Thank you to my friend Mark and his flatmates for letting me stay at their place in Willesden Green for a week.
London is expensive. I frequently found myself paying $11 for a tuna sandwich and $3 for a small coffee at Starbucks.
The most expensive office space in the entire world is in London's West End. Rents in this area are higher than all of Manhattan and Tokyo. And the most expensive house is in London (£70 million, US$140 million).
There were a surprising number of tube delays due to humans jumping or falling in front of the trains. I happened to walk onto the platform at Bond Street mere seconds after someone jumped. It was eerie.
In America, we have signs that advertise property vacancies with the phrase "FOR RENT." In London, the signs for available apartments or office space say "TO LET."
Friends, please note that "TO LET" and "TOILET" are not the same thing.
Hardly any store except Starbucks serves filter coffee. But everyone will try to sell you an Americano instead. (An Americano is a few shots of espresso poured into a cup of hot water.)
My favorite thing in London was experiencing Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park.
Not surprisingly, I was able to drink the tap water all over the city without any problems.
Common Sense Travel Note - You should never drink the tap water on moving vehicles, such as airplanes and trains. Fill your water bottle after the security check near your gate of departure.
The cobblestone streets were sometimes hard on my thin-sole leather shoes. If you have the room in your suitcase, bring very comfortable distance walking shoes.
Doors tended to open IN instead of OUT. For example, when enterting a building, you would PUSH the door instead of PULL it open. This would not pass fire safety code in the United States of America.
Grocery stores were very conveniently located around the downtown London area. I have never been in a big city where there were so many grocery stores in prime retail locations.
Our office recently needed to capture contact information from several hundred business cards. We ended up spending a very long time correcting the Optical Character Recognition (OCR) results.
It is not entirely the CardScan software's fault. Many business cards are fashion statements. Complicated company logos with cursive fonts, white text on graphical backgrounds, and handwritten notes tend to confuse even the most advanced OCR software.
So we found that the fastest, most accurate method is to have a human manually type the information into an Excel spreadsheet.
Ideally, we could scan the business cards and then transfer the digital image files over the internet. A medical transcription-like company could process each card and return a simple spreadsheet of contacts. Can you think of a better way to do this?
Does a specialized company exist yet to perform this task?
I haven't blogged in a while because I have been out of town. I went up to Chester and to some places around London to make a few friendly business calls.
One of the meetings had catered salmon sandwiches.
In Chester (near Manchester), I had breakfast at a Subway restaurant. Who knew Subway made breakfast? Before you judge me, let me say this - it was pretty good. And I had wheat bread.
My taxi driver in Chester asked me why Americans always tip at restaurants. The taxi driver went to New York ten years ago and he found the idea of tipping at a bar even funnier.
But Mark's cute Swedish roommate said that she loves when Americans come into her restaurant, because they always leave a tip. And hardly anybody else does that. So not everybody hates us!
There are three free newspapers in London right now - London Lite, Metro, and The London Paper. There are HUNDREDS of promoters on the streets offering to shove a free newspaper in your face near every tube stop. Most of these free papers are filled with old news and celebrity gossip, so I have not read them. But you can't beat the price.
The Guardian and The Evening Standard seem to be good London papers.
While watching TV at Mark's place in London last night, I noticed that the Chanel No. 5 commercial with Nicole Kidman is pretty hot.
Basic cable TV in London is only five channels.
I found an amazing snack at the grocery - Mattessons Chicken Bites. They are "ready-to-eat Tikka Flavour" bites of 100% chicken breast. I ate the whole pack on the train back from Chester. Very healthy and very nutritious. I hope these come to the states.
When I first started exploring London (like the West End and the Covent Garden area), I had a hard time finding bathrooms and trash cans.
But now I know that there are never any trash cans in the tube stations, and there is always a bathroom in a McDonald's or a Starbucks or in a museum.
I walked around the famous British Museum for most of the afternoon today. It was great and the Egypt section was the best. The modern art prints from North Korea and Japan were cool, too.
Tomorrow Mark and I are going to try to go to the Tower of London to see the Crown Jewels and the Beefeaters tour.
I have been going to the grocery store at least twice per day. They sell milk in these little pint-sized bottles, or 1-Liter and 2-Liter jugs. And small portions of sliced meat make a good lunch meal.
I finally got to go to a gym today. It only cost me $15. The other gym wanted me to take an introduction class ($35 fee) and then pay a $10 day fare.
There are CCTV cameras everywhere. It doesn't bother me, just interesting. They even had security cameras all over the gym.
We saw Avenue Q in the theater on Tuesday night. I had never seen it before (missed in NYC in 2004). Good show and good songs.
I think this is the most walking that I have ever done in a big city. I am very comfortable with the tube now, but I still end up walking a whole lot. Having a bike in Amsterdam really spoiled me.
So now I am staying in London with my friend Mark in the neighborhood of Willesden Green. This is on the North end of the gray Jubilee line.
The house is not very close to any of the major tourist sights on my list. We have used several different methods of transportation to get around-
Underground (tube, American subway)
Train (overland train, silverlink)
Bus (double decker extreme)
Walking, a whole lot
Today we went to Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park. It definitely lived up to my expectations. We saw about a half-dozen men standing on a box or a step ladder. They argue a message in the corner of the park on Sunday mornings. The best speaker had a trio of hecklers who were quite comical. Mark and I enjoyed the conversation for about twenty minutes.
Next, we walked a good distance to Buckingham Palace. Then some more walking to the Parliament Building and the famous Clock Tower. This is a sincerely nice building. I believe they call it neo-gothic. I liked all of the straight lines. It was very inspiring. And we heard Big Ben.
More walking (with a sandwich stop and a Starbucks visit - tall coffee was L1.60) until we reached the Tate Modern museum. Here are some of my favorite pieces of art that I saw today:
Richard Hamilton's Interior II
Theo Van Doesburg's Counter Composition VI
Sol Levitt's Six Geometric Figures chalked-line-room installation
Especially... Dan Flavin's fluorescent light pieces
And some more paintings. I was more interested in the art at this museum than I was in a majority of the art at the Reijksmuseum (sp?).
Now Mark is cooking dinner, and I am planning out a quick business trip for tomorrow morning.
I rented a bike here. It is a lot of fun. The traffic is very different from New York City or even Mumbai. There are trams on the roads, and cars, but mostly bikes. Lots and lots of bikes. I am very proud of myself for navigating the city with some memory and direction.
I stayed in a hostel (Flying Pig Uptown) on the first night, and then in a little hotel last night. The hostel was nice because I made lots of friends, but the sleeping was lousy. My hotel reminded me of a cruise ship - it was small and tall.
I have gone to the grocery store twice and to a restaurant zero times. But I have gone into the famous coffee shops several times because their bathrooms are always available. It is hard to walk down a busy street at night and not smell pot every two minutes.
I did an audio walking tour of the Red Light District last night on a little portable MP3 player that I borrowed. That was neat and it wasn't really shady or gross. But I didn't linger.
I spent most all of yesterday riding my bike and hanging out at the NEMO Science Museum for Children. It was really fun.
Today I am going to an art museum, and then flying to London at 4:30pm.