28 June 2012

A new cable car swings out over the Thames!

Today was another big day in London. We have so many at the moment in the build up to the Olympics but this was a good one marked by the opening of London's first cable car across the Thames on a bright sunny day. We also saw the Queen unveil the memorial to the crews of Bomber Command in the Second World War, a new monument in Green Park, but more of that in a future blog.

I hopped onto a Thames Clipper boat to zoom to the start of the cable car at the 02 Arena, or North Greenwich Arena as it will be called during the Olympics to avoid brand advertising! These boats are a great way to travel and on a warm and sunny day it was a perfect way to arrive. 
Thames Clipper

The new cable car route goes from the 02 to the Excel Centre (also called the Royal Docks) which is a short 5-10 minute ride. I got on at the 02 side and the entrance is just a short walk from the Thames Clipper jetty or the tube station. More branding is on show on your approach the station as Emirates have sponsored the cable car and call it their Air Line - could be confusing on internet searches!

 Boarding is very smooth and reminiscent of being in a ski resort, but much easier without the skis and poles. There are 34 cars travelling around the circuit each holding 10 people but as the service had only opened 2 hours before I boarded, I got a car all to myself and  could easily take my photos. As soon as it is running at full capacity, 2,500 people an hour will be swinging across the Thames in each direction. 

Getting on the cable cars                                                

The cars head out across the Thames

The views as you swing over the Thames are amazing and the cars do swing a little but nothing too scary. You can catch a great vista over the 02 Arena back to the sky scrapers of the City. Looking downstream you catch sight of the Thames Barrier, open again after being in action during the Jubilee Pageant to keep the river flow in check. 

 The Olympic Park is easily identifiable in the distance by the red curling frame of the Orbit tower and the view along the dock alongside the Excel Centre takes the eye along to the City Airport.

The white towers supporting the cable wires form a graceful line across the river and the cars themselves comfortable with plenty of glass to take in the views. . I enjoyed it so much that I got back on again and took the return journey!

Arriving at the Excel Centre
This new cable car has opened ahead of schedule and will be very busy in a month's time linking Olympic venues on opposite sides of the river.  I really enjoyed my trip and it was fun to be among the first to use it!

Bye for now,

21 June 2012

In praise of St Paul's, one of London's greatest buildings

St Paul's Cathedral has been the scene of some great events in British history: the funeral of Winston Churchill, the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth 11, the funeral of Wellington, the bombing of the blitz in the Second World War.

We watched the Diamond Jubilee service take place in St Paul's last week so I thought it was time for another visit to this wonderful building and although I know it well, I was bowled over again as I explored it. There are no pictures allowed inside but the exterior is so grand, iconic and beautiful that it is hard to stop snapping!

The first thing I saw before  I entered the church was a great reminder of the Diamond Jubilee history of the church as there is a stone recording Queen Victoria's visit in 1897.

There has been a church on this site since 604 and the current church was built following the destruction of the previous one in the Great Fire of London in 1666. It is a masterpiece by Christopher Wren who was the architect for many post fire buildings. This one is an iconic part of the London skyline with its instantly recognisable dome. One of the amazing facts you find out on your visit is that the dome is actually 2 domes, one on top of the other, because the full dome would be too high to see properly when you are inside, so the smaller one inside brings the paintings within sight. Clever bloke that Wren! 

Make sure you allow plenty of time for your visit as you'll want to spend time seeing the wonderful interior, the huge crypt with Wellington and Nelson's tombs as well as plaques to a wide range of famous people. You get an audio guide as part of your entry fee so do use it to give you lots of good info as well as a guide through the various places to visit. 

For the energetic there are the 3 galleries to climb up to.  The famous Whispering Gallery is 257 steps up and is a fun visit as if you stand on one side you can whisper something and another person across the dome can hear you. You'll see lots of people trying. As well as this you get great views of the dome and down into the cathedral floor. For those with a head for heights and good legs there are 2 further galleries, both on the outside of the dome. The Stone Gallery is 121 steps up from the Whispering Gallery but the Golden Gallery right at the top is the one to go for if you are up to it - a further 152 steps and 365 feet above the floor of the cathedral! The view is 360 degrees and incredible -  down the river through Tower Bridge and to the nearly completed Shard tower, to the City across One New Change shopping centre's roof, up river to the London Eye and curves of the river Thames. the 'Wobbly bridge' with the Tate Modern and the Globe theatre and way over in the distance to the Olympic park and the Orbit red tower.

Towards the Shard and Tower Bridge

The City and One New Change roof in the foreground

Upstream along the curve of the Thames

'Wobbly bridge', Tate Modern and The Globe Theatre

Hopefully you will want to visit St Paul's Cathedral, or revisit it as a second viewing is well worth it.  I have one more photo before I sign off as I want to show you this wonderful building at night when it is magical.
Bye for now,

8 June 2012

What a weekend - the Diamond Jubilee in London!

The flags were hanging everywhere and the bunting was covering everything so London was ready for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, a massive party to celebrate 60 years on the throne.

Where to start? There was so much going on it was amazing and I was lucky enough to go to these fun events: private garden party in Notting Hill;  River Pageant from the Tower of London; and the Jubilee procession from a seat in front of Buckingham Palace. It's going to be a long blog.......!

Let's start with a few photos of London getting in the mood - decked out in more Union Jacks than you could imagine:
Covent Garden

Regent Street
 I started the festivities with Notting Hill garden party, held in Ladbroke Square Gardens, the largest of all London's private gardens (after Buckingham Palace!). It was tickets only and we were served amazing Jubilee themed cakes on china plates and even had a visit from the Queen! It was a Father Christmas moment with so many excited small children - do you tell them it's not the real Queen?  The sun came out and it was glorious and fingers were crossed for Sunday....... 

On Sunday we were promised the largest river pageant for 350 years and the forecast was not good but we are British so we donned waterproofs and set off. I was very lucky to have a special place in the Tower of London to watch the thousand boats of all shapes and sizes go past, including the Queens huge barge, golden Gloriana, a barge of ringing bells, small boats from the Dunkirk evacuation in the Second World War, gondoliers and Native Americans and so many more!  IBy mid afternoon the rain had come and drenched the crowds leading to jokes all round about the Queen's 'reign' (or rather 'rain'). We were very damp but spirits were still high. I loved it and the moment that the rowed boats swept into view was so spectacular I will always remember it, especially knowing those brave souls had been rowing for 7 miles by then!

Hundreds of boats sweep into view!


Bells barge

The huge royal barge

Royals (at a distance!)

Important people at the Tower

Hard rowing...

The Hat boat - wonderfully silly!

(Hope the video works for you)

Monday saw the return of the sun and the huge concert at Buckingham Palace with the biggest fireworks I can remember, which I could hear from my flat!  We watched this on the TV and here are a couple of photos off the TV to show you the incredible sights.

Crowds dancing on the Mall

Extraordinary fireworks

For final day there were more formal celebrations when the Queen went to St Paul's cathedral to give thanks for her 60 years as monarch.  The huge banks of seats, set up for the concert the night before in front of Buckingham Palace, were up for grabs in a ballot earlier in the year and I won a pair so set off to see the Queen ride in and out, to catch the royal family on the balcony and a RAF fly past.  We could see the church service and the procession through the streets of London on big screens and once the royals where in the Palace the crowds from the Mall surged into the space in front of the gates in their thousands to cheer and wave. Of course, that's when the rain came down again!  However it was great fun and we could see the Queen and her immediate family (just Charles, Camilla, Wills and Kate and Harry) and the flypast was very loud and dramatic with Second World War planes as well as the Red Arrows.

Yours truly on the spot!

Wonderful horses

There was a lot of marching to be done

The Queen returns in her fancy carriage

Thousands waving to the balcony

The Royals

Red Arrows in prefect formation

So, then it was over and I was left with great memories and real admiration for the Queen's stamina as she is 86 and managed to go to the races on Saturday, stand for hours in the cold and damp on a boat on Sunday, was up to light a beacon at 10.30pm on Monday, did a full day of engagements on Tuesday and still had more to do the rest of the week. I was tired out and I didn't do half of it! 

It was a wonderful time to be in London and join the excitement of the crowds who were genuinely pleased for the Queen and proud of her. Patriotism broke out and people were so happy to be part of the celebrations, the incredible set pieces but also the local street parties bringing neighbours together. 

Roll on the Olympics!

Bye for now.