Adventures / culture / Out and About / Things to do

An American In London Week 1: First Impressions of the Big Smokey

This is the sixth in a weekly series that will extend until the end of June. It will chronicle my travels in Europe and the interesting things I come upon or wish someone had told me before I left. For the next five weeks I will focus on London.

This week, I took the train from Paris to London. I was disappointed that the underwater tunnel wasn’t transparent, but as we emerged into the grey day, I was startled by how very green England is. This impression of greenness lasted even into the city, which has lots of parks and trees. Besides the intentional greenery, the climate is so damp that sometimes moss and weeds spring up in the most unlikely places.

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Besides the rampant greenery, I was also struck by the feeling of being watched. There are CCTV cameras everywhere, perched discretely on nearly every building. And if they are too discrete to be noticed, there are almost always helpful signs telling you that there are cameras nearby. According to a local guide, the UK is second only to North Korea in surveillance of its own citizens and one’s image is captured on average 300 times a day in the city. This should be fairly troubling but somehow, despite being a paranoid person who hates even turning on the location services on my phone, this isn’t bothering me too. Perhaps, it’s the excitement of traveling to city I’ve dreamed about going to for ages.

The third impression I got from the Big Smokey [named so from the heavy pollution caused by the industrial revolution] was that my bank account was in serious jeopardy. London makes Paris look cheap, and the exchange rate is even worse. On top of this, the coins are weirdly sized, making it difficult to judge their worth at a quick glance. At first it seems that the bigger the coin is the less it is worth, but it’s actually an alternating system. [see my guide to coins below]

A guide to British coins

Tip of the Week: Looking for cheap entertainment? Check out the museums of London, most are completely free, barring the featured exhibit. In the week that I have been here, I have visited the British Museum a good five times. I have also taken to calling it the Imperial Loot Museum because most of its collection was stolen from other countries during colonialism. Conversely, if you want to tour a church, you will probably have to pay to get in.

Until next week, Cheers!

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