London Underground planning 24 hour tube service during 2012 Olympics?

The London underground may be one of the best systems in the world, but overnight service is still something not offered. Sure, there are plenty of late night bus services, and minicabs are usually everywhere, but once the 2012 Olympics come to town, chances are there won’t be enough buses to transport everyone.

Transport for London and the union representing tube workers are meeting to discuss the possibility of a round the clock service between July 27 and August 12, to help get visitors where they need to be.

As usual, 24 hour service will all depend on pay and staffing issues. To make matters worse, current pay issues have even raised the possibility of strikes during the upcoming Royal Wedding and the 2012 Olympics. Time will tell whether the workers get their demands met before these big events.

[Photo: Flikcr/fofiko]

Book Review: Underground England

England is a land of countless half-forgotten legends and secret hidden places.

In Underground England: Travels Beneath our Cities and Countryside, Stephen Smith explores these places, worming his way through damp caves and exploring haunted tunnels under crumbling castles. While he starts with natural caves, of which England is blessed with more than its fair share, he soon veers off into man-made places, trying to puzzle out the history hidden beneath a mass of legend.

Smith discovers that the Green and Pleasant Land is in fact the Damp and Dark Honeycomb. Stately homes have secret rooms under the stairs to hide once-illegal Catholic priests. Cold War governments created massive bunkers to save themselves (but not us) from their folly. And there are follies of a different sort–fake grottoes created by the rich and bored, like that of the infamous Hell Fire Club, which Smith reveals as far more notorious than nefarious. Eccentric Englishmen indulging their whims.

A bit like Smith himself. He’s obsessed with anything subterranean, anything weird or hidden. Burrowing under England with him is like being cornered for hours at a country pub by an uncommonly interesting local wit. Even his language fits the bill–a mixture of double entendres, pop culture references, and bizarre words. Lots of bizarre words. Appurtenances? I knew that one. Demesne? No problem. But to deckle? Prelapsarian? Thank God for the Oxford English Dictionary! I respect a man who can teach me two obscure words in the first six pages without slowing down the prose. And he doesn’t let up for the next 284.

You won’t find much on London’s underworld, however. Its wartime shelters, abandoned Tube stations, and vanished rivers are covered in Smith’s earlier book Underground London. If it’s anywhere near as good as Underground England, I’m buying it. Smith offers us a true glory hole (in the mining sense of the word). A brave traveler could make a whole under-the-road trip out of the contents of this book.

Round the World in 80 Sounds: China’s rock star rising

Beijing, China is a noisy place. China’s capital and largest city treats visitors’ ears to an endless stream of sputtering cars, clanking construction cranes and chattering pedestrians. But amidst all this growth, you could be forgiven for missing one particularly surprising sound – the strumming of an electric guitar. It’s the sound of an Asian rock scene on the rise – a new crop of Chinese bands that’s taking the music world by storm.

Along with the increasingly middle-class trappings of China’s economic boom like cars, clothes and consumer goods, an altogether different China has loudly been exporting an unexpected new product: the culture of its burgeoning rock scene. At creative concert venues in Beijing like D-22, a homegrown Chinese rock and experimental music scene is in full bloom, with a range of innovative, creative new bands leading the way. For a country better-known for its authoritarian cultural politics, the rebellious notes of this new rock counter-culture seems unlikely. Yet this new breed of Chinese music manages to straddle the line of the rebellious and the musical, shying away from the political while pushing towards new frontiers of creativity.

Expecting this new wave of Chinese music to include loopy new-age vibes and traditional Chinese instruments? Think again. These bands are more likely to channel rock gods like The Ramones, Radiohead and Sonic Youth. Want to see what rock music looks like in the 21st Century? It’s not just American and European any more. This week in Gadling’s new series, Round the World in 80 Sounds, we’ll investigate four Chinese bands you need to check out now. Keep reading below for our favorites.Carsick Cars
First formed in 2005, Beijing’s Carsick Cars have risen to a status as one of Beijing’s biggest groups, becoming unofficial frontmen for Beijing’s buzzing rock movement. Fans have compared the Cars’ noisy, experimental punk sound to other innovative bands like Sonic Youth and New Zealand innovators The Clean. Their new album, released in June of 2009 is called You Can Listen, You Can Talk. In this clip, the team plays their hit song “Zong Nan Hai” during an appearance last year in New York City.

P.K. 14
Another of the Chinese rock scene’s elder statesmen, P.K. 14 have been making music together since way back in 1997. Though they are associated with the Beijing scene, the band originally hails from Nanjing. Much like the Carsick Cars, P.K. 14’s music has been described as an artful blend of Post-Punk, tinged with a hint of Motown, and plenty of raw energy thrown in for good measure. The group’s infectious melodies led Time Magazine to name P.K. 14 one of Asia’s Best Bands. Forget Asia – these guys sound great anywhere. The clip below is a song called “Behind All Ruptures:”

Originally started as a side project of Carsick Cars members Li Qing and bass player Levi, Snapline has quickly evolved into a tight little band in its own right. Indebted to the dark, synthesizer-and-guitar-based sounds of bands like The Cure and Joy Division, Snapline’s live performances have been rumored to walk a line between brilliant and completely baffling. Here’s Snapline performing their track “Hey Jenny:”

Though P.K. 14 might have been formed earlier, Chinese band Joyside has earned its reputation as China’s most influential rock and roll band. Formed in 2001 in a bar on the outskirts of Beijing, Joyside has gone on to release five albums and get featured in a documentary on the Chinese music scene called “Wasted Orient.” Their punk-tinged sound references favorites like The Stooges, Sex Pistols and the New York Dolls. Here’s the band playing “Baby in Shadow:”

Noisy? Angry? Indie? Beijing’s growing rock scene is that and much more. With continued international attention at festivals like South by Southwest, these promising bands look ready to move beyond being just another trend in the Far East. The future looks increasingly bright for the rising stars of China’s rock underground.

Curious about the sounds of the world? Read previous Round the World in 80 Sounds posts HERE.

London Tube announcer suggests commuters off themselves because of delayed trains

Commuters on London‘s Tube got an earful last week when the station announcer gave a 30 minute play-by-play of the happenings on the tracks. Several trains were delayed and in between updating passengers on the status and predicting which train would be next, the announcer lamented the fact that his supervisor had previously reprimanded him for not offering enough information. Apparently, this was his way of showing just how much information he could provide.

Bystanders said the over-achieving announcer talked nearly nonstop for 30 minutes. It wasn’t all just technical blather though. The announcer also sympathized with the waiting passengers. “Once again, I do apologize for the disruption to your journey today,” he said, “It has upset me easily as much as it has upset you. Do trust me, that is coming from the heart.” See, boss? He’s not only informative, but he really cares too!

Later, he seemed to get more frazzled. “Is this what a nervous breakdown feels like?” he asked. Then he offered his suggestions for dealing with the annoyance. “You’ve got two options – apart from shooting yourself, and who could blame you?” Whoa, relax guy, it’s just a few delayed trains.

I’m betting his nonstop chatter actually made the delays a little more bearable for London commuters. If you’ve got to wait for a train, at least you can have a little station entertainment.

[via Telegraph]

12 underground tours around the world

Sometimes there’s more to a city that what you see above ground. Several cities around the world sit above underground labyrinths just waiting to be explored. Budget Travel has put together a list of some of the best underground tours around the world.

In Paris, you can tour the sewer system, in Berlin, check out a hidden world of bunkers and tunnels used during World War II and the Cold War, and see the remains of the older city (which the new city was built upon) in Seattle. Other cities with tours that take you underground include Vienna, Rome, Seoul, Portland, Naples, New York, Jerusalem, Edinburgh, and Istanbul.

And to Budget Travel’s list of spots with unique attractions below ground, I’ll add two of my own. Most visitors to Chicago don’t realize that the city has it’s own network of underground tunnels, called the Pedway, that connect many of the city’s government buildings and allow people to travel between them without suffering in the bitter winter cold. And in Logrono, in Spain’s Rioja region, the area underneath the town is actually larger in area than that above, thanks to an extensive network of tunnels that were once used for defense and are now used as wine cellars.

When we visit a new city we generally spend a lot of our time looking up, gawking at the tall buildings. But, it seems, maybe should pay a little more attention to the wonders just underneath our feet.