Spring in London

For some reason, spring arrives earlier in London than in cities of continental Europe. Flowers are blooming earlier, trees are getting greener earlier, the grass... well, the grass is always green in these shores.

There are always good excuses to visit London. If it is not for shopping goods brought from unheard places or from as close as Scotland, it is to visit some of its many great museums which, although not many tourists are aware, are free of charge. But it is also a fantastic city to wander around, visit at least some of its cathedrals, walk through its beautifully manicured parks (you cannot miss St James Park or Green Park), and marvelled at the eclectic architecture in Piccadilly, Westhall and Westminster with medieval building intertwined with twenty first century's glass-made real estates. Of course, you cannot see it all, particularly if you are pregnant or carrying a baby with you. But this is not about the once in a lifetime visit to London. This is about a relaxing journey to one of the most attractive cities in the world, knowing -or hoping- that you will come back. This is, too, about enjoying every single bit of your trip.

For it to happen, let me give you one particular piece of advice: do not take the subway (the tube, in British English). It is hardly possible not to be on a subway station where stairs must be climbed. That may not necessarily be a problem for a pregnant woman (try to get a seat, though). It is definitely a big one for somebody with a stroller who needs to rely on (and wait for) the goodwill of a Samaritan willing to help. Furthermore, during the summer, down there it becomes sticky, crowded (always crowded during rush hours), smelly (one could set up a museum of odours after a journey on the Jubilee Line) and miserably noisy.

Instead, take a black cab. Even though not many remain black these days, these taxis still have the shape from the early 1900's when cars had to be tall inside so as to allow the passenger to wear their top hats without need of taking them off while in the taxi. Black cabs are also impossibly spacious. So if you are strolling around with a pushchair, there won't be any better transport than a black cab, where you will not need to fold it; indeed, you just jump into the car with it (and preferably the baby as well) and start enjoying the sightseeing from the taxi's wide windows. Traffic jams do happen but nothing compared to Manhattan. A few years ago, the City of London incorporated a so-called Congestion Charge which is a fee that every vehicle (save for the hybrid and electric cars) must pay before entering a ring zone that encircles the city. This toll has left many drivers off London and with them - although it is not politically correct to say it but still a statement of fact - old, ugly, cars, leaving mostly luxurious and brand new vehicles in the streets.

Admittedly, the weather in London is not famous for its deep blue sky all year round. A low, grey sky, in which single clouds could scarcely be discerned is known to be the norm. Such unlucky fame is ill conceived and does not honour reality. True enough, it does happen that for days -and from time to time for even more than a week- the sky seems to have changed its universal blue for an unpolished silver. Rain, too, can be an unwelcome guest to your program. It is nonetheless a city where the sun does shine and the sky is clear, most particularly in the spring and summer. Yes, London does not sit in California. But its foggy evenings and cloudy days stem from nineteenth's century literature than what the city really looks like nowadays. Let's face it: the Thames does not freeze anymore and carpenters and stallholders do not build counters and booths to transform the river into London's latest, albeit temporary, thoroughfare. That used to happen some three centuries ago and the wherries were fitted with skis so that the boatmen could drag their passengers across the ice instead of rowing them through the water. Those days are long gone.

And if a city break is not "your cup of tea" (as the British like to say), then a few days in the English countryside might do the trick. The countryside in this island is known to be a marvel, like being dragged to a painting that you always thought it could only exist in the imagination of the painter. But that is a story for another column.

As some Scottish man said many years ago, "minds are like parachutes, they only function when they're open". And what better way to pull the rip cord, than travel? Federico F. Father and Avid Traveller