Sunday, November 7, 2010

Saturday Snapshot: Wandering Waterways

I've always had a thing about water. Whether it stems from the soothing sound, having grown up by the ocean or maybe being born on the cusp between Aquarius and Pisces, I have no idea, but it's a good bet that, if there's a body of water around, I'm near it (or in it, depending on the season).

One of my favorite ways to find my bearings in a new city or collect my thoughts in a familiar one is to wander through it on foot, usually by the river - the fact that large cities are usually settled on or near one has become one of my favorite things about them. The Seine is an integral part of the path I always walk through Paris shortly after I arrive; when I needed to get off campus in college, I walked along the Potomac; my favorite running trail in DC after college paralleled that same river; I got lost multiple times in Prague, but as soon as I found the Vltava I knew where I was; I can't get enough of the Embarcadero in San Francisco. The list goes on, much the same for nearly every city I've been to.

Today's photo was taken in London at about this time of year in 2005, when a friend and I decided to take the Chunnel up from France during our fall break. I had expected that, after speaking nothing but French for two months, speaking English would be a relief. Instead, I found myself confused by the unfamiliar accents and struggling to figure out a lexicon that wasn't quite the same as the one I was used to. I felt sluggish and stupid every time I had to ask someone to repeat himself, which was often. After buying tickets for a museum or ordering food in a restaurant, switching back to French to speak with my friend was a relief.

Linguistic difficulties aside, I felt comfortable in London the moment I set foot in it (as long as I wasn't required to speak, at any rate). Something in the air, something about the pace of life there, reminded me so much of Washington that it was impossible not to feel at home. And the moment I set eyes on the Thames, London went from being a nice, mostly comfortable place to be to a city I loved. I took a ridiculous number of photos looking over the Thames, of bridges crossing the Thames, of double-decker buses on bridges crossing the Thames...fully half of my pictures of London, like this one, involve the river.

I spent hours on the catwalks of Tower Bridge, watching the river and the city speeding past on its banks. I spent an afternoon walking along the banks of the Thames, watching buskers and tourists alike. One of the first places I took my parents when we all went to London several months later was across the Wibbly-Wobbly Bridge (the Millenium Bridge, if we're being precise), to look at the river. Despite the fact that I was across a continent and an ocean from the place I considered home, I looked at the Thames and thought that - at that moment - there was nowhere I'd rather be.

So if we ever happen to be traveling together and I wander off, listen for the sound of waves crashing, water lapping or a river running, then follow it, and you'll almost certainly find me.

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