Sunday, April 17, 2011

City of London

Yesterday Josh and I decided to explore the City of London, the square mile area that was the original city of London in medieval times.  Today it is also where many large financial institutions and law firms are based, resulting in a jarring mix of modern, hi-rise office buildings and centuries-old historic structures.  We emerged from the tube near Mansion House, the home of the Mayor of London, and headed towards St. Paul's Cathedral.  On the way out of the tube station, we spotted this sign on a newsstand:
So, of course, Josh had to pose for a photo:
Ahem.  Anyway, it was nearly 1 pm by the time we got there, so we went in search of lunch.  There were plenty of restaurants in the area, but most of them were closed.  They say that 350,000 people work in the City of London, but less than 10,000 actually live there, so many businesses are only open on weekdays. Of course, there are also a lot of tourists on weekends, so we did eventually find that the closer you got to a major tourist attraction, the more likely you were to find an open restaurant.  We ate at a Japanese-ish place and then went off in search of the church.

St Paul's was easy to spot -- a huge, ornate, and rather imposing structure designed by Christopher Wren and constructed in the late 17th century.

We made about a dozen attempts to take a self-portrait.  Sadly, this was the best of the lot:
Since there was a fee to go inside the cathedral and we had other things we wanted to see, we decided to save the tour for another day and continued on our way.  As we walked past another tube station, we finally learned what the "Monument" was that it was named after.  Another Christopher Wren structure -- this one commemorating the great London fire of 1666, which destroyed most of the City of London at that time (including a previous incarnation of St. Paul's).  The fire started at a bakery that was located on nearby Pudding Lane.  Apparently, if you tipped the monument over on its side, the top would end up at the bakery site.
For a fee, you could walk up the spiral staircase inside to the balcony at the top, but my claustrophobia and Josh's tightwad tendencies kept us from enjoying that view.  As we continued on our way, we noted that many of the street names (like Pudding Lane) seemed to reflect names of food or other products that must have been sold there at one time.  Other street names include Poultry, Bread, Milk, Wood, and Cornhill.  It's hard to imagine a large bank or law firm with a Poultry Street address, but I'm sure there are several.

We headed towards the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge, which is quite impressive.  This is not to be confused with London Bridge, which is an entirely unremarkable and nondescript bridge just behind where this photo was taken from. 
The Tower of London was mobbed with tourists, so we decided to save that tour for another day as well.  Still, it's amazing to think that parts of this compound are over 1,000 years old.   Coming from a country that's less than 250 years old, that's hard to wrap your brain around.
At this point we were feeling a bit peckish, so we wandered around the adjacent St. Katherine's Docks until we found a non-Starbucks cafe where we could sit outside an enjoy some tea and pastries.  There were some massive boats tucked away in the marina.
Then we walked towards the Thames and the Tower bridge:
Across the way at Butler's Wharf, I spotted a completely incongruous vessel -- a riverboat!  It turns out the Dixie Queen is a party boat that can be rented out for luxury river cruises.  But why a Mississippi paddleboat?
The Dixie Queen, on the Thames?
Across the Thames, we found our way to the Borough Market, which one of Josh's colleagues had recommended.  It's a warren of food stalls set up as a farmer's market on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.
Inside, it's quite a maze, and we found these maps to be somewhat unhelpful:
We got there just as they were about to shut down for the day, but we got a good sense of the kind of stuff people were selling: artisanal cheeses, chocolates, baked goods, meats, fish, produce, prepared foods, wine and other beverages.   It was a bit like the Pike Place public market in Seattle, but spread out over a much larger area.  Sadly, the Turnip vendor had already packed up and left for the day.
This sign made me think of Monty Python.
We scored some half-price bread and pain au chocolat from one of the bakery stalls and then headed back towards the Thames.  Along the way, we came across the Globe Theatre.  This is a replica of Shakespeare's original Globe Theatre, which once stood not far from this site but was demolished in 1644.  This version opened in 1997.
Not far from the Globe is the Tate Modern, which reminded Josh of the Battersea Power Station.  That's probably because this building is also a defunct power station.  We'll have to come back sometime to see the Miro exhibition.

We took the pedestrian footbridge by the Tate back across the Thames and hopped on the Tube, getting back to Wimbledon in time to scrounge up some dinner from odds and ends in the kitchen and watch The Truman Show on TV.   I am counting the days until we have a decent cable package and a DVR!  I don't watch TV that much, but when I do, I prefer to watch something I like rather than whatever happens to be on at the moment.

While we didn't actually end up touring any of the attractions we saw, it was still cool to see them and have our minds boggled by how far back the history of this city goes.  After growing up in California, I thought Washington DC was impressively old and historical, but it's nothing compared to London!  

We have two four-day weekends coming up, so we should have more opportunities to explore the city and maybe even take a day trip somewhere by train.  We haven't even scratched the surface yet!

1 comment:

  1. As you emerge from a metro station right across the street from the Tower of London (I can't quite remember the name of the station, but maybe something like Tower Bridge?), there is a great section of the Roman wall that used to suround London. I had no idea the wall was there and just stumbled upon it as I was on a whirlwind tour of London a couple of years ago. If you haven't seen it, it's worth it, I think--it even makes the Tower of London seem new!!


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