Two Sides of the Thames
Posted on: June 16, 2014, by Jill Murwin
I’ve finally arrived! Airline complications forced me to forgo Glasgow and head straight to London, but it has afforded me a couple more days in the first stop of my 14 country expedition. After getting my first full night of sleep abroad, I shook off the jet lag with a walk through the South bank near the river. By the time I shuffled down the steps of St. Christopher’s Village on Borough High Street, the city was teeming with taxis, businessmen, and pub-crawlers who were enjoying a rare cloudless day. A short walk North on Southwark Street brought me to Borough Market where the smell of salted pork, fresh haddock, sourdough bread, and assorted cheeses drifted up with the ribbons of wind sweeping across the Thames.
What struck me as I browsed the market is that London is an ageless city. In the shadow of modern skyscrapers lie farmer’s markets and thousand-year-old monuments. Without being outdated, London manages to blend the old with the new. If my goal is to trace my roots through Europe, then London is the perfect first stop, a perfect transition from the young country I grew up in.
After some bread, venison salami, and fresh fruit (after all, I just graduated from university and my funds are limited), I walked the cobblestone alley adjacent the market until I reached the water. There I was greeted by a flurry of street artists, performers, magicians, and vendors. Only a few hundred meters from the Tate Modern Art museum, everything is new. Performers test the boundaries of artistic expression, and the architecture along the water exemplifies contemporary culture. From the point where the boardwalk meets the market, it’s only a two-minute jaunt to the museum. Once inside, I snaked through the high-ceilinged rooms filled with works by Dali, Picasso and Ernst en route to the featured exhibit; Matisse’s cutouts. This is a great exhibit for any age, and after I enjoyed a decadent coffee, on the rooftop terrace, while staring across the Thames at London’s oldest attraction; St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Cliche’d as it may be, St. Paul’s is a must-see for anyone visiting London. From the front steps, the cathedral looms over the rotary lined with cafes like a sleeping giant. The incredible detail on its outer walls, which features countless sculptures tucked in cornices and stooped on terraces, is eclipsed only by the the arching interior of the central dome; 365 feet above the cathedral floor, the dome is adorned with 8 monochrome murals, each depicting a scene of St. Paul’s life. Religious or not, the sheer size and detail of the cathedral will leave any visitor in awe. I spent half an hour in one spot, searching the ceiling for new details and trying to absorb the history of the Western world.
Once the doors opened, however, and I stepped back into the financial district, the placid caverns of the cathedral gave way to bustle, technology, fashion, and the excitement of the city. The few days that followed were about pace, food and people… but when I think of London, my mind will return to the slow-stepping hallways of the Tate and the expansive cathedral floors. If you’re going to experience the electricity of London, be sure to take a breath and some time to think in the Tate and St. Paul’s, the two buildings that stare at each other from across the Thames, and the two strongholds of the city’s ageless nature. London is new, it’s exciting, and it’s fast-paced, but it refuses to forget its heritage.