A relaxing day along the Thames's South Bank
02/20/2010 - 02/20/2010 4 °C
Perhaps one of the best gifts I have ever received is this: Knopf's Mapguide of London. My good friend, G, gave it to me last summer, along with one for Paris, and they have both proven absolutely indispensible, especially the London guide. I cannot tell you how many times J and I have needed it, used, it, referred to it, and downright depended on it. I actually left it in London after my visit last summer because J himself--a native Londoner!--found it so useful.
During one of our many ventures through its detailed pages, we realized that, while we'd explored Westminster quite thoroughly last August, we had neglected to really take in the South Bank--that is, moving in the opposite direction, away from Big Ben, Westminster Bridge, and Parliament. The Piccadilly Line runs almost smackdab into Westminter Station (just one quick hop at Green Park Station on the Jubilee Line, and you're there!). So, off we went.
Problem: The Jubilee Line was closed--ON A SATURDAY !--starting at Green Park (oh, but of course). Oi. So, we decided to hoof it. I'm so glad we did because said stroll necessitated cutting through Buckingham Palace, which was a real pleasure. Yes, that's right. Only in London would one be forced to "cut through" Buckingham Palace, as though it were some back alley shortcut.
First, we navigated our way through Green Park, which surprisingly lived up to its moniker, given the still chilly time of year.
Soon, the Palace was in view, and as we drew nearer, the relentless-even-in-winter crowds grew thicker.
Despite taking about 400 pictures just like this one last August, I thought, oh what the heck ... just for old time's sake:
Of the course, the Palace is just as majestic when walking away from it:
The surrounding gardens are starting to come in nicely, with some hints of fall and winter still poking out here and there amidst the coming of spring:
Despite the very cold wind, it was a beautiful day:
After enough lollygagging (who are those people who appear to come straight from the airport right to Buckingham Palace, tagged luggage still in hand?), we were off toward Westminster, first via Whitehall:
It was a Saturday, and the sun was shining, so we knew were in for a real tourist trap as we headed in the direction of Westminster Bridge and the London Eye. J was particularly "thrilled" with the throngs of people, backpacks, and cameras:
We decided to forego the London Eye (again). We couldn't decide what was worse: the £18 price tag or the hours-long lineups. Alas, we agreed to appreciate it from afar:
Instead, we hung with this dude for a while:
Looking back from the County Hall, in the direction of Westminster Bridge, you can take in Big Ben, Parliament, and the sunshine from another angle:
Perhaps the picture of the day. I'd like to say it was planned, but hey ...
Once you walk past the County Hall building, you walk right underneath the London Eye, alongside Jubilee Gardens, and soon head right toward Hungerford Bridge. Along the way, there's plenty of street entertainers, musicians, and artists to distract:
Heading under the bridge, you enter the Queen's Walk, a seawall that runs along the South Bank. The first stop past the bridge is the South Bank Centre, a series of musical halls (Royal Festival Hall, Hayward Gallery, and Queen Elizabeth Hall), where various artists perform and showcase their talents.
Looking out from this point, you get some great views of the Hungerford Bridge, the Embankment Station (this one is still up for debate--J says he never said it was Waterloo Station, and now he's claiming Charing Cross Road Station!), and working waterways of the Thames.
Underneath the bridge is home to a skateboarders paradise:
Soon, we were approaching the Waterloo Bridge, home (under the bridge) to the South Bank Book Market. Right past the bridge is the National Theatre, where Sir Laurence Olivier stands guard both outside and inside.
Carrying on, with St. Paul's guiding the way off in the distance, we were met eventually by Gabriel's Wharf, a quaint little inlet set inside the South Bank, with its cute little shops, boutiques, and playgrounds:
It was back to the Queen's Walk and our final leg toward Blackfriars Bridge. The Blackfriars Station beside the bridge is one of the original stations built on the Circle Line, which I believe was the first line of the London Underground, built back in the 1700s. The bridge has obviously been rebuilt/reinforced in various stages over the years, but running underneath it, in a walk-through tunnel, you can view the various wall drawings and paintings that detail the bridge's history.
As you cross over on foot, you get a great view not only of the Thames (serendipitously laid out against the setting sun), but also Victoria Embankment--the bank across from the South Bank we'd been walking all day.
Unfortunately, it looks like the Blackfriars Station is now closed (not sure if that's permanent ... would be a shame if it were), so we had no choice in what was becoming an increasingly bitter wind but to walk along the Victoria Embankment toward the Temple Station and the District Line that would eventually connect us back to the Piccadilly Line.
Right before you reach the station, you stroll past the Temple District, Temple Gardens, and Temple Church. The district was owned by the Knights Templar from 1185-1312, and is billed as "a small enclave within the city." Inside is the famous Middle Temple Hall, where Shakespeare's Twelfth Night premiered in 1600.
Eventually, we were on our way!
Whew! We were cold but enlightened!