With the sun shining and a refreshing breeze to keep us cool, we decided to take ourselves up to London by train yesterday, Saturday 9th July 2011, and what a fabulous time we had. We are very lucky, inasmuch as we are just twenty minutes away from the West End and the City. Although many people travel about London by tube, there really is no need. It is quite possible to walk around London taking in all the sights, sounds and smells of this wonderfully vibrant city. Being so close to it, and enjoying such easy access to it ,often results in us taking what is right on our doorstep for granted. We do not visit the city centre as often as we should, and it is all too easy to forget that we live in one of the world’s most beautiful and historic cities. There is just so much to see and do.
We decided to travel to Cannon Street which takes you into the heart of the City. From Monday to Friday, this area is bustling with bankers, moneymen, and office workers; all suited and booted, ready for yet another day of dealing on the London Stock Exchange. On Saturday however, the City takes on the air of a ghost town. It’s a stark contrast from the weekly buzz of boardroom banter and corporate clutter. Saturday sees a state of quietude in place, and far removed from the manic mayhem of the working week.
On leaving the almost deserted station, we noticed close by, the College of Arms. The building as it is now, is not the original, though what can be seen can be dated back to the late 17th century. The original site on which stood a medieval house called Derby Place, was given to the Heralds in 1555. The building was subjected to various alterations over the years. However, the building was burnt down in the Great Fire of London in 1666, and then later rebuilt. Again, alterations were made but it is now much the same as it was in the late 1600s. London really tends to be like this all the time. You walk a few steps, and then stop again to marvel at the architecture that rises up in front of you.
We continued to walk on towards St Paul’s Cathedral, which was a little further on but within sight. It simply takes your breath away. You cannot help but stand in awe of this work of art, for art it is. It is beautiful, with its leaded dome, its gilt work and its many statues. The craftsmanship has to be seen to be believed. This magnificent monument has truly stood the test of time. One wonders how a building of this size could have survived the blitz but survive it did. During the Blitz, buildings around the cathedral were hit hard during the bombing raids, but the cathedral, this huge white building with its mighty dome remained safe. Perhaps there were higher powers at play? Close by is a sculpture commemorating the fire-fighters of London; a fitting memorial honouring the courage and bravery of true heroes.
Moving on towards the Southbank, we were stopped by a group of American Tourists who were participating in a treasure hunt. They needed to locate various landmarks, and items both old and new, and to take photographs as evidence of their finds. As part of the task, they needed to request members of the public to be in the photograph. The item to be photographed was a colourful piano, which is chained to the ground but stands in place, to be played by whoever cares to take a seat and stroke the keys or perhaps to pound them. It is one of 29 pianos set up all over London as part of the ‘Piano Street Scheme’. My husband happily obliged. Contrary to belief most Londoners are only too happy to help when help is needed.
We crossed over the River Thames by way of walking over the Millennium Bridge. We stopped to take in the view from both sides of the Bridge. We also marvelled at this modern structure, that stands still and strong across the width of the Thames. It was not always like this though, as when the bridge was initially built it swung from side to side. This was soon put right and now it sways no more. This is just one of the many bridges that connect the two banks. Each bridge is an accolade to the genius of the engineers that built them. One cannot help but be impressed by the bridge builders of today and yesteryear.
Tourists were everywhere. I was happy to share my city on what can only be described as a fine summer’s day. For a few hours, I too was a tourist in my own city. I looked at it again for what seemed the first time, through the eyes of my inner child, and yet I have been here many times before. Each time I come, I am never disappointed. Walking on the Southbank, along the riverside, is an enjoyable way to spend a few hours. The Southbank is a lively place to be. In addition to the many tourists from overseas were other visiting groups. Huge numbers of Girl Guides and Brownies were out in force, chattering with the excitement that a day out in London incites. There were pensioners on a day out, couples holding hands, families, some laughing and others arguing but all playing their part. Occasionally one passes a street beggar. They do not talk to you but simply display a card displaying their plight in the hope that passers by take pity and may spare some loose change. One beggar caught our eye with his card held securely in his hand. He looked positively wizened with age. His card read, ‘Homeless….and my mother’s ill as well’. His humour made me smile as did the many street entertainers. Some of the entertainers are highly talented; others are not but deserve credit for at least trying to earn a living in these hard times. The Southbank is also home to a replica of the Golden Hind, the ship of Sir Francis Drake. Queen Elizabeth I ordered that the Golden Hind be preserved and in effect it became the very first maritime museum. Families are able to book sleepovers on the vessel…what fun!
We passed the Globe Theatre now fully restored, and nearby stands an old house in which Sir Christopher Wren resided, while working on St Paul’s. London is full of cobbled side streets and quirky corners untouched by the passing of time, just waiting to be stumbled upon. As I said, you cannot walk around London and fail to be impressed. There are plenty of places to eat and drink. London is awash with restaurants and bars to cater for all palates. Many places charge what I call tourist prices, which is to be expected in a major capital city, but there are also many places that offer a good plate of food for a reasonable price. It is certainly worth looking around. London is relatively expensive but for those who would seek out a bargain, there are bargains to be had. The fun is in the exploring!
Coming to the end of the Southbank we approached the West End at a leisurely pace. The West End was crowded as one would expect on the busiest shopping day of the week. For a change we chose not go to Covent Garden Market, which boasts some of the best street entertainment in Europe. This was for no other reason than we took ourselves off in the opposite direction, ending up in Piccadilly and Leicester Square, which just a few days earlier had been full of Harry Potter enthusiasts, camping out to hail the premiere of the final Harry Potter movie. This is a very noisy and colourful part of London, which is bursting with life throughout the day, and well into the night. It is not unlike Times Square in Manhattan.
Wandering back past the National Gallery, which incidentally has free admission, and houses some of the most celebrated paintings in the world, we found ourselves to be hungry. Where we should go to dine, and satiate our hunger was now uppermost in our minds. Blood sugar levels were plummeting and the desire for food took over. We had already passed through Little Italy and China Town but had not had the urge to graze on either an Italian feast or a Chinese buffet. The likes of Planet Hollywood, TGI Friday and MacDonalds did not on this occasion appeal to our ever increasing appetite as we trundled by Trafalgar Square. Even seeing the flowing fountains, and the ever lazing lions that surround the Lord Admiral Nelson himself, standing on top of his column, could not stop us from thinking about food. Even the Olympic clock set up in the square, with its countdown to the 2012 games, reminded us that it was lunchtime. We kept walking and decided we would go back to the Southbank, and find somewhere there to rest and eat.
Back at the Southbank we passed various eateries, and yet still we remained undecided. Sometimes it is hard to decide when there is such an abundance of choice. Eventually we could wait no longer and went into the nearest Prêt a Manger (we clearly just needed to eat something! Anything lol!). The food was fresh, reasonably priced and satisfying. The only things missing were a china plate and a metal knife and fork. Feeling fed and watered we continued on our walk. As we turned the next corner we were faced with restaurant after restaurant. It was good to know that they were there. On our next visit, perhaps we could choose to sit down in one of these, looking out to the river while we ate.
No longer hungry, and now quite rested, we walked on absorbing the many sights, sounds and smells that the Southbank had to offer. There was a free photographic exhibition set up for public viewing, celebrating the changing phases of life experienced by different cultures. It was a visually enriching and educational experience. Elsewhere near, in an open air theatre space, young dancers performed for pleasure to an appreciative audience made up of parents, friends and passers by. Along the walkway by the mighty Thames, jugglers juggled, dancers danced, mime artists mimed. Everywhere and all around were people entertaining, and people being entertained. A good time was to be had by all, and all this for free.
It would soon be time to go home but not before we walked to Borough Market. It is truly worthwhile visiting the market just to see the amazing assortment of food on display, and maybe taste some of the treats on offer. We had already eaten but seeing this rainbow of food all around us, was enough to make the mouth water. In addition to the food, just the atmosphere of this wonderfully vibrant marketplace is an experience not to be missed. Coming out of the market, and walking back past the London Dungeons, we made our way to London Bridge Station and home.
There are of course many attractions that we passed by on our day out in London including the London Eye, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London to name but a few. We could have stopped and visited any number of these famous landmarks but just for this one day we were content to walk through our city, not in any hurry, proud in the knowledge that our city gives so much pleasure to so many peoples from all over the world.
For all this I love London!
© Liola Lee 2011
This was just one day out in London. I have visited my City many, many times over the years. It never ceases to amaze me and take me to that childlike stage of wonder as if seeing something for the first time! The image captured here of St Paul’s Cathedral was taken by me from the Millennium Bridge.