London Getaway – Sights and Sounds of the City

On the Road Again Series

Today was our last full day in the British capital.  (We depart for Heathrow in the pre-dawn hours tomorrow morning.)  We did a ton of walking today…Margi’s pedometer app said that we had done 14,300 steps by the end of the day!  This wasn’t really intentional…The distance from Borough Market to our theatre in the West End looked deceptively short on our cheap tourist map.  (A scale of miles would have helped immensely.)  A bit of drizzle and a blustery wind along the Embankment didn’t help matters.

This is the second of two posts highlighting our all-to-brief London getaway.  The other communiqué can be found here.

Borough Market

This was our first stop today.  Borough Market is perhaps the most famous farmer’s market in London.  It is located just about a mile from our hotel, so was an easy walk on a leisurely Saturday morning.  The market is covered (to fend off the inevitable rainy London weather), but otherwise open to the outside:

01 Borough Market

Being a weekend day, the market was fairly crowded, but getting around was nonetheless manageable.  Most stalls were giving free samples to passersby, and I got my share of nibblies 😋.

Below is a well-stocked stall carrying a variety of Spanish cheeses and, of course, jamón ibérico!  You can, in fact, see the hanging legs of ham just inside the rear window.

02 Spanish Cheeses at Borough

And, of course, there are the ubiquitous stalls selling artisan breads and other baked goods:

03 Bread Stall at Borough

Several of the vendors have distinctive tunes that they croon to passersby.  In case you can’t make it out, this bloke is singing “Two pounds a box of strawberries!”:

For some obscure reason, the Brits are unusually proud of their odd-looking skyscrapers.  Many have very descriptive nicknames, such as The Gherkin, The Pregnant Lady, The Cheese Grater, and The Walkie-Talkie.  Perhaps the most famous is The Shard, the world’s tallest broken piece of glass,† on the South Bank of the Thames, not far from Borough Market:

04 Shard behind Borough

At one time, The Shard was the tallest building in Europe, but it has since been dislodged by a number of newer skyscrapers in Moscow.  Amusingly enough, local tour guides now bill the structure as the tallest building in Western Europe.  Whatever.

A Stroll along the South Bank

Let’s face it, the Brits are an eccentric lot.  We encountered this bloke on our way from Borough Market to the South Bank river walk:

A nattily attired street performer, complete with mural of the old Bard as a backdrop.

There is a very scenic river walk along the South Bank of the Thames called the Jubilee Walkway, which we took as far as the Millennium Bridge.  This bridge is a sleek, pedestrian-only span across the Thames, connecting the Tate Modern Museum in the South End with St. Paul’s Cathedral on the opposite shore.  You can see this bridge in the photo below (on the left towards the rear), along with some swans that we spotted near the walkway.

05 Swans in the Thames

We paused for a photo op near the northern end of the span, and caught a nice view of St. Paul’s Cathedral in the background.  Note the heavily overcast sky, which punctuated each (and every) day of the trip:

06 Margi on Millennium BridgeMargi on the Millennium Bridge, with St. Paul’s Cathedral in the background.

Allow Me a Small Digression

The Millennium Bridge, although very popular with locals, has a checkered past.  A few vignettes from its brief history:

  • Apparently, no one in London calls the span by its official name.  Shortly after opening in June 2000, it was quickly re-christened the “Wobbly Bridge” and the name has stuck.  Seems that the British engineers overlooked a critical detail in the design.  The span was constructed using a relatively new technique called lateral suspension, which allows suspension bridges to be built without the tall (and unaesthetic) supporting columns.  This seemed like a good idea at the time.  The bridge, however, was afflicted by a phenomenon called Synchronous Lateral Excitation, as a horde of people flooded over its gleaming new deck.  (About 80,000 people crossed the bridge on opening day, with around 2,000 on the bridge at any one time.)  Those on the southern and central spans felt the bridge begin to sway and twist in regular oscillations.††  Feeling unsteady, the pedestrians altered their stride to try to reduce this unfortunate motion.  Sadly, their efforts only exacerbated the problem.  Their modified gait magnified the movement, and the oscillations continued to increase.  As a result, the bridge was shut down a mere two days after it opened.  The problem was fixed by adding two different types of damper to the structure: tuned mass dampers (similar to those used inside buildings in earthquake zones) and viscous dampers (similar in design to automobile shock absorbers).
  • As a result of the above developments, the now-Wobbly Bridge has the distinction of having two separate opening dates: the original one (with the Queen), and a second one (without the Queen) after it was fixed.  I have to admit that I could sense movement in some spots along the span, but it wasn’t overly pronounced.
  • The Wobbly Bridge is attacked and collapses into the Thames in the 2009 film Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.  In light of the span’s all-too-recent history, many Londoners were not amused.

The photo below is not mine, but I wanted to show my dear readers what one of the damper designs looks like:

Millenium Bridge DamperViscous Damper Pair on the south end of the Millennium Bridge reduces the vertical movement of the span.  Oddly enough, many of these dampers are accessible to pedestrians.

London’s West End (The Theatre District)

At the end of our rather strenuous walk to the West End (via the rain-swept Embankment), we arrived at the beautiful Phoenix Theatre for our matinee:

07 Phoenix Theatre

We saw a terrific musical there entitled Come from Away, which is set during the week following the September 11 attacks, and recounts the true story of what transpired when 38 planes were ordered to land unexpectedly in the small town of Gander, Newfoundland as part of Operation Yellow Ribbon.  This was an engaging, Broadway-quality performance.  Margi and I give this musical two thumbs way up!  See it if you get the chance.

Having learned our lesson regarding distances around central London, we Ubered our way back to the hotel in the driving rain to begin packing for the trip home 😢.  ♦♦♦

† The structure might perhaps be renamed Godzilla Beware, as I would not want to be clambering around the top of this structure.
†† For those of you entertained by such things, I’ve included a video that graphically depicts the unfortunate behaviour of the original bridge design:

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