Thursday, December 07, 2006

A circuit on the London Eye

One of the curious facts of being born in West
London, within the sound of rumbling jets at
Heathrow, is that one is less likely to have “done” the London sights. Correction, one will have done the educational ones ( S. Kensington museums etc. , on school trips ) but probably not the Tower of London. Now why that should be is anyone’s guess. It’s possibly The Mousetrap effect: one knows it will always be there, so can be put off for another day. In the meantime, there are more immediate things to be done, like shopping on Oxford St, or a film or play to be seen etc. I was 45 when I finally looked in on the Crown Jewels, and (though I hate to admit it) at least 30 before seeing Tower Bridge in close-up.

But having watched the London Eye gradually implant itself on the South Bank, and the touch-and-go business of getting it up and running, I was determined to check it out, before something happened to it. I say that as someone who's been to the top of the Telecom Tower as well as Windsor Castle’s Round Tower. Both are now closed off to tourists, thanks to terrorist action, or the threat thereof.

But the queues for the Eye are notorious. Everyone knows that. So here’s my experience, and a tip for the impatient.

It’s one of those queuing systems where you keep having to go back on yourself, wishing you could just duck under the rope, and save yourself half and hour or more. What makes matters worse is having to listen to the almost non-stop recording that says only one member of a party should be in the queue.

As you get closer to the ticket booth, you see illuminated signs that say there’s an express check-in, at a price ! But here’s the rub – it doesn’t tell you where to go, it’s not visible, and one can hardly leave the queue to go searching.

In fact it’s right down at the end of the hall, but I only discovered that later. So that’s the tip. Save yourself an hour or 90 minutes, at least, by opting to be ripped off.

Even when you have bought your ticket, there’s another serpentine queue to join outdoors, but finally the magic moment arrives, as you and 24 others are ushered into a capsule for a memorable 30 minutes of your life.

One’s barely aware of movement, and there’s plenty of time to frame one’s pictures, although reflection off the curved glass diminishes the end result - as you can see below.

But you’ll see all the main sights, and a few more besides if you know where to look. They say

Windsor Castle is visible on a clear day. I was pleased to see the Swiss Re tower (aka the Gherkin), which I had visited earlier that day. That to me is just so amazing. To this blogger it's the second most beautiful building in the world (after the Taj Mahal), and will be the subject of a post next week.

Coming down is a bit of an anticlimax. So I spent some of the time on walkabout round the capsule, with the dinky digital camera in video mode.

Thanks to YouTube, it’s now possible to show you that somewhat jerky footage. Just click on this link LondonEye . You'll get a lot of tourist chatter too, if your speakers are switched on.

Final (off )note: whilst there is much to admire in London, I am not a Londonophile. This is partly because I dislike all large cities, preferring towns and villages.

But it’s also a dislike of the absence of a proper civic feel in London, outside of the Royal Parks (ironic, isn’t it, that we have to thank privileged monarchy for those precious few acres of space and amenity ? ).

Too much of London is noisy, traffic and pedestrian clogged. Too much of the architecture is predominantly Victorian, Empire-era, somewhat fortress like, with too many insertions of brash modern buildings that are out of scale or character.

London is an architectural free-for-all , reflecting certainly its laissez-faire mercantile history, and arguably what Ted Heath once called "the unacceptable face of capitalism".

Contrast London with the gracious layout of so many historic Italian town and cities, with piazzas, fountains, and friendly, inviting squares (without spiked railings or overgrown plane trees). It’s odd how it needed a terrorist bomb to replace the Baltic Exchange (an ugly building if ever there was) with the Swiss Re tower.

Sadly, and ironically, the words of John Betjeman spring to mind – “Come friendly bombs …..”.

Anyway, here's a link if you want to know more about visiting the London Eye.

I'll be blogging on Saturday about the hilltop village of Biot. We were there this morning, Christmas shopping for colourful Provençal glassware - always well received.


Louise said...

We went on the Eye three or four years ago - I think it was February time, and didn't have to queue at all. And we were the only ones in the capsule so we could oohhh! and aaagh! to our hearts' content. The weather was lovely and clear, and I would definitely go on it again.

I must admit that when I lived in London, I never did the sites - but have made up for it in the last few years with the children - they adored the river trip down to Greenwich in particular. And my son is a great fan of the British Museum as the first time we went he actually saw the Rosetti stone which they were studying in history at the time. Needless to say, that history lesson sank in!

ColinB said...

Geeks' corner. I think I have figured out how Paul on Louise's blog was able to insert a link into a post. The following should appear as a hot link to Google if I'm correct.

Tester only. Try inserting a link to Google.

Sarah said...

I got to see the sights in my teens when my French penfriend came to visit. I had previously done the museums with my parents but we went to the Tower, etc. Moral of the story: when living in a city, have lots of out of town visitors!

ColinB said...

There was a comedy sketch on TV many years ago. The scene was a POW camp, and the Brits had their doubts about a newcomer, fearing he might be a German spy. So they plonked him down in a chair and starting firing questions at him. But they still weren't sure, so they invited their commanding officer to ask the make or break question.

OK, he says, how would you get from St.Pancras to Leicester Square ?

There's a long pause, and finally the guy says "Look, I'm frightfully sorry, but I haven't a clue."

OK, says the CO, he's definitely one of us. Only foreigners who know their way around London.

richard of orléans said...

I've done London Eye. Also the Tower, the V &A, the Houses of Parliament, The War cabinet, The British Museum, the Portrait gallery, the National art Gallery, Cortaulds Gallery, Hampton Court, The Tate, The Tate Modern, 1 Hyde Park, Westminster Abbey (plus carols),Saint Pauls (plus carols), the science museum, Greenwich museums,the zoological museum, Windsor plus park, The theatres,Buckingham Palace, Kew garden, Wisley, the Imperial War museum,All the parks,All the shops, Guys hospital museum, plus endless stately homes in the boring suburbia. Most of them many times.

Quite honestly none of them are worth the trouble. But it allows you to avoid the restaurants where you will pick up food poisoning.

ColinB said...

Don't despair, Richard. There are still a few more boxes to be ticked: Madame Tussauds & the Planetarium, the London Dungeon, the Monument, Regent's Park Zoo(aka the Zoological Gardens), the Natural History Museum, the Museum of London, the Banqueting Hall, to name but a few. Maybe you'll find something to your liking. Failing that, there's always the French Embassy. Or Waterloo Station.

May I say how good it is to see you getting into the festive spirit.

Sarah said...

Do think our roo is really so blasé? I would be a lot more impressed if he told us he'd actually done something more impressive than these great London sites. How easy it is to criticise. How hard it is to achieve something that others feel it's worth being blasé about.

richard of orléans said...

Sarah, as I explained I started out a simple sweeper in England. I became the chief litter officer for the Joconde. I am proud of that.

EuropeanTop said...

Hello and thanks for the opportunity to read and post on your blog.

I’ve just posted an article related to travel tips for seniors on my blog and I thought maybe you’d be interested in reading it. Here is short preview of some of the areas I covered:

- Prefer a backpack on wheels instead of a suitcase, you could pull it behind you when your back hurts or you are exhausted.
- Consider checking your bag in with the airlines, because it would become an unnecessary burden to be dragged all over the airport or the city if you are going to have a short visit.
- You could stay outside the city, in a hostel maybe, because it is cheaper, less crowded and the air is much fresher, but you have to walk or use the transport more, to get in the city or to the station.
- Most museums, some concert halls, railways, airlines, bus lines, ferry and shipping lines have a discount policy for seniors.
- Electronic devices are useful but sometimes they can give you a lot of headaches. You could help yourself with a micro-tape recorder to record your notes. It would be easier than to write and you would put them down on paper later, to share your notes with your family.
- If you bring a camera with you to keep the beautiful images alive along the time then make sure you know how to handle it or you might fail to record them not only on that camera but also in your eyes.

For more resources on how to travel to Europe you are welcome to visit my blog, where you can also get acces to some excellent maps of London and London hotels, together with information on restaurants adn rent a car services.

Best regards,

Michael R.