During our visit to London we stayed in the Covent Gardens area just off the Strand. It was a good location, and the Strand is a convenient avenue for getting around town. It runs from Trafalgar Square and meanders, roughly parallel to the Thames, up to the Tower of London. Of course, it being London, where roads were named centuries ago for reasons like the location of a tanning shop or a desire to use funny words like “Tooting” or “Barking,” the street isn’t called the Strand for all of that distance. It changes into Fleet Street and who knows what else, even though it’s basically the same thoroughfare.
It also presents a good example of one of the best things about London. You can be tooling along, following your map, when you turn a corner and suddenly see a view like this one of St. Paul’s Cathedral and its colossal dome.
I like walking around big cities, and London is no exception. You see a lot more when you are walking through neighborhoods and past buildings than you ever could from a cab window or, obviously, an underground train.
But, if you are going to walk in a world city like London, you need to work on your walking reflexes so that you can be part of the humming, delicate ballet that is a busy street scene in a huge metropolitan area. That means figuring out how to maneuver at a good pace without ending up jammed behind the elderly couple strolling casually down the block as the rest of the pedestrians flow effortlessly by in a constant stream while you are stuck in the senior citizen backwater.
If you’ve lived in a big city in recent years, you’ve probably got those essential metropolitan walking reflexes. It’s like being a fighter pilot or a NASCAR driver. You need to calculate speeds, and courses, and probabilities as you move along. Are the obvious tourists with the rollerbag up ahead going to stop at any moment to snap a picture? With people moving in three different directions, is there going to be a gap where you could realistically squeeze through as you strive to keep up the pace? And, above all, is there any oblivious texter approaching who is likely to stumble directly into your path?
I like Columbus, but walking its downtown streets simply doesn’t prepare you for the hustle and bustle of cities like London or New York.