Alan Doyle usually draws a crowd of 40 to 50 tourists for his open-top bus tours of historical sites across London. Two Sundays ago, he had only seven takers.
A month after the July 7 suicide bomb attacks that killed 56 and injured at least 700, venues popular among tourists, ranging from the Tate Museum to boutiques in Covent Garden, have reported a drop in patrons. In the days following the explosion, the British Museum had a 30 percent drop in visitors, spokeswoman Hannah Bolton said. Curzon Cinemas, a popular chain, cited 44 percent fewer patrons during the weekend following the attacks. Both have bounced back, but not to pre-attack levels.
"I would like to say that the rain kept the crowds away today," shrugged the amiable Doyle. "But yesterday it was sunny and we had about the same number. The show is going on, but it's playing to half a house."
In the theater district, Doyle's comment was all too apt. Two nights after the four botched bomb explosions on July 21, a British and American troupe staged an impassioned performance of "The Genius of Ray Charles" at the Royal Haymarket theater, but a third of the seats were empty. Before the attacks, the show had been selling at close to capacity, according to Neil Reading Public Relations, the production's agent. Shakespeare's Globe Theatre lost $71,000 after canceling performances on July 7, the first time the popular stage has gone dark. Zoe Shurgold, a spokeswoman for the city's tourist office, Visit London, said that overall, the city's playhouses are logging a 20 percent drop in attendance.
Visit London officials predict that hotels and other travel services across the United Kingdom will suffer greater losses before the year ends. By their estimate, the fallout over July 7 will cost the United Kingdom, including London and other locales, $526 million in canceled trips from abroad in 2005.
Besides the threat of another terrorist strike, the intense security that is much in evidence around the city is a deterrent to some. "All those 'copters and police make it hard to have fun," said Steven Richards, a 70-year-old retiree, during a flight home from London to New York.
London police have dramatically ratcheted up patrols, particularly following the release of a videotape by Al Queda Thursday that threatened further attacks in London and the United States until their troops leave all Muslim countries. Indeed, uniformed guards are deployed on nearly every street corner in Central London and in all Underground stations.
Transit and security officials post frequent notices of delays. The Family Assistance Centre, a private organization, even offers "transit buddies," counselors especially trained to help those who are afraid to use the Underground. Surveillance helicopters circle low over the city into the wee hours. Bag searches are conducted at major museums and other public facilities. Theatergoers are required to check anything larger than a purse. Outdoor garbage cans have been clamped shut in many parts of town. "Watch Your Belongings at All Times," reads a sign flashing amid the bright lights of Piccadilly Circus. "Report Any Suspicious Activity to the Police Immediately."
The effect has been especially daunting for novice travelers. The morning after she arrived for a five-day vacation, Elly Cotton, a 21-year-old student from Baltimore, went to the travel information office at Victoria Station and announced that she was cutting her trip short. "I need to know the quickest way to get to the airport," she said. "I refuse to get back on the Underground. I just can't take it."
To be sure, Americans, Western Europeans and other foreigners are still out in force and circulating throughout London. A family from Boise, Idaho, in line for theater tickets. Students from Boston, backpacks sprawled all around, picnicking in St. James's Park. A couple from New Orleans making neat work of steak and kidney pudding at the Butlers Wharf Chop House. According to several hotels and travel agencies, few Americans have canceled their trips since the attacks.
But many seem to be opting for attractions that are more appropriate in a city still in a state of grief. In the post-attack period, Kew Gardens, a spectacular park on the southwest edge of London, noted a rise in visitors, according to spokeswoman Sue Runyard. "People find comfort in quiet places in these times," she observed. Places of solace such as Westminster and St. Paul's cathedrals, always hot attractions, are also drawing crowds.
And then there are those who just carry on, unfazed. On July 22, within hours of their arrival for a long-scheduled vacation, Chicagoans Tom and Cathy Coyle hopped on the Underground and then onto an open-top excursion bus.
"I'm not going to avoid driving a car because of the vague possibility of an accident," Tom Coyle said. "So why should I keep away from here because a terrorist might attack my bus? The odds of both occurring are about the same."
Maybe so. With parts of the Underground network still closed, however, and uncertainty about whether terrorists will strike again, Londoners and visitors are divided over how to get around. "After the first attack, we figured, oh well, we can manage this," said Ellen Eckstein, a London real estate broker, in a Marylebone cafe. "But then when it happened the second time, we realized that there is no limit to the number of times lightning can strike. So, yes, we're avoiding the Tube and buses. We have to go on with our lives, but why put ourselves in harm's way if we don't need to?"
Harald Staden, visiting from Norway with his wife and two teenage children, agreed. While waiting in line at the half-price ticket booth in Leicester Square, Staden explained that they, too, would be avoiding the Underground and the buses. "If I were alone, I'd probably have zero qualms about public transit," he said. "But with kids? No way." Instead, he said the family designed their week in London so that every place they visited could be navigated on foot.
Wandering around town, you can take the measure of a town coming to grips with terrorism.
The Londoner -- early fifties, blond, in jeans -- walked from the Charing Cross station, through the Victoria Embankment park and down a path lined with lilies and roses. The American, dressed in a dark suit, had taken the same route a few minutes earlier. Strangers, they were headed to the same destination: a towering oak with flowers piled underneath. Across from the tree, in an elegant white tent, were about a dozen regal blue chairs and a table holding a leather-bound condolence book.
The London Memorial Garden, opened Juy 11, is the official shrine for the victims of the July 7 attacks. Makeshift mourning venues had sprung up spontaneously at the bombing sites, but British authorities have quietly swept those locations clean, not wanting them to become pilgrimage or vigil destinations. This spot, in contrast, is tucked down a little-used path, with only a couple of small signs directing the public to it. The guard standing sentry said a typical day draws no more than 20 visitors.
The two visitors on this day paused to look at the small pile under the tree: letters addressed to the victims and their families, bunches of flowers in cellophane wrappers, a few photographs. Finally they exchanged introductions. Adrienne Montes is an activist who was mobilizing a campaign to rid the African continent of land mines. Saul Peters is a writer from Los Angeles.
Peters noted the contrasting British and American approaches to grieving. Following the Sept. 11 attacks, he told Montes, the whole borough of Manhattan was covered with flowers, portraits and condolences -- one giant shrine -- and travelers had come from around the world to see Ground Zero.
Montes said that making this pilgrimage had been a transformational event. For 15 days after the July 7 terrorist attack, she had been unable to use the Underground or bus. Anywhere she went was by foot. Today, she had forced herself into the Chalk Farm station, near her home.
"It was one of the most dreadful tortures I have inflicted on myself," she said. "But I had to come here, to see this, sign that book. My karma willed it. Now I can go on."
Then they parted, strolling off to different corners of London.
The encounter between the Muslim from Bangladesh and the Protestant American started on a sour note. Masur Said, 22, first spotted the stranger strolling along Edgware Road, a heavily Middle Eastern enclave between the Marylebone and Paddington neighborhoods. The carpenter was manning a table covered with pamphlets and other material about Islam. His face was round, his skin dark. He wore khakis, a plain T-shirt and a white crocheted skull cap.
"Hey," he said, cornering me on the sidewalk. "Are you Christian? If so, you should be aware that Christianity may not be the right way."
"Why would you say something like that?" I asked. "It's aggressive."
"I'm just trying to help people be better informed about Islam," Said countered, handing me a primer.
Then, suddenly warming, he offered to lead me on an excursion through the neighborhood. In easier times, he said, Edgware Road was more of a mixed scene of Middle Easterners and Anglos. Locals from both cultures live in the nearby low-rise apartments and often mingle. Several of the Lebanese restaurants draw diners from all over the city. But since the bombings and the pinpointing of locally based Muslims as the perpetrators, Said explained, the Anglos have lowered their profile.
Said pointed out the venues lining the street. At the Andalos Cafe, young Arab men huddled at tables as the robust aromas of black coffee and tobacco smoke from hookahs trickled from inside. Farther along, IKB Travel & Tours offered deals to Tehran, Damascus and Baghdad. A couple of blocks away, a newsstand sold Arabic-language newspapers.
We took a sidewalk table at Fatoush, a Lebanese restaurant that offered a front-row seat on a scene that could have been plucked out of Beirut or Cairo: men in small groups laughing and chatting in Arabic, women in burqas.
Soon dishes of hummus, kibbe and minced lamb appeared and the conversation turned to the attacks. "We don't really know what's going on," Said began. "But I will say this: We don't condone violence. But we cannot condemn acts that are truly committed in the name of Islam.
"What bothers me is that we are all being blamed for what happened," he added. "People look at me oddly now and cross the street when they see me coming. Is that fair?"
"Of course not," I responded. "But what should happen?"
"What should not happen is all sides being isolated from each other," Said said. "When that happens, things only get worse."
Bird and People Watching
The only sound was a chorus of blackbirds and song thrush. The scent of flowers wafted all around. Julia and Helmut Kraus stood on Hampstead Heath, watching the first light of a Sunday morning edge its way across the London skyline. "Awesome," Julia Kraus said.
The couple, both in their mid-forties, were in London for a few days from Dortmund, Germany. They'd wanted an escape from the sirens and security warnings that have become a staple of London life, so from the West End, they had hopped on the Tube, made two transfers and in 45 minutes ended up in the stately Georgian village of Hampstead.
The day's high point came an hour later. Strolling through the damp grass of the heath and down a few streets, they ended up at Highgate Cemetery. Put off at first by the $3 entrance fee, they would soon see why. The burial ground is a veritable outdoor sculpture museum, a remarkably well-preserved trove of intricate headstones, including that of Karl Marx. Many were covered with moss and sinking into the earth.
In the cozy town of Highgate, they looked around for a glimpse of Sting, Annie Lennox or George Michael, who have homes here. But they saw only neighborhood residents sipping tea at the Village Cafe.
Never mind. "We have managed to go all morning without thinking about terrorists," said Helmut Kraus. "That was worth the train ticket."
Solace and Suffering
The announcement promised a look at the methods various cultures used to cope with tragedy and adversity. The venue was the British Museum. About 20 peolpe, including 10 Londoners, showed up.
The followers of Taoism in China, explained Anne Beale, a volunteer docent, first made bamboo replicas of familiar objects, then burned them. The reason: so negative spirits would not follow them in later life.
Other displays were more elaborate. The women of Collingwood Bay, North Papua New Guinea, paint clay on their skin and let it stay there for months. In Oruro, Bolivia, residents don costumes and parade through the streets, making offerings to the earth to ensure that they will produce crops. "They believe that illness and misfortune result from failure to make these offerings," Beale explained. Egyptians put colorful necklaces on their donkeys to ward off evil spirits.
Quotations from writers about pain, suffering and loss were spread across one wall of the museum.
After the 45-minute program, most of the group stayed to pose questions. "I wonder if in the next century, other countries will have an exhibition on how we have two minutes of silence and then try to bring closure?" a Londoner asked.
Ale and Frank Chatter
The couches and armchairs scattered across two rooms were reminiscent of a cafe or grunge lounge. The board games, piled on shelves for anyone to use, seemed more appropriate for a college dorm. The books covering one wall added an academic touch.
One look around and it was clear that the Prince Albert, a basic-looking, green and white structure a few blocks from the Angel Tube station in Islington, was a different kind of pub. "Go and sit in a corner and you're guaranteed to hear hot debate on the topic of the day," a friend had told me. "They try to be a place for serious debate."
After patrons had a round or two of ale, the Prince Albert began to warm up.
"Right," cried out one twentysomething man. "I've not seen [Prime Minister] Tony Blair down in the Tube lately. It's the likes of us that are on the front lines."
"Come to think of it, not too many Yanks are down there either," offered a thin man with a scruffy beard.
"It does make you think about what we're doing in this war, anyway," said a third. "Play with fire and of course you're going to get it back in your face."
These were the voices of London reflecting on their plight. As the evening progressed, the conversation turned to other probing questions: Why do some groups resort to terrorist violence? What should Blair do to alleviate tension with Arabs? How to explain this crisis to the children? By 11 o'clock, when the bartender made last call, the conversation seemed just to be getting starting.
At 5 o'clock Thursday afternoon, the Bakerloo line Underground train was nearly full. A week after the July 21 explosions, Londoners and visitors seemed to be returning, cautiously, to the trains and buses. Some read the evening papers or books. Others chatted quietly.
When a young couple entered the train, everyone suddenly looked up. They were wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the words "We're Not Afraid." But the shirts, a common sight now around London, were not what was attracting attention. It was their expressions. Both were smiling brightly. As they made their way into the train, nearly everyone they passed smiled back.
Gary Lee will be online to discuss this story Monday at 2 p.m. during the Travel section's regular weekly chat on www.washingtonpost.com.