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You might be surprised at how difficult it is to find non-city walks easily accessible from London.

Saturday morning I awoke with a irresistible desire to go on a long walk that didn’t involve cross walks and tourist-dodging and so spent the first few hours of my day Googling in the hopes that I would find something that didn’t requite and extended train ride, camping gear or a car. Meanwhile, I was getting progressively frustrated, sitting inside, on the computer, when all I really wanted was some outside time. Finally, after ruling out Kent, Oxfordshire and Wales as inaccessible without a bit more planning, I packed a backpack, laced up my trainers and left the flat heading southwest towards the river.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered a shaded, wooded dirt path along the south bank of the Thames that, despite my rapid pace, continued to stretch out before me into the sunny morning. Feeling increasingly better with each step, I decided to follow the path until I was too tired to go on or something interesting stopped me on my way.

At the time I had no idea I had found the Thames Path, a 184 mile route along the Thames. Of course I was familiar with London’s Southbank and the popular walk passing the London Eye, Houses of Parliament and famous Tower Bridge, but didn’t know that, once the path hits Putney in West London, it becomes a dirt and gravel pedestrian road that winds along the rive through the outskirts of the city towards Windsor, Oxford and beyond. The Thames Path website recommends fourteen days to complete the whole route, with suggested accommodation or camping sites along the way, and promises to send anyone who completes the trip a badge and certificate.

Of course at the time, I was just happy to be getting away from the busy city centre. It wasn’t quite a walk in the woods – the Thames Path wasn’t exactly crowded but pedestrians and bicyclists were also taking advantage of the nice weather – but it was a great deal better than trying to take a walk through the busy streets of Soho. At two points, near the Barnes Bridge and the Kew Bridge, the path merged with the main road and just past the Kew Bridge, the path passed alongside a very unpleasant-smelling waste management facility but aside from those minor inconveniences, it was a comfortable and direct route out of London.

Despite my intention to keep walking west for the rest of the day, I had barely made it six miles before discovering something interesting enough to distract me from the Thames Path – the world famous Kew Gardens. Although I decided to spend the remainder of my day walking around the Gardens, I was thrilled to have found a non-city walk accessible from London with no transport needed. I look forward to exploring more of the Thames path, hopefully doing a weekend walk into Oxfordshire while the weather is still nice.

For more information about the Thames Path, or to plan a trip yourself, visit the Thames Path website.

I have a friend who insists that the entire Harry Potter series is a continued indication of the fact that J.K. Rowling is a very unhappy person. I don’t think I agree with his analysis (especially because he’s only ever read the first book and refuses to read the others) but one does has to wonder if there’s a bit of masochism involved with creating such a terrible life for your main protagonist.

The sixth Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, is just the newest in a long stream of trials and tribulations for our favourite boy wizard and, as the critics are fond of saying, it’s the darkest story yet. While it may be true that the 6th book is certainly darker than its predecessors, it would be a tad optimistic to agree with previews that suggested the film would be the same way. A fantastic first ten minutes, which sees the destruction of my favourite London location, the iconic millennium bridge, as well as the return of the sinister Bellatrix Lestrange, last seen murdering fan favourite Sirius Black in movie five, seem to slow in pace perceptibly after the crew returns to Hogwarts.

The sixth book sometimes takes a bit of a beating from casual fans of the series who claim that nothing really happens. There is quite a bit that’s set up for the last of the series but I think there are some pretty important bits of the sixth book that flesh out the series overall. For my part, when I sat down in the theatre on 16 July to see the long awaited film, I was interested to see how many of those important bits would sneak in. The challenge is that these important snippets of the books fall under the categories of ‘character development’ and ‘rationalisation for why these characters do the things they do.’ Such things rarely translate well to the big screen. Perhaps the most important takeaway from the sixth book is the importance of love – and the fact that Harry can still do so despite all that has happened to him, a point driven home again and again throughout the text. This seems to have been translated into a series of rote scenes of young love appearing seemingly out of no where.

Because I am such a fan of the books, I do have to try to separate the books from the films. The films can never live up to the precedent set by the books. Despite my gripes, I really do think they did a good job with this one. A number of the changes in the film I thought were either absolutely essential to keep those who hadn’t read the books on board or were actually improvements on minor issues in the story. One notable scene in the book involves Harry and Dumbledore examining a memory collected from a colleague only to discover it had been tampered with. In the book, there are more than enough clues even in the tampered memory to make it unlikely that someone as clever as Dumbledore couldn’t figure it out. In the movie, the memory is even further obscured than in the text, actually necessitating Harry’s efforts to find the untarnished memory.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince is not going to win any Oscars and despite the fact that the child actors have grown into their roles, there is still a certain amount of suspended disbelief on their behalf as they cardboard-cutout their way through the more emotional scenes. But it’s a fantastic story, a great bit of escapism and a movie that will please non-fans and fans alike. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the film as well – let me know what you thought in the comments below!


Busy week, late night but just a quick note to say I just saw the new Harry Potter film and will be providing a full recap soon.  One exciting parting thought – I recognised at least ten places I had actually been in the UK during the film!

Wimbledon Revisited

This weekend saw me glued to the television for the gripping final of the men’s Wimbledon tennis tournament. I may have missed the opportunity for a British spectator hat trick by not following the Royal Ascot horse race (I see some of the ridiculous hats in the gossip section of the papers, however!), almost hitting up all of the top three British sporting events after my glimpse of Henley last week but without question, the Wimbledon final stole the show.

As I mentioned, to say I’d followed the tournament closely would have been an understatement. Wimbledon radio was my permanent soundtrack during work and when I got home the television would be on before the door had shut behind me (although that could have more to do with the size of our flat than my enthusiasm for the game. It’s a tough call there). While I was relatively fickle in my loyalties during the preliminary matches – Hewitt, Roddick, Murray on occasion all receiving my support – there was no question in my mind that Federer would take the top spot, a richly deserved honour after last year’s painful defeat. Plus I didn’t really want to see him cry again.

So it wasn’t with much fear for Federer’s title that I followed the Twitter updates from Alex, who had scored seats to the historic final event, prepared my strawberries and Pimms and got comfortable on the couch for what I imagined would be a clean win for Roger.

It was with surprise but some excitement as well that I watch Roddick break first in the game, taking an early lead and the first set. No nerves yet, just the promise of a more evenly matched set than I had anticipated. The second set confirmed Federer’s strengths as he saved four set points in a tie break to come back and pull the set from the jaws of defeat.

Of course it was the fifth set, after a nail-bitting display bringing the men to two sets all, that brought every tennis fan across the world to the edge of their seat. Federer hadn’t yet broken Roddick’s serve, while Andy had broken Roger twice. The each seemed to be waiting for the other to break down, but they waited in vain as the set, which due to Wimbledon official rules can’t end in a tie break to decide the match, stretched on longer and longer. It was the thirtieth (that’s 30th) game of the set where suddenly the tide turned in Roger’s favour as Andy netted serves and lost points he had been winning earlier in the game.

With a final error from Roddick, the more than four hour game finally came to an end with Federer crowned the champion. The tennis greats were there to see him, the now world-record holder for most grand slams won, take that historic title.

I’m definitely sad Wimbledon has ended, it was a fantastic two weeks. Again I didn’t make it to the tennis grounds, and in fact have yet to visit the courts at all, but hope that some day I’ll be in the centre court crowd and when I am, I hope the match is just half as stunning as the final between Federer and Roddick on 5 July, 2009.

Independence Day in London has traditionally (well, the one previous time I’ve celebrated it here) been a strange combination of British and American elements coming together to create a unique multi-national celebration unlike anything I’ve ever known. Last year, I visited the British Museum for a tour of their British artist’s exhibition, to look at their stunning collection of British artifacts and to take part in their American independence day celebration which was marked with, of all things, Krispy Kreme donuts, quilt-making and American football demonstrations. To cap it off, I was spending the day with my British flatmate and a friend from high school in California.

This year seemed as if it would be a bit of a wash in the American department as I had already spent the day watching Wimbledon while eating strawberries. In an effort to regain some sense of the homeland I dressed myself up in red, white and blue, made southern-style chili and thought superior and revolutionary thoughts at all the British people I passed.

The evening of the fourth, however, another American friend here in London encouraged me to join the multi-national group that was celebrating our independence not too far from where I live. Without needing much more encouragement, I made my way to a New York style pizza joint decorated with red, white and blue balloons to spend the evening with my American friend, a El Salvadorian who had spend over a decade in the States, his Irish wife and our British friend. It’s unlikely there was a more mixed group anywhere celebrating independence day but of course, that’s what America is all about.

Happy 4th of July!