“Great Britain” has several different names. Some people say “Britain”, or “the United Kingdom”, or just “UK”. There are four different countries in the United Kingdom: England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.
Altogether more than 56 million people live in Britain, many of them in big industrial cities like London, Liverpool and Manchester, but people are often surprised by how much of Britain is open country, with lonely hills and woods, quiet rivers, lakes and farmlands.
Many people think that the weather is cold and wet in Britain all the year round. But it isn't! True, it sometimes rains and even snows for days and days, but every year there are weeks of beautiful sunny weather then the British take off their sweaters and go out to sunbathe.
Britain is only a small country, but every part is different. Scotland is a land of mountains, lakes and romantic castles. The winters are cold, with plenty of snow, but the summers are often warm and sunny. Most farmers keep sheep, and they're many small factories, which make fine sweaters from their wool. In some parts of Scotland, there are very few people. Deer live in the hills, and the rivers are full of salmon. But Glasgow and Edinburgh are both large and busy, with all that is good (and bad) in modern cities.
Northern Ireland has it problems, but it has beauty, too. In the warm, wet climate, the grass grows a brilliant green, and much of the land is farming country. Belfast is a large industrial city with many fine buildings and big port from which ships come and go to Scotland and England. But Belfast has had many difficulty years, and it is not the busy place it once was.
A hundred years ago the north of England was industrial heart of the country. From the factories came cloth, wool, machines, engines and china. The old factories came have gone now and the workers have to look for jobs in the new “high-tech” industries. Outside the towns, much of this part of England is beautiful countryside, with green hills, lakes and sandy beaches. Fishing is still a big industry in the North East, and every night (except Sunday) the fishing boats go out to sea.
The centre of England (the “Midlands”) is also an important industrial area, especially near the huge cities of Coventry and Birmingham, the centre of the car industry. But everyone, even in the heart of the modern city, there are buildings from older Britain – cathedrals, castles, and houses built hundred years ago.
Wales is a special place, a country of high mountains and pretty valleys. But Wales has plenty of industry, too, with many factories and coal mines.
The west of England is rich farming country. It produces milk, cream, butter, cheese and apples, which go to make cider, a popular drink. In the villages, country people often grow their own fruit, vegetables and flowers.
Some areas of Britain are very crowded. Around Manchester, in north west England, and Glasgow, in Scotland, are large city areas of houses and factories. The south east of England, too, has many towns and cities, including London, the giant capital. But quiet near London there are still some quiet villages and peaceful farms.
Britain is an island, of course, and you are never far from the sea. Some of the coast, especially in the west, is wild and rocky, with small, sandy beaches, and romantic old harbours. Other parts are industrial. The East Coast of Scotland, for example, is busy with oil rings and fishing boats. The most popular beaches are near the many holiday towns on the south coast, where the weather is usually warmer. It is here that Londoners come to relax.
London has been a capital city for nearly a thousand years, and many of its ancient buildings still stand. The most famous of these are the Tower of London (where the Crown Jewels are kept), Westminster Abbey and St. Pals Cathedral, but most visitors also want to see the House of Parliament, Buckingham Palace and the many magnificent museums.
Once, London was a small Roman town on the north bank of the Thames, but slowly it grew into one of the world's major cities with more than seven million people. Fewer people live in the centre now, but the suburbs are still growing.
Places now in the heart of London once stood in the middle of green fields. Many small villages, like Hampstead, Chelsea and Mayfair, became part of London, but they still keep some of their old atmosphere. Different areas of London seem like different cities. The West End is a rich man's world of shops, offices and theatres. The old port area is now called “Docklands”. The great ships have gone, and the area is changing very fast. There are huge new office buildings, and thousands of new flats and houses.
Other parts of London are changing, too. Some of the poor areas have become fashionable, and people with money are moving into them.
A hundred years ago, the river was crowded by ships, leaving for Java and Japan, New Zealand and New York, but now people travel by air, and London's main airport, Heathrow, is one of the busiest in the world.
Like all big cities, London has streets and concrete buildings, but it also has many big parks, full of trees, flowers and grass. Sit on the grass (you're allowed to!) in the middle of Hyde Park or Kensington Gardens, and you will think that you're in the country, miles away.
Many people live outside the centre of London in the suburbs, and they travel to work, in the shops and offices by train, bus or underground. The trains are full – and expensive – and the roads are crowded with cars, but every day a million people come from far out of London, even from the coast, and spend up to four hours travelling every day.
Most people work from 9 am to 5 p.m. From 8 till 10 every morning, and 4.30 to 6.30 every evening, the trains are crowded with people, and after the morning “rush hour” the shoppers come.
By the day the whole of London is busy. At night, the offices are quiet and empty, but the West End stays alive, because this is where Londoners come to enjoy themselves. There are two opera houses here, several concert halls and many theatres, as well as cinemas, and in nearby Soho the pubs, restaurants and nightclubs are busy half the night.
Many people think that London is all grey but in fact red id the London's favourite colour. The buses are red, the letterboxes are red and the mail vans are all bright, bright red. London is at its best when people are celebrating. Then the flags, the soldiers' uniforms the cheering crowds and the carriages and horses all sparkle in the sunshine – if it's not raining, of course!
Travelling by train.
Modern life is impossible without travelling. Of course the fastest way of travelling is by plane. But many people make their choice on travelling by train as with a train you have speed, comfort and pleasure combined. Travelling by train is of course slower than by air but it also has its advantages.
If you are going to travel by train you'd better book seats beforehand because many people are fond of travelling by train. There are some reasons why people choose railroad. Train is the cheap means of travelling. If it is summer outside it will be better to think of your trip before the vocation starts. To understand how true this is, you only have to go to a railway station. There you will see hundreds of people hurrying to catch a train. You'll waste a lot of time standing near the booking-office trying to buy a ticket.
Modern trains have very comfortable seats in all passenger cars, and there are sleeping-cars and dining-cars which make even the longest journey enjoyable. You can buy first-class, second-class and third-class sleepers in a separate compartment. If you are early before the train starts you can leave your suit-cases in the compartment and walk up and down the platform. Some people forget when and from which platform and track their train will be off. They can always ask for the track, platform and train numbers at the railroad station information bureau and also get information about next trains and their schedules. There are express, slow and long-distance trains. If you want to go somewhere and get there as quickly as possible you'd better know that express trains only stop at the largest stations while slow trains stop at all stations. You can get to far countries only by a long-distance train.
Once you are in your compartment you have to ask the guide to bring in the bedding. There are usually two lower and two upper berths in a third-class sleeper compartment. Some people like to occupy upper berths because it is more convenient and exciting to travel. During your way on the train you can read newspapers, books, look out of the window, drink the tea, communicate with your neighbours or sleep. I prefer to look out of the window, because you can see the country you are passing through, and not only the clouds as when you are flying. You can have something to eat at the stations when the train makes stops.
Though we all seem to agree that the future belongs to air transport, the railroads today still carry a lot of passengers and goods.
Travelling by Air.
Modern life is impossible without travelling. Of course the fastest way of travelling is by plane. Many people prefer travelling by air as it is the most convenient, comfortable and quickest means of travelling. Travelling by plane has also its advantages and disadvantages.
If you are going to travel by air you'd better buy tickets beforehand because many people are fond of travelling by plane. There are some reasons why people choose that means of travelling. If it is summer outside it will be better to think of your trip before the vocation starts. To understand how true this is, you only have to go to an airport. There you will see hundreds of people hurrying to catch a plane. You'll waste a lot of time standing near the booking office trying to buy a ticket.
Modern planes have very comfortable seats in all cabins, and there are first class, business and economy class cabins. Inside the cabin the air is always fresh and warm. Before the plane takes off the stewardess helps everyone get comfortable in the seats and wishes them a pleasant trip. She also gives all the information about the flight, the speed and the altitude. During the flight you can have something to drink and to eat. You can read newspapers and magazines or simply look out of the pothole. But you will sea nothing outside but the clouds. You can buy first-class, second-class and third class. You must be in time for your flight because you must have time to pass custom and passport controls and check in. Before boarding the plane the passenger must register at the airport. While registering he is required to have his luggage weighed. If the luggage weighs more than 20 kilograms you have to pay extra. Sometimes people forget the time and the number of the flight. They can always ask for that at the airport's information bureau