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Visitors feel young in old London

David Hartung
The London Eye is a giant Ferris wheel that sits along the banks of the River Thames. Once inside one of glass pods, riders are treated to a view of London for miles in all directions.
David Hartung From St. James's Park, visitors can look across the water fountain to other iconic parts of London, such as the Horse Guards and White Hall buildings that rise up near the 57-acre park in central London.
David Hartung Kings and queens have been crowned inside Westminster Abbey during its hundreds of years of history, but commoners can visit and also attend weekly church services.
David Hartung This year, The Shard took its place as the tallest completed building in Europe. Seen from the banks of the Thames, the building's exterior is made entirely of glass.

LONDON -- I am not fooling myself about my age, but I think I can still recognize young people having fun.

In my day, the song "London Swings Like a Pendulum Do" was popular, and we were always enthralled by the land that gave us the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

I know life is harder for young people in London now. While we were visiting in June, our favorite paper, The Guardian, pointed out that the prime minister's plans for belt tightening will hurt young people under 25 terribly.

But I can report that the young can still find fun in London.

The last Friday night of every month is Bike Night in London. We happened upon a happy group of young people, all astride their bicycles around the fountain in front of Buckingham Palace. We heard them before we saw them. The music was blasting so loud we thought it might have been a live band.

I joked to my husband that I hoped the youngsters were not keeping Her Majesty awake.

As we got closer, we realized they were listening to a boom box of sorts that they had set up on the fountain. It just so happened that the moon was golden and full, and as we stood near the fountain we could see Big Ben in a burnished glow and on the other side of the fountain we could see the London Eye light up for the night.

What a beautiful night to be young and on a bike! All of the young people were happy to talk to two old, seemingly harmless Americans. They explained that those who love to bike get together and bike around town every final Friday of the month.

After one young woman realized we were on two feet, she said she hoped that the next time we came we would bring our own bikes "or get a Boris bike!"

London's bigger-than-life mayor, Boris Johnson, initiated a wonder plan to plant banks of bikes all over the town. The bikes are actually provided by the folks at Barclay's Bank, but everyone refers to them by another name that starts with a "B." Johnson is himself a fun guy. If you watched any of the Olympic coverage from London, you saw Boris. You also might have seen footage of him dangling from a zip line. Boris is as much fun as his city.

His idea for the bikes is great, and I hope more cities copy the idea. You can put a card into a bike station, and this act gives you permission to unlock one of the bikes and ride them for free for the first half-hour. When finished, you can leave your bike at any location.

We stayed with the young folks around the fountain, talking and listening for a while. Then one of the company gave the order: Move out! The bikes dispersed into the night. We were still in the process of walking home, so we encountered them at other points. At one point near St. James's Park, a young man came biking by, pulling a large sound system behind him. He was blasting Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun." About a dozen young women were biking in his wake.

Yes, I am old, but this is what I would call fun!

The young and the restless can always find fun in Camden Town, another section of London, not far from the zoo. We first discovered Camden Town last year and were wandering around with no realization that singer Amy Winehouse had just died in her nearby flat.

We entered Camden Town the first time by walking along the canal. This is a beautiful way to approach this eclectic part of London, or you can take the Tube. If you walk around the canal, you will see some boats that people have decorated and live in. Then you will soon see what looks like a pirate's castle. The building's exterior has that crenellated look.

Then soon the area will open out into one of the most amazing collections of food from all over the world, even Peru. The smells are amazing. Many of the vendors also offer free samples. At least a dozen people cook and prepare food in this area of Camden Town. You can eat to your heart's content there.

My husband enjoyed following up his kebabs, cooked by a Turkish vendor, with a tall, cold one from the nearby Ice Warehouse, a huge bar and restaurant complex.

Around the food vendors, you can find dozens of shops for books, handmade jewelry, paintings, artworks and tattoo parlors. Camden Town is ground zero for tattoo parlors. If you are young, you will also want to come here to shop for clothes. This is where you can find hundreds of short, tight, glittery outfits and countless T-shirts.

London has a long, charmed history of influencing fashion and music, and my brief observations tell me those two influences are still alive and well.

A trip to London always includes looking up at Big Ben and walking by Parliament. It is well worthwhile to make this same walk at time along the Thames.

London is an extremely safe city, and I never fear walking there.

If you are walking along the Thames at night, you get wonderful views of the traditional landmarks, like Big Ben, but those views are doubled with their reflections in the water. There are great strings of light along the Thames too. Boats glide by, adding their special charms, and the London Eye puts on a great nighttime show.

The London Eye looks like a giant bicycle wheel, and it holds glass pods at each spoke point. The ride inside these pods provides great views of the city. At night, the Eye is lit up like a carnival ride. If you were watching the Olympics, you probably caught a few glimpses of the London Eye, Big Ben and other icons of this wonderful city.

Lights, music, food, fashion and fun. London swings!

Reach Susan Williams at susanwilliams@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5112.


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