I spent a week in the UK and returned a few days ago. I got to travel around a bit and see London, Cambridge, and Oxford. It was a lovely trip and I had a wonderful time, ignoring the incredibly high cost of everything in Europe. London is a crowded city which reminded me of some areas of New York City but much older. It was nice to see so many old structures throughout the country and not fear what would happen to them in the case of an earthquake. Earthquakes are not a big threat to England and you can see many old (as old as about 600-800 years) structures everywhere.
The architecture was breathtaking in many areas. I can say confidently that Cambridge is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to. While walking in narrow streets with old buildings, restaurants, and coffee shops you might see a door open to something that looks like a regular building. But once you look through the opened door, you see a beautiful garden behind the wall and a huge castle-like structure far away, all hidden when you walk through these lovely streets. Another amazing part of this trip was the opportunity to dine at one of the colleges in Cambridge with the department of engineering. Harry Potter is real in Cambridge and Oxford. They have kept most of the traditions alive, dining in gowns, a drum to start, words in Latin by the master to start the feast, professors sitting higher than the students, it’s all real.
Cambridge, UK — Photo courtesy of bugbog.com
Transportation was extremely efficient and convenient in the UK. Metro tubes connect all parts of the city and trains and take you from London to other places easily. I noticed one interesting difference between London tubes and underground facilities here in the US (at least those that I have walked through): there is not much effort in London to make it easier for people with disabilities, the elders, or people with luggage to travel around. There are not that many escalators and elevators in the subway stations. In fact I only discovered one in this trip, which was a huge relief with the heavy luggage that I was carrying by myself. I asked a man who worked at one of the stations if I could contact someone in charge to improve their system. He told me: “Lady… it is the survival of the fittest in this country!” I think that’s true to some extent, though it is an extreme way of putting it. I saw many people struggle with their canes and suitcases in the narrow old stairways of stations. This is not something you would expect to see in a highly developed country.
While struggling with my luggage though, I noticed something familiar happening around me. People smiled patiently giving me time to move and a few volunteered to help. This happened at least 8 or 10 times during this trip. When seeing me and others trying to lift our suitcases, a random gentleman would immediately come to our help, without asking a word he would lift our suitcases one by one to the top of the stairs and would leave before I get to thank him for saving my back. I hope this culture of helping doesn’t die away. Young boys or girls rarely get up to give their seats to an elderly or a pregnant women. This has become a common scene everywhere. They are listening to loud music, no respect for their surrounding, no interest to be a part of the energy rapidly traveling under the ground. I wish parents spent more time reminding their children (particularly teenagers) of how much they miss by isolating themselves from this energy, of how important it is to be aware of who needs help around them and to sacrifice their comfort to make it easier on someone who needs it the most.
I am now back in my beloved Berkeley. Life is normal again and same routine continues. I feel at home here but I badly miss having a cup of tea (British style) with an old professor at Cambridge who told me many stories of his meeting with a king. I miss waking up and going downstairs to have English breakfast with scrambled eggs, bacon, and sausage on the side when a lady with a smile and a lovely accent would ask: “tea or coffee madam?”