If you missed part one on Monday, catch up here.
By the time I’d walked from Chelsea, through Pimlico, across Vauxhall Bridge and down to Westminster, I hit the South Bank crowds leaning over the river wall to take photos of Big Ben, queuing for the London Eye (which I’ve still never been on) and venturing into the Christmas market.
As I walked along, a busker played music from the Titanic soundtrack. Another one was dressed as Santa. There was a group of hip hop dancers surrounded by a thick circle of onlookers. Nearby, the carousel that always reminds me of home (North Tonawanda, New York, which is called “The Home of the Carousel), spun slowly with gleeful kids riding their horses. I remembered the race to choose the coolest animal when my brother and I were kids.
The market seemed somehow smaller than I remember, but it had the same smells: the bratwurst and the hog roast, the mulled wine and hot sangria, the nutella crepes and chocolate smothered waffles. There were crafts as well and this year, a small train that zips down to Hungerford Bridge along the edge of the river.
I walk on and spend some time browsing through the book market, the long tables lined with secondhand paperbacks under the bridge. I walk past the artist building sand creations near Gabriel’s Wharf and on to the Oxo Tower with its artisan shops on the first floors.
This part of the city always makes me reminisce back to my study abroad days 10 years ago. I had a short internship with Fleet Street Publications in the Sea Containers House which has been converted into a number of things now including a new hotel. Nearby, the dock where I used to eat my lunch still stands. It was almost always empty back then, but lately when I visit people are inevitably standing there, staring out at the river, and so I haven’t had it to myself in many years.
I crossed under Blackfriars Bridge, which I walked over three times a week during those months. It used to be my favourite bridge in London, but that honour now lies with the Albert Bridge and Blackfriars has fallen to second place. I still love it, the red paint, the tiles underneath, the view. Buskers played Christmas music as I walked on. The Christmas market seemed to spring up again with a bunch of market stalls lined up near Tate Modern.
I spotted another one of the Paddington Bears that are painted with different designs around London at the moment. It was stamped “fragile” and there was a kid looking over the railing at St. Paul’s behind it. I thought about the fragility of childhood dreams when I took this photo…
One of the reasons I chose this route was because I wanted to cross the Millennium Bridge to see if I could spot any of Ben Wilson’s chewing gum pieces. There are hundreds on the bridge. I’ve gotten to know Ben over the years since I interviewed him at the beginning of 2012 on Little London Observationist (a post that got an amazing 249 comments). He also came to my exhibition to sign books featuring his work (Urban Art: The World as a Canvas by Garry Hunter) and made me my very own Little London Observationist chewing gum piece right outside my front door, so I see it every morning and evening. And so I was thrilled not only to spot plenty of Ben’s work (you have to look carefully) but bump into the man himself who was working on a piece for a girl whose boyfriend was in the hospital. She was there watching. While I was chatting with him, plenty of people stopped to watch and ask questions or let him know they’ve seen his work elsewhere and they’re a fan.
As I made my way to the other side of the bridge, stopping to take pictures and probably annoying a lot of people along the way, I spotted far too many pieces. Others who saw me photographing stopped to ask what I was taking pictures of and they started walking slowly along as well, looking for more. At the end of the bridge was a peanut vendor who asked if I was taking photos of the chewing gum and then showed me an amazing detailed piece that Ben made especially for him on the side of his cart!
I thought about walking on, further east, but after about four hours, I was ready to go home and spotting this King’s Road bus in front of St. Paul’s was a sign I should!