“Shoe and boot repairs…how quaint!” That was my first thought upon seeing the many shops scattered around London advertising their footwear-fixing specials. In this throwaway day and age, I figured Londoners would be more inclined to just buy a new pair of shoes than bother to repair the old ones. However, when I noticed that the heels of my boots looked like I had held them against a grindstone for a solid five minutes after barely three weeks in the city, I realized the practicality of these repair shops. When you live in London, you’re bound to do a lot of walking. And with a quality pair of boots costing 60 pounds or more here (translated: $100), not everyone can manage to spring for a new set of kicks every few weeks.
I love the fact that London is so walkable. I’ve done more walking in the month that I’ve been here than I do in five months back home. Not only is travelling by foot good exercise, it’s also the best way to see the city. However, I’ve learned that there’s one important rule for a successful foot journey: figure out how long it will take to get to your destination before you leave. Then double it.
Most of your extra time will result from just trying to decide which side of the sidewalk to walk on. As if they weren’t being original enough by calling the bathroom the “loo” and making fish and chips the unofficial national meal, Brits also decided to drive on the opposite side of the road as the rest of the world. Although this may seem irrational, at least it’s consistent. Not so with walking, however. You might think they would also stay to the left on the sidewalk. I assumed so and found myself playing chicken with quite a few fellow pedestrians. There’s nothing worse than that awkward moment when two oncoming walkers both veer to the same side and end up in an unexpected dance of sorts as they shuffle past one another. With so many people in London, it’s sure to happen at least once during your walk.
Then you’ll need to allow time for pit stops. Speaking of the loo, I once made the mistake of popping into a store to use one. When the department stores are four stories tall and the bathroom just happens to be on the top floor, there’s no such thing as a “quick” detour. You’ll probably end up browsing through the aisles on the way back down. And after all that shopping, it’ll be time for a coffee break, so there goes another half an hour at a café.
All this is assuming you know exactly how to get where you’re going. But in an unfamiliar city, especially a city as big as London, let’s face it: you won’t. If you’re directionally challenged like me, you’ll find yourself wandering through a construction zone in an area not even on the map … but that’s a story for another time. Considering all of these factors, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s better not to be going anywhere in particular at all, but just to walk with the intention of exploring. An astute friend once told me that the best part of travelling is getting lost. In a city where you can be strolling past a Princess Diana memorial fountain in Hyde Park one minute and stumble upon Buckingham Palace the next, the walk is usually better than the destination anyway. London’s like that.