Roman Forum 2006

Roman Forum 2006
Foro Romano, from the Palatine Hill - a favorite photo from one of my favorite cities

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Bloggo Trentisettesima: Sweet 'n' Sour: A Walk Along the Thames

Resolution: I have decided that before I leave London I am going to walk the entire Thames Path! Well, not the ENTIRE path, as that begins at the source of the Thames, but what is usually described as the Thames Path London: both sides of the river (not at once of course) from Hampton Court to the Thames Barrier!

Hampton Court Palace from the Thames
I should never begin with such a resolution! Why? Because some of you might hold me to it! But walking along the Thames has provided me with some of the greatest pleasures during my stay in London. And it's good exercise. Oh! And I get a certificate, suitable for framing, if I complete the walk!

I won't do it in any set order, and some stretches I've already completed: a good bit of central London on both banks, and the route from Richmond to Ham House several times. Instead I'll do it as the
Richmond Upon Thames
idea came to me - not all at once, but in bits and pieces and in no particular order, the same way I have been strolling different parts of it without really thinking about such a goal. I am not certain how often I have walked from the South Bank Centre via the Royal National Theatre, Gabriel's Wharf and the Tate Modern to the Globe and back -- MANY times! That is one of my favorite walks anywhere, can't get enough of it. But I began to feel guilty that I wasn't giving the north side of the river as much attention, and I've now walked all of that from the Chelsea Embankment to just beyond Tower Bridge.
Tower Bridge from just east of it
Then, yesterday, after a week of being laid up with a flu and seeing that it was a sunny, beautiful, and unusually warm day, I decided to try out the path east of Tower Bridge on the South Bank. I had already tried that stretch along the North Bank, but possibly because I wasn't following the signs correctly I found myself stopped short in a very posh neighborhood built on waterways only a few hundred yards beyond the bridge. However along the South bank I walked and walked, enjoying the day and the views, and yesterday's walk is the subject of this blog post. It's much more sweet than sour, and I'll dispense with the sour fairly quickly, I promise, but here goes!

I took the Circle Line underground to the Tower Hill underground station. I love getting out at that station, as your attention is drawn immediately to the awesome Tower of London. Where else can you climb from an underground station and see a castle built in the 11th century? Not in Manhattan, certainly! And as you walk you can't help but notice a large portion of the ancient wall the Romans built, mostly re-worked in the Medieval Era, granted, but the sight of it transports you back still farther into history. I should qualify the statement I made, because in other parts of Europe you can walk from an underground (or metro, or subway, call it what you will) and see an image from the deep past. Rome is an obvious example. The metro station named Colosseum explains it all for you in that one word. Just across the street the powerful symbol of ancient Rome literally overwhelms you, at least it does Dottore Gianni.
The Tower vs the Gherkin
The Tower affects the good doctor similarly -- and I'll stop here for it was before my walk truly started that the "sour" in the title hit me. I have taken countless pictures of the Tower, but I found it difficult to photograph it yesterday without including buildings such as the Gherkin that threaten to overpower it not with historical insight but with sheer mass. 
St Brides squashed 
My carp has not to do with the inability of tourists to get their obligatory photos taken. No, it's all about contemporary structures crowding out smaller but much more historical sites. I see this wherever I turn in London. You can see St Bride's wedding-cake tower better from the South Bank in the distance than from nearby it unless you stop at one particular spot on Fleet Street, where, squeezed between two big buildings you can see it in its elegance. Christopher Wren must be turning over in his grave! Another example, in fact another work by Wren, that is in a similar unfortunate position is the Monument raised in honor of the victims of the fire of London in 1666. Another fine piece of work -- and not small -- people can climb it and get views of the City, though increasngly uninteresting views because of all the new building popping up around it. 
Monument, already cramped and
about to get more so
I know I've written about this before, but it deserves repeating, though very little can be done about it now. The march of progress is trodding on historical monuments. Paris has got it right, so far at least. 
The modern towers of La Defense are far from the center of the city. London has accomplished this too, in the Canary Wharf district, but it insists on building and building and building in the old City of London, and while you can still find historical architectural gems they stand little chance in the shadow of new buildings. Had enough? Okay, on with the walk.

I crossed the mighty Tower Bridge, built in the late 19th century when the need for a crossing east of London Bridge became crucial, not an ordinary bridge but a drawbridge so that large boats could get as far up the Thames as they had been able to before the Tower Bridge was complete. 
Street along the Thames just east of
Tower Bridge - the river is to the left
Almost immediately upon turning east the walker is offered choices: to stroll down tiny cobbled streets filled with shops and eateries, or to slip off via entrances on the right to fancy squares that hold more eateries, businesses and flats for the very wealthy, or to head instead to the left via passages leading to a long broad esplanade along the Thames decorated with nautical sculptures and lined with restaurants. Part of the way down this promenade is the Design Museum, conceived by Frank Conran to feature mass produced objects including furniture, lighting, domestic appliances and much more. 
I did not go in, as I was on a first exploration, but certainly want to in future.
The promenade along the Thames just east of the Tower Bridge
Brewery Square, east of Tower Bridge
The wide walkway continues for a good bit beyond the design museum
A look eastward down the Thames from the promenade
and then a new pattern is set -- walking the Thames Path without a view of the river for short distances, as those areas offer flats set directly on the water, but also walking with views of the river in small public parks between the private properties.
Posh digs along the Thames
Was this pattern set as part of a grand notion in city planning, or was it a compromise achieved somewhat after the fact? 
A park along the waterfront,
between property developments
On the one side having every bit of Thames waterfront gobbled up by real estate agents; on the other allowing the public views of the river between developments? Dottore Gianni's money (not much sadly) is on the compromise after the fact.  I think of the small access roads to beaches in Florida, between huge condominiums, as a similar sort of compromise. However it happened, this mix of parks and properties is a pleasant way for a walker to see neighborhoods and also to see views of the river regularly. 

In fact Dottore Gianni enjoyed it so much that he just kept on walking, until he came to the village of Rotherhithe, a name he'd barely heard of, but which, after a bit of research, turns out to be a charming area with many historical points of interest.  The name Rotherhithe, wikipedia kindly lets us know, derives from "rother" which means sailor, and "hyth" meaning a haven or wharf. Either that or from hrther hth"(words much loved by anyone named Hrkach!) defined as a landing place for cattle. But what's in a name? The history, the history!  
Formerly The Shippe, now the
Mayflower Pub in Rotherhithe
Once an important port, dating from Elizabethan times, it's been home to several important docks, features a museum created by Marc Isambard Brunel to display works by him and his brother Isambard Kingdom Brunel (wonderfully named creators of bridges, dockyards and the first British railway, The Great Western), is home to a thriving Scandinavian community, with Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish churches...I could go on, and I will, but for only one more reason to like Rotherhithe. The good ship Mayflower sailed from here to Southampton in 1620! The voyage so influential to the future United States began here, from a location very near to a pub named The Shippe. This pub still exists, albeit much altered in the eighteenth century, and with a new and appropriate name, The Mayflower. 

Just beyond the pub is a canal from the Thames, starting at the river with a stream known as Surrey Water, and leading to Canada Water. 
The charming park, looking toward the
Thames, along the canal from the river 
It was at this point, in a lovely little park where a lovely lady walking her dog smiled at me (I knew then for certain that I was outside the city of London, that I decided I should turn around. I could have taken an easy way out, as stations at Rotherhithe and just a bit up the road at Canada Water, would have whisked me back. I had already been walking for two hours, but not briskly, so I decided to pick up the pace, gain the effects of exercise, and head back along the Thames Path to Tower Bridge.

It was a good hike, for I had indeed traveled quite a stretch from Tower Bridge. 
A look back at the far distant Tower Bridge
the Shard of Glass rises on the left
And until I got very near to that bridge I was able to keep up a good pace. But the day was so lovely and warm in mid-afternoon that it seemed everyone, tourists and office workers alike, had poured onto the South Bank. I walked with more difficulty a bit farther along after Tower Bridge, past the whirly City Hall and behind it the construction site of the Renzo Piano designed Shard Tower Bridge (aka The Shard of Glass, 32 London Bridge, or just The Shard) that is to become the tallest building in the European Union (just over 1,000 feet high), past Hay's Galleria, posh modernization of an old wharf, past London Bridge, the most boring river crossing in London, once its only and most unique, and on to Southwark Bridge, where I crossed the river, took the tube at Mansion House, and headed home, tired but happy! I've been happy writing this as well, and may well do more on other stretches of the Thames Path London. Stay tuned!

City Hall on the left, Hay's Wharf to its right, and towering above, The Shard

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Bloggo Trentiseisime: A weekend in Edinburgh, February 2012 (Dottore Gianni's Preamble)

Edinburgh! A city I really love, but I've seen it only once in a month other than August. 
The Festival Fringe
In August of course the city is not really itself. Instead it is crammed with visitors and performers headed there to watch or participate in the largest theatre festival in the world, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. As many of you already know, since August of 2000 I have been taking groups of Ithaca College students to the festival for a long weekend just before they begin their fall semester at our London Center (ICLC). I am very familiar by now with the exuberance and madness of that festive season, and frankly I've grown more than a bit tired of it, or at least exhausted from it. I wrote about these feelings in a post for this blog last August, after I'd come down geographically and figuratively from my wonderful Highland Fling.

My only non-festival visit was my very first to Edinburgh or Scotland for that matter.
The Edinburgh Castle
The purpose? To explore the city and get to know it before shepherding students through it, so as to provide them with the best possible time and equally importantly to not to make an utter fool of myself in the process! I took advantage of our week-long Thanksgiving break and flew to London, where the excellent director of our London Center, Bill Sheasgreen, and I strategized plans for the trip, where I first met Professor Timothy Kidd, the fabled teacher of the Interrelationships class taught at ICLC, and where I caught a train from King's Cross Station northwards for a few days in Edinburgh, a time spent learning my way around as comprehensively as I could in a very short period of time.

I only vaguely remember that first trp. Memory primo di Dotore Gianni" It was cold!
View from the castle of the town
and, beyond, the Firth of Forth
I stayed in a tiny room in an equally tiny B&B in the Broughton Street area, run by an Indian couple. The en suite facilities consisted of one of those miniscule shower stalls, obviously not part of the original structure, in which if the water went suddenly from hot to cold and back again (which it did frequently) there was absolutely no space to move away from the extremes. And god forbid you should drop your soap, becuase it was nearly impossible to lower oneself in whichever inventive way attempted to pick it up from the floor of the shower stall. But I have stayed in many such places and worse in my history of inexpensive lodgings throughout the U.K. and Europe. Even so, there was something extremely dislike-able about this particular B&B which made me eager to be out of it as quickly as possible for as long as possible.

Which meant heading out into the cold. I took an open-top bus tour to get a sense of the city on a day so damp and chilly that I was the ONLY passenger on the bus! The tour guide put away his microphone and gave me a great one-on-one introduction to the town. After that I visited the castle, walked up and down the high street, toured Holyrood, and searched out the theatres. I visited the Museum of Scotland and the National Gallery and
Holyrood Abbey, next to the palace
 and walked over as much of the "old" and "new" towns as I could. I still had some sort of memory back in those days, and I kept a journal as an aid in case memory failed, which it did then occasionally and does now almost whenever I summon it. I decided on that trip that my visits with students in August must include an open-top bus tour and a visit to the castle. Bill Sheasgreen strongly suggested a climb up Arthur's Seat as well. which I did not attempt in November and have accomplished only once since. But I sent students up every August, and they always claim it as one of the best experiences of the weekend.

The way up to Arthur's Seat, seen in the distance
I wonder if I will make the climb again this coming weekend? I will probably be shamed into it, and it probably won't kill me. We shall see...I think that whether because I die on the climb to the summit or Arthur's Seat or for much less dramatic reasons, this will be my last trip to Edinburgh. You never can tell, but I have had my fill of it. I may well return to the Highlands of Scotland, as I've only just been introduced to them, but I thnk I've had enough of the great city known in the past as Auld Reekie, even though I think it one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.
Old Town Edinburgh
Three! Dottore Gianni's preamble to his Edinburgh blog! More whilst on the trip itself!