Posts Tagged ‘City of London’

The SSF (Sea-Sick Friend) and I were well overdue an excursion which we rectified this week by taking a trip into London by train, for old time’s sake. Long suffering readers will recall that SSF and I met years ago during our commuting days whilst stuck one evening on a stationary train going nowhere out of Waterloo Station. We struck up a conversation bemoaning the appalling service and haven’t stopped chatting since.

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The Walkie Talkie Building, centre.

This week’s outing would not be involving water other than looking down on the Thames from a great height, which SSF assured me, was fine, although I think vertigo was mentioned. We were making for the Sky Garden – an innovative use of the top floor of one of the city’s less than attractive new buildings, known locally as the “Walkie Talkie.” This unwieldy looking skyscraper hit the London headlines in the summer of 2013 when the sun’s reflection beamed intensely off its mainly glass structure into the street below and melted part of a car as well as setting a shop doormat alight.

Undeterred, as our weather was positively chilly – even for early April, we decanted ourselves from the tube at Monument Station and hoofed the short distance to 20 Fenchurch Street. The lobby security was akin to any airport rigmarole – everything and everybody screened – this was dealt with deftly and provided a natural filter for the two available lifts. Whizzing ear-poppingly to the 36th floor in cramped conditions isn’t my most favourite thing in the world but it was over with so speedily there was hardly time to wonder about a staircase option.

The lift opens to reveal another lobby – tiled in black slate and containing state-of-the-art unisex toilet facilities. Now, if there’s one fear greater than getting stuck between floors in a lift, it’s becoming imprisoned in a public lavatory. Which, for what seemed like hours but was actually less than a minute, happened to me when the lock mechanism failed to release. After moments of sweaty trauma I was able to join SSF and step into the glass domed conservatory that is the Sky Garden.

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The audible gasps are justified: this space definitely has the wow factor. The views over our capital city are amazing. The first area reached is the Cafe-Bar  which is completely free to access although booking a time slot is necessary.

 

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The mezzanine contains the Darwin Brasserie (For which SSF had booked a table) and above that, at the very top of the dome, is the Fenchurch Restaurant. Tumbling down the two sloped sides next to the staircases are cascades of tropical greenery. The air temperature is surprisingly cool but this is catered for with colourful throws and blankets provided in the seating areas.

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Here is a great view looking east towards the Tower of London and Tower Bridge with the towers of the Canary Wharf business district in the far distance. (Best place for it…).

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And here, looking west. The Post Office Tower, once one of the capital’s tallest structures can just be seen, top right while the London Eye to the left (or south of the river) and near to Waterloo Station is one of the city’s newest landmarks.

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Looking directly south, The Shard towers over everything else. HMS Belfast can just be seen in the foreground. (Or should that be fore-river?) The outside viewing platform was sadly closed during our visit due to inclement weather. Surely a reason for another trip?

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And finally, looking northwards – the “Cheese Grater” on the left and the “Gherkin” on the right. London certainly has its fair share of odd looking buildings – and judging by the amount of cranes dotted about everywhere, we are destined for many more.

So…the verdict: well worth a visit. We had a very enjoyable lunch in the Brasserie with a prime table by the window overlooking the Thames. After lunch we had a sneak peek up at the restaurant and decided that the Brasserie looked much the best option. The tables in the restaurant are too far back to take advantage of the views so we wondered what the point of eating there would be. Although there seemed to be a steady stream of people coming and going, there was no feeling anywhere that the place was overcrowded and I suspect that for health and safety reasons only a certain number are allowed in at any one time.

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Leadenhall Market

We left the building to stretch our legs around the city, taking in Leadenhall Market, Bishopsgate and Spitalfields before returning to the Underground at Bank via the Royal Exchange. This is SSF’s old stamping ground but for me, fairly unchartered territory – so a good day was had by all. With any luck there will not be such a long gap between this and our next outing –  just deciding where to go is tricky – so much to see, so little time!

 

 

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Well, not so much a mystery actually, but it was a little magical. Last week Sea-Sick Friend and I took the day off and headed for The Smoke to pose as tourists again. You may remember that SSF valiantly accompanied me on a trip last year down the Thames to see the Barrier, dosed up to the eyeballs with tablets to quell her queasiness on the water. This time though we were on dry land lurching along with the wind and the sun on our faces aboard an open-topped bus, taking a tour of our capital city.

All aboard! This is how we whizzed around London for the day …

You might think it odd that a pair of once hardened London commuters would want to voluntarily spend time on public transport – even I find it hard to believe – however, we found out that we’d both harboured a desire to take one of these tours one day, so we did. I maybe should add here that I first met SSF on a broken-down train at Waterloo Station some twenty-six years ago. You must understand that there is a golden rule amongst London bound workers: commuters never speak to one another unless there is a problem with the transport. That evening there was so we struck up a whinging conversation about British Rail and have been friends ever since.

There are several companies running tours – we chose The Original Tour only because they seemed to run a more extensive route around the City of London, and that was the bit that we particularly wanted to see. There are three colour-coded routes to choose from and once you’ve bought your 24 hour day pass (£29 – or slightly cheaper on-line), you are allowed to hop on and off the bus as often as you like and swap between the routes. The buses are frequent – around every ten minutes, so there’s no real hanging around if you do alight. There is a “live” guide on every bus – that is, a real person in a very smart uniform as opposed to a recorded commentary accessed through ear-phones – another reason to avoid other tours as far as I’m concerned: I can’t bear ear-phones.

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The London Eye, seen from Westminster Bridge

We picked up our first bus near Waterloo Station, in front of the London Eye, chose the yellow route and headed straight for the City. Now, my memories of the rumbling old Route Master buses I used in my commuting life was that they were full of folk desperate to get to their destination in as little time as possible and being frequently disappointed. We should have all joined a tour bus. Ours set off at a cracking pace which we were to discover would be the default speed of the day. We simply WHIZZED around London. I’ve never seen the streets so traffic-free. There’s something to be said for this Congestion Charge malarkey we all moan about.

Even with the quick pace of the bus, the yellow route would take us around two and a half hours to complete. The calibre of guides differed from bus to bus – they were all pretty knowledgeable given that they were probably working from a script and some were definitely more theatrical than others but we were impressed that they all regularly reminded us passengers that a walking tour would be starting from the next official stop (for instance – The Jack the Ripper Tour would be commencing at Tower Hill) or that to swap routes we’d need to change buses in two stops time. The linking up of all the different sight-seeing opportunities was very well organised.

We decided fairly early on that we’d stick to the one route and that any walking tours would be another excuse to spend the day in London.

Because of the bus’s velocity and bearing in mind that I was on the top deck swaying around, I was not able to snap away taking as many pictures as I’d hoped. Here are a few, taken either from the ground during a hop-off spot or when the bus slowed slightly to allow pedestrians to use a crossing.

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A fleeting glimpse of St Paul’s Cathedral

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View of Tower Bridge with HMS Belfast in the foreground

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The Shard – London’s tallest building and Europe’s first ‘vertical city.’

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A coffee and hand-made chocolate shop in Borough Market near London Bridge. What’s not to like?

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The Tower of London with the Shard in the background. If I was being earnestly pretentious I might use the word juxtaposition somewhere in this caption.

As we left the City and headed for Westminster, we decided to hop off at Big Ben,  walk up Whitehall for some lunch and meet the bus again in Trafalgar Square.

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Well, you can’t go to London and not take a picture of this, can you?

I was interested to see the Monument to the Women of World War Two just north of the Cenotaph on Whitehall. Sculpted by John W Mills, it was unveiled in 2005 by Queen Elizabeth, two days after the 7/7 bombings.

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I wonder if those young ladies in the background realised the significance of what they were walking past …

Feeling replete after a couple of Panini’s (not each), we re-joined the bus and toured around the city of Westminster. This is familiar territory to me; nevertheless, it was fun to view it from on high. As we hit Piccadilly Circus SSF spied a celebrity being interviewed by a film crew. She’s good at that. See if you can spot who on earth she’s talking about. I was none the wiser.

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Spot the celeb in Piccadilly Circus. Answer at the bottom of the post. Clue: It’s not Bruno Mars or Prince Harry.

 We shot along Piccadilly, around Hyde Park Corner, up Park Lane and around Marble Arch, which we sailed around like Ben Ainslie sniffing a gold medal. Back in the day, this circumnavigation alone could take up to half an hour.

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Marble Arch – traffic used to crawl around here, nose to tail …

As we looped back past the Houses of Parliament, I couldn’t resist this final snap of a Henry Moore sculpture, ‘Knife Edge Two Piece’ on the lawn opposite the House of Commons and often used as a back drop for interviewing our politicians on the BBC news.

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Henry Moore’s Knife Edge Two Piece. Good grief – is that Cameron and Clegg in the background? How could we tell – they all look the same.

Our bus swiftly dropped us back at the London Eye and we called it a day, anxious to head for home before the main crush. Was it worth it? Yes, it was – and would have been more so if we had stayed for longer and joined the blue route which takes in all the Kensington Museums or the red route which goes to Regent’s Park.

Watch this space for a possible walking tour at some point – for now I’m content that I’ve crossed the bus tour off my list.

Celebrity Answer: Olly Murs

More Original Tour information here.

 

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