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London has always been a world-class city, and this summer, it has two world events occurring within a month of each other: The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee (60 years on the throne) recently held in June and the opening ceremony for the Summer Olympics in July, 2012.
Queen Elizabeth II is the second longest serving monarch in British history next to Queen Victoria who reigned almost 64 years. In 2017, Queen Elizabeth II will become the longest reigning monarch in British history and if you thought the Jubilee celebration was elaborate, imagine what a party that will be!
I arrived 59 days before the start of the Olympics. My first stop was Trafalgar Square where I saw a large countdown clock for the opening of the 2012 games. This inspired me to visit the Olympic Park. I boarded the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) and journeyed to the Pudding Mill Lane stop, which is right in front of the Olympic Park located in Stratford, East London - not to be confused with Shakespeare’s Stratford-Upon-Avon.
Unfortunately, access was restricted so I could not venture past the security gates. But the ring-shaped Olympic Stadium was in plain view, as was the ArcelorMittal Orbit tower - referred to as The Orbit.
The stadium, which holds 80,000 spectators, stands 59 metres tall. The Orbit towers over it at 115 metres. The Orbit is a public art installation containing two observation decks and a restaurant that overlooks the Olympic Park and city of London. With its looping steel beams, it looks like it came from outer space and symbolises the continuous journey Olympians undertake. The ArcelorMittal Orbit is named after the world’s largest steel company of Britain’s wealthiest man Lakshmi Mittal who donated about £16 million for its completion.
The East London area is home to many celebrities, amazing bars, pubs and restaurants, markets, retailers, museums, art galleries and vintage buildings steeped in history. I visited a very unique pub and restaurant called “Boisdale of Bishopsgate,” located at Swedeland Court. This pub is easy to miss. The court (street) is the actual size of a small concrete hallway. A walk inside revealed a welcoming bar with a large array of whiskies. One bottle caught my eye - the 1946 Macallan – a shot sells for £1000… blimey!
Canary Wharf, considered London’s second business district, is also located in East London. Its centrepiece is One Canada Square, which was once the tallest building in the United Kingdom and was built by a Canadian company. Canary Wharf is situated on an island called the Isle of Dogs. It is a fascinating place to walk around and discover the more than 60 unique works of art located in various buildings and courtyards.
The building that now holds the title as London’s tallest is the soon to be completed Shard Building, which rises 310 metres above the London skyline. Located in Southwark near London Bridge The Shard is constructed with 11,000 sheets of different-sized glass.
Fish & Chips
London is brimming with every type of gastronomy imaginable. But of course I had to sample one of Britain’s favourite meals. I am not talking about curry, although their curry houses and “take-aways” are right up there with the best in the world. I was lucky to find one of England’s original fish & chip shops - The Rock & Sole Plaice. Located in the Covent Garden area, it is a small out-of-the-way restaurant with attentive staff and an extremely tiny kitchen where they prepare every order in minutes.
The manager, Ov Ahmet, told me, “this place opened in 1871 with two other fish & chips establishments in London at the time. The other two originals have since closed their doors and we are still here.” I tried the cod - it was light and flaky and melted in my mouth. The chips were devilishly good as well.
London Bicycle Tour Company
I really needed to work off the lunch so I decided to go for a bike ride. I joined up with a group at the London Bicycle Tour Company where I received my bike and no helmet. Our guide, Sebastiaan told us that it was going to be a nice leisurely ride covering a 9.6 km route through central London. Due to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebration, the police were preventing all bikes from going near Buckingham Palace, so we missed out on that. Our tour took us across bridges and some very busy streets. Double-decker buses, taxis and automobiles whooshed closely by me.
We made stops at all the must-see tourist destinations: Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, The Eye, Tower of London, Tower Bridge, St. Bartholomew (the church from Four Weddings and a Funeral), gardens, markets, shopping districts, parks and St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Sebastiaan provided very insightful commentary and now I can brag about riding a bike through the busy streets of London. At the end of our tour we received a discount card called Cycle Cities for similar bike tours in other countries - now that’s a smart idea.
Next on my itinerary: A visit to Number One London (actual address is 149 Piccadilly), a distinction given to Apsley House, which was the home of the Duke of Wellington after he defeated Napoleon Bonaparte at Waterloo. Now a museum, it contains an extensive collection of paintings depicting various Kings, Queens, Czars as well as Napoleon, Wellington and medals and other artefacts. If museums are your thing, London has them in spades (more than 300) and the best thing is most of them are free to the public.
The top ones include: British Museum, Science Museum, Tate Gallery, Victoria & Albert Museum, National Gallery, Imperial War Museum, Natural History Museum, National Maritime Museum, London Transport Museum and the Museum of London.
If you’re a Harry Potter fan, the Warner Bros. Studio Tour of the making of Harry Potter is located 20 miles North-West of London. Details can be found at wbstudiotour.co.uk.
Even though I arrived too early for the Olympics, I did manage to see the Olympic Park and preparations for the Diamond Jubilee Celebration at Buckingham Palace
There is so much I did not see, which only means one thing. I must start planning for my next trip there.
The London Pass
This card allows free entry to over 55 attractions including a Thames River cruise. This pass can be ordered online at londonpass.com and varies in price from about $73 for one day to just over $158 for a six-day pass.
A London Transit Pass
This card allows unlimited rides on the underground (known as The Tube), buses, trams, Docklands Light Rail and other local trains. The one-day pass for downtown London (zones one and two) is about £7 (just over $11 Canadian). It’s a bargain considering a return ride on the underground is about £8.6 or $12. London is divided into 6 zones for the Underground system and this pass can be incorporated with your London Pass so you have one card to deal with.
London maps (street map & Tube system)
Although these maps may at first appear to be overwhelming to look at, do not fret. Londoners are very helpful. As soon as they see someone fumbling their map, they will step in to the rescue. Maps are free at the airport, attractions and information centres.
For more information on London visit www.visitbritain.com.
|ABOVE The Houses of Parliament
The Olympic countdown clock (lower right) in Trafalgar Square
The ArcelorMittal Orbit stands 115m tall. The installation houses two
observation decks and a restaurant overlooking the Olympic Park
The Olympic Cauldron under construction in Olympic Park
The giant ferris wheel known as The London Eye on the banks of the
River Thames - the tallest ferris wheel in Europe.
The Stadium under construction in The Olympic Park. After the summer games, the park will be known as Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
to commemorate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.