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The Many Miles

By Miles Bett, Columnist

There is nothing quite so thrilling as finding yourself standing high up in the air, a crisp wind whipping around you as you gaze down on a new city never before seen from this perspective. From this height London looks, with its sprawling grey mass of ancient domes and spires and its murky brown river snaking lazily through the heart of the city, every bit as impressive and old as you are led to believe. From the top of Saint Paul's Cathedral you can make out the London Eye, its huge white wheel peeking out over the top of some new office building. You can see the Houses of Parliament hiding behind a new tower everyone is calling the Glass Shard, soon to be the tallest building in Europe.

London is the perfect blend of modern metropolis and ancient city. It has tall glass towers peering down at pubs five or six hundred years old. It has traffic lights and buses on streets paved in cobbled stones. It is every bit the city you are told it is, but like every city, it does have its problems. Besides the riots earlier this summer, which everyone here is still up in arms about, and rightly so, London will be hosting 2012 Summer Olympics.

This has led to a complete froth of confusion on how to best handle the world's attention shifting to London for a month. To those in charge this means digging up every road, attacking every statue and stone building with a brush and generally sowing chaos and confusion throughout.

As you can guess from above, there are a thousand and one things that I would love to see while I am here. I have succeeded in a very small portion of that desire, but it has been an ordeal. The reason I have not been more successful, besides expense, is travel. Take Long Island and Manhattan for example. They are fantastic in terms of public transport. You can't step ten feet without getting hit by a bus, train or taxi in Manhattan, and Long Island is only slightly less helpful.

As you could expect London is on par with Manhattan, with more buses than you can shake a stick at and a tube (that's what the undergroud is called here) that can get you anywhere you could ever want to go in about 20 minutes. That is, of course, when it is working.

With the Olympics now just a year away, every weekend, half if not all the tube is shut down. Mind you, it doesn't run 24/7 like Manhattan's, so even when it does work it isn't the ubiquitous savior of a drunken night like it is in NYC. Now you might be asking yourself, if the tube doesn't work why not take one of those world famous double-decker buses that are on all of the postcards. The answer to that query is also availability. While the buses are running, the roads aren't. London, being old and new has some less than pristine piping that can't handle the expected increase in visitors next summer.

With cranes in every view, half the statues covered in scaffolding and those beautiful cobbled streets just piles of dirt and piping, London is having a hard time living up to its reputation when not standing several hundred feet up. It seems truer now than ever that this city, at least, is better viewed high up and away from the maelstrom that has become its streets.

And though London is every bit as much as I'd hoped it would be, and I find myself falling in love with it more and more, I also I find myself being told time and time again "aww mate, you shoulda come next year, London's crap now."


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