There are a few things that you don’t realize about London until you actually see it for yourself. One of those things is that, contrary to popular belief, London isn’t just all about Big Ben, the London Bridge, and the London Eye. Although all of these things are very large tourist attractions to the city and each of them has their own purpose, there is much more to London than just large Ferris wheels and bells. With that being said, I still feel as though I am obligated to talk about the large Ferris wheel seeing as I have already told you a bit about the giant bell in part 1 of this blog post. Unfortunately for my friends and me, the London Eye was closed down for renovations the day that we were in London, so taking a ride on the large wheel was not an option for us. However, that did not stop us from taking a seat on a ledge underneath it and marveling in its vastness for a bit (and taking a load off since we had been walking for several hours at this point). After a few minutes of rest, we rose and continued walking down the expanse of shops and attractions.
Along the way we passed several street performers that practiced an array of entertainment from dancing and singing, to magic, to contortionism, and so on. One performer that struck me as especially interesting was a man playing a sort of electronic, wide-barrelled flute of sorts, an instrument I had never seen before. He was playing a rendition of John Legend’s “All of Me” and the calm, beautiful melody contrasted greatly with the bustling sidewalks around us. We had only taken a couple of steps away from the calming music when a rogue pigeon took off and flew about two inches from my face. This caused me to jump roughly five feet in the air and scream a rather obnoxious, high-pitched screech. It was quite traumatizing. Sometimes in conversation with my friends I’ll bring up the terrifying event, asking them if they remember when I was viciously attacked by the foul bird in London. Their response is usually, “You mean that time a bird simply flew in front of us?” We obviously remember the event very differently.
After the “foul” incident, we came across a sort of fenced off area of the street. Outside the area a sign read “Rekorderlig Winter Cider Lodge,” stating that it was a seasonal Christmas/winter market of sorts. We passed through the still-lit trees and walkways, which even in late January were still remnant of Christmas cheer. A little ways past the lodge was a roller disco rink, and just outside of that was an open street market sale of books of all sorts. There was quite an array of different attractions all within a very small stretch, which basically sums up London. A ways down the south bank of the River Thames there was a small section where you could actually walk down onto the “beach” (not that you would necessarily want to, as they used to dump sewage straight into the river). There were very few people along the shore, one of which was a man who was making his living by carving out sand sculptures using only a shovel and some brushes. He truly was making art and I will never cease to be amazed by the great artists that go unrecognized in big cities like London. I have an immense amount of respect for street artists, and that respect has been gained specifically from traveling to other countries and seeing so much raw, passionate talent where you would least expect it.
By this point we had already passed by many bridges across the river. We then passed by the Millennium Bridge, a newer steel suspension bridge that links the north and south banks. We stopped to look at the outside of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, an open air replica of the original theatre where Shakespeare’s plays were performed. Hopefully I’ll be able to go back sometime during my stay here to get the full experience of watching a live play in London. Next, we came to another bridge across the River Thames, the London Bridge (which, contrary to popular belief, is not currently falling down). I had begun whistling the tune to “London Bridge is Falling Down” mindlessly as we walked along, and as we entered a rather dark tunnel, I heard several young children singing the nursery rhyme in the background. It was completely eerie, especially since the sun was starting to go down and the main lights in the tunnel came from a couple of openings in the concrete that were emitting a sort of green glow. It turned out that the spooky lighting and soundtrack of children’s voices was all part of a tourist attraction called “The London Bridge Experience,” but it was still freaky.
As it was getting a bit late and we were starting to get tired, we decided to sit down and have a hot chocolate at a Costa in an opening called Hay’s Galleria (here, Costa’s are like a UK version of Starbucks). After refueling, we walked along the river until we came upon the famous Tower Bridge, which is often mistaken as the London Bridge. Much like how many people refer to Big Ben as the entire clock tower rather than just the bell, many people refer to the Tower Bridge as the London Bridge since the name is easier to remember. The bridge is massive, and it was crazy to look down and actually see where it split apart to let large ships pass through. There was also another, higher level to the bridge where pedestrians could pay to walk atop the structure and look down onto the road beneath. As we crossed the bridge, one of my friends noticed that there was a symbol designed onto the structure in several places that showed a shield with the Latin words “Domine Dirige Nos” (“Lord, Guide us”) on it. He then explained that the symbol was representative of the City of London, which was apparently different than London the City. The City of London is actually a city and county within London, and there are certain areas and things marked with the crest to signify that they belong to the City of London and not simply the broader area of London. In this particular area, we saw many crests on different things across the city.
By now, it was really starting to get late and although we could’ve stared at the sun setting over the Thames indefinitely, we really needed to make the trek back to the meeting spot so that we didn’t have to maneuver our own way home. We passed by the Tower of London, one of the city’s historic castles, and continued on past one of the more religious landmarks of the city, St. Paul’s Cathedral. Both sights were really something to see and I fully intend to go back and explore them when I have more time.
We made good time on our walk from The Tower Bridge back to Big Ben, and I even had time to stop and take some extremely touristy pictures in one of London’s many red telephone booths. The thing smelled entirely unpleasant-you can see the sheer look of disgust on my face when I opened the door in the first picture below. There was also graffiti all over the walls and the door was quite heavy, but it was still worth the memorable pictures and the experience.
Just as seeing the sun set over the River Thames was unforgettable, seeing London all lit up at night was equally as satisfying. All of the different buildings, streetlights, and colors that shone from the different monuments cascaded their reflections onto the river and blended into a shimmering rainbow of light and life. I left a piece of myself within that city and it left a piece of itself within me. I cannot wait to go back and get lost in this new place I call home, and to find myself in the process.