The South Bank is like the seafront of London, especially around the London Eye, where the air is rich with the sounds of international languages and the smells of fresh doughnuts and burgers. Shut my eyes and I could be back on Hastings pier - until Big Ben chimes.
At a distance, from Waterloo Bridge, the view is more contemplative. The Thames arcs past the Houses of Parliament, a great slice of nature meandering through the stone and concrete, its tides rising and falling sharply over the day. A sliver of sandy beach on the southern side survives from the time of the Festival of Britain in the 1950s. We passed it the other day and there was a full-on beach party going on there. The river is busy, particularly at this time of year, with tourist trips, but barges as well. Nothing like the massive tankers I saw on the Rhine the other week, though, which seemed to stretch from one bridge to the next.
What is striking about the view is just how modern most of the buildings are. The Shell Centre tower, Royal Festival Hall, the Festival Pier, the Golden Jubilee pedestrian bridges, the London Eye, Millbank tower, Portcullis House, next to Big Ben: much of it has arrived within the last 20 years. Most of the parliament building is only 19th-century, so not so old. But it's unmistakably London.