Sunday, July 1, 2012

A Tourist's-eye View of London Landmarks

More than a year ago someone asked me if I liked visiting London. "I'm not really a 'London' type of person," I explained. "It's too big and busy, and I like smaller, more rural places." Granted, some of my favorite cities include Toronto (which is big but doesn't seem so much so, perhaps because I know the theatre district so well), Glasgow (in large part because of Kelvingrove Park and the university area), Edinburgh (I'm a sucker for the view from the castle--and it's a bus ride away from Leith, which not only has sunshine but the best fish pie I've ever eaten), Cardiff (whose clubs let in "mature" ladies like me, plus I can enjoy lots of green spaces and waterfront), and Wellington (which is surprisingly walkable, especially when I'm motivated to make a gelato run to Oriental Parade). So what's the big deal with London? I hadn't made it personal yet.

A few trips later, after lots more theatre and three memorable weeks in a Westminster flat, and I'm a bit more familiar than a first-time tourist but still carefully venturing out into neighborhoods and doing such mundane tasks as shopping, whether from the Tesco Express across from a tube station or the local Sainsbury's or a fruit stand. I still do all the touristy things, as you can see from my photos taken from atop a double decker--but I also like to do library and theatre archival research, with breaks at out-of-the-way cafes, head to a festival or two, this time on Southbank and in university screening rooms (for the Open City Docs Fest). I will always be a visitor and an outsider, but for days or weeks at a time I can gradually chip away at the city's "bigness" and find moments and corners (or Bloomsbury squares or Thames-side benches or theatre alcoves) that become mine.

So here are the famous places and sites seen from my perspective, as I was looking up and around from that bright red bus, walking along Marylebone, or walking off a great curry while enjoying the sounds and enthusiasm of a Southbank (Coin Street) festival.

When I can, I like to start the morning with a brisk walk to Somerset House, after which I can feel virtuous and lounge with a croissant and coffee inside the deli (above) or out on the plaza. It's also the perfect place to feel creative and pretend to be a writer.

When I take photographs, my gaze often homes in on details of architecture, and throughout the city's many styles and eras, there's a lot to photograph. With views to cathedrals (St. Paul's, Southwark), one of my favorite guard dragons, and spires, wings, towers, and even a possible vampire (you'll see what I mean), my eyes were never bored.
Between the Olympics (with the Rings placed on Tower Bridge soon after my arrival--how thoughtful!) and the Diamond Jubilee, flags are everywhere.

I love gargoyles! The creatures adorning churches, such as Southwark Cathedral, and towers, including Big Ben, fascinate me. I indulged.

The National Theatre is one of my favorite places--well, not architecturally, but as a meeting place (along with the nearby BFI, the setting for some of my most memorable conversations about film and performance). Outside there are plenty of places to sit and chat--including this summer's Propstore, made from props and sets.

On a lazy Sunday afternoon, after seeing Antigone, I wandered along the south side of the river (along with a cast of hundreds) to hear music, watch the dancing (too uncoordinated and self-conscious to join in), and enjoy curry, later admiring the daring and dexterity of skateboarders.

So much is eye catching, even for a fleeting moment. (We're both sexist, sister, but I'm right there with you.)

Traffic is usually terrible, but everyone has learned to queue.

I'm always surprised, especially when I don't pay attention to the guidebook and cut through a side street, only to find something miraculous--like the remnants of the Great Hall of Winchester palace.

Even a walk down Euston Road offers a surprising warning. I only hope it symbolically references a jogging lane instead of a tiny crime scene.

I traveled further, mostly by foot (mindful of joggers) or bus, than these images reveal, but perhaps this snapshot of one tourist's London will help you think a bit differently about a "big" city of ever-changing small details.

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