31 July 2002:
London, a cultural pot
26 July, I got on the Rotterdam-London train. At last, time had come for me to
visit the famous capital of the Britons. I spent the whole five-hour trip –
leaving the Netherlands, going past Belgium and crossing the English Channel –
wondering what was waiting for me in this European metropolis.
The journey across the Channel Tunnel takes about 40
minutes; the darkness and monotony of this part of trip only got me more anxious
at getting off the train and setting foot in Britain. Gradually, the country
started showing up in a mix of bucolic landscape, well-maintained roads, farms
made up of green squarely traced fields, golf courses and handsome two-storey
houses. I assumed that the true English spirit must be there, in the countryside,
and that I certainly would not find it in London.
the biggest European city and one of the most important in the world along with
New York, Tokyo, Moscow, Paris and others. Whether in the old design of its
buildings, in the vanguard of its youngsters or in the procession of limos,
London is a true cosmopolitan city, and also a bit controversial. It combines
the stylish lord and the modern punk teenager, not to say the scandal-prone
elegance of the Royal Family. That is what makes London unlikely to forget.
Every day, Immigrants, tourists and citizens of this 8-million-people
city fill the streets, and some of them come from the most distant corners of
the world. Londoners are a hospitable people, already used to the hundreds of
tourists that storm into the city, especially in Summer time. London is not the
most suitable place to go if you want to experience the typical British culture.
Leaving the city behind, you can find the typical Englishmen. However, in London,
there are so many foreigners that they might amount to the same number of
nightlife is lively and intense. As traditional as the delicious English tea,
London’s night pubs feature their pints, large glasses of beer. The pubs close
their doors early, at 11 p.m., when it is time to go to the discos or, who knows,
to the raves, huge parties that will not get finished until the break of dawn.
Soho is the right place to look for pubs and clubs. Whether in a pub or at a
rave, London’s nightlife is always some real adventure.
The Beatles – and the
vanguard that influenced generations – come to everyone’s minds when England
is mentioned. Besides these rock revolutionaries, there are also the Rolling
Stones, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and David Bowie, all of them English. This is
only the beginning of the cultural life that has been making London so lively
for such a long time.
I have always pictured London as a British-style city,
sophisticated and elegant. I’ve never thought that I would find such a busy
and multicultural place that features all the problems common to other big
cities: too many people, pollution, traffic jams. The traffic could not be other
than crazy with so many buses, cars and pedestrians. Yet, people are polite and
stop for the pedestrians to cross the streets. The crime rate is also curious.
London is a safe city to live in.
Kingdom and European Union
As a whole, the relationship between England and the
rest of Europe is still a little complicated. In spite of being part of the
European Union, the United Kingdom has not yet joined the new European currency,
the Euro. This is due to its strong currency, the pound, worth around US$ 1.57,
1.59 euros and R$ 5.18. That is why London is so pricey for Brazilians... In
addiction, the city has great influence on the world financial markets. London’s
Stock Exchange is strong and rivals with the ones from New York, Tokyo and
Frankfurt. Besides having not joined the Euro Zone, the United Kingdom hasn’t
signed the Schengen Treaty, which allows citizens of some countries, including
Brazil, to enter the European Union countries with no need for a tourist visa
and to stay in any country within the area for as long as three months. In
England, Brazilians need a permit they can earn when they arrive at the country
and, after that, they can stay in the country for six months.
at what time you arrive in London, you’ll always find a hotel with its doors
open, besides cabs, buses and a real crowd at the streets, especially during the
European Summer. That is because the most important brands can be found in the
British capital, the best cars fill the streets, there are concerts and events
for all tastes, and a lot of museums, palaces and the pompous British Royalty.
Who would not like to visit such a city?
hundreds of things to do in London. You can stay there for a whole year and you’ll
always find a new play to enjoy, a music concert or event to attend. There are
also several tourist spots. As for the most traditional ones, you can already
imagine what it feels like to be in front of the Big Ben and then visit the
Royal Family Palace to watch the guard mounting.
that Big Ben is a bell, and not a clock. It’s the biggest bell (15.3 ton) in
the Clock Tower. The Clock Tower and the Big Ben are part of the Houses of
Parliament, where the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and his peers work.
The design is beautiful, in medieval style, with gothic and renaissance traces,
dating back to the 19th century. Seen during the day or at night, by
the Thames River, this building portraits the British power and sophistication.
Very close to the Big Ben, there is the Westminster Abbey. Dating back from the
11th century, this pretty abbey is one of the most important of the
kind in London. Since 1066, the Royal Family crownings have been taking place
there, and it was at the Westminster Abbey that Princess Diana was mourned.
If you walk
a little farther, you will get to the official home of the Royal Family,
Buckingham Palace. It is possible to get in there as a visitor. Every day,
hundreds of tourists gather in front of the Palace at 11:30 a.m. to watch the
guard mounting. The pompous ceremony takes about 40 minutes, featuring even a
Tower is another of the city’s hallmarks. Built in the 19th century, this
large bridge over the Thames is a piece of amusement due to its shape and
because it is supported by two towers. Its Victorian style also makes up a very
pretty portal of the city. At a short walk distance there stands the Tower of
London, which has existed for almost a millennium. This tower, full of history,
has already been a fortress, a castle and a prison, and whoever visits the city
with time to spend can enjoy a very nice walk inside the tower and see
reconstitutions from the Middle Age. A little beyond, you will find St. Paul’s
Cathedral, which has the second largest abbey in the world – the largest is St.
Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. The church was first built in 1604, went
through fires and reforms, and got its final shape in 1710. It was the place of
important moments in British history, such as the funeral of Winston Churchill,
in 1965, and the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, in 1981.
dozens of museums in London, and some of them are free-entry. The Imperial War
Museum provides a good arsenal of weapons and collection of war history –
British and international wars. It is possible to watch movies and visit
reconstitutions of trenches. Other interesting museums are the National Gallery,
featuring art exhibitions; British Museum, of antiquities; Museum of London,
with the city’s history; and, of course, Madame Tussaud’s, featuring the
world famous sculpted in wax.
past Piccadilly Circus, a corner full of billboards in neon (and one of most
expensive spots to advertise in Britain), you’ll reach Oxford Street, the
shopping street, where the best shops are. As for the price, one cannot be
enthusiastic... London is one of the five most expensive cities in the world. If
you go to London and do not want to spend, give it up. London is a city to spend,
in good brands, restaurants, concerts and plays. London’s atmosphere leads to
consumption, with a lot of products on sale and beautiful shop windows. The
million-dollar cars and the limos are everywhere.
Very close to Oxford Street you will find Hyde Park. In the Summer, just as at this time, it is common for people to go to the parks to enjoy the sun and, as in the rest of Europe, have a picnic. On Sunday, when I was walking nearby, I heard the sound of live music. It was a concert by the rock band The Cure, famous in the 80’s. This is London, always something going on.
- Big Ben: 1
- Westminter Abbey: 1
Running the opposite way
inverse traffic makes the city a little amusing, as if everything were running
the opposite way. London is so unique that its most crowded streets have “Look
left/right” signs painted on the ground so as for the visitor to pay attention
and don’t look to the wrong side, what might cause an accident. The
traditional two-storey buses illustrate in a peculiar side of the urban
landscape in London; it is amusing to travel by bus on the upper floor, watching
the busy streets. London’s cabs are another fanciful thing in the city, still
in an old English style, very much used as media. I got really surprised when I
saw a blue taxi with a sign in yellow that that read: “If travelling is your
passion, Brazil is your destiny.” Rather elegant, Brazilian unique propaganda
on a real London cab.
You can easily spot Brazilians in London. At the supermarket, at the streets or at the information desk, somebody speaking Portuguese is never difficult to find. Of course, you will also find Italians, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese... so, a lot of foreigners. In London, one sees all kind of people, clothes and styles. Thus, it is also a city that lacks identity, a place where everything is mixed, and the cultures cross over. London is confusing, but unique: informal and aristocratic at the same time, resembling the old and the modern. It used to be the metropolis of the British Empire (where the sun never set down anywhere on Earth) and that continues to be a metropolis with new strength in this new century. It makes up a mosaic of many identities and countries, and, due to that, a true cultural pot.
leaving, there lingers the feeling you’ve yet got a lot to explore in this
city that is centuries old, but contemporary at the same time. This is London,
the great English and European metropolis: both popular and aristocratic,
surprising in its enormous capacity of influence and act on political,
economical and financial issues.
Translated by Traduzca