There is, perhaps, no better way to see London from a historical point of view than to see it from the River Thames. The Thames is the reason for London’s existence. The river is the centre point of the metropolis, with many of the great attractions of London being along its banks, or within a five minute walk. And there’s no better way to do a river cruise than with a pair of tokens that we grabbed off of Groupon for £7. The pair, not each. Normal price would have set us back £26. It was a bargain. But to be fair the full price is pretty good value too.
The ride starts at Westminster, in the shadow of the Great Clock Tower that is more commonly known as Big Ben. If you don’t already know, Big Ben is just the name of the largest bell. Which is broken, by the by. Always has been. Always will be. It cracked when it was first installed, and cracked a little bit again after being repaired. It doesn’t hit the perfect note it was supposed to. But it still has a mighty impressive chime to it.
The ride goes on down the river under numerous monumental bridges and past countless architectural masterpieces. On your left you’ll see London’s oldest monument – the 3500 year old Cleopatra’s Needle. A ‘gift’ from Egypt, as thanks for the destruction of a Napoleonic fleet on the Nile, courtesy of Lord Admiral Nelson. Its twin resides in New York. Neither of them have anything to do with Cleopatra. On your right, the mighty cruiser HMS Belfast. She’s a museum ship now, but had an eventful life as a key part of the Royal Navy during and after the Second World War. Her big guns helped sink the Scharnhorst in the Atlantic, blow German coastal defences to smithereens on D-Day and, much later, put communist forces under the weights of her shells in the Korean War.
Ships have been a key ingredient in the success of London. Aside from the warships such as HMS Belfast, which opened up and maintained trade routes, there are pirate ships and tea clippers on view along the route. We’ve long had the ships required to either forcefully grab, pilfer or transport the goods needed to keep the wheels of the Empire greased and turning.
Times have changed though. As you leave behind the historic centre of the city you enter the vast stretch of Docklands. London was, once upon a time, the largest port in the world. The warehouses and docks have all long since become redundant as far as their original purpose is concerned. There are four distinctive types of construction in the old docklands area. The first you’ll see are the old warehouses which have been converted to luxurious, and prohibitively expensive, apartments. Ones with river views fetch seven figures sums. Even in these financially tough times, you’ll be lucky to negotiate the price downwards by any great amount. You’ll see the word ‘Wharf’ a lot. Warehouse At River Front.
The second type are the towering skyscrapers of the Docklands financial district, which were the brainchild of Thatcher. The old Docklands had been a wasteland prior to the regeneration of the 80’s and 90’s. The third type are the new-builds. Masses of apartment blocks, replacing the grubby old concrete council blocks of the post war years. The docklands, and East End in general, were never the wealthy parts of London. There’s always been poverty here. German bombs destroyed a lot of it in World War 2. The fourth type of construction are those grubby council blocks. You’ll not see them from the river though. River side plots all got redeveloped first. They still exist inland though. The occupants aren’t always the most civilised in London society. They help keep the prices of the new properties relatively reasonable. For now. Economic ethnic cleansing will put a stop to that sooner or later though.
Finally we reach Greenwich. I wanted to take Paola up to the Royal Observatory, where the line dividing East and West is situated. I could film her jumping over the line repeatedly – one moment a red commie, the next a right wing fascist. It was too much of a walk though. We settled for a stroll around the Naval College and it’s wondrous chapel instead. Then onto Greenwich Market. You must visit Greenwich Market. The best noodles in all London are to be found there. A pretty decent paella too. And plenty of good shopping. You can view all my photos of the River Cruise on either Flickr or Google. you can also take a closer look at my Greenwich photos on Flickr or Google.