In Lon­don, terrorism’s pro­file is higher. And tourism is up.

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - BY AN­DREA SACHS

“Are you ner­vous?” a se­cu­rity guard asked me.

I was in Lon­don and the gen­tle­man in the flu­o­res­cent safety vest had just in­spected my bag and wanded my body from shoul­ders to an­kles, front and back.

“Should I be ner­vous?” I re­sponded.

Any­one be­yond the pic­ture frame might as­sume that we were dis­cussing the cur­rent climate in Lon­don. I had ar­rived in the Bri­tish cap­i­tal less than a week af­ter a man at­tacked a mosque and three weeks af­ter a trio of ter­ror­ists rammed their van into pedes­tri­ans on Lon­don Bridge and fa­tally stabbed eight peo­ple in Bor­ough Mar­ket. Nerves were raw.

But any­one suit­ing up next to me — vest, boots, har­ness — would know the real rea­son be­hind his ques­tion. I was about to climb to the pin­na­cle of the O2, an entertainment venue. In any cir­cum­stance, 174 feet is a long, painful drop. For the next 90 min­utes, all I could think about was stay­ing ver­ti­cal.

Tourists are re­silient souls, but we are also cau­tious. Af­ter the March knife at­tack out­side Par­lia­ment and the Manch­ester bomb­ing in May, Bernard Donoghue, di­rec­tor of Lon­don’s As­so­ci­a­tion of Lead­ing Vis­i­tor At­trac­tions, said that the or­ga­ni­za­tion no­ticed a slight dip in vis­its to cen­tral Lon­don at­trac­tions. But over­all, the num­bers are strong: an 8 per­cent in­crease com­pared with the same pe­riod last year.

In ad­di­tion, he said, fol­low­ing an in­ci­dent, typ­i­cal tourist be­hav­ior usu­ally re­sumes af­ter sev­eral days.

“Re­cov­ery af­ter the Lon­don Bridge at­tack was within five, six, seven days,” he said. “It hasn’t had a last­ing im­pact.”

VisitLon­don and VisitBri­tain also chimed in with en­cour­ag­ing fig­ures. The tourism of­fices shared the find­ings of For­wardKeys, which an­a­lyzed book­ing data from this year and 2016. The

re­search com­pany dis­cov­ered a 19 per­cent in­crease in ar­rivals from the United States to the United Kingdom dur­ing the peak travel months of June, July and Au­gust.

“Lon­don re­mains a safe city to visit,” said Laura Citron, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Lon­don & Part­ners, which runs VisitLon­don, “and peo­ple should be re­as­sured that there is an in­creased po­lice and se­cu­rity pres­ence around Lon­don and at the city’s vis­i­tor at­trac­tions.”

Af­ter the Manch­ester at­tacks, the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment raised the threat level to “crit­i­cal,” the coun­try’s high­est. Four days later, the dan­ger level dropped back to “se­vere,” the new nor­mal since Au­gust 2014. The Armed Re­sponse Of­fi­cers re­treated to the back­ground, and the Metropoli­tan Po­lice Ser­vice, whose mem­bers mainly wear stab-re­sis­tant vests and carry ex­tend­able ba­tons, re­turned as the most vis­i­ble pres­ence on the streets. At­trac­tions bulked up their per­son­nel and ex­panded se­cu­rity checks. The next month, fol­low­ing the Lon­don Bridge tragedy, the city erected steel bar­ri­ers at sev­eral ex­panses, cre­at­ing a line of de­fense for pedes­tri­ans.

“We have a his­tory of deal­ing with se­cu­rity is­sues,” said Donoghue, evok­ing the trou­bles with the Ir­ish Repub­li­can Army. “The Bri­tish have a charm­ing, re­as­sur­ing at­ti­tude. We want to live our lives de­fi­antly and de­lib­er­ately.”

But what about the for­eign vis­i­tor whose lip is more quiv­er­ing than stiff? In th­ese jit­tery times, can a tourist loosen up and plunge head­first into one of the world’s top sum­mer­time des­ti­na­tions?

Last week, I crossed the At­lantic to find out if an Amer­i­can in Lon­don could keep calm and carry on.

Be pre­pared

Be­fore set­ting off for Lon­don, I reached out to In­ter­na­tional SOS for some safety tips. I wanted to up­date the old saws “Be aware of your sur­round­ings” and “If you see some­thing, say some­thing.” For ex­am­ple, in light of re­cent events, should I avoid con­cert halls, bridges, out­door mar­kets?

Matt Bradley, a re­gional se­cu­rity di­rec­tor, started the coun­sel­ing ses­sion with a re­al­ity slap in the face. He re­minded me of the greater threats to trav­el­ers, such as petty crime, traf­fic ac­ci­dents and gas­troin­testi­nal re­volts.

“Terrorism re­mains a low risk to trav­el­ers,” he said, “but the in­crease in at­tacks, es­pe­cially in Western Europe, has raised the pro­file of terrorism for all trav­el­ers.”

In­stead of avoid­ance, he rec­om­mended prepa­ra­tion.

“Any lo­ca­tion could be a tar­get,” he said, “so know­ing how to re­spond in case of an in­ci­dent is the most im­por­tant con­cept.” In prac­tice, this means . . .

Iden­tify a safe lo­ca­tion, such l as a nearby ho­tel, where you can seek cover in the event of an at­tack.

Keep your phone fully l charged, and bring a bat­tery pack as backup.

Carry a min­i­mal amount of l items when out ex­plor­ing.

As­sem­ble a list of emer­gency l con­tacts, such as phone num­bers for the em­bassy, your ho­tel, in­surance com­pany and fam­ily mem­bers.

For of­fi­cial in­for­ma­tion, fol­low l the so­cial me­dia ac­counts of the lo­cal po­lice and other emer­gency ser­vice providers.

And above all, re­main calm. l “The abil­ity to think clearly is key to re­spond­ing to an in­ci­dent,” Bradley said.

Wrapped in a shawl of tran­quil­ity, I boarded the flight to Heathrow. I was so Zen, in fact, that I slept through a med­i­cal emer­gency on the plane. My seat­mate, Cle­ment Wil­liams, filled me in on the de­tails. While on the topic of crises, I asked him if he had any reser­va­tions about trav­el­ing to Lon­don.

“The at­tacks did in­flu­ence my de­ci­sion a lit­tle bit,” said Wil­liams, who was spend­ing a month in Lon­don and Paris be­fore start­ing col­lege in North Carolina. “But maybe be­cause it’s be­come some­what nor­mal­ized, it was less of de­ter­rent.”

Wil­liams said he would prob­a­bly avoid big tourist at­trac­tions, such as the Lon­don Eye, but not for safety rea­sons: Vis­it­ing ma­jor sites is not his style. In­stead, he planned to hang out with friends and at­tend a soccer con­fer­ence.

I asked him if his par­ents were wor­ried. He said they had warned him about pick­pock­ets. But his best friend’s mother rang louder alarms.

“She gave him all of those mom re­minders,” he said, “like be­ing cau­tious in big crowds.”

Mobs of peo­ple are in­evitable dur­ing Lon­don’s peak tourist sea­son, even out of the gate. Af­ter dis­em­bark­ing the plane, an Amer- cou­ple and I squinted to see the end of the mouse maze. More than an hour later, an im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cer stamped my pass­port.

I ex­pected longer queues at the top at­trac­tions, due to en­hanced se­cu­rity mea­sures, and packed ac­cord­ingly. I filled a small bag with a few es­sen­tials and opened it on com­mand.

“Peo­ple are pre­pared to show their bags,” Donoghue said, “and are read­ily ex­pect­ing it and feel­ing re­as­sured.”

Af­ter the Manch­ester at­tack, Kens­ing­ton Palace amped up bag searches. Be­fore, the royal res­i­dence re­quired guests to check over­sized car­ri­ers and deep back­packs, in part to pro­tect the ex­hibits. Now, the staff in­spects all totes at ev­ery en­try point, in­clud­ing the Palace Cafe.

On a rainy Wed­nes­day, I coasted right up to the ta­ble.

“Do you have any sharp ob­jects?” an em­ployee stylishly dressed in black asked me.

She peered into my bag and wished me a pleas­ant visit.

A fa­ther and mother with two chil­dren ap­proached. She checked the lit­tle girl’s but­ter­fly­shaped back­pack. Her younger brother ap­peared on the verge of tears. His fa­ther ex­plained that he too wanted his bag searched. The woman peeked in­side his Nemo pack.

“Ev­ery­thing’s fine in there,” she said to the young­ster. “Thank you very much.”

The level of screen­ing var­ied slightly among sites. At the Tower of Lon­don, a man squeezed the bot­tom of my bag and briefly gazed in­side it. At the Vic­to­ria and Al­bert Mu­seum, the guard shined a flash­light into its dark re­cesses. To ac­cess Hu­tong restau­rant on the 33rd floor of the Shard, I had to walk through a metal de­tec­tor and send my bag through an X-ray ma­chine. I also had to dress “smart ca­sual”; ath­letic or beachy at­tire could re­sult in ex­pul­sion.

I ex­pe­ri­enced the heav­i­est se­cu­rity check at the O2, the con­cert venue and din­ing des­ti­na­tion. All vis­i­tors are fun­neled through one door sur­rounded by a for­est of se­cu­rity guards. Ma­chines Xrayed peo­ple and things. On the other side of the de­tec­tor, I was greeted by the snuf­fling nose of a bomb-sniff­ing English springer spaniel. I curbed my im­pulses and let him do his job.

As I zigzagged my way around Lon­don, I heard the bird­song of Amer­i­can ac­cents and not one im­pa­tient chirp about the se­cu­rity checks.

Out­side the Tower of Lon­don, I met a group of Mary­land high­school­ers re­lax­ing dur­ing a brief break in their hec­tic four-coun­try itin­er­ary.

The com­pany, EF Ed­u­ca­tional Tours, had told the nearly 40 par­tic­i­pants that they could opt out of any at­trac­tions they didn’t feel com­fort­able vis­it­ing. The tour op­er­a­tor also scotched all travel by Tube, trans­port­ing the stu­dents, par­ents and teach­ers by coach in­stead.

“I was a lit­tle ner­vous and on edge,” said Lil­iana Barrera, 17. “But I didn’t feel like I was go­ing to get at­tacked.”

Joanie Mayle, a par­ent, rec­og­nized the up­side of vis­it­ing Lon­don in the af­ter­math of a ter­ror­ist at­tack.

“It’s bet­ter to come now,” she said, “when se­cu­rity is higher.”

Ex­hibit ex­trav­a­gan­zas

The at­tacks aren’t crimp­ing Princess Diana’s style; the Kens­ing­ton Palace ex­hibit, “Diana: Her Fash­ion Story,” is sold out through early Au­gust. Nor have they si­lenced Pink Floyd. Since mid-May, the Vic­to­ria and Al­bert Mu­seum has sold more than 155,000 tick­ets to the “Pink Floyd: Their Mor­tal Re­mains” show, which closes Oct. 1. In ad­di­tion, in­stead of re­treat­ing into its fortress, the arts and de­sign in­sti­tu­tion has be­come even more ac­ces­si­ble and avail­able to the pub­lic.

Last week, the V&A un­veiled the Ex­hi­bi­tion Road Quar­ter, an ex­ten­sion with a porce­lain-tiled court­yard, cafe, vis­i­tors’ cen­ter, gallery and gift shop. The new en­trance, once a for­bid­ding stone gate, draws in pedes­tri­ans along Ex­hi­bi­tion Road, a cul­tural thor­ough­fare with sci­ence and nat­u­ral his­tory mu­se­ums and aca­demic cen­ters.

“It wasn’t a wel­com­ing face to the space,” Lucy Hawes, a press of­fi­cer with the mu­seum, said.

Now, guests step through a big, gap­toothed smile.

Dur­ing my for­ays, I found it easy to dis­tance my­self from re­ican cent events. Star­ing at the royal jew­els in­side the Tower of Lon­don, I thought about whether the Im­pe­rial State Crown, which weighs as much as a sack of sugar, gives Queen El­iz­a­beth II a headache. I won­dered if the wool tweed suit Princess Diana wore on her hon­ey­moon was hot and itchy. I lost my­self in the mu­sic of Pink Floyd and loudly mur­mured a song or two while in­side the head­phone bub­ble.

“You can tell the Amer­i­cans,” said my friend Tim Wilson, who came down from New­cas­tle for the day. “They move their heads to the mu­sic. The English would never do that, un­less no one was look­ing.”

But I couldn’t es­cape for long, nor did I want to. I felt a sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity to re­flect on the at­tacks and of­fer my sym­pa­thies to the vic­tims, even if there were no ears to re­ceive my words. My urge to reach out and con­nect, I learned, was a com­mon re­sponse.

Over cof­fee at Som­er­set House, Donoghue told me that for­eign and do­mes­tic vis­i­tors were ap­proach­ing tourist in­for­ma­tion cen­ters to share their grief and ex­press sol­i­dar­ity with the res­i­dents of Lon­don and Manch­ester. He sug­gested that I walk over Lon­don Bridge and ven­ture into Bor­ough Mar­ket, a hon­ey­comb of food pur­vey­ors and pubs.

“It taps into a great well of feel­ing,” he said.

On a week­day evening, I joined the flow of commuters travers­ing the expanse over the Thames. As they con­tin­ued on­ward, to their homes or happy hours, I stopped mid­way at a shrine to the vic­tims. Friends and fam­ily mem­bers had taped photos and mes­sages onto the wall and placed can­dles, flow­ers and flags on the ground. Sev­eral peo­ple had left skate­boards, a trib­ute to Ig­na­cio Echev­er­ría, the Spa­niard who had at­tempted to res­cue a woman by fend­ing off a ter­ror­ist with his skate­board.

“Hope you are skat­ing up there in the clouds,” one note read.

At the ter­mi­nus, an il­lu­mi­nated board urged any­one with in­for­ma­tion about the at­tack to call the hot­line. Signs in store­front win­dows broad­cast their love and sup­port of the neigh­bor­hood. Restau­rants ad­ver­tised dis­counts to first re­spon­ders.

At South­wark Cathe­dral, pa­per hearts cre­ated by school­child­ren adorned a stone en­clo­sure. The glit­ter sparkled and the tis­sue pa­per rus­tled in the breeze as the church bells rang and the revel­ers raised their pints in an evening toast.

‘We’re covert, not overt’

In my ho­tel lobby, I searched the faces — Amer­i­can busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives, Mus­lims cel­e­brat­ing the end of Ra­madan, Adele con­cert­go­ers — for my English friend. I found Tim near the concierge desk, slightly dis­ori­ented af­ter a Tube ride. We set off for a day of sight­see­ing, with a side of law en­force­ment.

I first met Tim in the Falk­land Is­lands, when I had stopped by the po­lice sta­tion seek­ing di­rec­tions to a Pi­lates class. He re­cently re­turned to Eng­land af­ter re­tir­ing from the po­lice force af­ter nearly 40 years. Not count­ing Tim, I had only seen four po­lice­men, and no weapons, since ar­riv­ing three days ear­lier. By com­par­i­son, on a re­cent trip to New York, as soon as I ar­rived in Penn Sta­tion, I ex­pe­ri­enced a full as­sault of of­fi­cers sling­ing guns as large as ele­phant trunks.

“We’re covert,” he said, “not overt.”

On our stroll to the V&A Mu­seum, we passed a few of­fi­cers as­sist­ing an in­jured woman. They were all on foot. Tim ex­plained that the po­lice op­er­ate as mo­bile units and drop into emergencies as needed. Dur­ing the Lon­don Bridge at­tack, help ar­rived eight min­utes af­ter the ram­page be­gan.

Not far from the mu­seum, a po­lice car had pulled over a Mercedes con­vert­ible. Sev­eral Mid­dle East­ern men hold­ing Sel­fridges shop­ping bags waited on the curb while an of­fi­cer in­spected the trunk. Tim in­ter­preted the in­ci­dent for me. Most likely, he said, the men had bought the car dur­ing their visit to Lon­don and had not pur­chased in­surance. The po­lice would im­pound car and the men would re­turn home, aban­don­ing the lux­ury ve­hi­cle. In other words, noth­ing to see here.

Not far from my ho­tel in Kens­ing­ton, we ven­tured into the Shep­herd’s Bush neigh­bor­hood to catch the Tube. A concierge had told me that we could see the rem­nants of Gren­fell Tower, the pub­lic hous­ing build­ing con­sumed by fire in mid-June. But the trees ob­structed our view. Tim, re­turn­ing to his role as se­cu­rity com­men­ta­tor, pointed out the cam­eras in­stalled out­side a shop­ping cen­ter. He said they would de­ter any trou­ble­mak­ers.

“The po­lice are right on the ball, and se­cu­rity is bet­ter than ever with CCTV,” he said. “Ev­ery­thing fits to­gether in the big­ger pic­ture.”

We boarded the Tube to the Not­ting Hill Gate sta­tion, where we would part ways. As we rode the es­ca­la­tor from the depths of the Underground and fol­lowed one of its ten­ta­cled arms to my plat­form, Tim asked me, “Do you feel safe?”

I said I did, but I didn’t be­lieve it un­til sev­eral min­utes later. On the train, the cars sud­denly stopped. No one peered anx­iously out the win­dow or shifted in their seats.

I waited sev­eral min­utes be­fore the con­duc­tor’s voice came over the PA. In a pleas­ant lilt, he apol­o­gized for the in­con­ve­nience and in­formed us that he was look­ing into the mat­ter. He quickly re­turned with the cause of the de­lay. Con­ges­tion, just as he sus­pected.

Yes, Tim, I feel safe.


Stu­dents’ pa­per hearts are strung along a wall near Lon­don’s South­wark Cathe­dral as a makeshift me­mo­rial for at­tack vic­tims.



FROM TOP: The day af­ter the Lon­don Bridge at­tacks in June, tourists gather again in the city’s Par­lia­ment Square; glam­orous gowns on dis­play at Kens­ing­ton Palace as part of the “Diana: Her Fash­ion Story” ret­ro­spec­tive; the “Pink Floyd: Their Mor­tal Re­mains” ex­hibit at the Vic­to­ria and Al­bert Mu­seum has a pre­dictably psy­che­delic ef­fect.


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