Waterloo Bridge review
It's not exactly the prettiest bridge in town. It's like a big arm of concrete dropped on the river. They've taken a straight stretch of water and dropped a concrete wall on top. The best thing that I can say about it is this: it does its job (in the same way that a wrecking ball does its job).
But it's not the bridge that you've come to see anyway — it's the view. The view from the center of the bridge is one of the most famous in London. The Kinks wrote a song about it, and Claude Monet painted a picture of the distant chimneys coughing up clouds of grey paint. If you've never seen his picture then let me describe it to you: it's brown. The bridge is brown, the water is brown, the sky is brown and even the blue is brown. I think he painted it as pretty as possible without telling lies.
If you want to know what it feels like to be a crisp packet in the wind then stand in the middle of this bridge in the evening. Open your mouth and let the wind charge in — you won't be able to speak for three weeks until your throat thaws out. All I can see are four lanes of thundering buses and cars, blown over road signs, and rows of orange cones weighted down by sandbags. I can see a big blue sheet of tarpaulin caught up in the railings and having a fit as it tries to break free. I see fifty faces coming at me from the Strand, looking over their shoulder to see if a bus is coming. Shall we wait for the bus, or walk to Waterloo? That is the dilemma they are facing. One poor guy doesn't care... he is just waiting patiently for a gap to open up in the crowd so he can photograph his missus leaning against the parapet -- good luck with that mate. That's like waiting for the sea to stop moving to take a picture of a fish. His lady's hair is going crazy in the gale and she looks like Medusa in the morning, straight out of bed. Medusa before she's had a chance to comb her hair. I bet you 10p the moment she sees that photo she's going to delete it off his phone.
I've got a theory why bridges are always cold and windy... it's because half of the air is channelled underneath and the rest is shot across the top -- it acts like a giant airplane wing. That's why people get spiralled up into the sky and dumped ten miles upstream (I've seen it happen). You have to walk at 45 degrees with your trouser legs pressed out behind you like a flat flag in a hurricane. I actually had my tie smack me in the face once — the wind grabbed hold of it and it got me in the eye. It was quite painful! I had a fight with my tie and lost. One slap round the face and I surrendered.
Assuming that you've made it to the centre of the bridge, stare out into the water towards St. Paul's. That is the view you've come to see. That is the money shot. I don't see what all the fuss is about myself (maybe I've just seen it too many times and become immune). What you are supposed to be looking at is the dome of St. Paul's rising up above the rooftops. Do you remember that famous shot of St. Paul's in the Blitz, surrounded by searchlights and smoke? That shot could easily have been taken from here (although I believe it was taken in Fleet Street). It seems like the dome has reserved a bit of sky all to itself, like a singer on a stage. But he's got a few egos encroaching on his space these days -- the city skyscrapers are creeping closer and closer and sooner or later they will be standing in the spotlight. You can see the Gherkin, Cheesegrater and Walkie Scorchie near the cathedral, plus the distant towers of Canary Wharf behind. The other side of the road gives you Big Ben and the London Eye, but you really need to go to the next bridge down for a better look at those (the Hungerford Bridge gets in the way).
Remember to check out the silver plaque halfway across the bridge, telling you where everything is. Lord knows how old that thing is because it is hideously out of date — all the skyscrapers are missing!
If you want a truly great bridge view then you can't beat the centre of London Bridge, looking east towards Tower Bridge. My favourite view of St. Paul's is when you round the last curve of Ludgate Hill and see the front steps dead ahead.
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