Travel post by Brenda Daniels
Earlier this year A Feast of Tales featured a review of the documentary The Human Scale. We mentioned that the film discussed the growth of cities, their emphasis on urbanisation and the motor car, and the resultant erosion of people contact and public life. The film also listed a number of cities around the world that had tried to reverse this trend by introducing kilometres of cycle lanes and by changing roads into pedestrian areas.
I have visited four international cities this year: Washington DC (USA), Munich (Germany), Beijing (China) and London (England). What follows is my own brief experience of these cities as a pedestrian (and in one instance as a cyclist), and how the conditions of that experience affected my enjoyment of the city.
Walking in Washington DC
I visited Washington DC in January – perhaps not the best time of year to judge this city’s pedestrian-friendly places. My husband and I stayed in a hotel very near Ford’s Theatre, the place where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Our trips to this museum and the natural history museum passed no vegetation or pedestrian areas. Whilst the roads were quiet and I never felt unsafe when crossing them, I felt the real chill of the winter weather on the concrete surroundings and didn’t enjoy the lack of atmosphere. I rate this third place on my “walking” scale out of four.
Brenda Daniels wrapped up in Washington DC. Photo: Bruce Daniels
Walking (and cycling) in Munich
After much persuasion my husband eventually consented to us hiring bicycles on our March trip to Munich. Well, he loved the cycling so much he left me in his dust (metaphorically speaking), as he raced along the miles and miles of VERY SAFE and well-laid-out cycle tracks in the city. Munich is a beautiful, historic, character-filled place and is full of properly regulated walking and cycle tracks, as well as large pedestrian areas in the city centre. I thoroughly enjoyed it and hope to visit many times in the future. I give it second place (only very close behind first place) on my “walking” scale.
Walking in Beijing
May was a lovely time of year to visit this VERY busy city. We went to some lovely monuments and palaces that were set in vast gardens with waterways and beautifully interesting trees. These public places were full of locals enjoying the outdoors. However, getting to these tourist attractions meant catching the underground train and walking many kilometres (I think we did 12 in one day) along VERY busy roads. At one stage of our walk, while trying to decipher a Chinese SMS on my mobile phone, I fell headlong INTO the road, leaving a fair portion of my elbow skin on the tar before making it back to the hotel.
My overall impression of Beijing: very busy roads with LOTS of traffic. It gets fourth place on my “walking” scale.
Walking in London
London is the ultimate when it comes to my “walking tourist” experience. Even catching a bus (that uses biofuels) to Hyde Park on a busy August day was a pleasure; from the top deck of the bus we got to see flower-bedecked pubs, bougainvillea-clad restaurants, and topiary-decorated hotels. Hyde Park was beautiful. Wide, flat pathways, lined with huge oak trees, miles of flat, soft grass, the odd monument (Albert to be precise), and a tea stop at Lake Serpentine, all made walking in this city of cities a real delight. My favourite, London gets first out of four on my “walking” scale.