29 September 2011

5 big reasons why we love the River Thames!

Here at It's Your London we love the River Thames and this week's blog will give you 5 big reasons why:

1. Number one has to be Tower Bridge, one of the most iconic sights in London. If you are lucky you can catch it as it opens and here are 3 shots of the levers up to allow passing traffic. One of the shots is really unusual as the sides are completely open to allow a tall ship through.
Tower Bridge was built in 1894 and the design is an amazing arrangement which allows traffic to flow by road and by river with the minimum disruption and they can open and close it in just a few minutes. It is situated next to the Tower of London making an amazing pair of sightseeing treats.

2. Number two reason is that there is always a great event going on.  In the last month we've had the inspirational swim by David Walliams. He swam the full length of the Thames, a daunting 140 miles, for the charity Sport Relief, raising over £1 million pounds for his efforts.  We rushed down to catch him coming out of the water for the last time and then could see him being interviewed by Lenny Henry holding a bottle of dubious looking water! The Thames does has fish in it in now so it reasonably clean but definitely not for drinking!

Then on the south bank of the river a set of beautifully decorated life sized gorillas appeared to publicise their plight as endangered species. They were fabulous - just another day on the river bank!

3. Number three is the Thames Barrier - an extraordinary feat of engineering that saves London from major floods and keeps the river under control. It's out in the east of London and you can visit to see how it works and also see what a beautiful construction it is. Without this barrier London would be in great danger as climate change brings higher waters surging up the Thames estuary. Built in 1983 it is the second largest of its type in the world (after the one in Holland).

4. Number four reason why we love the Thames is the brilliant views you get from so many angles. The river bank is lined with historic and fabulous buildings and where ever you look there is a great photo opportunity. I have hundreds of photos to chose from and have picked out just 2 here. One is taken from the top of Millbank Tower and shows the sweep of the Thames past the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye. The second is at dusk with the sun highlighting the bridge with St Paul's and the Gherkin behind.

London is a photographer's dream and the Thames is at the heart of that dream, so do come and visit and get snapping!

5. Our number five reason was hard to chose as there are so many more..... However we went for Richmond as it is one of the lovely towns along the Thames which are easy to reach from the centre of London. It has a wonderful old bridge, great walks along the river banks, excellent bars and restaurants. It also has an outstanding view of the Thames, across a meadow showing the curve of the river, one of its islands and the countryside stretching out in the distance.

Hope you enjoyed the Thames as much as we do!

Bye for now,

19 September 2011

Behind the scenes at some of London's great buildings!

Once a year thanks to Open House London, all kinds of buildings that you can't normally get into open their doors for us to have a good nose around - and it's absolutely free!. The big challenge is to decide which ones and fit them all in. I went for 5 amazing places on Sunday and we squeezed  them in despite crowds and road closures due to the final leg of the Tour of Britain cycle race wheeling into London. My choices were: Trellick Tower; Customs House; Apothecaries' Hall; RSA, and the star of them all, The Foreign Office.

So let's start with our favourite, the Foreign Office, just off Whitehall, which was so much more decorative then I expected (wasv thinking dull civil service type offices and corridors) . It's grand, beautiful and must be an incredible place to work from the imposing entry courtyard, to the unbelievable central Durbar Court. There are beautiful ceilings and elaborate staircases to take your breath away with a rich history to match. I expected someone to break out singing 'Rule Britannia'!

In complete contrast is the block of flats called Trellick Tower which dominates the skyline in North Kensington. I've never managed to get inside before so relished the opportunity of a tour given by a resident who showed us in 2 flats and told us about the delights of living in a Erno Goldfinger designed environment. It's 31 floors high and the views are amazing - photos show the west view towards Westfield and the BBC and east along the canal to the City. The flats are incredibly spacious and all have balconies (great for frustrated gardeners) and the corridors are bright and colourful, unlike many public housing projects. This grade 11 listed building is still majority occupied by council tenants - what a flat to have!  And yes, the James Bond villain is named after Erno Goldfinger!

The Apothecaries' Hall dates from about 1670, although the lovely courtyard is newer being remodelled in 1786 (!).  Inside we were treated to loads of information about the ancient Livery Company and a chance to see their magnificent great hall, their beautiful old jars and one jar that reminded us of older remedies with its caption 'leeches' - ouch...

The RSA building dating from 1770s, just off the Strand, was a strange mixture of conference style rooms with amazing ceilings in pastel shades. It designed by Robert Adam as one building but more were purchased and incorporated including the Adelphi Tavern. The Great Room  has the most extraordinary wall sized paintings by James Barry and the roll of honour of Chairman ranges from monarchs, to Olivier, to Crick and Berners-Lee.  I really liked the full name of the society on the doorpost - such a worthy aspiration...

Our last visit to mention was to the Customs House on the Thames by the Monument. Steeped in history as from 1671 every ship's captain coming up the Thames with cargo had to register here in the famous Long Room  and pay his Custom duties before he could unload or sell his cargo. The old entrance on the river is not the one we came in but as you step out and smell the river you can easier imagine how it was back then - aided by the excellent displays of paintings on the wall around you.

So that was Open House weekend for another year but we are planning next year's already!

Bye for now,

12 September 2011

Now a Night Carnival!!

Just when we had recovered from the Notting Hill Carnival, along came another one! But it was different, it was a Night Carnival. I'd never been to one before so it was a must for a Sunday evening.

The weekend had been full of fun events as the Thames Festival took over the South Bank of the Thames with hundreds of stalls selling every type of food and gifts. Face painting, Korean plays, bands, plays, boat parades, lantern displays, al fresco tango (!), art displays and much much more took over the river bank and thousands of people turned up to enjoy the free events.

As night fell at the end of the 2 days extravaganza, the streets were lined with visitors who were hugely entertained by dancers, floats, music and the most amazing costumes. I'd seen the Notting Hill parades and this was great but different and the entertainers had made brilliant use of lights on their bodies, on their floats, and they twirled their way through the route with shaming amounts of energy!  The twirling made the photos a little difficult but here they are - look out for horses, space  monsters, turtles, dancers, a lion and even a teapot!

Bye for now.