Posts Tagged ‘Tower Bridge’

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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I don’t have an official bucket list, do you? I have a few items that would be on such a list, should I choose to write one, but the trouble with lists is:

a) They get lost.

b) There is pressure to tick things off.

c) You feel obliged to keep adding to them.

There was something I’d wanted to do for ages, and had never got around to organising which, I’m pleased to report, is now mentally ticked off that imaginary list: a trip, by boat down the river Thames, as far as the Thames Flood Barrier.

I mentioned this to a friend who was keen to join me in spite of having to dose herself with sea-sickness pills beforehand.

So it was that recently one morning, we were standing on a bracing Festival Pier, waiting for our launch and feeling like tourists. We even had our cameras. Festival Pier is adjacent to the South Bank Centre  which includes the Hayward Gallery and Festival Hall, opened in 1951 for the Festival of Britain. The whole complex has been tagged the ugliest set of buildings in London, which I think is a bit harsh. Over time they have become part of our capital’s ever changing landscape and represent a particular style of post war modern architecture.

Once on the water, the boat’s captain kept up an entertaining and opinionated running commentary of the sites as we sailed by.

The first thing I learned was that there is no advertising of any description allowed along the Thames. I’d never thought about this before, but imagine how awful the riverside would look if it was covered with advertising hoardings. However, one ingenious company managed to get around this law. (There’s always one, isn’t there?).  Around 1928, the Oxo Company took over a building originally built as a power station for the Post Office and rebuilt it in art deco style, for use as a cold store. A tower was constructed with four sets of three vertically-aligned windows, in the shapes of a circle, a cross and a circle. Co-incidence? I don’t think so.

London skyline , Oxo Tower  to the right

London skyline , Oxo Tower to the right

Now called the Oxo Tower, the building houses galleries, shops and a restaurant (which does have fabulous views if you manage to book well ahead and get a window or balcony table but don’t expect fabulous food – admittedly it was a few years ago that we had lunch there but found it disappointingly underwhelming).

As we sailed eastwards down the Thames we passed places that I’d never viewed from the water; Somerset House, Tate Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe. This reconstruction of the original theatre was founded by film director Sam Wanamaker. The guided tours on offer there are well worth taking, as are the plays which are performed during the summertime only, due to the open roof. You need stamina for these, too – seats are as the originals (hard), or you may stand (for up to four hours) in the audience pit, where you’ll get an authentic Shakespearean experience.

Just beyond the Tower of London, (London’s busiest tourist attraction),

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge with The Shard, London’s newest landmark in the distance

we had to change boats at St Katharine’s Dock which gave us time to admire Tower Bridge.

These boats do have a schedule, but like all transport in London, timetables are open to interpretation. As we stood on the swaying pontoon for longer than necessary I was conscious that my friend’s seasickness pills might be wearing off but she remained stoic as we boarded our next craft which took us past all the old docks (now renovated into expensive apartments), down to Greenwich where we were able to get back on land, walk past the newly restored Cutty Sark and refuel with caffeine (me) and mineral water (friend).

Equilibrium restored, we boarded the next boat eastwards which took us past the shimmering skyscrapers of Canary Wharf, London’s new business centre and the O2 Arena (formerly the Millennium Dome). There was no commentary on this boat and our journey was eerily quiet. On both banks are vast areas of old dockland in various stages of redevelopment although no sign of life is apparent.

The Thames Barrier

The Thames Barrier

The Thames Barrier looms out of the water like a pod of majestic synchronised whales. Finished in 1982 as London’s principal defence against flood tides it has only been needed once so far (in 1983 – so that was well timed). The boat trip turns around here, giving all passengers a good opportunity to view the Barrier. There is a visitor’s centre but strangely, this has to be accessed from terra firma. I can’t help thinking that their marketing strategy needs an overhaul.

We returned to Greenwich where there are two other places which should be on my bucket list: The aforementioned Cutty Sark and the Royal Observatory: but they will have to wait. With the weather closing in on us, we decided to take the Docklands Light Railway back to Waterloo. This was another first for me, the route taking in Canary Wharf. This is the hub of London’s banking empires where deals are won and lost, where people spend all their working days in boardroom meetings or, by the looks of it, enjoying corporate lunches. The place oozes perceived wealth; it is pristine with avenues of perfectly trimmed trees in pots; restaurants, cafes and bistros shelter beneath towering structures of steel and glass alongside man-made canals.

Canary Wharf

Canary Wharf

Here we had to change trains, and as we walked to the underground station my friend said, “Can you smell that?”

“What?” I asked.

“Money,” she replied.

The whole place is like a scene from a computer game; the people there are the players. I’m glad I’ve seen it but it’s not my London. My London is a mish-mash of old and new buildings, a little worn around the edges, a little grubby, if I’m honest. There’s a smell to my London and I was relieved to sniff its reassuring aroma when we emerged from the tube station at Waterloo.

What would be on your bucket list?

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