportation links into central London, choose rail or bus.
With the oldest and best underground system in the world, you can literally get anywhere quickly, the 'tubes' do get a little overcrowded, so why not see the sites above the ground and take a bus or river boat.
Like Hong Kong, London uses the Oyster card system to let you pay electronically for all sorts of things, especially moving your body from place to place. Fares go for about two pounds per ride for the underground and £1 for the bus. Travel cards have a cool price cap on the bulk ticket purchases, so you can ride more without being charged more, after a certain point.
Consider avoiding the much loved 'black cabs' for long journeys, as it can be an expensive way to sit in traffic. Traffic can get busy in central London, but is improving alot since the introduction of the now very famous 'congestion charge'.
People and Culture
The British invented marmalade to protect their mighty navy from scurvy, and they drink a lot of tea ! "Thank you very much and have a lovely evening".
Well, those are the stereotypes. British culture can have the reputation of being stuffy and repressively polite, but the warmth and volume of pub life more than make up for it. The people in general are hilarious, sarcastic and quick-witted. They love their pints, their fish and chips and their football.
Like other megalopoliptic international and throbbing cities, London is tricky to congeal into a sliceable pat that one might conceivably be able to spread on one's toast. You'll simply have to come here and see it for yourself.
Things to do & Recommendations
First off, read some Shakespeare so you understand why you need to go to the Globe Theatre. Think about the double and triple meanings built into the text; this will give you a foundation in the British sense of humor you're walking into.
With that under your belt, walk on into The London Dungeons. When you're finished looking at these cages for people, you can look at some cages for animals at the London Zoo!
Science lovers can teleport right over to the Natural History Museum and laugh at the dinosaurs, who couldn't tele-anything.
The British museums are some of the best in the world, possibly even the best, owing to the Empire's history of world exploration. The National Gallery houses some of the greatest Western painting anywhere.
London is basically jam-packed full of history, food, music, theatre, art, banks and people to boggle your brains. I would try to describe it to you, but...
But Samuel Johnson already said it best.
Text by Steve Smith.