Sunday, July 24, 2011

Wandering the City and Brighton

That is the City, as in City of London, which is quite a small and distinct area. A lot of it was bombed during the Blitz, and as I walked through it with a vague destination/direction in my mind I came across the ruins of a church and a bit of Roman wall that had been exposed by the bombs. There are a lot of buildings built in the last sixty years, and then every so often you'll come across a building that's been standing for the last six hundred, surviving both the Great Fire of London and the Blitz.

I started by the Monument to the Great Fire of 1666 (London burnt to sticks), which is a surpisinglly tall pillar in among equally tall buildings. I followed random streets in the general direction of Oxford St, in among office buildings and the Museum of London, which can be accessed by taking lifts up to skywalks, walking across them to a building in the middle of a roundabout, and then across another skywalk to the museum. This seemed too hard to get to at the time, so I'll have to go back another day.

I caught a glimpse of St Paul's Cathedral, and then walked quite a way with it right in my vision and my head ringing with 'Feed the Birds' from Mary Poppins (it seems I know most of the words). The roads around the City are relatively empty and quiet around 3.30 in the afternoon - it reminded me a bit of central Tokyo, which is a bit like a ghost town when all the workers are in their office buildings. It's strange to know that there are thousands of people around you, but not be able to see or hear them. As I got closer to the shopping and tourist districts, people became more noticeable, and I didn't have the streets entirely to myself.

At one point I saw this rather large and wonky building that looked like it had been built some time in the sixteenth century, but it was obviously being used as offices because you could see office lights through the windows. From the street, it looked like a lot of the floors would slope, and I wondered if they had office-chair races down the rooms. It began to rain, so I pulled open my umbrella only to find that it had become an anti-umbrella in multiple pieces, and in the end I had to use it as a rather floppy and semi-dangerous sombrero, which is rather diffcult in blustery wind. London really needs to accept its rain and get porches/verandahs/overhang things for its streets so that you can walk around without getting wet.

I made it to Oxford St without getting too wet and huddled in a shop until it slackened off, along with a few thousand others.

Part of the reason that this post comes on a Sunday rather than the promised Saturday is that I went to Brighton today, and saw my first glimpse of the sea in two months. Brighton's beach has pebbles of a good size but no sand, and the wind coming off the sea was quite strong. Even so, we watched a man dunking himself in the sea fully-clothed. Seagulls whirled overhead, calling to each other, and to one side of us was the new Brighton Pier, to the other the blackened, skeletal remains of the old pier that burnt down a few years ago.

Brighton's streets are mostly little, quaint and one-way, with a hodge-podge of different buildings crammed in together. The promenade along the waterfront is wide and lined on the land side with huge hotels with sea views, and below it little shops and galleries open right onto the beach. We watched one of the rides at the end of the pier fling people about, and discussed whether we should go on it after our full Sunday roast dinner.

Brighton is surprisingly close to London - in fact everywhere in the UK seems to be surprisingly close. I think I'll have to go down there again and peruse the shops for longer, and possibly go on some of the rides.

Before lunch.

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