Each neighbourhood in London has a name and Wapping, where Naomi and I stayed for the first week, sure has a funny one.
If you look up Wapping in Wikipedia, it says: “The area was first settled by Saxons, from whom it takes its name (meaning literally “[the place of] Wæppa’s people”.
Another thing that I learned from Wikipedia is that Wapping is considered to be a district in East London. That’s funny, because I thought that East London was much further… east.
“It is situated between the north bank of the River Thames and the ancient thoroughfare simply called The Highway. Wapping’s proximity to the river has given it a strong maritime character, which it retains through its riverside public houses and steps, such as the Prospect of Whitby and Wapping Stairs.
Many of the original buildings were demolished during the construction of the London Docks and Wapping was further seriously damaged during the Blitz. As the London Docklands declined after the Second World War, the area became run down, with the great warehouses left empty. The area’s fortunes were transformed during the 1980s by the London Docklands Development Corporation when the warehouses started to be converted into luxury flats.
Rupert Murdoch moved his News International printing and publishing works into Wapping in 1986, resulting in a trade union dispute that became known as the “Battle of Wapping”. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wapping)
As you walk down its quiet cobblestone streets, it’s not hard to notice the many modern and stylish multi-million dollar condo buildings in Wapping. One morning, on a stroll to St. Katharine’s Dock on its western edge, I noticed a sign saying that flats started at £1,200,000 and went to £6,200,000 (that’s over CDN $2,000,000 – CDN $12,000,000 for those living on this side of the pond). Twelve million dollars for a flat – err, I don’t think that I can afford one just now!
But it was eerie how at times the route that Naomi and I took in either direction from our flat – to the Underground in one direction or the London Tower Bridge in the other – was completely empty of pedestrians. We were happy to have a “quiet” neighbourhood, but still, where were all the people?
It got me wondering if the luxury condo buildings around us were even lived in. Were they perhaps investments or holiday accommodations for the super rich?
Along Wapping High Street, one real estate office followed another. Early on in the trip, after a visit to equally posh Notting Hill, I decided that if ever I returned to London I would book a flat there instead of returning to Wapping. More lively.
(But then, who returns to the same district, anyway, second time around?)
Still, Naomi and I did enjoy our first fish & chips at a Wapping Pub. In fact, we liked it so much (and the cost of a meal didn’t hurt the pocketbook as well, relatively speaking) that we returned a second time. The pub was packed, and noisy; in the back were pub crawlers in the middle of the second of who-knows-how-many pub destinations, all dressed up as pirates. Other people watched the telly where a World Cup rugby match was taking place.
The outdoor terrace (we couldn’t stay out there – too many smokers) backs out onto the Thames River, so it is quite scenic.
People spoke quite loudly. Laughter and conversation tumbled from one table to the next and down the room in a wave.
The pub was crowded, so, I wondered: Where did all the people come from?
For those who love style, Wapping is a feast for the eyes, as is much of London. To stroll by these handsome buildings with their curved, sweeping balconies, is to enjoy them, even if you almost never see anyone on them, or any other signs of life for that matter.
At times I felt like crying out: “Anybody there?”
So, Naomi and I decide that we need a coffee and a rest for tired feet, and step into the Starbucks that sits in the shadow of London’s Tower Bridge. It’s our first full day in the big city, and my wife requires a little pick-me-up.
Her coffee is so watery that I bring it back. The “barista” makes the next one stronger with an extra shot and all is well.
While sitting there, I notice out of the corner of my eye a pigeon inside the café, pecking away at the many crumbs on the messy floor.
Everything seems to be going smoothly for it, until an irate customer sitting close to us, and reading a newspaper, suddenly kicks at it. The pigeon flies into the air and lands on a ledge high up above a Starbucks sign. It looks beseechingly at us, at the floor laden with “supper”, cocking its head left and right at its predicament, then it flies to another ledge.
Will it be lucky, to finally leave this indoor prison, or is it stuck in pigeon oblivion?