Roman Forum 2006

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

Monday, April 30, 2012

Cornwall: St. Ives days 2 and 3

A very short post, as I think I've described St Ives as well as I could. The second day was nearly as nice as the first. I visited the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Garden, and also the St Ives Museum, one of the most eclectic mixes I've ever seen: mining, fishing, Victorian clothing, paintings of parts of St Ives by locals. 
St. Ives, from a climb I took on Saturday morning

Tregenna Castle

I also strolled to parts of the area I'd not yet seen, including Porthminster beachand high above it to an old castle, the Tregenna, built in the eighteenth century, but bought by the Great Western Railway in 1878 to be used as a hotel, one year after the rail company installed the St Ives line, a very short but very scenic ride as it hugs the beautiful coastline. The Tregenna remains a posh hotel today and boasts a well-known golf course, as well as spectacular views of St Ives below. 

An look at St Ives from an even higher view
at Tregenna Castle

I nosed around the waterfront, looking into touristy shops (nearly bought two sweaters!) and buying the staff of ICLC some Cornish clotted cream fudge, made in St. Ives. Every time I hear the name "clotted cream" I sure that my cholesterol is rising, but I do like it with tea and scones in the afternoon!  

I lunched on the waterfront, but while I probably should have gone back to the excellent Sea Food Cafe I instead went to Pizza Express -- I couldn't resist! 
A Tale of Two Cornwalls part 1
I put two photos in a facebook album titled A Tale of Two Cornwalls yesterday. 
The first showed Porthcurno beach bathed in sunshine with gentle seas, 
A Tale of Two Cornwalls part 2
the other from my third day in St. Ives, which ended at about noon as caught a train from St. Ives to St. Erth in gale force winds and rain with about 15 other travelers all of whom huddled into what little shelter there was. I waited again in similar conditions and equally little shelter at St. Erth for a train that was delayed, and when it finally came its doors would not open until a worker ran down the train doing it manually. We all got soaked because we raced gratefully for our coaches as soon as we saw the train coming! And that train ride, supposed to last 5 hours, lasted over 7. It was a comedy of errors, as trees had fallen on tracks, The train manager kept announcing positive messages, but we got re-routed, ending up on a "short-cut" that took us through Bristol (!) and Bath. We were stuck behind a slow train, and it took us forever! I was supposed to get to Paddington at 6 pm and I got off the train at 8:30 pm! 

While the end of the trip and journey home were not ideal, I very much enjoyed my stay in Cornwall, and may well visit again!
St Ives from Harbour Beach

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Cornwall: St. Ives Day 1

I find myself at a loss for wards about St. Ives, so there won't be all that many. I'll let the story be told primarily in photos, more of which will soon appear on facebook, for those of you who can't get enough!

I woke up early this morning, as my very small and simple hotel room features a bay window looking out on a beach facing southeast. Una bella vista! While the sound of the waves lulled me to sleep last night, the rising sun made certain that I didn’t sleep in this morning. That last is not a complaint!
The view from my room - Porthminster Beach on the right
I arrived yesterday late morning, and spent much of the day wandering the streets filled with artists’ studios and artsy shops, along beautiful beaches unusual in my experience in the U.K. as they are deep, even when the tide is in, and filled with fine-grained, light-colored sand, unlike most others I’ve encountered here. I’d compare them to Florida beaches, except that there you will not find the craggy cliffs that separate one beach from the next. No wonder they call this part of the world the Cornish Riviera!
Porthmeor Beach
As I look out my window I see just to my right the nearest beach, Porthminster, which interestingly I’ve not yet visited, as it is a good bit down from the height on which my B&B sits, and is in the opposite direction of the center of St Ives. 
Harbour Beach, from Smerton's Pier
When I look left I see a smaller strip of sand called Harbour Beach, along which I strolled yesterday, along with many others enjoying the sun and relatively warm weather. And probably the finest beach is Porthmeor, above which stands the architecturally impressive Tate St Ives, white and shining above the sea and sand. 
The Tate St Ives, from Porthmeor Beach
Additionally, in the distance across the sea I see other sandy beaches all along the coast, beyond which rise dark rocky masses on which grass and mossy plants grow. When I climbed one such hill and stepped off the tended grass onto the less neatly cropped areas I felt like I was walking on foam. Part of me wanted to bounce up and down on it, though the others on the same height may have thought that sort of behavior in a gray-haired old man!
The view from above Porthmeor Beach
note the mowed lawn and next to it the very pliant scruff
In the distance is the former ancient chapel of
St Nicholas, destroyed in 1904 and restored in recent years
This is St Ives and its environs, an old fishing village that is still slightly active but that is now much more an artists’ haven and—it is said that the light here is unique and perhaps that's what draws them. Without knowing as much about light as I probably should, were I an artist I'd be drawn to this place in any light! And so would and do many others, which makes St I'ves a major tourist destination as well. While there are some tacky touristy spots, for the most part it is upscale and classy. And really one of the loveliest places I’ve visited.

More beaches in the St. Ives area
Beond that, not much more to say. I took in the Tate at one point in the afternoon when it threatened to rain. It featured the work of Simon Fujiwara, brought up in St Ives but of an eclectic background. Five galleries are devoted to his work. The function of this museum is to feature one artist at a time, and one who has lived and worked locally. Fujiwara's installations are immensely theatrical, which attracted me to them

The Sea Food Cafe on Fore St
Before I visited the Tate I ate at a simply titled but highly recommended place, the Sea Food Cafe. You can choose your fish from the glass cabinets which house the mostly fresh caught local seafood. I was so boggled by the selection that I chose simply, the haddock for fish 'n' chips. Now THIS is fish 'n' chips as they were meant to be, in a good but unintrusive batter lightly covering a deliciaus fillet of fish, over excellent chips. Even the mushy peas were tasty! And I topped it off with a Tribute ale, which you'll recall was difficult to come by in Penzance -- as were good fish 'n' chips! Come to think of it, I may well re-visit the Sea Food Cafe and perhaps choose a little more adventurously today. A little hake perhaps? or Plaice? Local Mackerel? Crab? Salmon or sole? It's all laid out in the case, and it all looks yummy!
Fish 'n' chips at the Sea Food Cafe
Alas, whilc I have been writing this, the clouds have taken over, earlier than predicted. It could be that I’ve already had the better of my two days in St Ives, a good day to visit the other museums in town, the Barbara Hepworth and the S.t Ives Museum. But time will tell, and I’m in no great rush, as already I’ve seen so much. I'll have a stroll in a few minutes, and see where that leads me. Chances are I won't be disappointed.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Cornwall: Penzance Day 2 and the Grand Tour

My first full day in Cornwall started well. While clouds still loured, there was a fair amount of blue in the skies, and the seas were much calmer than on the first. I ate a hearty breakfast downstairs in the pub: egg, sausage, bacon, tomato, beans and interestingly very fresh mushrooms sautéed nicely. My usual experience with mushrooms at English breakfasts was canned and slightly heated. Not appetizing. Nor frankly were even the best of mushrooms at early morning. But I filled up and after wrote on the blog, then headed the short distance to the rail station where my day of adventure began.

Russ was my guide, a bright young man with a good sense of humor and gift of gab, who was filled with knowledge of the countryside. He had planned a full itinerary but happily accommodated me as well. I was his sole passenger and as agreed for this privilege I paid £60. This may seem like a hefty price but in terms of value for dollar I was more than satisfied. We started out into open countryside, and even before we were completely away from Penzance Russ spotted two peacocks on the side of the road. “A good sign” he acknowledged, and who was I to deny that?
Zennor, in the Penwith Moors
 We headed over rough moors to the north side of West Cornwall, only about six miles from the south side on which Penzance is situated, on tiny roads that, as had been the case in my highlands trip, forced drivers to give way as no two cars could squeeze by one another. We stopped a little distance from the tiny village of Zennor, consisting of, Russ estimated, about 50 souls. From out vantage point we could see the few buildings surrounded by some fields but mostly moors, the Penwith Moors in fact, and the sea beyond. Beautiful! He took me through the village, pointing out a tiny museum that featured a tiny working mill, and a popular pub, the Tinners Arms, built in 1271 (!) to accommodate the masons who built the village church, St Senara’s.
Zennor up close. Note the golden gorse in the foreground
a lovely but prickly plant!
I had a look at the internet and found a description of the village: "At Zennor one sees infinite Atlantic, all peacock-mingled colours, and the gorse is sunshine itself. Zennor is a most beautiful place: a tiny granite village nestling under high shaggy moor-hills and a big sweep of lovely sea beyond, such a lovely sea, lovelier even than the Mediterranean... It is the best place I have been in, I think."

D.H Lawrence wrote the words in 1916. He lived in the area for a time during World War I, but he was a stranger, and he also had a German girlfriend.
The Penwith Moors: pretty but rough terrain
 Suspicious that the pair might actually be spying or in other ways aiding the German army, perhaps by signaling to them at sea, a crowd gathered and not at all kindly suggested to Lawrence that he leave and never come back. He wisely obeyed and never did return, but found time later to write several very unkind words about the area he so sweetly characterized in the quote above.

From Zennor Russ took me a short distance to what might have seemed castellar remains; instead they were engine houses for the Cornish mining industry,
Mining engine houses
 which had been vital to the economy of the area from as far back as the bronze age, providing England with most of its tin and copper until discoveries of other areas in the world that yielded the same ore nearer the surface – Russ told me that the mines could be as deep as one kilometer, and that is search of the valuable products miners tunneled out under the seabed! – rendered them increasingly obsolete. Today Cornwall has one of the highest unemployment rates in the U.K., and all of its mines are closed. Agriculture is now the number one industry, in a land somewhat hostile to it, filled with moors where beautiful looking but fast-growing gorse (see the close-up photo of Zennor above), filled with sharp thorns (I felt them myself), heather and braken cover the earth. Tourism is a close number two.

Also close by Zennor, heading south, we stopped at what looked to be the middle of a moor with nothing around it. “I’ll test your walking skills now,” said Russ, to whom I had just been saying that I could walk long distances on a flat but was no good at hills. Luckily for me we were in a flat section of the moors, but the path was soggy and muddy from recent rains. Still, I managed it the walk rather well. 
We hiked for a good ten minutes when we came across the next object Russ wanted to show me: Men-an-Tol, which in Cornish means “hole stone” and which the locals call the crick stone, is considered to be from the Bronze age, and is the subject of much debate as to its usage. According to legend, piskies guard it, and at one point a changeling child had to be passed through the hole in order to get the real child, which had been stolen by the piskies, returned to its mother. It’s said to have healing powers, namely as a cure for rickets, lower back problems, etc. It has also been suggested that the stone was the entrance to a burial site. Other similar stones have been found in the area, but none so large as to be able to pass a child, or adult through, as this one is. Perhaps I should have myself sent through to help my own lower back!
Dottore Gianni Ponders: "Can I fit through that hole?"
A reminder that Men-an-tol is older than Stonehenge, older than the pyramids, of a similar date as Skara Brae in the Orkneys. On next we went to another ancient site not far afield – Lanyon Quoit, 2500 years old, and assumed to be a burial site. 
Lanyon Quoit
It was originally higher, enough so that a man on a horse could pass under it, but the ravates of time took their effect, up to the early nineteenth century when harsh storms caused one of its legs to break and it was re-positioned. But this site is only one of several sites throughout West Cornwall that remind us how far back the area was peopled, and how important religious rites, to worship, appease, or for whatever purposes, but in most cases allied to burials, were to these early cultures. In the distance across the moors from Lanyon Quoit stands another castle-like structure, the Greensborough mining engine house – structures left to us from thousands of years or merely hundreds, dot this fascinating landscape.

We headed back to the south coast, passing through the picturesque village of Mousehole (pronounced MOW-zel, vs MOUSE-hole, though it’s tiny enough for that connotation), then a bit back inland to a wonderful little craft shop/coffee and cake café whose name I forget. It’s a shame, because there I consumed the most wonderful “crumble” I can remember!
Then on to one of the most breathtaking spots on the coast, and this one really is right up there for scattering my ashes to the wind, along with the Isle of Skye and Portovenere, Porthcurno Beach.  I’m not sure I have words to describe this one, so I’ll just let a photo do it for me!
Porthcurno Beach
If you have a theatrical bent, or just a flare for the dramatic in general, you will also probably enjoy the special treat just next to Porthcurno Beach, the Minack Theatre,
The Minack Theatre
 an outdoor theatre in something like the ancient Greek outdoor theatre, with a little of the Elizabethan public theatres as well. The theatre was founded in the 1930s by a feisty woman named Rowena Cade, who through sheer force of will created and kept improving this amazing structure. When World War II turned the place into a barbed wire nightmare to protect against German invasion, Rowena snuck under the wire with her greaa mower to keep the area looking trim. And when the war ended she resurrected and improved it. My only concern is that the quality of the play being presented had better be good, as the natural surroundings are so beautiful it would be very easy to lose focus!
The Minack Theatre
From the sublime Porthcurno Russ, under pressure from me, drove me to the ridiculous Land’s End, a lovely spot in itself in a rugged way, facing the Atlantic. 
Land's End
If you set out from here and passed the Isles of Scilly, the next stop would be Newfoundland. But in the way of the natural rugged beauty is a ridiculous group of buildings that sell just about anything you can imagine, bill themselves as fun for the whole family, and pretty much sell the place down the river. Russ was right, but I did want one look out at the Atlantic to remind myself that in a very short time, less than two weeks now, I’ll be flying back across the pond, like it or not!

A quick dash back to Penzance and that was the end of the tour. It was really wonderful. I saw so much in four hours, and know much more about West Cornwall. I began by thinking this would be my one and only time to visit, but I am re-thinking now.

Unfortunately, once back in Penzance the weather, which had been amazing all during the tour, took a turn for the worse. Russ had recommended a place to get
A traditional Cornish Pasty
the best possible traditional Cornish pasty in Penzance, but the drizzle started as soon as I left the pasty shop (Lavendar’s, in case you’re ever in Penzance) so I raced back to my room and after wolfing down the pasty I worked on photos and blog. By the way I don’t think I’ll ever really enjoy this staple food of the southwest of the U.K. It is greasy, messy, takes forever to get to the meat of it. Even the best of pasties is not to Dottore Gianni’s taste-y.

There is little to say about the rest of my day. The weather improved briefly and I tool a brief walk in it, but it turned wet enough again that I opted against the highly recommended Turk’s Head, as I’d have got soaked just getting to it, and had a mediocre burger at my inn/pub. I also really wanted to try Tribute, a very popular local ale, but though there were two taps of it at the Longboat, both were empty, so I settled for another Doombar. Back up to my room, more work on the blog, and that’s about all I have to say about Penzance! A good time, in a nice enough seaside town, with a fabulous four hours out and about on my tour, but the weather kept me from enjoying it as much as I might have.

But St Ives is amazing! That’s to throw some suspense your way, as I am nearing the end of my first day in that city, but not quite ready to write about it yet! Maybe tomorrow morning! For now, be content with this narrative, and probably more interesting, the photos that accompany it!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Cornwall: Penzance Day 1

Interesting that the last trip I am taking in England, after my near year in residence at our London Center, would be to Cornwall, that corner of the isle closest to the U.S. I don’t really want to return stateside for many reasons, but of course I must, part four or five or however you count it in la vita di Dottore Gianni must be faced. So in part this trip includes Land’s End (which I’ll see later this morning), the point that is the farthest west in England is to look toward if not necessarily forward to my return, and to the beginning of the next phase.

Another partial reason for the journey is to take a very short cut between points on the UK national trails, from John o’ Groats in the north to Land’s End in the south. 
John o' Groats, last stop on mainland U.K.
Many people have taken this entire journey on via bicycle, some even by foot, as a personal challenge, for charity, or just for the hell of it. Faithful readers will remember that one of my very first travel adventures on this long stay in the U.K. was my Highland Fling, which took me to John o’ Groats, last stop on the mainland U.K. and beyond, to the Orkney Islands. Of course I took that trip by coach from Inverness, not on my own two feet. And today I’ll be driven in a minivan to Land’s End. While hardly an ordeal to be proud of, having gone in a way from John o’ Groats to Land’s End whilst I was heredoes give me some sense of this sceptred isle from tip to toe.

And last, but I don’t think least, I have been trying to get to Penzance since the 
very beginning of 2012. Admittedly I have concocted a fantasy Penzance for myself, thanks to a team named Gilbert and Sullivan, 

"For I am a pirate king!
And it is, it is a glorious thing
To be a pirate king!"

which the real town can't possibly live up to, but after two failed attempts and nearly five months later I’m here, and while I’m not feeling all that piratical, the third time is the charm; that goal (take whichever reason listed above, mix them together, or invent another) is accomplished!

But to the trip! Yesterday was one of the more miserable I’ve seen in England, cold, wet and windy. It was miserable merely to trudge from ICLC to the Gloucester Rd tube stop! After that I was indoors all the way into my rail coach, 
and settled in for a five hour jaunt from London to Penzance, from the beginning to the end of that particular rail line, which is known as the Cornish Riviera. I was in Coach A, a “quiet carriage,” one I choose whenever possible, as the silence is generally respected and it’s quite a peaceful ride. On this particular trip the coach was not at all crowded, so that helped as well. And of course I carried my trusty ipod Nano, whose battery never seems to run down, so I listened first to Vivaldi, then to Corelli (Corelli for Cornwall – the musical title of my trip) and finally to Granados’s Goyescas as played brilliantly by Alicia de Laroccha.

The weather on the journey however was miserable, miserable, miserable! I’m reminded of the former channel 5 (U.K.) weather lady, a skinny, stringy-haired blonde, who used to start nearly every forecast with, “Hallo…well…it’s going to ba another miserable day…” and she took the key word “miserable” very slowly and making sure she took time on every syllable. She put on her best smile but her intonation was mournful. Come to think of it, most days weren’t so bad, after you'd been given that as a prognosis, so she may have been doing us all a favor!
Devon countryside from the train
But the weather yesterday lived up or down to that forecast! It rained as we stopped at Reading, at Exeter, then as we railed it through Devon (though even rain cannot keep those green fields from sparkling) all the way to Plymouth, where patches of blue and every once in a while a wee bit of sun appeared, dodging the raindrops. So as we entered Cornwall, just beyond, I had hope that the day would improve. As we rode on into Cornwall…the rather fast train up to Plymouth turned into a sort of slow milk run after, stopping every ten to twenty minutes at villages where very few people got off and often as not no one got on…the weather began to promise the possibility of not completely soaked strolls around Penzance.
The green fields of Cornwall
if you look VERY close you can see a small
patch of blue - really!
Then we stepped off the train, and just as we did the skies open and it poured! 
You’ve never seen so small a station packed with so many just arrived passengers, none of whom had any intention of leaving, as they would surely have been drowned trying! Fortunately it was a short burst only (they have a term for it here, sharp showers, and it’s accurate) so I was able to leave the station after probably less than five minutes. While for a moment or two I pondered how to get to the street on which I’d be staying – Market Jew Street (!) I looked in the only two reasonable directions – the station is just at seaside so I knew that way was not an option, nor was going back to where we’d come in from – and as I looked I saw not the street sign, but my very inn! The Longboat, a pub and restaurant that boasts 20 rooms above, and exceedingly close to the rail station.

I immediately checked in, along with two or three other damp passengers from the same train, and immediately left again as I saw one or two patches of blue in the otherwise foreboding sky. And took a stroll around the town. I walked up Market Jew Street first. Okay – stop! Market Jew??? Apparently it comes from the Cornish phrase “Marghas Yow” meaning “Thursday Market,” and indeed, at one end of the street stands Market Hall. Still…
Market Hall at the top of Market Jew Street

I had a map printed off by the nice fellow that checked me in to the Longboat, but very few street names were in evidence as I walked along the roads, so I wandered somewhat aimlessly, and what I wanted to find I could not. Except for the water! 
Strong waves striking the coast at Penzance
I walked down along the waterway, but the waves were whipping up so high against the walkway that I would have got instantly drenched instead of slowly soaked as I was becoming from the light drizzle that persisted after the opening of the heavens on my arrival. I thought I might try to walk in the direction of nearby Newlyn a place described to me as a charming and authentic fishing village just down the coast, when I noticed the rain getting more and more persistent, then falling hard, so I raced back to a place that looked overpriced but which featured a view of the sea.

I’m sorry to say that except for the view the Renaissance Café was far from exceptional. It WAS overpriced, and also offered the worst scones I’ve ever tasted! I had their afternoon tea, and fortunately was able to work the scones over with so much clotted cream and strawberry jam that I was able to forget just how awful the scones themselves tasted. The view, however, includes one of the most unique
St Michael's Mount in the distance
geological formations in Cornwall, known as St Michael's Mount. This is a tidal island in the harbor, accessible by walking about 400 yards to it, BUT only at low tide. Don't push it as the tide can rush in and you could find yourself very much stuck if you get too late a start walking back to the mainland. This may remind the reader of St Michael Mount's more famous counterpart in France, Mont St Michel, which is also tidal, is of a similar shape, even has the same name. A chapel to St Michael and a castle are features of the island. I knew that I'd not have time to actually get to take the walk to the Mount, so I was happy to get a view of it, if only from across the water. And the Renaissance Café had provided me shelter from the storm, which abated as soon as I sat down and ordered.

By the time I had finished my tea the sky began again to look very grim, so I gave up, went back to the Longboat, diddled with some photos I’d taken and, after watching the evening news, went downstairs and ate there. That meal was a bit of a disappointment too, particularly as what I chose, the fish and chips, was described as being just caught that morning (the fish, not the chips) and that featured their homemade batter. However it was pretty much all batter and very little fish. What fish was there was fresh but as bland as butter, but the pint, Doombar, a Cornish ale, which, while the name sounds terrifying, like a grade C- sci fi flick or a really awful metallic rock band, tasted very nice.
Tiepolo clouds?
If not those clouds, could these read Tiepolo?
Note on the far right the surf still slamming against the shore
And the weather had picked up, so I took a walk around sunset – never saw the sun, but there was a good bit of lovely Tiepolo cloud action. I began to find places I'd been told about but had not found in my drizzly walk earlier in the day; 
most importantly Chapel Street, on which the Turk's head, the oldest pub in Penzance, is situated, and which has a number of charming and artsy shops along it, as well as another pub that reminds me of pirates, though not those of Penzance. The Admiral Benbow is just down the street from the Turk's Head (and a bit down in quality as well, from what I'm told), but the mention of that name brings Long John Silver of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island to mind insstantly, as I'm sure it does with you as well! "Jim! You and me's got to sign arcticles, Jim!" "A-har!" In any case, that walk was by far the best part of the day, and boded well for a possibly nicer following day, which I'll admit would not have been difficult. On my way back I picked up a pint in a shop, some crisps, and went back upstairs about 9 pm.
The Admiral Benbow
Day two? I'll leave you in suspense on that for a bit, but rest assured, it's coming to a blog near and well known to you very soon!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Blogs Along the Thames: Greenwich to the Thames Barrier

Dottore Gianni is a great fan of the British TV series MI-5, or as it's called in the U.K., Spooks. The series is now over, and the good doctor resisted the urge to watch the last season this past fall, as he had fallen behind in watching it in the U.S. and wanted to enjoy the build-up to the end as it should be seen -- in order!
In fact I'm very much looking forward to netflixing it as soon as I return to the states. What in the name of God has that to do with Greenwich and the Thames Barrier? If you're a fan of the series you're already ahead of me, as in one of the most thrilling of season enders, bombs are set in the Thames Barrier and the fearless agents must thwart the bombing to save London! The goal of seeing the Thames Barrier made my walk from Greenwich to the Thames Barrier exciting. The walk, as you'll read below, did not live up to its promise, but the barrier itself was awesome.

The Thames Barrier

So, how did the good doctor get from from point a to point B? The journey started with a tube ride from Gloucester Road to Canary Wharf, and from there a DLR trip (Docklands Light Rail) to Greenwich. I've written about Greenwich in the past, 
The Cutty Sark
rising like a Phoenix from the 2006 fire
and I'll not take too too much time on it here, except to say that it is one of my very favorite places in the greater London area. In addition to the historical/cultural reasons to see it: The Old Royal Naval College, The Queen's House, The Royal Observatory (home to the Prime Meridian),The Cutty Sark (now nearly restored to its former glory) there are also smaller pleasures such as perusing the indoor market, strolling along the waterfront, exploring the streets and checking out the local pubs and taverns. In the past I've referred to it as the REAL Greenwich Village and after having visited a few times recently I'll gladly hold to that claim.

But to my walk! I retraced my steps through the city, past the Trafalgar, the Yacht, Trinity Hospital and the power station, and the Cutty Sark Pub. 
Not the prettiest of Thames walks
I must tell you that for a good bit of the walk after that, the areas I passed turned from dull neighborhoods to factories and other such buildings, to be honest a big dirty industrial zone. I trekked along an increasingly widening road that led to the Blackwall Tunnel, famed for its daily traffic jams as workers try to drive into or out of central London. The first third of the walk (after the lovely sights in Greenwich) was the worst of any of my Thames walks. 

Things got more pleasant after I crossed the pedestrian walkway over the road to the tunnel. I was nearing OZ: O2 land, Olympics land, and while there was a lot
of construction there was also a good bit of green. By the way, after Greenwich and up to this point in the walk, none of the walk was on the riverside, but not too long after passing O2 I again came upon the river. At this point the Thames becomes somewhat surreal to me. It's why I refer to it as OZ. The culmination of the surreal is the Barrier itself, but looking towards the Barrier or back towards London proper there is a good bit of mud and old decaying boats and piers juxtaposed with some of the most futuristic looking, and usually unidentifiable, of objects. This made the walk if not beautiful, fascinating.
Surreal structures along the Thames

Mud, the old and the new along the Thames

Even the housing in this area was unusual looking, at least for my taste. The bright colors and unusual structure in the photo below remind me of something a child might build with blocks!

Housing along the Thames past O2
As one approaches the barrier there is a surprise amid all the surreality: an old fashioned pub on the waterfront! During the week it must service mostly workers, but it's also a place, the only place along the Thames Path, where the tourist can sit down, relax and have a pint before heading closer to the Barrier.
Tables outside at the Anchor and Hope, a pub along the river
Thames Barrier in the background
So! what IS the Thames Barrier? It is the second largest moveable flood barrier in the world (one in the Netherlands is bigger), designed to protect London from flooding during unusual storm surges emanating in the North Sea. 
A look at the Thames Barrier
Construction was begun in the mid 1970s and was completed in 1982. There has already been talk of creating an even larger barrier farther down the Thames, but this one has been built, it is said, to be effective for a thousand years. I have been reading how it works, but do not have the scientific savvy to relate the system here. Whatever it does, however it does it, it certainly is an amazing looking structure. 

a closer look at one part ot the barrier
There is a park, a cafe, an information center (closed the day I was there) at the Barrier, accessed from the west via a tunnel on the walls of which is a graphic of the Thames, from its beginnings to the Barrier, a distance of approximately 180 miles. It's a very clear picture of the different sections of the Thames, and of course as a result of my walks along the river I am now much more familiar with several of the places noted on the graphic. It's all quite fascinating to me, though as I've noted already, beyond my ken!

Park and cafe at the Barrier
After strolling through the park in the area of the barrier, after contemplating a tea and cake at the cafe (but deciding against as there was still a good  bit of a walk left and no place to relieve oneself - yes, that again!), and finally after sitting on a bench and staring my fill at the strange but strangely beautiful barrier, I decided it was time to get back to central London.

The barrier from the other end, and Canary Wharf in the distance
I had hoped to make my way farther, on what is called the Thames Path Extension, to Woolwich, from which I could take a train back to to the center, but I was unsure how to make my way there, and once again I couldn't find Thames Path markers to guide me, so instead I made my way back to 02, about a half-hour trek. By the time I got to the tube station there (North Greenwich) I was seriously tired and very happy to ride and relax my legs a bit after a long and somewhat frustrating but ultimately very rewarding expedition to the Thames Barrier.
the home stretch - O2 and the tube station off the photo to the left
This may well be my last post in my series of Thames walks, as I have now walked all the way from Richmond (a bit past it actually, as I've been as far as Ham House) to the Thames Barrier. While I have some ambitions to walk as far as Hampton Court Palace, that would entail at least two pretty long expeditions, and I'm not sure I've got the time for it. I feel a sense of accomplishment as well as satisfaction because I've not only got a good bit of exercixe, but also have seen much of London that I'd never have seen otherwise, and learned a good bit about the city, the river and their history as well!