Saturday, 31 May 2008

Tower Bridge Exhibition

Along with Big Ben, Tower Bridge is probably one of the most iconic images of London. People across the world recognise images of this famous bridge (although many mistakenly think this is London Bridge) and flock to see it on arrival in London. It is, indeed, a magnificent structure.

I approached the bridge from Tower Hill tube station, walking by the Tower of London and attempted to take some arty photographs which, as you can see, really don’t look arty at all! At the ticket office my London Pass was swiped, my bags had to go through an x-ray machine and I was half heatedly frisked by a security guy (what exactly do those hand-held metal detectors detect? I didn’t buzz despite wearing a belt and having a metal clip in my hair!). I never resent these security measures if it helps prevent the risk of terrorism but I did hear a few mutters of dissent from the group behind me.

I was then stopped by a guy with a camera and asked to stand against the wall while he took my picture. At this point I began to wonder if security at Tower Bridge was, in fact, way over the top! It turns out it was actually for one of those theme-park style photo mementos which superimposes you onto an image of Tower Bridge. A great souvenir for a family but I didn’t bother to stop and look at my pic. Up we went in the lift while the operator informed us about what we would see when we reached the top. While he recited his script, he didn’t open his eyes once which was very disconcerting; either he was desperately trying to remember his words or he was scared of the lift!

The Victorian Gothic design of Tower Bridge not only looks stunning but is also an engineering marvel. The stone and metalwork detail is surprisingly beautiful up close and, when you discover how the bridge was constructed before the days of health and safety, you cannot help but be impressed!

Unfortunately on the day I visited, the bridge was not due to lift but I imagine it’s an incredible sight when a ship passes through. The bridge is raised about 1000 times a year so it’s worth phoning to check the schedule on 02079403984 to see what the Victorians described as the “Wonder Bridge” in action!

Tower Bridge has two high-rise walkways, 42 metres above river level, providing views up and down the River Thames. I arrived late morning and it was a typically grey London day so my pictures are perhaps not as impressive as they could be. By the time I had made my way around the engine rooms, the London sky had turned blue but too late for my supposedly panoramic pictures! Although I haven’t got a great head for heights, I enjoyed the views and seeing just how architecturally diverse the London skyline is. I was quite surprised at the number of cranes I could see which I guess means London is going to cram a few more buildings in to that skyline!

The engine rooms with their Victorian steam engines were not of great interest to me though you can’t help but be impressed by the pure scale of the operation involved. Like HMS Belfast that I visited afterwards, I guess the steam engines would have more impact on boys who are interested in machinery and suchlike.

Adult entry to the Tower Bridge Exhibition is £6.00 and it takes about an hour to look around depending on how long you spend taking pictures. I had free entry with my London Pass and, with so many of their other inclusive attractions in the area, it is undoubtedly a place worth visiting. I probably spent about another half hour taking photos of the bridge itself, which can all be seen on flickr.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Alcohol Free London Transport

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago London’s new Mayor, Boris Johnson, promised to ban alcohol on public transport. Well, he has kept his promise and from Sunday 1st June alcohol will no longer be allowed on buses, tubes, DLR and the multitude of stations across London.

According to various reports and statements from the Transport Police and Transport for London officials, anyone consuming alcohol will first be reminded of the new ban and will only be ejected if they refuse to heed the warning. It is good to know that there will not be a heavy-handed approach at first but with the huge number of posters on display warning travellers of the ban, there shouldn’t be any excuse.

Various groups have been set up on social networks encouraging people to “enjoy” one last night of drinking on the tube tomorrow. This seems like a pretty pointless exercise, intended for inane publicity rather than genuine protest. Let’s hope it doesn’t get out of hand. Personally, I can imagine nothing worse than getting drunk on the tube; packed in the carriage with too many strangers and a cacophony of unpleasant smells and alcohol fumes is not my idea of a good night out!

Anyway, I think BoJo should be congratulated on moving quickly with this particular election pledge. I don’t know anyone who relishes the prospect of sitting near someone on public transport with an open can of lager. They may well be harmless, but it is the uncertainty which is unsettling. I haven’t felt insecure travelling on public transport in recent months but any measures to help Londoners and visitors feel safe in the city has got to be a good thing.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

HMS Belfast

This historic floating museum was my “something blue” (which is actually grey camouflage) on my most recent sightseeing day in London. I admit that warships would not normally be my first port of call (excuse the pun!) on a tourist trail but HMS Belfast is a significant part of British naval history and an unavoidable sight along the River Thames. I knew I musn’t ignore this popular visitor attraction which is undoubtedly an integral part of the London experience.

You cannot miss HMS Belfast if you are anywhere near the Tower of London, Tower Bridge or City Hall- it is the big grey ship moored in the river! It was brought here in 1971 after a campaign to save her for the nation. She was launched on St Patricks Day in 1938, served throughout the Second World War and the Korean War before being retired from the Royal Navy in 1965.

The ship is an imposing metallic beast, built to withstand attack as well as carry out assaults against enemy forces. Almost all of this vast vessel is available to be explored by visitors and it is suggested that a full tour of the nine decks will take about 2 hours. Personally, I think it would take a little longer to see everything on show but if, like me, you are selective then 1.5 hours is ample time.

The purpose of HMS Belfast as a museum is to give visitors a taste of life onboard through the decades of its working life. They have worked hard to provide a sense of reality with dummies (i.e., mannequins!) in appropriate poses, sound effects and even smell effects! At first I found the life-like dummies a little creepy but they definitely bring the ship to life and help demonstrate the environment those sailors lived in. I have a feeling that some (not all) may be Madame Tussaud’s rejects as, on close inspection, I’m sure I saw Prince Philip, Lawrence Olivier and even a young Robbie Williams!

HMS Belfast is not an ideal place to visit if you have mobility problems and is also not particularly size-friendly (by that, I mean if you are tall or wide you may have difficulty getting around). The steps are steep and I, for one, was thankful that the ship was not moving in rough waters and that I had remembered to wear non-slip trainers! Rather than struggle, I decided I would miss out the engine rooms on the lower deck and concentrate on the crew quarters and living facilities. I don’t have any great interest in naval history, ammunitions or the workings of a warship but the human aspect really caught my attention.

The low-slung hammocks slept in by Ratings were quite an eye-opener. How they ever got any rest in those cramped conditions, I don’t know! I’m not sure if it was for real, but there was even a miniature hammock containing the ships cat! The Officers’ quarters were considerably more luxurious but hardly reached modern cruise ship standards! It was amazing to see the facilities onboard for nearly 1000 crew members including a shop, bakery, dental surgery, operating theatre, sick bay (I’m not sure how the ill and infirm made it onto the top bunk!) laundry and chapel.

For the naval and military-minded among you, there is an abundance of information on ammunitions, weights and measurements. You will also find specialist equipment to marvel at, maps and charts to ponder and lots of big guns to admire!

Regardless of how deep your interest is, HMS Belfast is an incredible museum reflecting how those brave men lived, worked and fought during the 20th Century. The free colour coded map enables you to find your own way around the ship but if you plan to see everything from the top of the Bridge to the boiler and engine rooms below water level then use the audio guide to help you. Don’t forget to wear sturdy, comfortable shoes- even in summer, this is no place for sandals or high heels!

At a cost of £1000 per day to maintain, HMS Belfast is well preserved and the adult entry fee of £10.30 is well worth it (although I had free entry with the London Pass). For an extra special event, kids can take part in the “Kip In A Ship” experience, living the life of a sailor for a day and a night! For real naval enthusiasts, HMS Belfast can be hired for parties and can even be used as a wedding venue! I’m not sure it would be my choice for that special day but I’m glad I visited Britain’s largest surviving 20th Century warship.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

London Loos 2

This week’s featured loo is at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre Tour and Exhibition Centre. In stark contrast to the Elizabethan surroundings of the theatre, the toilet facilities were positively modern and verging on luxurious.

These particular toilets would probably best be described as “restrooms” as the first room contains a lovely inviting sofa to take a rest on! A massive mirror adorns the wall and it’s impossible to walk passed without taking a sneak peak at how you look!

The toilets themselves were in pristine condition and the room even smelt pleasant! The soap dispensers were full and the sinks were clean and shiny. The whole facility was spotless but not clinically sterile which is a curiously satisfying combination for a public toilet.

I thoroughly recommend using these loos when you visit the Globe Theatre (even if you don’t need to, they’re worth a visit!).

At this early stage in my research I have to leave room for potentially perfect loos so I will not be giving this one full marks. It fell down slightly for encouraging vanity with that huge mirror (yes, I know that’s a lame reason!)

So, the toilets at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre Tour and Exhibition Centre receive a nearly perfect 9/10 putting it in the lead for London Ding Dong’s Loo of 2008*.

* Due to the fact that Sparkly Songbird is of the female persuasion, this is only a female and/or unisex toilet contest!

Monday, 26 May 2008

Does The London Pass Offer Value For Money?

One of my readers has questioned the apparent financial loss I made on my recent day out using the London Pass. Diamond Geezer (whose blog I thoroughly recommend and is linked on the right hand side of this page), has jumped the gun though as I haven’t finished writing about it yet! I often get waylaid by other London stories which I feel compelled to opine about and, as my Ding Dong Project is all about rediscovering London after living abroad for several years, this blog is not restricted to my sightseeing experiences.

On my last day sightseeing in London I visited four attractions. I took my time at each location and enjoyed a sedate walk from one place to the next. Had I started earlier in the day or whizzed around each sight and used the tube or bus I daresay I could have added another couple of sights to my itinerary – but where is the fun in that?! I paid £36 for a one day London Pass but had I paid at each attraction, the entry fees alone would have cost £38.90. Add discounts on snacks and drinks and I guess I saved about £5 on that particular day.

Of course, if I was on holiday or lived in London then I would certainly get more for my money. Living outside London and aiming to do my rediscovery on a budget, I am restricted to later trains into the city and so, at best, my sightseeing day cannot start before 10.30am. Holidaymakers, tourists and Londoners would do well to buy a multi-day London Pass as the more days you get, the cheaper it becomes. A 2 day pass is significantly reduced and works out at £23 per day for an adult. A full 6 day pass is just over £13 per day which is incredible value (these figures are based on their current offer of tickets at 2007 prices).

For me, the London Pass not only saves a few pounds but also saves the hassle of queuing for tickets at each place. I like the fact I can queue jump which leaves even more time for enjoying what I’m really there to see. I like the fact that many tourist attractions offer discounts in their restaurants and cafes when you show them your London Pass. I like the fact that, if I want to, I can get discounts on theatre tickets and also free cinema tickets. I like the fact that there is so much more to the London Pass than just sightseeing.

Really, how much value one gets from the London Pass is up to the individual. If you plan your time carefully and take advantage of their website itinerary wizard then I’m certain you can save an awful lot of money without rushing around unnecessarily!

So, to answer my own question: yes, the London Pass does offer value for money and I shall continue to make the most of it!

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Beat London Queues

I’m a sucker for a good music competition but last nights Eurovision Song Contest was a complete farce! I admit I’d hoped the contest may come to London next year with such a strong entry from the UK’s Andy Abrahams but I guess that was a pipedream! As I predicted, the song was obviously too sophisticated for the taste of Eurovision voters! The huge bias in Eastern European voting was, I guess, predictable but shows that it is now fairly pointless for Western European countries to enter in future. I am also still wondering how I missed Israel leaving the Asian continent and becoming part of Europe! We Brits used to have a good laugh at the Eurovision Song Contest but the humour has now disappeared in a cloud of politics.

Most British kids are on half-term holiday this week but do not let this put you off sightseeing in London. Yes, there may be larger crowds than usual waiting to get into the major attractions but if you have the London Pass in your hand you needn’t worry. With your little plastic card you will be treated like a VIP, receiving fast track entry into famous sights such as the Tower of London. You’ll be marvelling at the Crown Jewels before others have even made the front of the queue!

There is also priority seating offered to London Pass holders at selected restaurants which is a real ding dong bonus when you’ve had a busy day sightseeing. Make sure you don’t spend precious time standing in line when you could be having fun in London: check out their website for more details on restaurant offers and other special deals

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Sport In London

This week, construction began on the 2012 Olympic Stadium in East London – several weeks ahead of schedule. But before the Beijing Olympics have even started, the media are openly debating what the various London facilities should be used for post-2012. To spend millions (or is it billions?) on an event which only lasts a few weeks may seem ridiculous but, if all goes to plan, the local people should reap the rewards in a number of ways. Employment prospects are already looking better pre and post Olympics; regeneration should increase the value of property in the area significantly and locals will have new sporting facilities to be proud of. I would imagine there will be a right Royal hoo-ha if, for some reason, the Olympic committee fail to deliver for the local people. Let’s hope that all those people who lost their homes to make way for this immense sporting project will feel their significant sacrifice was worth it for the future of British sport.

As a West Ham United football supporter, I had hoped that the Olympic stadium may eventually become our new ground but it seems that is an unlikely outcome now. Latest reports suggest that a local rugby team may move in there when the Olympics have finished and the stadium has been altered for its new use. Personally, as long as it is utilised well, I don’t really mind who takes over. Besides, we have plenty of time left to discuss and (probably) decry the future use of the Olympic facilities.

Monday is, of course, a Bank Holiday in the UK. These all too rare national holidays are a good excuse to do something different with your loved ones or friends. Don’t sit at home and watch bad movies on the TV. Don’t let the rain and wind make you stay indoors. Don’t stay in bed all day bemoaning the fact you have to return to work on Tuesday. Get outside and discover London and all the wonderful places it has to visit. Parents often complain there is little to do with the kids during half-term holiday but with the London Pass there are over 50 attractions to visit and enjoy. Kids and adults will love the sports stadium tours on offer and also the free cycling tours around London. We are all being encouraged to get more exercise these days so why not see some of the famous London sights while pedalling to your hearts content?

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Chelsea Flower Show

I have tried desperately hard to get excited about today’s planned post. For three nights in a row I have watched the coverage on TV with disinterest and wondered how I will muster enough enthusiasm to write about this annual gardening show! I warn you now that I have failed before I’ve even started writing!

Therefore, not wishing to put you off, I will quote the official description of what has become something of an event in London’s social calendar:

“The RHS Chelsea Flower Show is the ultimate event in the gardening year. It sets the latest gardening trends, features the newest and most desirable gardening products and creates an explosion of colours and scents.”

I appreciate that this is an incredible exhibition of horticultural brilliance and innovation but it simply does not float my boat! My family all love gardening and I think this is probably one reason for my aversion. As a kid, we had a massive garden which took all my parents spare time. In retrospect, I can tell you it was beautiful but the garden often came before me in their priorities so I hated it!

When I lived in London I missed the garden for one reason only – homegrown vegetables. I didn’t miss the grass or the flowers particularly though it would’ve been nice to sit outside on a warm day. My mum gave me a window box with baby tomato plants in it and I occasionally sat outside the front door (Mediterranean style!) in a deckchair so I was happy enough.

Anyway, back to the Chelsea Flower Show which runs until Saturday. Held at the Royal Hospital in Chelsea since 1913, there are approximately 600 exhibitors from around the world. The most popular exhibits are the show gardens which are put together (not sure if that is a correct gardening term!) in the days running up to the show. In the last four years alone nearly 250 new plants and flowers have been given their debut here and awards are presented to the best exhibitors. During the five days, 49000 glasses of Pimms, 5000 bottles of champagne and 54000 cups of tea and coffee are consumed!

If you are not a heathen like me and your appetite has been whetted then I must now disappoint you; tickets for this years show are all sold out! But you may like to visit one of London’s great gardens which are all part of the London Pass package including the Chelsea Physic Garden, the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew (aka Kew Gardens) and Hampton Court Palace.

I am doing my own bit for British horticulture this week - my parents are on holiday and they’ve entrusted me to water their garden… fools!

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

London Loos

I’m not sure if the expressio
n “loo” translates internationally but this post is the start of my little sideline research into the standard of toilets/cloakrooms/restrooms/bathrooms/loos in London! Toilet facilities are pretty important when you are sightseeing in any city (probably more so for women) and so I feel obliged to guide you in the direction of good ones and steer you away from the less satisfactory.

I received divine inspiration for my research at St Paul’s Cathedral where I noticed a small and rather dog-eared certificate outside the Crypt toilets declaring:

“National Heritage Award For Loo Of The Year”.

Now, one can understand this prestigious (!) honour being displayed had it been awarded this year or even last. But, the year in question was in fact 1995. Yes, 1995!

Sadly I think their standards have slipped in the intervening 13 years and I doubt they’d win any awards now! They are not the worst facilities I’ve ever used (basically clean and well serviced) but lack of soap lost them a couple of marks.

So, for the toilets in the Crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral, I award a less than holy 6/10.

I shall run my research until the end of the year and then award my own certificate to “London Ding Dong’s Loo Of 2008”. With any luck, word will soon spread and we will not have to suffer soap-less services any longer!

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

St Paul's Cathedral With The London Pass

I have trouble getting up in the mornings. This is probably because I have a trouble going to bed at night! Ordinarily, this doesn’t cause any problems but when you have a day of sightseeing planned and you can’t wake up at a decent hour one has to pay the price! Consequently I rarely get to see as much as I’d like to when I go to London and would advise anyone more sensible than me to go to bed at a “normal” time and get up early to make the most of your London experience. Also check the opening hours of each attraction so that you don’t miss out. The London Pass site and guidebook provide all the details you need so spend a few minutes planning your itinerary carefully, especially if your time in London is limited. Thankfully for me, I’m not restricted by time so I probably won’t be changing my sleeping patterns just yet!

It was getting a little late in the afternoon when I headed towards St Paul’s Cathedral but was still well within “opening hours”. I took the advice given in the London Pass guidebook and avoided potential queues by entering via the Crypt. Having walked from the Globe Theatre across the Millennium Bridge and around the Cathedral to the downstairs entrance (stopping to take some pics of that little squirrel you've already seen!), I was pleased to find the Refectory Restaurant was open and offered 20% discount to London Pass holders. Half an hour, one cup of tea and a chocolate brownie later (oh when will I ever resist temptation?!), I made my way to the Crypt which contains a Who’s Who of famous historical figures – or rather their graves and monuments! Christopher Wren, architect of this magnificent building is buried here along with renowned musicians, writers, artists, scientists and soldiers.

It seems wrong to walk across grave stones but in St Paul’s Crypt it is virtually impossible not to as they are packed into every available space! Some of the engravings are hard to decipher and, in some cases, so worn by age and footsteps that they have disappeared completely. I guess that every visitor has their “favourites” (is it wrong to have a favourite grave?!) but I veered to the tombs and memorials representing the Arts rather than the multitude of military figures.

One of the most touching memorials I discovered was a small plaque dedicated to Robert Eaton who was once a St Paul’s chorister and died in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trader Centre.

I should explain that you are not allowed to take photographs inside but if you make it to the top of the building you can take pictures of the views across London. I had forgotten to purchase my discounted audio guide before entering the Crypt and probably spent too long wandering around aimlessly reading inscriptions. I was also waylaid by an excellent exhibition charting the relationship of the Royal Family with St Paul’s. By the time I went to get an audio guide I was kindly warned that I’d almost certainly run out of time to make it up the 530 steps to the Golden Gallery (even though I was planning to run up them – ha ha!) and may not even reach the Whispering Gallery. The Whispering Gallery should really be done in pairs anyway to make the most of its clever acoustics (the prospect of being on opposite sides of the 30 metre high gallery and whispering to each other blows my mind!). The lovely man apologised (as though it was his fault that I hadn’t woken early enough!) and said that he could stamp my ticket to enable re-entry on another occasion. How kind is that? I still would’ve returned at some point for the momentous climb but now I’ll keep that ticket safe and do the deed when I’m back in London.

Instead, I took the opportunity to look upwards from the Cathedral floor (beware: neck strain!) and appreciate the spectacular mosaics, carvings and art work. Although I had not been inside before, the £40million cleaning and repair programme - in preparation for the 300th anniversary in 2010 - is definitely money well spent! The inside of St Paul’s is truly breathtaking and, despite so many visitors wandering around, provides a place for quiet contemplation in the middle of this bustling metropolis.

Monday, 19 May 2008

London Newspaper Nonsense

Apologies to those of you who have missed my posts over the last week or so. I had a little trip to hospital and my sparkle was rather diminished as a result! After a few days rest, my sparkle has returned and I’m back with a vengeance!

Today, in the Times newspaper (London), there was a somewhat random letter from a person in Kentucky complaining that he was charged £10 to enter St Paul’s Cathedral. This is not strictly true as anyone can worship there without charge! However, to see the most interesting parts there is, quite rightly in my opinion, an entrance fee which goes towards maintenance and repair of this most historic and sacred of London’s famous sights. It also helps pay for the two hundred members of staff employed to ensure that two million visitors each year enjoy and appreciate the Cathedral to the full.

But, had this particular visitor done his research, then he would have bought the London Pass and been able to visit 55 different London attractions for free including St Paul’s Cathedral!

Silly man – he missed out there!

This brings me neatly onto my own visit to St Paul’s which I will share with you tomorrow.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Loving London Buses

Taking the bus in London has been quite an eye opener for me. Way back when I lived in London (it’s not that long ago but things have changed in eight years) the norm was hop on hop off buses with a segregated driver and a conductor to take your money or see your travel card. Not many of these buses exist now but they had their pros and cons. In those days you could run for a bus you’d missed and take a leap of faith onto the platform. If there were traffic jams, you could hop off and start walking. The conductors were a mix of over-the-top happy or miserable as sin but generally kept things ticking along nicely. Once, with a broken leg in plaster, I struggled to get onto the bus with my crutches only to be told by the conductor there was no room downstairs and I must make my way up to the top! Thankfully, a kind gentleman saved me from breaking my other leg and offered me his seat! There was a certain camaraderie when taking the bus though they were pretty dirty vehicles, rather ancient and prone to breaking down!

Nowadays, things are very different. I don’t know if this is the same throughout London or just in the areas I have visited (the City through to the West End) but now you can purchase your ticket or top up your Oyster Card at regular bus stops. In fact you are encouraged to do so as it keeps buses on schedule. Most buses are now conductor-free with the driver taking responsibility for everything. For the elderly, infirm or disabled many buses can be lowered for easy access (that would’ve been handy with a broken leg!) and wheelchair spaces are provided toward the front of the bus. These really are new buses for the people! One bus I went on announced each stop in advance so there’s no panic about where to alight. This is particularly handy for tourists and people like me who can’t contemplate travelling through London without an A-Z! Another bus didn’t have that particular feature but it did have a TV screen showing internet-style entertainment news and features! This was great except I missed my stop while reading a piece of London gossip!

So London buses have joined the 21st Century with aplomb and really do make travelling more comfortable and enjoyable. There is another massive bonus if you take the bus: you see everything! Pictured right is the latest temporary art piece photographed from the bus at Trafalgar Square- something I probably wouldn’t have made a special trip to see (and the people in the foreground don't look overly impressed either!). You have a better idea where one attraction is in relation to another; the pieces of the London jigsaw fall into place and you get a greater sense of your surroundings.

London’s new Mayor, Boris Johnson (or Bojo as he is now being called!) is promising greater security on buses, banning eating and drinking (with particular reference to the consumption of alcohol), and introducing women-only night bus stops. I don’t doubt that these moves will be welcomed by the majority of Londoners as well as tourists. In the eight years I was living abroad, Ken Livingstone established a massively improved bus service and it seems that Bojo intends to continue this good work.

Apparently “bendy” buses are a bone of contention among Londoners but I have yet to experience one of those…

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

London Underground's Not For Me

Memory recall. It’s a strange thing and often hits at inopportune moments. Last week, as I stepped off the overhead train at Liverpool Street station and was heading towards the underground, I suddenly remembered that I don’t like travelling by tube! When you have your journey planned by train and tube this is not a good memory to conjure up!

The underground system is so much better than it used to be; it’s pretty clean and safe and, these days, it can even seem quite friendly! Of course, it can be a nightmare during rush hour and the crowds piling onto trains at Oxford Circus are unforgiving with their shopping bags. It is no fun being crushed together like sardines when it’s busy but, generally speaking, you succeed in getting from A to B. Besides, nobody would take the tube for fun would they?

One thing many tourists don’t realise is that the tube map bears no relation to the relative distances between stations. It’s possible to travel three or four stops, even change onto a different line, and only be a few minutes walk away from where you started. Walking up and down escalators, along never-ending tunnels, following the crowd ahead like a flock of sheep can, potentially, take longer than getting to your destination by foot! It’s a bit of a nonsense really.

Over the last few months I’ve wondered why I get so hot and bothered whenever I visit London. Sometimes I even arrive home with a headache from hell and wonder why when I’ve had a rather pleasant day out! Now I remember why I rarely used the tube when I lived in London and was often prepared to spend much longer above ground on London’s red buses. I think maybe I am tube-phobic (I looked up phobia names to see if this was covered but the nearest - Siderodromophobia - doesn’t work as I’m ok with normal trains).

From now on I will avoid London’s wonderful underground system when possible and allow a little longer for my journeys. I don’t intend to walk everywhere (heaven forbid!) but the bus will now be my first option for travelling within London. If you are using the London Pass with travel then be reassured that this option includes red London buses, Docklands Light Railway and overhead trains to Windsor as well as the underground through all zones.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Crossing London

So back to my day of London Pass fun.
After leaving the Globe Theatre I headed towards my “something new” which is, I suppose, somewhat misleading. The Millennium Bridge is new to me but is now, as its name suggests, several years old. It hit the headlines when it was opened due to its uncontrollable wobbling and was soon closed for essential modifications. Those who crossed the footbridge in its first few days of existence reported that it felt more like a rope bridge than a modern high-tech feat of engineering! It was, therefore, with some trepidation that I approached the entrance at the Tate Modern Gallery end.

There is no doubting that the Millennium Bridge is an attractive addition to the River Thames and it affords some incredible views in all directions. Despite my fears, I am glad to report that there was not the slightest hint of a wobble as I crossed the bridge and I actually rather enjoyed the sedate walk across the Thames. At either end are two major London landmarks (the Tate Modern Gallery and St Paul’s Cathedral) so whichever way you walk you get a great view. Admittedly, walking towards St Pauls is rather more pleasing on the eye than walking away from it!

With my London Pass in my bag I headed towards St Paul’s for a little historical, religious and architectural education! It’s rather shameful to admit that this would, in fact, be my first trip inside the world famous Cathedral. But, as they say, it’s never too late to start learning!

Friday, 2 May 2008

May Day Mayor and Banksy Bank Holiday

So the first of the May bank holiday weekends is upon us and, hopefully, the weather will be kind to Londoners, tourists and visitors alike. A 3 day London Pass is the perfect accessory if you are visiting London this weekend and fancy a little sightseeing. There are also a few slightly out of town sights included on the London Pass and I would imagine Windsor Castle is a lovely place tBoris Johnsono visit at this time of year. If you buy the London Pass with travel you’ll be able to take the overhead train to Windsor at no extra charge which is a ding dong bonus!

Of course, this weekend is the first for London’s new Mayor – Boris Ken LivingstoneJohnson. I wonder what Ken Livingstone (seen here in front of Tower Bridge) will be doing on his first weekend off in 8 years? Maybe he’ll catch up on a little sightseeing or take a canal boat trip? If he’s sensible he’ll buy a London Pass, get a free trip on Jason’s Canal Boats starting in Little Venice, travel through Regents Park, past London Zoo and end up in Camden Lock for some weekend market shopping! After all that political wrangling and campaign trailing I’m sure he could do with some down time!

After menBanksytioning the street artist Banksy last week, he has been in the news again today. This weekend near Waterloo Station, he presents “The Cans Festival” which is described as “A street party of stencil art”. This Banksy collaboration with artists from around the world includes stencil graffiti art and some installations. It is being held in a disused tunnel in Leake Street SE1 and visitors are invited to add their own stencil works. Giving a rare quote to the press Banksy said: “to cover an entire street with graffiti is a dream come true, or as some people might call it -- a complete and utter nightmare." The exhibition is open from 10am Saturday until 10pm Sunday.