Walking a modern mile or two along the Thames
If you find yourself with just a couple of days in London, consider exploring the south bank along the Thames or what has been dubbed "the millennium mile." It is London's best effort to put a tourist's foot in the 21st century.
The mile (actually, it's closer to two miles) ambles along between the London Bridge and the garish 450-foot-high London Eye Ferris wheel, a stone's throw from Waterloo station. This winding walk by the river passes through tunnels (often echoing with sounds of a lone musician), an open-air used-book market, and courtyard shops.
But what makes it worth spending a couple of days visiting the south bank is the Dali Universe, a collection of over 500 of the artist's works; the London Aquarium; the BFI London IMAX Cinema; the National Film and Royal National Theatres; the Tate Modern; and the recently restored Shakespeare's Globe theater.
If most of that sounds too modern, you can drop by Southwark Cathedral for some good Elizabethan pondering.
Otherwise, welcome to the shiny side of London. The silver London Eye spins slowly above the river without apologies to the dreary yet endearing faces of Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, and St. Paul's Cathedral across the way.
The gentle Ferris wheel, resembling a gigantic spoked bicycle wheel, can fit up to 25 people in one of its bubble-shaped cars, which can also be booked for private parties. A half-hour is plenty of time to press flesh over business deals or exchange wedding vows (to the amusement of riders in other cars close enough to watch). British Airways attendants in their "Queen Mum" hats are ready to wish you a safe "flight" for the ride, which costs about $15 (no passports needed). And of course the views are spectacular. Who knew Big Ben could look so small?
The best part about the Tate Modern is its free admission. Housed in an old power building, the interior space feels absolutely huge, and you can easily spend a day drifting from one floor to the next. A couple of different cafes allow you to stop for tea and cake more than once without feelings of redundancy or guilt.
The darling of the millennium mile has to be the recently refurbished Shakespeare's Globe theater, next door to the Tate. At matinee and evening performances, the actors have been delighting audiences with modern and traditional renditions of the Bard's classics for the past five seasons.
The open-air theater, with its lower level reserved for standing patrons, gives an authentic nod to "this is what it must have been like." The broad afternoon daylight and the audience members leaning on their elbows at the stage's edge give an added dimension to "real" theater. The restaurant there, though on the pricey side, will delight aesthetes with its delicious gourmet food, views of the river, and quiet décor of honey-colored wood and white linen.
The millennium mile graciously unites the old and new. And does it quite well, thank you.