Sunday, July 20, 2008

The City

Sunday, July 20, 2008
My first morning in England:

After a full English breakfast that Charles Dickens would have most definitely loved: "bangers" or pork sausages, stewed tomatoes, baked beans, toast with marmalade and a fried egg, we headed to the Underground or "tube" for the 45 minute ride from the airport into Central London. Note: Mr. Reimer was adventurous enough to try the crispy black pudding or blood sausage, but I smartly declined it.

We found our hotel between Green Park and Piccadilly Circus without too much trouble and checked in. It is lovely and charming and brilliant or some such British-sounding phrase!

After being here only a short while, two things are immediately apparent: this is a VERY densely populated city and its populous is extremely diverse. It was striking how many languages we heard in just a few hours, traveling from the airport to our first hotel and then into central London. I've been in many big cities throughout the world and the only other place that even comes close to having this much diversity is Manhattan. No doubt it was much this way in the 1800's when the Industrial Revolution was driving people from all over Europe into the cities, and so even though I am visiting 138 years after Charles Dickens died, I feel as though I am experiencing some of the things he must have experienced, or at least getting a feel for them. More facts about the population of London in the mid 1800's can be found at the London Census website.

To strengthen my point, let me quote from the book The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson: "By 1851 the subdistrict of Berwick Street on the west side of Soho (a neighborhood in central London) was the most densely populated of all 135 subdistricts that made up Greater London, with 432 people to the acre. (Even with its sky-scrapers, Manhattan today only houses around 100 per acre.) "

Although the central city, or downtown area, is much less populated now than it was in 1851, the tourists and business people make it seem jam-packed on most days! Walking anywhere is a bit of a challenge. Exiting a tube station is extremely difficult.