Photo Essay – Reviewing London as a Tourist-Friendly City – by Rebecca Smith. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

Photo Essay – Reviewing London as a Tourist-Friendly City – by Rebecca Smith. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

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This summer, I took the opportunity to travel to London with a London Theatre and Literature group from St. Scholastica. Before I left, I was prepared to be floundering in a huge city, not knowing where to go or how to get there. I was ready to be incredibly reliant on the two professors that were going, prepared to follow them around like a sheep. However, once I got to London, I was surprised at how easy it was to navigate the city and how tourist-friendly everything was. London is a very large and historic city that could very easily have been impossible to find my way around, but it has made many efforts to help tourists figure out where they are and keep them safe. There was one way in particular that the history major in me adored, but for the most part, London figured out a simple and basic way to make the city tourist-friendly.

The streets of London are filled with these directions for people to look in the direction that the traffic will be coming from. London intersections can be a little difficult to navigate, as sometimes it’s necessary to make three crossings when the object is to simply get from one side of the street to the other, so these directions can be incredibly helpful for tourists – especially since most of the world drives on the right side and is used to the traffic coming from a different direction than it does in London. This is a great example of how tourist – friendly London is.

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The Tube, or Underground, is an excellent way for tourist to get around the city. Although it can be a little confusing to navigate at first, there are maps and signs telling people which tunnel to go through to get to a certain line. Everything is very clearly marked, and the employees are also very friendly and helpful. Depending on the line, an automated voice will tell you what landmarks the stop is close to. The automated voice also will announce which stop is coming up and also to “Mind the Gap”. In the morning, around lunch hour, and evening are very busy times for the Underground, so I’d recommend not using the Tube during those hours until you know exactly what you’re doing and where you’re going. The cars come every few minutes, so there generally isn’t too much of a wait. Londoners also don’t really talk on the Tube and keep to themselves, so I would recommend following that social rule. Nothing screams “tourist” more than a group of obnoxious people talking loudly on the Tube. Although it’s very unlikely that anyone would say something about it, they’re all definitely thinking it. Overall, the Tube is a very convenient and simple way for tourists to explore the city.

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Every block, there are posts like this with a map showing where you are and how long of a walk it takes to get to something in the vicinity. The map on the bottom with the larger circle shows everything within a 5 minute radius. The map on top with the smaller circle shows everything within a 15 minute radius. I came to rely strongly on these, as they were incredibly helpful and, as I mentioned before, were everywhere. These are much more easy to follow than a big map of London, or a map at a bus stop (don’t use those – you’ll get severely turned around). I was impressed that London put them up, making navigating much easier for tourists. These would be very helpful in the big cities in the United States. Although I can’t say they aren’t in any city in the U.S., I haven’t seen them in New York City, Chicago, or Minneapolis/St. Paul, but they would be very useful.

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One thing I did find challenging about navigating London’s streets were the road signs. Often, they are placed on the sides of buildings, and sometimes they were nowhere to be seen. Not only that, but oftentimes the streets would turn into different streets a block down, but the map wouldn’t account for that, leaving tourists searching for a street to turn down, only to be blocks past it, not knowing they had to turn down an street with a different name (not on the map) to arrive at the street they were looking for. However, London is such a historic city and the streets have been named the way they were for years, so although it did cause some frustration, I’d hate to see them change it.

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These were one of my favorite tourist-friendly markings. All over the city, small blue plaques can be found on buildings saying what the site used to be, or what great event happened there. The plaques are reminders of how old the city really is, and how different it used to be. As a tourist, I loved finding these because they’re a peek into London’s past and show what is important to London. I participated in a Shakespeare walking tour, and while there were some blue plaques, the guide explained that there should be many more plaques about him, but London isn’t too fond of Shakespeare (the guide was strongly biased towards the idea that Shakespeare was one of the most important people ever to live in London, however).

London had a thoughtful variety of ways to make the city tourist-friendly. I never expected it to be so easy to navigate and, because of that, I was able to more deeply immerse myself in the culture of London. Although there were a few things that caused difficulties, the city should be used as a model for cities with large numbers of tourists. I’m appreciative of the lengths that London has taken to make exploring the city simple to tourists, without creating inconveniences for the citizens. My trip to London was not what I expected it to be, but better because of the helpful markings and signs that are scattered all over the city. Out of all the cities I’ve been to, London was definitely the most tourist-friendly.

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Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica.

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51 Comments

Filed under North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang, Rebecca Smith

51 responses to “Photo Essay – Reviewing London as a Tourist-Friendly City – by Rebecca Smith. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

  1. Carley Nadeau

    From your review, it looks like London is a great city for a tourist :). I didn’t expect it the city to have so many helpful maps and such, since I’ve heard horror stories from my friends trying to navigate other European cities like Paris. What was your favorite tourist destination you went too? Nice job!

    • Rebecca Smith

      Thanks for your comment! I especially liked going to the Tower of London. The historical gravity was amazing, not to mention seeing all of the crown jewels!

  2. Carley Nadeau

    Its great to know that London is a good tourist city :). I’ve heard many of my friends complain about how Paris, Berlin and other European cities were hard to navigate, so your information comes as a relief. I really liked how you presented all your information as well. What was your favorite tourist destination? Nice job!

  3. Holly Kampa

    I’ve never been out of the US, but have always wished to travel. When I think about traveling one of the first things that come to mind is the stigma of “culture shock.” What if I get lost, or how am I going to find my way around? It is reassuring and comforting to hear that there are places out there that are tourist friendly. Sometimes change can be difficult and it takes time getting used to, but with places that help to accommodate to others helps make this change easier. Sounds like you had a wonderful time, thanks for sharing!

    • Rebecca Smith

      Thanks for your comment! I’m also pretty concerned about getting lost in an unknown spot, which is why I’ve chosen countries where English is the primary language whilst I’m still a novice traveler. Hopefully I’ll become confident enough (or learn enough of some other languages) to travel to countries isn’t the 1st language!

  4. Matt Breeze

    The historical markers are very neat! I wish more cities in the U.S. would take the time and money to put up markers telling a little bit about the history. Granted there is a much longer history to mark in London, but it would be nice here in the U.S. as well. I can see how the cost of doing something like this would be a real problem for cities to implement. The navigational posts and maps as well as the historic markers. If they could be put up in major cities in the U.S. that would be great though!

    • Rebecca Smith

      Thanks for your comment! I would love to see these things implemented in the U.S., especially the navigational posts. I think it would help a lot of the tourists, especially in the big cities. I know I was thankful for them, as the maps in the bus shelters were not very tourist-friendly and led my friends and I astray once or twice.

  5. Gina Palmi

    It is refreshing to hear about a city that makes traveling so user/tourist friendly. I’ve never been to London (or anywhere other than the U.S.), so it is nice to know if I were to ever go. I think it’s interesting that London makes traveling easy for tourists because it seems like cities put a negative connotation with tourists. Most people seem to find tourists annoying, so to help tourists out as much as possible is nice.

    • Rebecca Smith

      I think London is known for being an international tourist city, it’s almost part of their identity, so they are willing to put the time and money into making it accessible. I didn’t get the sense that Londoners found tourists to be annoying, unless they weren’t following societal norms, or being rude and loud. However, Londoners are known for being extremely polite, so they likely wouldn’t let on what they really thought of a stranger to their face! Thanks for the comment!

  6. Emily Ciernia

    I think that that is really cool how London has added a lot of signs for tourists to help navigate the city. I know that London can be a very overwhelming city because there is just so much to see/do. I think that it is great how much the city helped to accommodate all of the tourists. I have never been outside of the US, but I would love too. Is there any culture shocks that you experienced while in London? Sounds like you had a good time! Thanks for sharing!

    • Rebecca Smith

      There weren’t too many culture shocks from my time in London. Most of the time, it was no different than being in an large city where everyone was exceptionally well-dressed. It was a little difficult to find restrooms, as many stores do not have them, so my friends and I found ourselves in Starbucks or McDonald’s a lot of the time. Many things are also extraordinarily old, so me and my fellow history majors enjoyed reveling in all of the old buildings and the things in museums that we “could” touch (like a jade sarcophagus from ancient Egypt). Thanks for your comment!

  7. Rachel Reicher

    Creating a places where other people from around the world can explore your way of life at ease can attract many more tourist then ever thought. In contrast to London using this easy navigation tactic, do other countries not have a tactic like London’s because they do not want tourists visiting? I have never been to London, but I have been to other parts of the world, like Ireland, in which they allowed many opportunities for tourists to enjoy their way of life; not in navigation but in housing. Welcoming other country’s people into your own I believe allows your country to rationalize different cultures around the world and accept their presence.

    • Rebecca Smith

      That’s a very interesting thought! I know many cities in the U.S. advertise for tourists (Las Vegas had an advertisement on the Tube basically saying that British accents were swooned over in the U.S.), but it’s interesting that many don’t make them too tourist-friendly. Besides England, the only other country I’ve been to was Scotland, which was very easy to navigate, without all of the markers. Perhaps many cities assume that their layout is easy to understand, so they don’t invest in the things London has. London has such a lengthy history with many partial street/structural reorganizations throughout its life, so without the markers, it would be very easy to spend hours walking in circles. London culture seems to be more introverted and citizens don’t seem to be particularly comfortable with talking with strangers, so that may be why they’ve invested in the maps and markers!

  8. Molly Enich

    Thanks for the insight! My family and I travelled to Paris when I was a sophomore in high school and it was terrible to navigate around while walking. There were all these small alleyways and side streets that weren’t even on the maps that confused us all. Plus, we’d have a map out at all times which just screamed tourist. Even though walking around the city was confusing, they did have a very useful subway system. I love the idea of London’s signs that show walking distance and the signs that remind you traffic is coming from the other direction. More cities should follow London’s efforts to make them easier to navigate.

    • Rebecca Smith

      I agree! Some of the streets in London were hard to navigate, as a map would say that we needed to go down a certain street, but when we got to the area, there wouldn’t be a street with that name! We had to go down a certain street a block or two in order to get to the street on the map. The street maps saying how many minutes away we were from something proved to be especially helpful in those situations, as we could see that we had passed where we needed to be within 5-10 minutes of walking, instead of hours. While we didn’t have maps out at all times to label us tourists, our clothes did, as everyone is very well dressed in London – I don’t think I saw a Londoner in jeans once. Thanks for the comment!

  9. Elisabeth Bergstedt

    I was first attracted to your article because I have always wanted to visit London, preferably while I am young! What always made me nervous about traveling to Europe (or any other foreign place for that matter) is how difficult it would be to adjust to the new way of life. In that retrospect, I was incredibly excited to hear that you had such a great experience traveling there! The things you touched on were exactly my worries: transportation, tourist friendly, and social norms. I feel a lot better about planning a trip to London (possibly sooner than I thought)! Thanks for the insight!

    • Rebecca Smith

      Thanks for the comment! London was a great city to visit and there are so many different types of things to do! I think part of the reason my visit was so great was because of the planning that was involved. The professors I went with created a fantastic itinerary, and I did a lot of research on my own to better understand what to expect in London. I would definitely recommend going to Covent Garden and the Borough Market when you get the chance to go!

  10. Sandy Davidson-Hunt

    Having never been to Europe, I found this article very interesting as most of the places I have visited have nothing close to what you described. In particular, I have found American cities very difficult to travel through. The people always seen hurried and unhelpful, and there is very little on the streets to help. This being said, the rest of the world seems to copy Europe in many regards so I wouldn’t be surprised to see many tourist aid advancements in the near future.

    • Rebecca Smith

      I don’t recall seeing many of the tourist-friendly things in the other cities I was in in England. It could be that the city of London put them in because London is such an international tourist destination, with millions of people visiting in a year, or because by the time I was in other cities, I was so used to seeing them that they had become a norm in my mind. They were especially helpful in London, however, and I’d love to see them in cities in the U.S. sometime soon! Thanks for reading!

  11. Jenna Algoo

    I appreciate your writing; it’s clear concise and easy to visualize what London might look like Also, your pictures were very helpful. I really like the blue plaques placed around the city. That is such a cool idea and a good way to keep history alive I do wonder, however, if any of the locals feel uneasy about the fact that London has become so touristy or if they really like it. Thanks for your article!

    • Rebecca Smith

      Thank you! The blue plaques were a favorite of mine as well. I would love to see something like that put in place in other cities, even Duluth! I always wonder what the citizens think of the tourists, but since so many people go there to visit, I think they are pretty apathetic about it. London is a very expensive city to live in, so most people live on the outskirts of the city and take the Tube in to work every day. Thanks for reading!

  12. Roman Schnobrich

    Now I feel funny for not thinking of London as majorly historic spot! Could you imagine yourself living there, or did you not spend enough time there to even think about it? I wonder why gigantic American cities haven’t implemented similar simple navigation tactics. Did it bother you to be branded a tourist in certain situations?

    • Rebecca Smith

      I would not want to live in London, because not only is it much too large of a city for me, it’s also ridiculously expensive! If I didn’t mind being far away from family, I would live in Scotland, as I was able to go up to Edinburgh during my time abroad and absolutely fell in love with it. It would be nice to see cities in the U.S., especially the major ones, implement the tactics. It did bother me to be seen as a tourist because I like to be inconspicuous as possible and I didn’t want to be in the way of anyone. However, being extremely polite to people and being hyper-aware of one’s surroundings helps not only to camouflage, but also to give people a positive image of what citizens of the U.S. are like (since we’ve got a negative stereotype tourist-wise).

  13. Kyle Dosan

    Great article, I felt like I was walking around London just by reading this! It is great to see that London is tourist friendly because going out of the country can be a nightmare for some people. I loved the part about how people in London despise Shakespeare and how your guide was biased against him. The pictures were outstanding, and it was cool to see that they have those blue signs on many buildings to remind people of the rich history.

    • Rebecca Smith

      Thanks for your comment! The blue plaques were definitely a favorite of mine, I would love to see them put up in cities around the U.S. – even Duluth! I think it’s important for people to know the history of their city, and I definitely found value in the signs. Thanks for reading!

  14. Donovan Blatz

    This article makes me want to visit London even more! I remember the struggles of trying to find major tourist attractions in such a large city similar to London. One thing I find funny is that they remind us, Americans, that they drive on the different side of the street. How easy was it trying to communicate with people if you did get lost because of their accent?

    • Rebecca Smith

      I think it’s funny that they had to put in directions of which way to look when crossing traffic as well! However, my tour guide informed us that whenever we see an ambulance in London, it’s likely an U.S. citizen in there because they got hit by a vehicle. Thankfully, I never did get lost to the point where I wasn’t able to find my way. However, I didn’t have a difficult time understanding the accent, as I enjoy watching British TV and movies that are set in England. Thanks for your comment!

  15. Nick Campbell

    I’ve always wanted to visit London and reading this makes me even more interested! I think it’s interesting that they have signs for pedestrians on the roads. Compared to American roads, there are hardly any kinds of signs for pedestrians on the roads. It’s also very confusing what the reasoning is for making the road signs so difficult for drivers to see.

    • Rebecca Smith

      Thanks for your comment! It’s interesting how different countries do things so differently. I think it would be nice for American cities to implement some of London’s tourist friendly road signs, but I think it’s nice that most of the U.S. has the same, dependable sign locations for the roads.

  16. I’m glad you enjoyed my city! I’m from just outside of north London, but I travel into London regularly when I’m home. I often get asked questions about how confusing the underground is, but you clearly were able to master it ! (it really isn’t so difficult as it looks!) The 2012 London Olympics certainly made phenomenal infrastructure improvements throughout Greater London; including road signs, maps and amazing improvements to the Underground services. The iconic “Mind The Gap” signs and announcements will forever be central to London’s charm.

    • Rebecca Smith

      By the end of the trip, I was able to navigate the underground by myself (got lost by the National Theatre and had to find my way back to Russell Square on my own), but most of the time my friends and I relied on one of our friends who was good at quickly reading the underground maps! I can imagine how much work went on to ensure London was looking good for the Olympics. I was particularly fascinated by our tour guide’s comment that anytime a new building is going to be built, they have to perform an archaeological dig!

  17. Bryce Gadke

    For me, now knowing that London has developed into a tourist destination and made the accommodations to fit that title, it has lost the some of the historic fervor. I assume that many of the accommodations were a result of the rebuilding project that was London after the Luftwaffe dismantled a majority of the structures in the city as a result of the relentless bombing during WW2. The historical essence has been lost to a certain extent, but It is still a definite goal to travel there some day.

    • Rebecca Smith

      Your point about London losing historical essence is interesting, but I’m not sure I agree! London has been a tourist spot for a long time, even before the world wars. It certainly did lose some historical buildings, but much of it has been preserved, or remembered via documents. Many of the buildings that were damaged by bombs are still standing and the parts that were damaged were not fixed, so the pieces of the stone that constructed the building are left with craters in them. I think the City of London deliberately did that to remind English citizens of what WWII was like for England. Pieces of the old Roman wall is still left standing around London, and other things throughout London’s vast history are still standing.

  18. Jena O'Byrne

    It’s great to hear that their are places in the world that are tourist friendly. Personally I too love to travel and it’s always great when you are in a place that you are unfamiliar with that makes it easy to get around. It’s neat that they have maps located around the city along with how long it will take you to get place to place. Going to Europe I too would of been skeptical in my ability to get around a city that I am completely unfamiliar with as well as being unfamiliar with the culture. London seems to be a great place for tourists as you explained. Were the people as welcoming and helpful as well? I also find it neat how you mentioned the blue plaques with historical ties that are located throughout the city. Personally that is something I love to learn about when I am not trips so it is neat that London has them placed throughout the city. Overall it sounds like you had a great experience in London and you have convinced me to want to see what it’s all about.

  19. I dread visiting large cities. My experience is that if you are not with someone who knows where they are going, you will probably get lost or very confused. I think some cities are easier to navigate based on set up, how the streets intersect, and land marks. For me, the easiest and most friendly cities have been St. Louis and Houston. However, I think London’s attempt to make it easier to navigate is admirable. I would love if every city utilized the blue plaque system. I love knowing the history of a place!

  20. I am happy that your trip to London was easy to navigate and tourist-friendly. I think that when we are in a place we are unfamiliar with, having signs and voices to help guide you can be so comforting. I also liked how you mentioned the blue plaques that showed historical events that happened. I find it fascinating that we can be standing in a place where a huge event occurred hundreds of years ago, it seems like a powerful thing to experience. Overall great article and take me with next time!

  21. Sofia Pineda

    I think that going to any new city , no matter how big or small, can be very confusing. There are so many things going around you which you are unfamiliar with. I was recently in Washington DC, and being from Central America were metros or trains are not used, getting to use the metro system was very intimidating. At first everything is very confusing but as you use public transportation more often everything becomes clear. I think that learning to use public transportation is such big cities give you a sense of freedom.

  22. Thomas Landgren

    In your article you talked about how easy it was navigating and when reading i tried to think if that was the case in the US. I have been to many populated cities in the US examples are Washington D.C., Chicago, ST. Louis, and of course the Twin Cities yet none of these places made an effort to make tourism simpler like London. It is interesting that they put tourism as such a major priority. At any point did you have to ask the locals for directions or were the signs and maps easy enough to follow? The blue plaques sound like an awesome idea more cities should implement them! Great Article Becca!

  23. Nichole DeBoom

    Personally I have never traveled out of the country, but it has always been a dream. Seeing the cool landmarks and how easy it could be to navigate in a very different part of the world makes my need to get out and travel even more. I go to the Twin Cities often, and there is nothing worse than driving down there. If you take a wrong turn you could be turned around for miles, and you might take the wrong turn because the sign for the road is not visible until you reach the road. Maybe if the United States tried some of these traveling/historical ideas people could not only get around easier and learn a lot more when they come here. Great article and pictures!

  24. Jessica Richart

    Very interesting findings! I love to hear about different cultures and unique things that they do. To me, I take their efforts as a way of them welcoming you into the city. Since they have done all of this, it seems like they really appreciate and enjoy people coming and visiting their home. It also shows how much pride they have in their city and its’ history. Thank you very much for sharing!

  25. Jacob Carson

    I enjoy hearing about cities such as London becoming more tourist friendly because it promotes a global sense of welcome that is becoming more and more important as we progress as a world. I think that it is far easier to not open your doors to foreigners and not make the extra effort to make it easy for them to feel safe and at home in a city far away from their own, but if we want to become a society in which all countries work together toward the same goals, this is an important first step. There is no better feeling than that of being welcome, wherever you may be, it always seems to make your experience better. I would hope to see our own cities take a note from London’s book and help promote the spread of a global community.

  26. Mike Zupfer

    Your article was very fun to read! I have only really gone to Mexico as an out of country experience and their way of tourism is a bit different then London’s. It sounds like London relies mostly on signs, maps, and little notes and tidbits to guide everyone about while in Mexico, at least in Mazatlan, it relies more on human interaction. Because it is a popular tourist destination, a lot of the people in the area have learned English and have learned how to navigate you if you just ask them. In my experience, the only friendly people i have found on trains that actually talk have been right here in Minnesota, but i could just be unlucky!

  27. Sara Desrocher

    I liked this article because it gives people an inside to the tourist side of London. We get to see what it would be like to travel to a different place and navigate the streets as you have. I find it interesting that navigation was simple there, I would have expected it to be difficult in the hustle of a big city. It is also interesting about the street sides being on buildings sometimes, I think that it would take awhile to get accustomed to small difference such as this one.

  28. Jodi Moran

    Although I have never traveled out of the U.S., or for that matter, even the Midwest, it is comforting to know that other major cities are accommodating to tourist. When I think of traveling out of the country it seems intimidating because it is going to be extremely different than what I am used to, but this article explains that there is nothing to be afraid of. I think that the blue plaque system is so interesting because it reminds people of the history that is behind building a great city. The ease of touring a large city is appealing because it comes with a sense of security. Interesting read and good to know, maybe London will be the first city I travel abroad to!

  29. Kyle Hellmann

    I think I would die with all of those little plaques that give history. I would actively seek them out just on a walk to school or the store. It’s nice to see that London is so friendly to tourist. But had London always been so friendly to them? Or, did they implement these maps and signs to show how easy it was to tour London and use it as a marketing ploy for more travelers to visit the city? Interesting to think about. Thanks for sharing!

  30. The signs made specifically for tourists and the signs kept in their old spot (sides of buildings, walls, etc.) seems to me like a blend of London’s old identity and it’s recognition that it is a tourist destination. Considering they made an effort to make it easier for tourists, I am wondering how accessible the city was for people with disabilities. Is there an equivalent to the Americans With Disabilities act in the U.K. so transportation and sidewalks are accessible?

  31. I have had a similar experience on my trips down south. When you go down south all that passive aggressiveness of the upper midwest fades away. If someone doesn’t like you they stay out of your way. I always spend the first week visiting neighbors to catch up, I always have a baking of breads cookies or candies so I have a gift when i drop in. The etiquette there is also very old school, a hostess gift is expected. On one occasion I even when to a house dance, which I didn’t know was still done. More social interaction is expected in the south, but it has to be meaningful. It’s interesting that a country can be subdivided into so many different micro cultures.

  32. Wow its strange to me thinking about walking everywhere in the city. I always hated going into town it was always scary, nowhere to breath, I hated getting out of my car for fear of being mugged or approached and the awful part of having to find parking. I wonder how much a city changes when people walk around to commute more then the bus? I wonder if it makes people more social or laid back. I think that is very helpful that the city views getting around as very important on the agenda

  33. McKenzie Ketcher

    My aunt lives in London and absolutely loves the city. I’ve traveled to Madrid and Barcelona, and the large city feel is exhilarating and definitely gives a different tone than living in a small town, but personally I could never live is a large city such as London. With the recent bombing is Brussels, which is in Europe, I hope that the bombing does not stop people from traveling to Europe, as there still are many positives and beautiful historical aspects that Europe provides, especially in London.

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