Monday, July 12, 2010

What's the Rush?

There’s a very well-known rule in London that applies to the use of escalators. Stand to the right and only walk or overtake on the left. This is particularly important at the tube stations and at airports and if you dare disobey, the locals will tell you about it. Sternly. Even if you’ve clearly just got off the plane at Heathrow 10 minutes ago and you’re 85. What’s more odd is that in every other aspect of the city, the rule for traffic is to keep left. Go figure. But this post isn’t a rant about London’s strange regulations.

The thing is, these days, I’m usually the person on the left, racing past in a hurried pace, silently cursing those who have their bags or strollers protruding in my way. And in all honesty, I’m usually only heading to a gallery or to lunch or home. Why the sudden sense of urgency when I’m unemployed and on holidays??

While sitting on the train yesterday, having just raced through Bank changing from the Central line to the Docklands Light Rail and out of breath, I suddenly remembered something my local guide in Fez had said. “Don’t rush yourselves,” she said to our group, “You’re on holidays. Why are tourists always in a rush?” Until then, I was actually thinking why is this woman so damn calm? I mean, we only have one day in Fez and a packed itinerary and she’s there having a chat and giggle with her husband. At that moment, I realised how tense I was. She had a point, obviously, so I took a deep breath and tried to relax and go with the flow of the day. And you know what? We still managed to complete everything on the itinerary.

I was reminded of this moment while travelling to Greenwich, the place for which the term Greenwich Mean Time was named. Yes, ironic, I know.

If you want to slow down the pace of life, Greenwich is the perfect place for it. With its village-like feel, open green spaces and historic architecture, it’s practically enough just to wander the streets and markets. I resisted pulling out the smart phone with its Google Map function and opted instead to simply get lost. And when I did, I bought myself a cupcake. How can anyone feel frazzled when licking the icing off a cupcake as sweetly named as Strawberry Dream?

I spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the many free sights of Greenwich – the Royal Observatory where I stood on both sides of the Prime Meridian (very cool), the Maritime Museum, the market (which apparently has been at its present site since 1700) and Greenwich Park. No map, no power-walking. I was finally learning to slow down and enjoy the scenery.

And just to be sure, I caught the ferry back.

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