Travel Journal March 8, 1999
Shopping, and reflections on the Tube.

London, cont.

I decided to make today a shopping day. First I went to Harrod's department store, and discovered I was in fact wrong...Harrod's is not the local equialent of Macy's. Oh, they carry roughly the same type of items, but Harrod's possesses such a level of posh luxury that it makes Macy's look like K-mart. (At least to my eye...although I'm told that the Macy's in New York can hold it's own in this department. I've only seen the one in San Francisco.)

Next, I went to Oxford Circus. I wanted to see if I could buy one of those cool-looking cashmere wool overcoats that all the Londoners seem to wear. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find one that could actually fit my lanky frame, and I don't have the time or budget for custom tailoring.

Next on my list was to get connected to the net, for real this time.

Cyberia is an internet cafe located just behind the Goodge St. Station. They were very friendly and helpful, and allowed me to hook up my laptop to their T1 line for the same prices as they normally charge for using one of their terminals, which is to say £3 for 30 min. They gave me an IP address, and other info (DNS, etc.) and I had no problem hooking up. You can also check out their web site.

Here's a pub just down the street from Cyberia, which I believe is called the Hope. The proprierter was a young fellow, who offered to let me use his connection at home if I had any problems with the Cyberia folk.

Here's a picture of Victoria Station.

Not too many pictures today. Mainly this was because I'd grown weary of making all of the thumbnails. (Fortunately, I've now got a script which generates them; The thumbnails on this and subsequent pages are using this method. The script is just a perl script which calls some of the standard command line image-manipulation tools (cjpeg, djpeg, pnmscale, etc.)

I spent a lot of time on the tube today. I am amazed at how efficient this system is. For example, I was able to go from my apartment in South Kensington, to Leicester Square (that's pronounced "lester") in just 22 minutes. That includes the 5 minute walk from my apartment to the tube station, and the one minute walk from the tube station to the square. I've spent longer than that simply waiting at a bus stop in San Francisco. (Those two stations have 5 stations between them, for a distance I would guess of about 2 to 3 miles.)

There are a number of critical differences between the mass transit infrastructure in San Francisco, and the one in London. SF has a single BART line running through it, although it has numerous trolley lines and bus routes. London has over a dozen underground lines running through the city, supported by an above-ground network of buses. In SF, the BART trains and MUNI buses run at approximately 10 minute intervals (if they're not late, which is common). The London tube appears to run at intervals of approximately 45 seconds! (This of course may be peak rates - but the longest I've ever had to wait for a train was well under 2 minutes).

But what's really mind-boggling is that they are spending millions of pounds to upgrade the system even further! Quite a few stations had major construction projects going on, and yet the service seemed to be unaffected.

Given that parking in London costs approximately £30 a day, according to one local, you would have to be absolutely mad to drive a car in this city.

Having experienced what a first-class mass-transit system is really like, it seems to me to be a desirable thing. Maybe if I new how much it actually cost (and how much of that was coming out of my pocket) I might feel differently; But I personally have found the feeling of freedom of owning a car and being able to travel wherever I want, any time I want, is somewhat diminished by the need to deal with registration, smog checks, licenses, insurance, maintenance, fuel, etc. There have been several long periods in which I did not own a car, and there's a certain sense of freedom in that as well.

But unfortunately, mass transit one of those things that everybody has to agree on (or at least a majority) before it can be built. It's not like automobiles, where each individual can apply their own resources to solving their own individual problems. It doesn't really help a single individual to spend, oh, $10K on a mass transit system, unless a lot of other people also do so.

This means that as a political issue, mass transit is like a prisoner's dilemma. If we all cooperate, then we all win; But if it's "every man for himself", then those who strike out on their own can perhaps (depending on their level of available resources) find a local maxima which is perhaps sufficient for their needs. Which brings us to the whole notion of government (i.e. enforced cooperation), socialism vs. capitalism, etc. I don't want to go into that now, but it would make an interesting essay.

Is it just my imagination, or does it seem like there more foreigners in London than natives? Everywhere I go I hear French, German, American accents; this includes riding on the tube, not just touristy spots. And I've seen more Japanese women in tan-colored overcoats than I can count.

Later that evening I had dinner at a pub just down the road called the Bram Stoker. Nice "creepy" atmosphere, and the bartender was friendly enough. But the fish and chips I had was fried to the point of inedibility; all I could taste was not-quite-burned batter. Then I went to another pub called Kavanaugh's, and sat at a table with my laptop working on my journal. I tried a half-pint of Guinness, just to see what it was like. (Those of you who know me know that I'm basically a non-drinker. There are a variety of reasons for that, but the primary one is that I absolutely loathe and detest the taste of ethanol - to me, it tastes like some sort of industrial solvent. The finest wines taste like flavored paint thinner.) Unfortunately, because of this the drink didn't taste any better than any other I've tried, although I could tell that if you could remove the ethanol, I probably would like it -- it tasted kind of "crunchy".