Sunday, May 24, 2009

Building Bridges

The London Bridge area of London has a dark side — and they’ll do all they can to let everyone know. Just walking up the stairwell of the Underground station to reach the outdoors, the first sight visible is a billboard for the London Bridge Experience. That billboard leads one to notice an eight-foot-tall, unsavory, horned creature cloaked in black.

Crossing Tooley Street to get a better look, I found myself watching a beheading via guillotine. Distracted by the spectacle, I never noticed the man creep up next to me. WHOOSH! A breath of air whips at the side of my face, making me jump about a foot in the air and two to the right.

The scariest moment I experienced all day degenerated into a sales pitch for the London Bridge Experience by the man in a white dress shirt and black vest … only with a white painted face and fake blood dripping from his right eye and left temple. Advertised as bloody scary, the attraction details 2,000 years of the bridge’s history, since its creation in Roman times.

I contemplated embarking on the tour. However, being as stubborn as I am and not appreciative of the guy’s sales technique, I decided to follow through with my original plan of exploring the London Dudgeon. Located next door to the tube station, the attraction boasts segments featuring the Great Fire of London, Jack the Ripper and Sweeney Todd and brings the spectators in on the action.

Mostly artificial scares, with stomping, screaming and surprise, and cheap thrills from the two fast-moving rides and special effects, the attraction was entertaining but not meant for the real thrill-seeker. If one wants scary, the £21.95 price tag and hour-long line should be sufficient. It was an enjoyable experience; it just was not worth the cost.

Stepping away from the macabre, the area also offers a calm atmosphere, with a variety of shopping, eating and sightseeing options. The section of the city was originally called the Pool of London and stretches from London Bridge to a bit past the Tower Bridge on both sides of the river. The south side of the area, by the London Bridge Underground station, is less bustling and more peaceful than its northern counterpart by the Monument station.

The district, while historical, is also a burgeoning area with buildings styled with modern architecture — glass, stone and steel. Between the London and Tower bridges is the Queen’s Walk, which offers a scenic view of the Thames. Walking east on the walkway, I follow the crowd of lovers, friends, families and random passersby, clad in comfortable clothing and speaking English and French, among other languages. 

Prominently featured is the HMS Belfast, a ship once part of the British Navy. It now is a museum ship and is maintained by the Imperial War Museum. Tourists snap photos of the ship and surrounding dock areas, while others enter the ship itself for a more close-up tour.

In the shadow of the ship is a fountain surrounded by cylindrical seats of smooth and polished tan granite. Children run through the spouting water, while their parents — some disgruntled by their children’s presently soaked condition — look on. A grandmother-granddaughter pair poses for a picture with arms outstretched, so that the water trickles over their fingers. Visitors sit on the seats, hoping the flecks of water spraying in their direction will cool them off. Overheated passersby buy frozen treats from the nearby ice cream truck to distract them from the pounding afternoon sun.

Eventually, I reach Potters Fields Parks, an open, grassy area on the riverside. Two men, sporting close-fitting black uniforms, ride unicycles, raising them at least six feet above their natural heights. They juggle white and neon orange pins and exchange banter with each other.

A few yards over, a stage is set up. A Greek road show, called The World of Athens, attempts to attract tourism to Greece by appealing to the senses — See Athens. Hear Athens. Smell Athens. Touch Athens. A horde of people occupies the surrounding lawns; some take over the lawn chairs, others sit on the walkway ledges and the rest lounge on the grass. A young couple stands to dance, jokingly rocking back and forth.

The juxtaposed themes of the area — the vivacity of the daylight and the sinister underground — make for a relaxed or chilling experience, depending on one’s tastes. It only takes a bit of exploring — literally just walking down Tooley Street — to see all that there is to offer. Descending into the station, I thought I ought to return and explore further; with its modern and historic offerings, just one visit is not enough.

1 comment:

  1. You should have gone to the London bridge experience trust me i went last year and it was so scary and exciting much better than the dungeons and i will defiantly go again some time. if you want a scare go to the London bride experience