Note: I took a two week trip to Ireland, the Netherlands and England. This is the third and final post in a short series about where I went, along with observations about how Europe and the UK compare to the US. The first post is here and the second is here.
One of the main purposes of my trip was to visit my friend Beata who I met in the dorms my freshman year at Wisconsin. After she graduated, she decided she wanted to see the world. Instead of doing what most people would do, taking a trip for a few weeks or a month, Beata decided to live different places around the world, while getting jobs in each country. Her first stop was London, where she got a flat and found two jobs, one as a tour guide and one as bartender at her local pub. It takes guts to leave your friends and family behind and move to a new country where you do not know anyone. I can’t put into words how much I admire her for deciding to make the move (and giving me a free place to stay when I want to travel!) and gives me inspiration to have the guts to try something similar some day.
Pat and I took the train from Amsterdam to London, traveling through The Hauge, Brussels, Lille and Calais before taking the chunnel to England. It was amazing how quickly we were through the chunnel. All of the sudden it got dark and then it seemed like 10 minutes later, it was light again and we were on the other side, off the continent. The entire ride took a little under four hours on the high speed train.
We met Beata at her pub, right down the street from her flat and got to meet some of her friends and a few of the regulars. Everyone was incredibly nice and we met people from South Africa, China, Ireland and of course England. The most interesting conversation was with a guy from China who was living in London working for a large investment bank. We talked about all sorts of things, but what struck me was how similar his attitudes were to my own, even on politics. He said that he hoped that China would have a democracy at some point, but he did not think he could change anything, so why fight the system. He also talked about the pressure that children in China face to be successful. Because of the one child policy, he said that only children are under intense pressure to succeed because the parents only have one chance to see a successful child. Obviously, since not every child can be successful, the kids that do not do as well have lots of problems adjusting to adulthood.
Over the next three days, Pat and I went on all of Beata’s walking tours of London and saw most of the touristy parts of the city. We got to meet all of Beata’s friends from all over the world and everyone was incredibly nice to us. We went to Abbey Road and took the obligatory picture walking across the crosswalk, Camden and walked all over north London. We saw Oliver the last night we were there and ate incredible Indian food. My favorite place was Brick Lane, an older area with lots of Indian restaurants, or curry shops to Londoners, pubs, bars and coffee shops. On Sunday, there was a market with every type of cuisine from around the world packed with locals. It turned out that it was Peruvian Independence Day, so there was a live Peruvian band playing outside of one bar. We spent the day wandering around and seeing the city. All in all, it was a relaxing end to a great trip.
The only part of London that I did not like was the ubiquitous use of CCTV, or Closed Circuit Television, that covers pretty much all of London. Before I had gone to London, I could not completely relate to books and movies like 1984, Brave New World, Children of Men and V for Vendetta because the US does not have much CCTV, traffic cameras or nearly as many do not enter signs. It was amazing to see how many places were “protected” by CCTV: the tube and tube stations, pubs, restaurants, sidewalks, roads and many other places. Apparently, the average Londoner is captured on CCTV over 300 times per day. While I never felt like I was any less free than in the US because of the use of CCTV, it was a little unsettling to have all of my movement recorded during my stay in London. I can see how authors (and British citizens) in the UK could relate to surveillance themes in their books and movies. I am happy that the US does not have as many cameras, but it seems that we are moving in that direction. Chicago and its suburbs have tons of red light cameras, as does Phoenix. These cameras record anyone who runs red lights and sends tickets in the mail. We are still a long way off from being recorded 300 times per day, but it could be a slippery slope. All in all, London was a fantastic end to a great trip to end the summer.