Adventurers and Travellers - Visiting London And Other Places On Different Epochs

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Pablo Edronkin

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Today the most frequent negative comment among London visitors is that at the capital of the United Kingdom things are horribly expensive; other frequent complaints include overcrowding during rush hours and the cost of lodging... but it wasn't so a long time ago.

London has the highest density for surveillance cameras (CCTV) in the world, it is a big city, relatively tidy and very interesting for any sort of tourist. As it happens in the case of other cities as well, it is easier and cheaper to find a hotel room a little bit away from the city centre. In a town where visiting a toilette sometimes costs one pound, the difference in lodging costs according to the location is more often than not, quite noticeable.

But according to the chronicles and tales of travellers and adventures from other times, things were indeed different in the past: During Roman times, visiting the city could be quite an experience that revealed itself as soon as you departed your hometown: brigands, barbarians, robbers and Britunculi would do their best to strip you off everything - including your clothes and sometimes your life as well - at any place along the road, long before you could see the budding town in the horizon.

A little bit later, during the sixteenth century, London visitors remarked two or three things and life had, of course, changed a bit: A particular stench was noticeable by anyone approaching the town. The foul smell was present everywhere except inside houses, where smoke from ovens and fires would pervade the innards of every home. Then, there were the bands of beggars, gamblers and other scavengers that threatened with assault on sight of anyone with a foreign outlook. Needless to say, a good horse was mandatory in order to evade those pedestrians based on speed and riding skills.

Approaching the London Bridge - the only one over the Thames back then - visitors could awe themselves at the two or three dozen heads on spikes that were kept there at all times in order to favour civic education. Tourists could also attend popular shows like the dozen or so executions that took place also on a daily basis in order to keep the bridge's decorations fresh and updated. Those vents took place all along and across the town and were easily predictable by seeing the gallows under construction.

At the centre of the city the pace of life was not so hectic, and the people in mansions and palaces were worried about somewhat different matters like teaching servants not to offend the food - yes, the food - that would be eaten later by their masters.

Gourmets of the trade and enthusiasts evaluated every execution by the skill of the executioner who was frequently not a pro but an amateur presumably aspirting to enter the major leagues: Pros were reserved for the aristocracy but for commoners butchers were often preferred since such popular operations were always carried on a budget - no fancy decorations on the gallows either -, since the idea was not just to hang the victim and kill him - or her, since there were no gender barriers for that -, but to gut him off, take the entrails out of the belly while the executioned was still alive, show him his former property and burn the whole set.

It wasn't too different from what the Aztecs used to do not so long before, and they were called "savages"; however, these were, of course, faithful Christians and needed no moral lessons like those half-naked, dark-haired, funny-speaking indians that just happened to build pyramids and cities with flush toilettes in every house.

Those dark-skinned fellows dared suggest with their funny pyramids and flushing toilet seats that they might have been at least equally advanced than the good Christians, and that was a big no-no of course, mostly because the folks on top of the pyramids preferred to take the hearts out of their victims and put them over hot embers instead of doing so with entrails, like it was still fashionable in the Old World. Moreover: Except for their blood-soaked hearth breaking priests, commoners in the New World used to bath themselves… ever day!

So, the solution for the smell and the flushing toilets followed patters very often seen all thorough history: The disturbing situation was duly corrected not by pondering about the positive sides of the idea of the Indians and applying cultural exchange principles, but by hammering the truth unto those lazy, pagan, ugly, bathed and aggravatingly-tropical individuals; flushing toilets were wiped out as well as their somewhat epicurean owners and European cities like London continued to enjoy the smell of rot and decay until about the 1850s. Meanwhile, the descendants of those pyramid makers don't take hearts out anymore, neither do they enjoy flushing toilets anymore.

And by the way, the stench of suburban London came from the mud. The streets were not covered with stones or asphalt or anything else but a particular mix of dust and human waste: There was no garbage recollection system and no flush toilettes like those constructed by the "primitives" of the other side of the ocean that by then had been killed with Holy firearms anyway. Until 1850 or so, London was a city permeated by foul odours. The almost-alive thing that would inspire movie directors developed over centuries of very hygienic habits like throwing all the human waste and household garbage just in front of everybody's door. Rain and moisture would help then dissolve the whole thing like over the streets and passages like an ice cream from hell.

And here we come again to the transit recommendations made by visitors: Like in a video game, foreigners with a good stallion or mare and passable horsemanship skills could elude the toothless, club-waving crowds and hover over the slippery mud. If they fell from the saddle, felt tempted to visit a brothel or gamble on dice, or just happened to enter the area on foot and with little firepower, they would fell victim not only to venereal diseases but scammers, professional gamblers or just some zombie lurking around.

Today things have changed, of course. Travellers can get to the city's urban and administrative centre with ease and safety. Stopping by at a gambling parlour doesn't imply betting their own lives, and there is no mud to make a bacteriologist proud anymore. The place to keep an wary eye on is now the area that was safe back then: No zombies would club you to death; the bill at any restaurant, hotel or entertaining establishment would achieve the same, so maybe it would be recommendable to stop by on London suburban area instead of choosing to pay a more metropolitan lodging facility on your next visit to the city.

At any rate, the money you save on lodging fees may become useful for other entertainment venues while you stay there, even if you choose to bet and gamble, for there is always the chance of winning a prize and suburban hotels now do sport flushing toilets.

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