Tower Bridge review
Imagine flying all the way home after a week away, dumping your bags by the door, slumping down on your couch... and then realising you forgot to take a photo of Tower Bridge. You'd have to put your shoes back on, drive back to the airport, get back on the plane, fly back to London, get the tube into town, the bus back to the bridge and take your photo because you can't go into work on Monday morning without one. You'd be showing off all your London photos and they'd be going, Where's Tower Bridge? What have you been doing all week?
You can get a good photo from either side of both banks. Most people just plump for the pavement outside the Tower of London which is perfectly okay. Across the river outside City Hall is just as good, but if you really want to impress your work buddies then walk over to Butler's Wharf and take it from there. Walk down Shad Thames and go under those black bridges in the sky (you'll know what I mean when you see them) and then keep going keep going, keep going, keep going, and don't turn left until you reach that big white building at the end. When you turn the corner you'll have a great view of the bridge with the City skyscrapers behind.
If you take my advice then you'll just take the photo and forget about visiting the exhibition inside. Most people only go for the view anyway, but there are far better ones you can have for free (try the Sky Garden). First of all you have to sit through a looping movie about Victorian London -- one of those old sepia-tinged movies with white lines crackling all over it. They sit you down in a little movie room decorated with rusty buckets and barrels and show clips of the steamships passing underneath. Back in those days it seemed like every ship had a chimney on top.
Once you've had your fill of that (I gave it about two minutes) you make your way out onto the first walkway. 125 years ago this walkway was just a pedestrian bridge and because the coppers couldn't be bothered to climb the stairs it quickly became a hangout for prostitutes and pickpockets and all sorts of undesirables. Suicides would come up here for one last look over London before jumping off the top. Eventually the authorities decided they'd had enough and shut it up for seventy years until somebody had the bright idea of letting in the tourists.
The information boards have got historical timelines and photos of famous bridges -- the Rialto Bridge, Sydney Harbour Bridge, Golden Gate Bridge, etc -- but you'll spend most of your time staring out of the window. The first walkway just gives you a distant view of Canary Wharf whilst the second one takes in St. Paul's, HMS Belfast, the Tower of London and The Shard. The Tower of London is probably the most interesting one because you can pick out the raven cages and execution site on Tower Green.
They've tried to add a bit more excitement by replacing some of the carpet with glass. I'm usually too chicken to walk across it but I'm watching everyone strolling across with big smiles on their faces today so I've decided to give it a go. I have paid good money to get in here so I may as well get my money's worth. But is it safe? Excuse me sir, I'm about to say to the staff, but are you sure this glass is 100% safe? I'm wondering if I can make him jump up and down on it a few times to test it out. What they should do is erect a booth to the side so you can write your will beforehand... or maybe have a table with a payphone on it so you can say goodbye to your loved ones. At the very least they should set up a trampoline on the street in case it shatters and cracks.
I lasted for about two seconds. As soon as I put my first foot down a wave of wobbles passed up my body forcing me to step back again. It was like trying to fire-walk over a bed of hot coals. How these tourists can walk across it is a complete mystery to me -- they must be the kind of people who shimmied up tree trunks when they were a kid, leapfrogged over letterboxes, and slid down bannisters when there was a bobble at the bottom.
One new thing that I've noticed this year is that they've installed a mirror on the ceiling so you can lie down on the glass and take a photo of yourself seemingly floating in mid-air while the buses thunder underneath. There's no way I'm doing that.
The final part of the exhibition takes you into the old engine rooms where you can stand next to the original boilers and hydraulic pumps that powered the bascules. Metallic clanks and steam wheezes are escaping out of the speakers and with a bit of imagination you can picture yourself in a cavern under the crust, with them powering the planet's earthquakes and volcanos. What they should do is shovel some coal into the furnaces to get them going again. They need a bit of heat and grease and oil and smoke in here so you come out soaked in sweat because these machines are too shiny. They've even polished the nuts and bolts on them.
I’ve been here before…
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