Friday, 10 May 2013

London, baby!

The Emirates Air Line gondolas from the Royal Docks Terminal
I was born in London, brought up there and if it wasn't for the ridiculously priced houses I would be living there now. Whenever I visit my parents we like to plan something to do so when my Dad mentioned the cable cars by The O2 Arena I thought that sounded like a great idea. Dad said he had previously been on them with his 80 year old brother so I thought it would suit all three generations of our family.

As my parents live in the same road as one of London's suburban train stations getting around London is a doddle by public transport. An All Zones Travelcard currently costs £8.90, which may seem pricey at first but for a day out it proves to be very good value. We stopped off first a couple of stations down the line for breakfast in Raynes Park and once fuelled up we were back on the train to Waterloo. We made our way to the Underground to get on a Tube to North Greenwich. This line is the Jubilee which I have liked since it opened. Benefiting from modern construction and planning it makes travelling with a pushchair very easy (it was a Saturday as well). Every station has a lift, there are clear barriers on the platforms to prevent people falling/jumping/being pushed onto the line and these also show where the doors will open.

Once you get to North Greenwich station it's just a short walk past the O2 to the Thames cable car or to give it its proper name The Emirates Air Line. Looking back from the car park you can see how much this part of London has changed. My Nan was born in the Isle of Dogs in 1908 before later moving to south west London. She used to take my Mum to visit her own Mother most weekends and the pair of them lived with her for a couple of years in the 1960s.
Regeneration of London's East End
The weather wasn't looking too good at this stage and I was a bit worried the service may be suspended due to the threat of thunder and lightning or high winds.
Clouds looking ominous...
Thankfully it wasn't and we were quickly able to purchase our tickets. Since it is part of Transport for London there is a discount if you have a Travelcard, Oyster or Freedom Card. The return fare is normally £8.60 but reduced to £6.40 for card holders. You can buy a '360°' ticket but this means you can't get off at the Royal Docks Terminal and get back on again. You may as well get the return as it is the same price.

Each of the gondolas take up to 10 people and the staff were very good at getting groups into their own cars. I'm not sure this would be the case at busier times but it was appreciated by us. Once up the view was a joy to behold. The dark clouds had suddenly disappeared and the views over London were spectacular. I was surprised there wasn't a commentary or board pointing out the sights. I didn't even spot a guide book on sale. It wasn't a problem for us as we know London well.
Thames Barrier viewed from the Emirates Air Line
I have to admit I'm a sucker for high rise views and spent two weeks in Kitzbühel riding on the cable cars so I wasn't perturbed by the journey. However, if travelling in a metal and glass box suspended by a metal wire which goes up to 90m isn't your thing I'm guessing you didn't even make it to the ticket office. On the way back it did get a bit windy and the gondola did wobble about a bit. My Brother was quite pleased to get back on terra firma.
Up in the air
On the other side of the Thames is the Royal Docks station. We got off to have a little wander about about. There isn't much to do at the moment but it is a fine example of how an area can be changed and improved for the better. It's worth getting off if only for some more photo opportunities.
The O2, The Crystal, Royal Docks Terminal and Canary Wharf in the background

Once we got off we went in search of an ice cream for my Daughter. Although the O2 is full of chain restaurants there didn't seem to be one place we could get an ice cream so we headed back on the Jubilee line to Canary Wharf. By this time we had decided that it was now time for lunch and my Dad knew of a Wetherspoon's pub nearby (easy for large family groups, they serve real ale and they don't charge 'London' prices). The walk across included two sightings of double aperture pillar boxes. I like post boxes and these Type C are usually only seen in London due to the need for high volume postings.
A Type C double apperture pillar box at Canary Wharf
Enough of the street furniture history lesson and we made our way to The Ledger Building. It used to be part of the West India Docks and the ledgers used to work here. It' s a large pub with several separate rooms and we got one to ourselves. I doubt it's like this on weekday but we were pleased to take advantage of the exclusivity.

After our lunch pit stop we popped in next door to the Museum of London Docklands. It forms part of the the Museum of London and has free entry to its standard exhibitions (donations though are obviously encouraged). It gives an excellent account of the surrounding area through the ages and has secured many fine paintings and other examples of social history. Well worth a look if you are in the vicinity. After we had finished in there my Mum said she would like to go over to Poplar to look at the church where her grandparents were married. Onto the Docklands Light Railway at West India Quay and a couple of stops before we got to the appropriately named All Saints station. Sadly neither the grounds or the church were open when we got there. It still looked very fine though in the spring sunshine.
All Saints Church, Poplar
After this there was a request from one of the younger members to go to Hamleys. Mum knew that the number 15 bus could be caught from out the front on the church which would take us to Regent Street. Within a few minutes one had arrived and we were able to get the front seats on the top deck. Forget about paying for a tourist sightseeing bus and just get on a standard double decker. This route goes past the Tower of London, Monument, St. Paul's Cathedral, down Fleet Street and onto Trafalgar Square then round Piccadilly Circus before stopping near Hamleys. It has to be said that Hamleys is a rip-off. Apart from the concessions in there everything seems to be £5 more expensive than anywhere else. They may say its due to the Hamleys' 'experience' but due to the heavy footfall the store is now pretty grotty and the toys are not the quality they used to sell. However, if you are seven it is still a delight.

On the way home we had dinner at The Barrowboy & Banker pub in Southwark near to London Bridge station. We had tried to get served at the Nicholson's Mudlark pub but was told that the upstairs dining room shut at 7pm on a Saturday! The waitress suggested that our group of seven, including two children aged 7 and 2, should try to get a table downstairs in the extremely noisy and packed main bar. We declined. I'm glad we did have dinner at The Barrowboy & Banker. We had a table on the mezzanine dining level overlooking the rest of pub. On the menu was something for everybody and my Son had the most enormous child's portion of fish and chips I have ever seen. At £4.95 most adults would have been pleased to have been served it.

Full up and now slightly weary we made our way back to Waterloo to catch our train home. A wonderful day, new sights seen and more memories to treasure.

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