Tower Bridge as seen while walking London

I See London, I See France, Part Two: Art, Walking London, and Meeting Friends

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You can find all the posts about our trip to London and Paris by clicking here.

Though we were eager to start walking London, day two started with meetings just down the road from our hotel. After a morning of work, however, we were free to explore a bit. For us, that started with something to munch.

Franco Manca pizza in London
Those who know me will also know that seldom will I say no to pizza.

We grabbed a pizza at a place called Franco Manca and washed it down with a little unfiltered wine. Here in the US, we might call this a bit of a hipster chain (lovingly), but with all the different ethnic foods available in London, I’m not sure that they have hipster restaurants; I’m pretty sure they’re just restaurants, which is pretty great.

After lunch we got on the Tube and headed out for a little bit more business, our first site visit of the trip. Quite luckily, however, that put us right in the vicinity of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

St. Paul's Cathedral.
St. Paul’s Cathedral.

This is when and where our day of walking London really started (with the exception of that pizza, which was really good). After our brief bit of business, we started to take in London on foot. We strolled on from St. Paul’s, acting a bit like tourists along the way.

London Phone Booth
The London phone booth picture. Classic.

And then we found ourselves on the other end of St. Paul’s Cathedral. That’s part of the joy of wandering though, seeing things from multiple perspectives.

More of St. Paul's
More of St. Paul’s!

Intrepid Travel Trip #4. Explore on foot.

If at all possible, explore on foot. If you have the time, exploring a city on foot allows you to see it from the most exciting vantage point. You can observe the people around you, duck into nooks and crannies, walk down side streets, and stop at little shops, pubs, or cafes for a snack or a beverage. On foot, you never have to worry about parking.

Walking affords you the opportunity to let your eye wander. You can take in the architecture, appreciate or disparage street art, or just decide to sit on a ledge or bench and take in your surroundings. You can’t do this as easily or readily if you’re driving or if you’re on a tour bus. Everything goes by too fast, and as I suggested in the last post about London it’s better to slow down if you can. That’s how you’re most apt to get the most out of your visit. We saw more by walking London than we ever could have on a tour bus, even if we didn’t cover as many miles.

We used the underground to close some distances (as most people do in London), and we also took the train to Barnes (we’ll get to that shortly), but for the most part, we explored on foot, which I highly recommend.

We made our way to the Thames and crossed the Millennium Bridge, to the Tate Modern.

Crossing the Millennium Bridge to get to the Tate Modern, walking London
Crossing the Millennium Bridge to get to the Tate Modern.

Don’t get me started on the Tate; Free general entry, long hours, and amazing international modern and contemporary art. Yes, please! Clarissa and I both love museums and this place is simply incredible. Absolutely amazing.

African Adventure by Jane Alexander
Okay, the Tate can be a little weird too… Which is also awesome. For the record, this sculpture (which takes up an entire room) is called “African Adventure” and is by the award winning South African artist Jane Alexander. She makes incredibly poignant work about the political and social backdrop of South Africa.

Okay, maybe modern art isn’t your thing. I still highly recommend giving it a try. You never know, you just might find something that you do like. And even if you don’t, chances are you’ll find something that makes you think.

Like a Picasso…

Picasso's "The Three Dancers."
Picasso’s “The Three Dancers.”

Or a Richter…

Gerhard Richter's "Cage 5."
Gerhard Richter’s “Cage 5.”

Or a Miro…

Joan Miro's "Une Étoile Caresse le Sein d'une Négresse."
Joan Miro’s “Une Étoile Caresse le Sein d’une Négresse.”

The Tate has so much amazing work, that I could have spent days just wandering and looking at art. Even if you don’t have days, I advise stopping by for a few hours and exploring the world of modern and contemporary art, even if you’re not sure that’s your scene. Especially if you think that’s not your scene.

Intrepid Travel Trip #5. Check out the cultural institutions.

I understand that not everyone loves art, but what is traveling for if not expanding ones horizons. When you’re in a foreign country, or even exploring your own a little more, it’s worth the time to check out cultural institutions like museums, historic sites, monuments, and the like. These are generally accessible, easy to locate, and again, oh so worth your time.

Art, history, and culture help define a place, and though a tourist might be content to ignore them, a traveler would do well to commit some time to experiencing these things. You may not come away with a profound love of modern art, but you will have looked at it, thought about it, experienced it. You will have had the opportunity to watch others interacting with each other in reaction to the subject matter. You don’t need to know anything about art, history, or art history to appreciate any of these things. You just have to be open to the experience.

At the end of your trip, you’ll be able to look back and think about how you didn’t just go sight-seeing, but rather investigated an important element of the culture that you explored. That alone is worthwhile.

The Tate isn’t the last museum we visited on this trip, so you’ll see plenty of reminders of this tip in upcoming posts. I hope you’ll take it under consideration.

After a couple hours at the Tate we were (somewhat) ready to move along. For the rest of the day, we continued walking London, which is surprisingly easy to do. We passed Shakespeare’s Globe…

Shakespeare's Globe.
Shakespeare’s Globe.

This is a modern recreation of the Globe Theatre, where Shakespeare’s plays were performed. The original theatre was constructed in 1599, and then burned down in 1613. It was then rebuilt in 1614, only to be demolished in 1644. The recreation opened in 1997, near where the original structure stood.

We continued walking to the remnants of Winchester Palace. This 12th century palace served as a home away from home for the Bishops of Winchester while they visited London. In 1814, a fire destroyed the majority of the palace, but the rose window remains.

The ruins and Rose Window of Winchester Palace
The ruins of Winchester Palace, with the rose window still intact.

Only a three mile stroll from Winchester Palace and you’ll find Southwark Cathedral. Southwark has served as a place of Christian worship for over 1,000 years, but only served as a cathedral since 1905 when the diocese of Southwark was created.

Southwark Cathedral as seen while walking London
Our first view of Southwark Cathedral.

And if you’re walking London, you may very well be obligated to walk the Tower Bridge which has become an iconic symbol of the city.

Tower Bridge Selfie while walking London
Tower Bridge Selfie!
Crossing Tower Bridge while walking London
And of course, we walked across!

We were starting to run short of time, so we knew we needed to start heading back. Thus, no exploration of Tower Bridge save the crossing. We did make time, however, for a quick shot of London Tower.

The Tower of London
That’s me and the Tower of London!

After our quick stop by the Tower of London, we hopped on the next available underground car back to Gloucester Road, and back to the hotel to freshen up just a bit. We had been soaked a bit by rain that morning, and though we were mostly dry, we both wanted to swap into some fresh clothes. Then we were back out the door, back on the tube, and then at Waterloo hopping off the underground and getting onto a train to Barnes Bridge Station. Thus ended our day of walking London, and began our evening of riding the train.

The ride wasn’t very long, however, and we stepped off the train in Barnes. We made our way out of the station to find Allysse patiently waiting alongside her bike for Clarissa and I, who were very late. Allysse is a friend I’ve made through the blogging world; last summer she took a bike trip through Portugal, and her photos from the trip continue to blow my mind. Her writing is fantastic too, and I highly recommend her blog Beste Glatisant.

Alongside the Thames in Barnes.
Me, Allysse, and Clarissa alongside the Thames in Barnes.

I confess I still know very little about Barnes, but it seemed quieter, more relaxed, than where we spent most of our time in London. I was glad that Allysse had invited us to this neighborhood. We strolled along the Thames, chatting about our trip so far, and stopped for a few pints and dinner at the White Hart, which I loved. If you’re ever in the neighborhood, stop by for a drink or a bite to eat.

We had great conversations about recent adventures, (many thanks, Allysse, for your patience as I interrogated you about your Portugal experience), upcoming journeys, and general plans for the future. It was a delight getting to know someone in person who I already considered a friend. Eventually, however, the fish and chips were eaten, the pints drained, stories drew to a close, and so too we realized, must our evening.

Intrepid Travel Tip #6. Make a friend.

There are a lot of great things about traveling. I love to see incredible things, traverse unfamiliar landscapes, and enjoy new foods. One of the best parts of travel, however, is meeting people. They don’t necessarily have to be strangers; in this day of instantaneous long-range communication, it’s possible to have friends all across the globe, like Allysse. Travel gives you the opportunity to meet them, talk to them, and break bread with them. It’s a wonderful experience.

I’m not always the best at meeting new people. I’m not always sure how to begin a conversation, and this can make me feel awkward. I’m trying to do better about that, and this trip helped me break out of that awkwardness a bit. People are mostly friendly and I find that a smile is universal, so even when you meet a stranger, don’t forget that they could be a new friend too.

We meet a couple new friends on this trip, and I enjoyed those experiences very much. If you have the opportunity to get to know someone, to learn how they’re different from you, and discover just how very much they’re the same, I urge you to take it.

As the evening drew to a close, Allysse escorted us back to the train station, and sent us off with a hug before pedaling off. We hopped on the train, transitioned to the underground, and walked the last of the way back to the hotel. Day two drew to a close, and we collapsed into bed.

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8 thoughts on “I See London, I See France, Part Two: Art, Walking London, and Meeting Friends

  1. I didn’t realize you folks were off to London, looks like fun. Although I have to admit I’d probably skip the Tate and go with something more traditional.

    1. We did have a lot of fun on this trip. I really enjoyed the Tate, but there’s something for everybody. We visited some more traditional museums during the visit as well, so you’ll see more of that as well!

  2. It was great to meet you both 😀 I hope I can pay you a visit in the USA one day.
    Like you, I’m not always the best at meeting new people but the Internet has made it so easy to meet like minded people. That’s actually how I’ve met most of my friends now, even the one close to home.

    I love your advice about travel in this article. I completely agree with the travelling on foot bit. You see so much more and really get to experience a place, its feels, and its nooks and crannies.

    I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the museum too. It’s such a privilege to be able to walk in for free in such institutions.

    1. I hope that you can make it this way as well! Our door is always open to you!

      I’m much better now at meeting people than I ever was in the past, but I still have some lingering awkwardness. Once a conversation is rolling, I tend to be fine, it’s starting a conversation that I have trouble with. I’ve managed to stumble my way through making friends despite it, however.

      This trip, in many ways, contrasted with the road trip we took in the fall. Both were wonderful experiences, but we drove past so many things on the road, and barely had a moment to even notice them. On foot, it’s much different. You really connect with the spirit of a place when you’re walking.

      1. I couldn’t agree more.
        I once was driven past an area where I cycled for a few days. We crossed it in a matter of hours and it felt strange. I could remember the details of the road and the vegetation but from the car I could see none of it.

        As handy as motorised transport is, it does obscure a lot. You don’t get the time to notice the details and soak in a places. I think the key is to remain aware and stop if you see something of interest. It’s still not the same but at least, it slows the journey down a bit.

        1. Last year, I did my garbage pick up hike along the Great River Trail. Since then, I have driven along much of the route. What took me five days to hike, I can drive in about an hour. It’s a nice drive, but a much different experience.

          Of course, there is something to be said for driving; our road trip last year was amazing, and obviously there’s no way we could have done it all on foot.

          But the speedy driving enabled us to slow down and enjoy long hikes and nights under stars. It ended up a pretty decent blend.

          1. Well said. There is definitely a balance to be found between travelling under your own steam and using motor powered vehicles. It’s often a matter of remembering that motors are great if you also remember to enjoy the scenery and keep your curiosity alive by stopping and enjoying the outdoors 🙂

  3. I agree with you that walking through a place is the very best way to see it and get the experience. Just like you said, maybe you won’t see as much, but you’ll get more out of it.

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