Happy holidays everyone! I'm trying to squeeze in another blog post before the schedule gets crazy with travels back home, parties, and gift shopping. In this post I'm going to talk a bit about some of the parts of London that were new, to me at least. Everyone always talks about certain aspects of this amazing city - the Abbey, Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, along with museums and theaters, and don't get me wrong, they are all great!! But there are so many other great things to see, so since I was staying with a local, I took advantage and explored a bit more in depth.
First up - my host's neighborhood of Wapping. This is a super quiet little area, which almost seems like a village tucked away in the middle of an otherwise bustling city. There were a handful of cute river-front pubs, a lovely path along the Thames (filled with early morning runners), and one of the best little Italian restaurants ever. It also has a few famous connections - for one, apparently Dame Helen Mirren lives here, and the London episodes of Friends were filmed on this street (pics in the gallery below). Cool stuff! There are great views over to Tower Bridge and the Shard, the new tallest building in Europe (which will have a ridiculously fabulous hotel inside opening soon). That lovely walking path leads right over to St. Katherine's Docks, a really charming little wharf full of shops and restaurants, along with the ridiculously cute, but apparently cheesy Dickens Inn. It was also the (temporary?) home to the royal barge, which featured in the Queen's jubilee celebration. Some pics for your enjoyment:
Just beyond the docks is the Tower Bridge, and of course the ridiculously awesome Tower of London - but, since I'm focusing on the "newer" parts of London, I'll get back to my visit of the Tower later. From the base of Tower Bridge I jumped on a boat down the Thames toward my next destination which is likely the most famous new landmark here: the London Eye. This massive ferris wheel really does dominate the skyline, but I'm wondering if the equally expensive viewing deck of the Shard will eventually take it's place as "the" view in London. Sadly, I did not choose the viewing deck of the Shard, and succumbed to the temptation of a ride on the Eye. Don't get me wrong, it's a very cool structure, and you do get fantastic views of Big Ben & the Houses of Parliament in particular, but I do not think it's worth waiting in line. Firstly, other than the river, London isn't a particularly hilly or visually interesting city. Secondly, the day I went wasn't the prettiest of days. Thirdly, due to the curved glass, it's virtually impossible to get a photo w/out a glare, at least in my experience. Luckily, when I passed by, there was no real line, so the whole production of purchasing a ticket, waiting to board, and the ride all took about 45 minutes, total, plus my little pod wasn't incredibly crowded, so I was able to have some unobstructed views. Here are some pics of it & my ride:
Honestly, seeing it from either the river or even the river-side walking path is just about as good. :) About that riverside-walk? It's really cool, especially on a nice day. They're working on creating a walkway along the south side of the Thames from Westminster Bridge down almost all the way to Tower Bridge, which really is a great walk. There are many sidewalk cafes, a sidewalk antique print shop or two, some street performers close to the Eye, and of course the Tate Modern and the Globe. This area is really interesting as it clearly has been going through a renaissance, so you've got lots of old mixed with the new, like the famous modern art museum (which I did not visit, not being a huge modern art fan, but the building itself is pretty cool) and the Millennium Bridge. That's the pedestrian bridge which was seen being destroyed in the beginning of the 6th Harry Potter movie. I just love how its modern, swooping, clean lines connect this sort of funky section of town with the straight-laced tradition of the financial district and the fabulous masterpiece of St. Paul's cathedral.
Now, I am no guru on Shakespeare, but I did write a paper or the sonnets back in my day, and of course I love several of the plays (and their movie adaptations), so I was not going to miss a visit to the Globe theater. This of course is NOT the actual theater where his plays were performed (that building was lost centuries ago), but it's a faithful re-creation located fairly near the actual site. They really have tried to stay true to the dimensions & decor of the original (or what they know of it), and the guided tour and accompanying museum were really great, I thought. I was particularly lucky during my tour as they were deep into technical rehearsals for their upcoming production of "The Tempest". So, while we were up in the bleachers, we were treated to some true behind the scenes of the actors blocking their performances, testing prop placements, and double checking costumes & such. This was almost better than seeing an actual play because, as I found out from my short, 10-minute preview, those bleachers are NOT comfortable! My friend confirmed that fact and even admitted that she left a performance at intermission because she was in actual pain from sitting on the shallow, hard, wooden seat. SO- keep that in mind when purchasing tickets - the standing room tickets may actually be better! (Sadly, I wasn't in town when there was a performance, and I heard that seeing the performances in Stratford-upon-Avon area actually a better bet, in case you're a junkie.) The museum down below is chock-full of interesting exhibits, from history about the man & mystery, to costumes, to different recordings of famous actors doing famous monologues, so you could compare the "To Be, or Not To Be" speech from Laurence Olivier all the way to Kenneth Branagh. Really cool for Shakespeare fans, for sure! Here are a few more pics for ya:
Finally, the last "new" part of London I discovered was the funky, immensely cool eastern part of the city. Now, I had a local walking me around, which of course helped, as this is most certainly not for the tourists looking to check sights off lists. This is the home of Banksy and vintage shops galore. Hipster paradise, but not annoying, as it's authentic. We started from her apartment in Wapping, passed by the bizarre office building known as "The Gherkin" and made our way over to Spitalfields market. This is one of the many markets in London, and offers everything from vintage clothes, to tasty treats, to neat little crafty items. Plus it's covered, which is helpful in the rain, but we luckily had an gorgeous day for our shopping. We continued on through little streets & alleys, which were full of people looking for unique items and vintage bargains - loved it!! Around Shoreditch we saw lots of cool street art/graffiti (though none from Banksy), and ended up with a pint and a bite in a cute, modernized pub. Weighed down with purchases, I was thrilled with our exploration of one of the less-talked about parts of London!
Up next - More Harry Potter, aka my favorite day trip from London EVER.