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Revisiting One of the Greatest Cities on Earth

Spending a few days in London updating my guidebook, it was fun to reconnect with one of the greatest cities on earth.
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Spending a few days in London updating my guidebook, it was fun to reconnect with one of the greatest cities on earth. The many massive new buildings seem to have been given permits on the condition that they'd provide public spaces, especially if they might obstruct views of historic buildings. For example, the big and glassy New Change Building (just east of St. Paul's) has a little park high above street level reached by a sleek elevator that offers a free and amazing view of the cathedral and the skyline.

London's Tube, as the Underground is called (saying "subway" means a pedestrian underpass to a Brit), feels more efficient than ever. The Oyster Card is the standard pass -- you buy it for a refundable £5 and put as much money on it as you like. You swipe in and swipe out and ride anywhere in town for about half the normal fare. If you forget to swipe, you'll be charged for the longest ride possible -- but you can never pay in a day more than the cost of a one-day pass (about $15). A feature I like is that you can swipe it at a ticket machine (shown here) and it tells you everywhere you've gone by bus and Tube with a full accounting and the resulting balance.

As a rising tide of affluence sweeps through London, I see a lot of pubs becoming victims of progress -- torn down for new construction. It got me thinking that there are more pubs in poorer towns and neighborhoods than in wealthier ones for a reason. The venerable English pub filled (and still fills) a big need for the working class. For workers -- historically with humble domestic quarters and no money for vacation -- a beer on the corner was the closest they'd get to a comfortable living room, a place to entertain and a vacation. As people get wealthier, the importance of the corner pub diminishes.