Venice is one of my favourite cities in all the world. I love it for its rich history, gorgeous architecture, delicious ice cream and — not least — romantic way of travelling everywhere on water.
But Venice is not the only city to master commuting by boat. London’s travel pass (Oyster Card) holders and visitors alike can take a water taxi to and from all the major stops along the River Thames.
I recently enjoyed a ferry from the London Eye to Canary Wharf — a Canadian-funded office district that doubles as a popular social hive for eating and drinking.
I swept beneath the Tower Bridge just as the sunset was casting an incredible glow over the iconic landmark. There was a typical London chill in the evening air, but the sky was clear (a rare occasion) and the only wind came from the boat’s acceleration.
Sure, it was a motor that propelled me along rather than the slow paddling of a Venetian gondolier, but it was a beautiful moment just the same.
There are some things you notice for the first time when you find your sea legs. Perhaps it is the fresh air that makes you look up from your feet and pay more attention to what’s around.
On this particular occasion, I became suddenly aware of how beautiful London’s skyline is. From the water, you can see Wren’s famous 17th century dome at St. Paul’s Cathedral rise up among an impressive scattering of modern skyscrapers.
The Gherkin and the nearly-built Shard buildings mark the end of the city a little further along the embankment.
And on the other side is a former power station converted to the world’s best known modern art gallery — the Tate Modern. Beside it, the Globe continues to act as a social vacuum, with the Thames path always bustling outside the historic reproduction of Shakespeare’s Theatre.
It is no wonder the River Thames is a favourite spot for celebrations in Britain. In just one August evening, I saw several boats hired out to private parties — and what a beautiful way to celebrate a birthday, anniversary or reunion.
For smaller celebrations, the Thames Dinner Cruise company provides champagne, three-course dinners and evening entertainment for lucky diners as they drift along the Thames with the city lights twinkling in the background.
Some water enthusiasts cherish their time on the Thames so much they buy a yacht to keep at the gorgeous St. Katherine’s Docks (great for a spot of coffee and daydreaming). Come the weekend, they slip away for a bit of leisure on the river.
The most avid water-lovers, however, opt to resign their land dwellings even more permanently. The London Canals run off the Thames into more residential areas, where some people anchor down to actually live on a boat.
With fully-equipped kitchens, multiple bedrooms and lush interiors, many Londoners enjoy fashioning their homes out of common canal boats.
Rent and retail values remain pretty cheap, and these trendy boats come with the added perk of a simple rev to the engine when the scenery gets old.
Yet while the River Thames has long been a popular hangout, there have been few occasions when so many flocked to London’s riverside as in the last week. Just this Monday, television star David Walliams from Little Britain met masses of fans outside Westminster as he completed the final leg of an eight-day, 140-mile charity swim along the river.
Walliams might not be a huge fan of the Thames at the moment while he recovers from a disorienting stomach flu and the sheer exhaustion of his unusual journey, but he has certainly added another fascinating tale to the Thames’ diverse history.
Meanwhile, Walliams must be pleased that he has raised over £1,194,258 for the Sports Relief charity as a result of his impressive efforts.
Me — I’ll be looking into one of those canal boats long before I take on the Thames in a bikini!
Brit Kennedy grew up in Red Deer and graduated from Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School. She attended university in Scotland and is now living and working in London, England.