Tag Archives: tourism
I’m standing inside a room, if you can even call it that. It measures maybe two by three metres. My shoulders are hunched, my head lowered, and I’m listening to the house owner tell me how an entire, extended family used to live in this room.
Just a few days earlier I was gliding along the canals of Amersfoort, onboard a boat, huddled on wooden benches with my aunt, uncle and a handful of strangers. A burst of budding leaves and flowering trees lined the waterways as the sun shone down on cobbled walkways and historic buildings.
I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day to explore this ancient Dutch city.
Listening to the tour guide, I tried to pick out words but often referred to the English cheat sheet, noting dates that aged Amersfoort back to the late 1200s.
The western boat route took us by houses built into the first city walls and provided glimpses of Onze Lieve Vrouwetoren, a 98m high tower that not only provides a visual reference point within the city but houses the middle point of the Dutch grid reference system. We slipped under bridges and floated alongside water gates and the birthplace of the famous Dutch painter, Piet Mondrian.
Drinking in the age of this little city, it was apparent that she had been well looked after. Despite her years, she was neatly presented, breathing out secrets of a long, knowing life.
Now, some days later I find myself as a guest inside the tall windowed grandeur of one of Amersfoort’s oldest houses, peeking in through secret doors and into the more recent history of the Second World War. A Jewish family hid away inside this little, little room.
It’s this kind of history, the human component, which really resonates with me. I stay for a short while, hunched and imagining how one lives a confined life, and a life full of fear.
And then the owner pulls away some wood to reveal a tiny window with views directly over to the synagogue. There, within those views, I realise, must have lain some comfort.
Over 30 million tourists visit London every year. 30 million. That’s nearly half the UK population (and doesn’t even take in to account the residents). One city with so many people? Somehow it works.
As a Brit, I’ve had a bit of a love/hate relationship with the city, and after brief breaks to the place I’ve always been happy to retreat back to ‘normal’ England. Now, though, I was seeing it through tour guide eyes, showing D-man around and trying to pack in as much as possible within a short amount of time.
So here is a list of what you could do in a day. More realistically, you will probably want to spread the activities out over a couple of days. I’ve not even included museums or galleries, gardens or markets or shops. The Science Museum, Tate Modern, Kew Gardens, Brick Lane, and more and more and more. So much more. Ah, another time, another list.
For now though, let’s run with this very standard tourist list of things to get the London experience started:
1. Start your day by swinging by some famous streets, sights and places
2. Squish in amongst the crowds to watch the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace
3. Boat trip down the River Thames
4. Watch the sun set over the city from high on board the London Eye
5. Wind down in one of London’s many theatres
And then you could finish the day and party on until daybreak at Fabric or one of London’s many clubs or squat parties. We didn’t. Wiped out from a day of flights and now a day in London, D-man, me and my mum headed back to our comfy airbnb find.
My guess is that at the end of the day you too will be tired. Your feet will hurt. You may decide that you don’t like the shuffling crowds, that this city of 8 million people and hoards of tourists is too chaotic and the depths of London’s underground belly too claustrophobic. You may groan about high prices, about sold out shows, about the fact that this city doesn’t seem to sleep.
But stop. Take a breath. You can’t really deny that London is a bold, beautiful city, alive with diversity and culture, can you?
The New York Times lists Singapore as one of the must-go places of 2013, and so, as a lover of lists, I ensured that I found time to drop in and explore the ‘densely populated city-state’ that is gaining recognition for its green credentials and leading the way in vertical farming.
Only I had about, oh, forty minutes to explore the place. What snapshots could I get of this city country?
We were arriving in from the south-east, up from Australia and my legs were starting to swell after eight hours of inactivity. I circled my feet as I looked down over a palm-fringed coastline and a port dotted in big boat traffic.
Singapore. A place that sounded exciting and progressive and buzzy, yet somewhat terrifying to someone like me who craves space and openness and a calm retreat.
The airport (and this was all the ground level, stopover sightseeing that I was going to get) had a retro-futuro ambience and an east-west blend of facilities.
A well-fed, moustached businessman – some airport official – whizzed by me on a segway, into the belly of a grey-brown-orange colour palette. I skirted the sci-fi appeal of the travelators and got my legs marching, all the way to the toilets, where I joined a queue and waited in line for the seat toilets whilst others queue jumped to the squats.
I wondered why I made the decision to wait. Familiarity? Previous travels in Asia and South America meant I was fully okay with whatever facilities were on offer, and who sits on public toilet seats in any case? ‘Maybe if I was really desperate’, a middle-aged women said to her friend, and they giggled but stood firmly in line.
Ducking out of the way of a speeding buggy loaded up with suited types, I did another lap of the travelators, watched a film star from the 2005 indie hit movie, Waiting, get accosted by two fans, and went through an oh-so-stern-and-somewhat-confusing security scan. I counted down my last Singapore seconds to the soundtrack of an MTV assault.
There hadn’t been enough time to get out of the airport confines and touch and feel the ‘high-rise buildings, landscaped gardens and heritage-rich precincts’, and I didn’t get to experience the ‘harmonious blend of culture, cuisine, arts and architecture’ of Singapore. But whilst I was pretty damn disappointed with what I’d seen of the place (it was just, well, an airport, much like other airports) I was one journey step closer to London.
London, where I anticipated everything would run smoothly: flight landing on time, bags arriving – intact – after three country transfers, my mum waiting with an armful of cuddles.
Ah, if only.