Riding a Thames Clipper, the boat service which whisks visitors along the London waterway even on a cold January morning is possibly the best way to start a tour of the capital. So despite bitingly low temperatures, two Michelin-men like passengers, wearing several layers of clothing boarded a river taxi near Tower Bridge.
Taking photographs on the river taxis is a bit of a challenge; apart from through the panoramic windows there aren’t many options available, most of the deck space appears prohibited. We were soon disembarking at our first landmark however, the “London Eye”. With views of Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster, home to the two Houses of Parliament over Westminster Bridge there was plenty to aim a lens at, offering my companion frequent opportunities to pose.
The Eye was unfortunately closed for maintenance so the decision whether to view from the top was irrelevant. Dawdling across Westminster Bridge, listening to the haunting melodies of a bagpipe playing street performer and attempting to capture a picture of an iconic red London bus with Big Ben as a backdrop left us feeling the chill. Time to move on then.
Heading past the Boudicca statue and into Westminster the sun was at least attempting to appear. The sky was turning a pleasant shade of blue with big fluffy cumulus clouds seeming to drift even slower than the pace we were setting.
Making a detour through St James’s Park on the way to Buckingham Palace provided a further diversion. Cheeky squirrels, plentiful bird life, including a pelican making it feel almost like spring. Despite the time of year and the temperature London is never quiet and the park isn’t any exception. Ambling couples holding hands, excited school groups chasing squirrels or pigeons and a steady stream of panting, headphone wearing joggers needed negotiating.
Later found us outside the Queen’s official residence, avoiding appearing in the viewfinders of hundreds of camera’s in the hands of eager visitors. Despite the famous changing of the guard not being performed that day, thousands of images were as digital film by tourists from almost every continent. Attempting to remove ourselves from the throng after a steady walk down the long, straight, tree-lined avenue of Pall Mall, we were soon posing under Admiralty Arch.
Next stop was a coffee and lunch across from Trafalgar Square, first though an original red bus provided another excuse to pose. Suitably refreshed, it was time to wait our turn to climb over the famous lions and watching several young women in 5 inch stiletto heels attempt to clamber over the smooth-sided statues provided some entertaining moments.
More entertainment was available in Covent Garden, apart from plenty of street performers, seeing the Moomin surrounded by excitable children brought a huge grin to my face. A large crowd was also forming around a self-depreciating mime artist. He brought plenty of smiles from his appreciative audience, comically underplaying his talent. This became abundantly clear when he sat balanced a unicycle on a tightrope between two pillars. His ‘contribution’ box was soon overflowing with appreciation and undoubtedly more welcome than clapping.
There was time to console ourselves with Haagen Daz ice cream under the Swiss Court post after failing to get cinema tickets for the just released “Les Miserables” at any of the moving picture houses in Leicester Square. The evening was looking free.
We stumbled upon Piccadilly Circus and Regent Street as dusk was beginning to settle on the capital. However there were still throngs of people sitting and posing all around the landmark. They were balancing precariously from every vantage point, to get as close as possible to the Angel of Christian Charity statue. Circus did indeed seem appropriate. It takes its name from the stiff collars known as picadils which were the height of sartorial elegance in fashionable London in the 1820s when designed by John Nash.
Leaving the statue which is often confused as being Eros ‘the the Greek god of love and sexual desire it was time to find a good place for some fish and chips. The perfect English cuisine and a desirable end to any tour of the capital. A pub on the Queen’s Walk on the South Bank of the River Thames proved ideal. An added bonus was there were some great views of the Tower of London and Tower Bridge from the bank before returning to the hotel.
The great thing about London is that a walking tour of the city is easily achievable in a day, with minimal use of public transport and including all the main attractions. Any day when the sun is shining will inevitably require some jostling for position, or a patient wait to get perfect postcard images. This is true even in winter, but wrap up warm and it might be a great time to visit.