It was barely mid-day by now and we had already seen so much. Our ride on the Number 11 bus had introduced us to some of the city’s main sights from the comfort of the upper level of a double-decker bus. And our subsequent walking tour had taken us past Buckingham Palace, Whitehall and the Houses of Parliament where we listened to Big Ben ringing in the noon hour.
But our whirlwind London sightseeing adventure was to continue. To get an even better feel for the city we were planning to go on a sightseeing tour with Thames River Cruises that departed from Westminster Pier. To me a
sightseeing trip on the Thames River was just an absolute must for a stay in London. Soon the voice of our tour guide came on the speaker system, and he entertained us with bits of knowledge about London and with his dry humour.
From the boat we got a brilliant view of the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye, and we kept chugging eastwards past the Royal Festival Hall and the National Theatre. The modern office development above Charing
Cross station came into view, and further along on the north bank we saw Somerset House, an impressive Neoclassical building from the late 1700s that used to house government offices and today is a centre for arts, heritage and entertainment.
Shortly after, on the south bank of the river, the OXO tower came into view. Originally built as a power station for the Post Office in the late 1900s, it was purchased by the company that manufactured Oxo beef stock cubes and
was rebuilt in the late 1920s along the Art Deco style. Three vertical windows on each side of the tower are shaped like a circle, a cross and another circle, effectively spelling out the word �OXO� � an ingenious way to get
around the advertising restrictions of the times.
The five wrought iron arches of the Blackfriars bridge appeared, and the gigantic dome of St. Pauls Cathedral peaked out above the buildings on the north side as a backdrop to the London Millennium Footbridge, a modern
steel suspension bridge opened in June of 2000 that is for pedestrian use only. Walking straight north on this bridge provides a great scenic view of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
The south side of the Thames River features the Tate Modern art gallery that is located in the former Bankside Power Station, a major tourist attraction since 2000. The gallery houses works of Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art,
Surrealism and contemporary art from the last 25 years. A short distance further east on the south bank of the river is Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, a 1997 recreation of The Globe Theatre whose original version was
destroyed by fire in 1613. William Shakespeare was indeed one of the original shareholders of The Globe Theatre. The modern version is an open-air circular theatre with three levels of steep seating. Only the stage and
some expensive seated areas are covered by a roof, and plays are staged from May to October every year.
The next major sight was coming up: the Tower of London, right next to Tower Bridge. The most well-known part of the tower is the original square fortress that was built by William the Conqueror in 1078. Over the years the
tower has been used as a fortress, a royal palace and a prison. Even executions and acts of torture took place here. And for more than 700 years the tower has also been the home of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom.
Tower Bridge, one of London’s most well-known landmarks, is a relatively recent addition to the cityscape. It was opened in 1894 and is a combined bascule and suspension bridge. The suspension bridge allows boats to
pass through while the fixed elevated bascule bridge facilitates uninterrupted foot traffic. The bridge features delicate Victorian Gothic ornamentation which harmonizes its appearance with the adjacent Tower of London.
Although the bridge is much loved today, many contemporary early 20th century commentators were rather critical about it; some even called it absurd.
The museum ship HMS Belfast came into view, a gunship that was launched in 1938 that played a key role in destroying the German battle cruiser Scharnhorst. Since 1971 this ship has been used as a floating naval museum.
We were now moving on into east London and the Docklands area, part of London’s extensive marine transportation facilities. In the 1800s ships would lay anchor at the wet docks where their cargo would be loaded and
unloaded; vessels that needed repair went into the drydocks. New ships were built at dockyards that flanked the river. With the advent of container shipping, all the London docks closed between 1960 and 1980, and the entire area became run down.
Soon redevelopment efforts were underway and the London Docklands Development Corporation was formed in 1981 to revitalize the area. Since then many residential and commercial projects have brought new life to the
Docklands. The most well-known of them is Canary Wharf, a large office and shopping area centred around the old West India Docks that was opened in 1991.
Canary Wharf is dominated by the 50-story Canada Tower which is a modern office and shopping complex that had gone through major economic problems and stood mostly empty during the real estate collapse of the early
1990s. Today Canary Wharf’s tenants include major international banks such as Bank of America, Northern Trust, Citygroup, Credit Suisse and others. About 90,000 people are employed in Canary Wharf buildings.
We had reached the last part of our cruise: Greenwich, home of the Greenwich Meridian which denotes 0 degrees longitude and passes through the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. This town also gave name to Greenwich
Mean Time. The Royal Observatory in Greenwich holds the largest refracting telescope in the UK while the National Maritime Museum showcases boats, paintings and naval instruments.
Greenwich itself is a historic town at the eastern approach to London and is home to the popular Greenwich Market. A famous clipper ship, the Cutty Sark, has been preserved in a dry dock by the Thames River, but it was
partially destroyed by fire in 2007. A circular building by the riverfront holds the entrance to the Greenwich foot tunnel which has been connecting Greenwich to the Isle of Dogs on the north side of the Thames since 1902.
Our packed day of sightseeing became even more hectic since we were planning to join a walking tour of East London in the area of Whitechapel. But to do so we had to really hurry and catch the Docklands Light Railway, a
computer-controlled light rail system that normally does not have a driver. I secured a spot right at the front of the vehicle and had a perfect view of the neighbourhoods of East London that we were passing through.
Finally, shortly after two pm, we arrived in Whitechapel, ready to join a walking tour called �London’s Unknown East End�. The East End is a working class area that was marred by extreme poverty and wide-spread crime
during the 19th century. It is also infamous for being the location of the gruesome serial murders of Jack the Ripper. I was looking forward to learning more about this fascinating area of London and how it has transformed itself
in recent years.