What I love about London – The Thames Walk

Posted on April 4, 2010

4


Original post, February 26 2010

I emerge from underground onto Westminster bridge. The light blinds me, and it takes me a few seconds to adjust and be able to see the houses of parliament there, as they have always been, posing for the incessant tourist paparazzi. A scruffy middle-aged woman shoves a carnation into my hands.
‘Welcome to London’ she says, expecting payment. I gently push it back, refuse as politely as I can and move on. As I walk the length of the bridge, the different languages so typical of London streets flood me from every direction, and I remember that the month or temperature is not important here; tourists come in crowds nonetheless, even if it’s a bitterly cold February day.
Despite this being my third trip to the world-renowned capital, the joy of stepping back onto that particularly loved stretch of Thames bank is difficult to contain and so is that of returning to one of my favourite London attractions; the London Aquarium. Not having had anything of the sort in Malta during my childhood, every excuse is welcome to take care of left-over child’s longings and still-remaining adult indulgences. As on my last visit, I spend most of my time gazing fascinated at the shark tank, where one of the specimens drifts around in seemingly slow-motion, tale and dorsal fin drooping, mouth slightly open, and row after row of sharp teeth lazily exposed.
‘I can’t believe this.’ A young boy exclaims in delight. ‘It’s like looking into another world!’

 

Back onto the promenade, the familiar smell of freshly made waffles tempts me to stop, but there is too much ground to cover and maybe, not enough time, so I walk on. But different delights lie strategically positioned along my path so that I am still obliged to pause periodically, and like a good, experience-thirsty traveller, to take as many pictures as I can.
Two men, one a musketeer, one a wizard, one golden, one silver, stand facing each other, offering a bow and a picture to anyone willing to spare a few coins. A headless gentleman waves to the crowd. A woman whose face is covered in piercings calls out, ‘Don’t be scared. I don’t bite’, and elegantly dodges unpaid for camera attention by covering herself with her colourful parasol. Charlie Chaplin is more open to those who simply want a memento rather than a lighter pocket and Winnie de Pooh is not that particular either.

 

                              

Further on there is a different show to encourage some camera pointing. A group of teenagers are skateboarding and cycling against a backdrop of blazing graffiti. A man in his thirties, dressed in full suit and trainers, stands out as he performs his own skateboard antics. When I move on, my place is taken by new spectators and new cameras looking to capture the pulsating life of that street moment.

 

Upon reaching Blackfriars bridge, the promenade is interrupted and I am forced to continue onto Southwalk street. The peculiar shape of the Tate Modern rises to my left half way along the road, but by this time I am more interested in food than culture and continue on until I reach the entrance to Borough Market. It is my first time here. Hardly being able to keep my grumbling stomach quiet, I search for the Chorizo sandwich stall which I’ve read serves the best snack in the entire market. When I find it, my eyes lock onto one such sandwich as it is handed over to its new owner. I notice the crispy quality of the bread and the red colour of the chorizo glowing from amongst a more muted salad green. Then, as an afterthought, I notice the line of people waiting for their own little mouthful of heaven. I walk to what I think is the end of the line, but more people appear and more and more. I turn the corner and discover that the queue stretches at least six metres. I decide I don’t want that sandwich so badly after all. There are many more things to choose from which require less queuing stamina; exotic buffalo or ostrich burgers, award-winning pies, shrimp pancakes and myriad other culinary delights. In the end, I settle for a pork belly with apple sauce baguette and find a corner to ravenously eat through it. As I watch the crowd around me, I see a young woman dropping a piece of sausage from her chorizo sandwich, picking it up, then noticing me looking at her. I look the other way but from a sideway glance, see her put the sausage back into the bread. That chorizo must be really delicious if not even a morsel is worth wasting, I think to myself.
It takes a while for me to find my way out of the market and back on the Thames walk. The irony of it is that the last smell to overwhelm my nostrils is that of the familiar Swiss raclette cheese being melted and heaped onto boiled baby potatoes in all its lovely gooey consistency.

     

When I find myself facing London bridge, I find a link to the Thames walk once again. The iconic gherkin lies reflected in the large window panes of the building to my right. I had never ventured this far during my previous trips, mainly because of this fixed idea I have got into my head which prevents me from going anywhere near to what I consider to be tourist clichés. In this case, what I fear most is reaching the infamous Tower Bridge. But as I ponder this thought I am already there, only a few hundred metres away from crossing it.

Tired, cold and thirsty I take a break and ventured into a little cafe just off the promenade called Amaro, which sports a sign claiming it serves ‘arguably the best coffee you’ll taste in Britain’ according to ‘View London’. But I do not care to check that claim, particularly because I hate coffee with a passion. Instead, I linger over my mug of lovely and bitter green tea, warm myself up and get ready for the last stretch.

 

                               

When I leave the cafe, I am not quite at the bridge yet. Holding me back are a few last uniquely London experiences to be had. I come across yet another headless gentleman which gets me to thinking that this must be all the rage now, and finally, what I have been expecting all along; the makeshift prophet proclaiming the proximity of the end of the world. This particular one is a frail old man dressed in a white shirt, a green waste coat, a very short brown pleated skirt, black trainers and green socks pulled up just under the knee. As he dances spastically and shows the world what is under his skirt, a sign behind him proclaims that ‘Christ will soon come to make a better world – the Grand Prix Priest’.
Comforted by this news, I walk on to the final spot of my stroll along the Thames and prepare to face my cliché fear. But there is something wrong, something unexpected. The cloud cover breaks up so that splendid patches of blue can be seen against the larger white backdrop. A bit of sunshine comes through and hits the blue iron of the bridge, illuminating it. It is disconcerting for me to realise that this place is such a cliché because it is, after all, beautiful. And when a bright red double decker bus, steel shining under the unexpected sun, drives past, my hands no longer respond to the orders given by my brain, and lifting the camera off my lap, proceed to place it at a strategic angle and finally, to push the button, leaving me with the proof that clichés can be undone and made personal, made unique.

– Text and Photography by Denise Pulis @ www.travelwithdenden.wordpress.com

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Posted in: London