Massive. A glorious mix of old and new. Bustling, urban, diverse. Accessible, yet mysterious. A great walking city. A great people-watching city.
I love London. And I like to think that it loves me, too; it was showing off all of its best features when a colleague and I took a walk after dinner at Ye Old Cheshire Cheese last week. Sated by a huge meal and remarkable private tour through the centuries-old pub (a story for another day), we knew we needed to walk.
Join us on this stroll, and you’ll see what I mean about London.
First, we meandered along the City of London side of the Thames, crossing over to Bankside on the Blackfriars Railway Bridge.
Looming ahead of us is a great example of modern London architecture. The structure is officially called One Blackfriars, but this is London, so of course there are other, more interesting nicknames: The Boomerang, The Vase, and even, The Tummy. The photo I snapped as we crossed doesn’t show the full profile and reason for the not-so-affectionate monikers, so here’s one from a bit later in our stroll, from the Millennium Bridge. The protuberance was not universally beloved when the project was proposed, approved (despite some vigorous objections), and completed.
One Blackfriars has been called by some an architectural masterpiece, and by others, a “grotesque atrocity”. If you’re interested in some of the controversy, check it out here. Of course, we knew nothing of this during our stroll, and it was simply a conversation piece to us. A big, shiny, bulbous one at that.
The Thames is a busy, busy river, with a busy riverside. The crane barge we saw while crossing the bridge speaks of continuous building and changing that is part of London’s DNA, even as it proudly wears its historical charm. It’s an eclectic blend, always.
The couple embracing on the bridge reminded me of the song London by Night, made popular by Frank Sinatra; the last lines are:
“Most people say they love London by dayLondon by Night, a song by Carroll Coates and recorded by Frank Sinatra
But lovers love London by night“
From under the trees on the Bankside edge of the Thames, St. Paul’s Cathedral rises magnificent in the distance, claiming its place in the skyline as it has done in some form or other for 1,400 years.
Taking in the Bankside area in the dusky light, we passed up the Millennium Bridge and turned to approach it from the east.
It is a wonderful footbridge that was opened in mid-2000 (hence the name) but immediately nicknamed the “Wobbly Bridge” because of intense swaying that scared pedestrians and necessitated its closing just two days after the grand opening. Whoops! Apparently it was safe, but the phenomenon of “synchronous lateral excitation” was occurring, and it would take two years to add engineering features that would make it less wobbly and therefore, less scary. Fascinating stuff! You can read more about it here in the Londonist: 11 Interesting Facts about the Millennium Bridge.
The skyline, bridge and stone steps meld beautifully into the diverse landscape that is London.
Time for us to head back over the bridge to the City of London side.
I really missed my DSLR camera on this stroll, but made do with the iPhone. Every vista in the twilight was interesting, beautiful, challenging, compelling. That’s London.
The bridge is perfectly positioned for St. Paul’s to be the lighthouse and beacon for those headed north. (I’ve gushed about St. Paul’s before in these pages: St. Paul’s at Midnight in the Moonlight.) It pulled us toward our hotel, and a good night’s sleep with the hourly church bells in the background.
And that’s where I’ll close the story of our River Thames stroll. Thank you for coming along, and be ready to return, because there were many things we didn’t do yet! Behind us, just steps from the base of the Millennium Bridge, is the Tate Modern museum, and very close by, Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. Neither was open that night, but that’s all right, because as long as I can still get myself onto a plane, there will always be another trip to London.
Bonus content! Here’s Frank Sinatra singing “London by Night”.