This Is London's Festival

Trip Start Sep 07, 2010
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Trip End Aug 21, 2011


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Flag of United Kingdom  , London, City of,
Saturday, September 11, 2010

This weekend was the famous and spectacular Thames Festival. The weekend event snakes along the Thames River and transforms London into a huge cultural and entertainment extravaganza to celebrate the river that gave London life.  The festival is divided into four distinct areas.  Zone 1 features musical entertainment from budding local Londoners, as well as an special exhibition called "All Eyes on Korea" which focuses on Korean artists and performers (from jazz players to “extreme dance comedy”).   Zone 1 was very busy while I was there.  Thousands of people had gathered to watch and listen to the performers which were all very good.  I did manage to catch a glimpse of the Korean Taekwondo demonstrations which were top-notch.  A bunch of Taekwondo kids fought it out on stage performing various moves on each other, engaging in “fake” battles, and breaking slats of wood at every angle.

Zone 2 was set up further east on the river near the “beach” (or embankment).  In the sand, people were building castles and, believe it or not, couches.  On the land, the traveling art circus, The House of Fair Tales, was set up for children to enjoy.  They had a million things for children to do there.  Everyone was dressed in costume and in full character mode--fairies, princes, and crusaders.  One of the interesting things I saw was a big tub of watercolors that the kids could dip pieces of paper into and, upon pulling the paper out, they had created a watercolor masterpiece (anytime I've ever done this, I've just got a brown piece of paper).  The travelling circus focuses on sustainable energy and the importance of water which meant that there were a lot of things basically made out of trash.

The Southwark Bridge was home to the Feast on the Bride, Zone 3, event.  Hundreds of vendors set up camp along the bridge to sell you anything and everything you wanted.  They had Turkish delight, cheese, sausage with rocket (a type of cabbage), and one vendor even dragged in a cow from the English countryside to pet while selling you meat alternatives (a.k.a. tofu).  In the center of the bridge, rows upon rows of tables and chairs had been set up where you could relax and enjoy the delicious food you bought.  Shadow puppets and toy boat races were also set up for the children between the tables.

Various vendors and bands were set up in Zone 4.  Most of this area was dominated by wildlife conservation groups as well.

A parade (they called it a “night carnival”) and fireworks was scheduled as the conclusion to the Thames Festival.  I got a fantastic seat near the beginning of the parade and waited for it to begin.  While waiting, a young woman approached with her sister or friend and her young daughter and asked me to scoot over because she “about 5 more” coming….great.  Well, she wasn't lying as 5 more kids showed up--rowdy as anything.  Not only that but a man came by (very creepily yelling "Make some noise, for the girls and boys!") shortly after selling whistles, and you better believe she bought one for each and every child.  Soon the kids were having “who can blow the whistle the loudest” competitions just to annoy everyone around.  Of course, while the mom was smoking up a storm and chatting to her friend, her youngest daughter (probably 5) was roaming out in to the street to collect leaves.  Times are tough in London, obviously.

The parade started with a blast, and, as you can see in the pictures, was simply amazing.  It was, by far, the best parade I’d ever witnessed.  There were huge floats, people in extravagant costumes, and tons of dancing and singing.  It was really over-the-top.  You could tell people in the parade had been preparing for months.  One of the biggest acts in parade was the London School of Samba featuring hundreds of dancers of all ages sambaing along the Thames River.  As the half-naked samba queens sauntered passed, I couldn’t help but think, “Is it too late to transfer??”  I’m clearly wasting my time as the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and, if there’s an open slot at the London School of Samba, I want in.

After the caboose of the parade marched by, I headed across the street to get ready for the fireworks finale.  The parade still had a ways to go before it completed its route and the fireworks could begin.  I climbed up on what was probably a monument to something, but, for me, it functioned as a great chair above the crowd to catch the fireworks. While I waited, I was subjected to one of the dumbest conversations I have ever been forced to overhear.  A (presumably) eastern European man was hitting on two girls beside me.  He asked them everything you could ever want to know.  He asked them what they were doing in London, what school they went to, where they lived (he did not like general answers like “southeast London” either), what they liked to do, what they were doing later tonight.  He asked them all this while sitting very precariously on this monument that was probably 20 feet from the water (and there were a lot of sharp corners between where he was the actual water).  Both the girls and me were starting to get sick of him.  I know this because when he turned his back to the girls, they pretended to push him into over the edge.  After talking to them for about 45 minutes, it dawned on him to ask them what their names were...

As dark as it was, I could see some barges being pushed out into the river. After awhile the fireworks finally began to light up the London sky.  They were being fired from three separate boats and meticulously arranged to create a beautiful pyrotechnic display of light and color.  The fireworks were a fitting end to the extraordinary weekend.  After it was all said and done, I couldn’t believe that I live here.

P.S. I would like to add that, as I was getting haircut the next day, my barber (from Barcelona) said that he had moved to London because there was always something going on here.  He said it was the heart of Europe and the most exciting place to live.  I told him that I had just been to the Thames Festival and that it was amazing, and, when I asked him if he went, he said, “Ohh, with the parade and fireworks? No, I went to Soho, had a drink with a friend.  I was tired after, so I just went home.”  Whoops.
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