30 May 2013

Days out from London: Portsmouth is a great choice

The new and wonderful Mary Rose Museum is opening tomorrow and I was lucky enough to have a preview visit. I took the opportunity to test out Portsmouth for a 'day out of London' and was really impressed with how much there was to see and do.  Read all about it in my guest blog on the Londoneer website: Click through here


24 May 2013

Best view in London is from the Shard!

I've been watching the Shard grow from a hole in the ground to an amazing finished building which catches the eye where ever you are in central London.  

This week I finally got round to going up it and it certainly lived up to all the hype I'd heard since its opening in February.  I awoke on Monday nervously looking at the sky as I really wanted a fine day. Western Europe's tallest building can be hidden in or even above the clouds as I'd seen during the Jubilee river parade -  that famous day of dreadful weather when the top of the Shard disappeared into the clouds! However, it turned out to be a fine morning and I reckon having been there that a visit would be fun even in poorer weather.

Losing the top at the Jubilee River Parade

For those who like to know these things, we say it's 'the tallest building in Western Europe', because there are buildings going up in Moscow that already beat our Shard. 

Arriving at London Bridge station you can see that the whole area is being developed and the Shard is the focal point of this transformation. You turn the corner and there it is - streaking up into the sky. The entry is welcoming with a member of staff there to greet you and point the way and as I was there at 10am on a Monday morning I just walked straight through the airport style security into the first of two lifts.  
Looking up!
Lift one takes you to floor 33 and you cross over to zoom silently up to floor 68. You can chose between the covered viewing platform on floor 69 or the more open air one on floor 72 but there are still glass walls so don't worry. The top platform at 244 metres above ground is truly spectacular with 360 degree views across the rooftops of London to the distant hills and along the Thames through to the Thames Barrier and beyond. You can look directly up into the open air and see the points of the glass reaching into the sky that give the tower its name, though I must admit that made me feel a bit wobbly!  A couple of workmen were doing some repairs on the outside of the building and I could barely watch - not a job for many people....

Arriving at the top of lift two
Workman fixing his harness

Nerves of steel!

You can stay as long as you like, spotting landmarks and watching the clouds pass and even helicopters which fly across the skies at your level! On floor 69 there are great telescopes which show you the key buildings and have an info function if you want to learn more about each one. 

Here's my gallery of photos so you can enjoy the View from the Shard. Looking west you can follow the Thames and its bridges and see St Paul's, London Eye, Buckingham Palace, Wembley Stadium

Looking east you can again follow the Thames, see the Tower of London and Tower Bridge and on to Canary Wharf and the Thames Barrier:

The Thames curving east
The Tower of London

Tower Bridge

Canary Wharf through to the Thames Barrier

The platforms are spacious and have plenty of viewing spots. The telescopes are free but timed to 2 minutes to keep people moving around and not hogging them!

The platform at floor 69
One  of the many free telescopes

Extra info from the telescope

You can look into the City with new buildings going up, as always....  Beyond the City, the Olympic village comes into view as well with the stadium and Orbit bringing back great memories of London 2012.

The City
The Olympic stadium with the red of Orbit
 It can be blowy on floor 72 and here's yours truly looking a little wind swept!

I really enjoyed the View from the Shard, yes it is pricey at £24.95 for an adult and £18.95 for a child if bought in advance, but the views are extraordinary. You can easily spend several hours on the various platform looking across London, using the telescopes to find out what the buildings are, taking photos and browsing the good shopping. 

Bye for now.


9 May 2013

Messing about in boats at London's Canal Cavalcade

One of the sure signs that spring has arrived in London is the annual Canal Cavalcade in Little Venice. On the first weekend in May brightly decorated canal boats from all over the UK gather in the Grand Union Canal basin as they have been doing this since 1983.  I live just round the corner so always make sure I drop in to see what's going on.

150 boats lined up with flag flying for visitors to enjoy during the 3 day festival but there are prizes at stake too, awarded for 'best decorated' boat,  best ' boat handling' and 'best Boater's Sunday best costume'! It's also a time when boaters (as they are called) get together and have a good laugh and catch up with each other. 

It's a wonderful sight, full of colour and packed with families having a great day out as there are loads of stalls selling all kinds of crafts, toys, plants, food and drink as well as the boats to enjoy.

Boats lined up in Little Venice basin

Some boaters love to arrive in style!
Most of the narrow boats are lived in and you get a chance to peek inside to see how they manage to pack all mod cons into the narrowest of spaces:

Overlooking the canal is the Horse Bridge which gave a gives visitors a great vantage point from which to view the boats and canal.  Little Venice is a beautiful area of London with fine houses built around the Grand Union Canal and its branches. It is most famous for the house boats which line the canal making it a very sought after watery address! 

The canals were used in the past as a major route for transporting goods as the canal network snakes across the country for over 3,000 miles. Horses pulled the boats behind them as they walked along the towpaths (hence their name), carrying up to 30 tons per horse of cargo such as coal. Diesel power took over from horses so walkers and cyclists took over the towpaths and it's a great place to do some inner city walks.  Names remind us of older times and the Horse Bridge is one of these.

The Horse Bridge
Someone who used the bridge to good effect was Councillor Angela Harvey, the Lord Mayor of Westminster who stood on the Horse Bridge to welcome visitors and thank the organisers and volunteers who made the festival happen. She was easily recognised by her gold chain and white gloves!
The Mayor of Westminster
The view down the canal from the other side of the Horse Bridge is really pretty and you can see the narrow boats lining the towpaths into the distance. There is a rather nice restaurant just past the trees on the right side called the Summerhouse. You can have a table right over the canal to watch the boats and the birds glide past - a great treat even when the Canal Cavalcade is over.

Bye for now,

4 May 2013

Spring is a beautiful time to be in London

In 2013 the winter seemed to go on forever and it was chilly through much of March but April saw the blossom come out at last. The Brits are famous for being obsessed by the weather and this blog seems to be confirming that! 

Spring is a fabulous time in London and I'd like to share some photos taken during April so you can enjoy it too. 

Brits are always out, sitting or laying in a park at the slightest hint of sunshine:

Outdoor yoga - seems a bit public to me but they look like they are completely in to it:

My neighbour's front garden is always a delight:
And this is just around the corner from me, pink magnolia trees in Notting Hill and a small garden, squeezing some daffs into a corner:

Camden Market and Camden Lock are great places to hang out and shop on a sunny day:

You can't beat the Thames on a fine spring day, looking towards the east, on a boat or near the London Eye:

Even an April shower brings its own reward - a rainbow right over London:

Another famous sight that shines in the sun is Westminster Abbey. The red buses were on hire for a wedding  so we wondered if someone was getting married inside this great building - it's not just for Wills and Kate!

Piccadilly Circus is a famous meeting and hanging out spot - never more than on a sunny day:

Primrose Hill offers fabulous views over London (how many landmark buildings can you name?) and you can hang out on the grass all day relaxing. The nearby streets have beautiful blossom:


Regent's Park is home to an open air theatre that starts in mid May but before then you have the gracious gardens, good for strolling or playing in the fountains:

 It's another lovely day today, so I must head out to enjoy it!

Bye for now.