Secret Rivers Museum of London Docklands

Secret Rivers tells a new story of London

It’s always a treat to travel on the Thames so when the Museum of London Docklands said they were launching their new exhibition Secret Rivers, we thought we should arrive by river boat to honour London’s watery past and present.

Taking one of the Thames Clippers along the Thames is a wonderful way to travel and see the sights that make London so famous. Whizzing past the Houses of Parliament, London Eye, St Paul’s, Tate Modern, Globe theatre, Tower of London and then under Tower Bridge is almost an overload of top sights.

Arriving at the museum’s building you are taken back in the days when London’s docklands were full of old warehouses and wharves, not Canary Wharf’s modern glass towers.  Their new exhibition Secret Rivers is really good and I learned a lot about the Thames and its tributaries, so many of  which are now lost or hidden.

Secret Rivers Museum of London Docklands

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Gillray’s Steakhouse and Bar, London

I’ve been wining and dining and even spa-ing in the County Hall Marriott Hotel for more years than I would like to mention so I was really looking forward to a return visit, especially as I was here to try out the new menu at Gillray’s Steakhouse and Bar! County Hall has a prime site next to the London Eye and across from the Houses of Parliament and fascinating history as the former home of the Greater London Council and its leader Ken Livingstone before it was abolished in 1983. 17 years later he became the first Mayor of London but a new City Hall was built by Tower Bridge so this magnificent building could be taken on by the Marriott group who luckily kept many of the original features such as the wood panelled corridors and bar.

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How much can you squeeze into a day and a half in London?

As you’ll know from my bio I offer private tours of London for small groups and they all want to see loads of stuff in London without feeling like they have been rushed from one place to the next. So, I though I would share with you my most recent tour which lasted a day and a half so you can see just how much you can pack in without exhausting yourself!

My guests were staying in Earl’s Court so on day one we set off from there by tube to St Paul’s Cathedral which is an amazing church although I can never decide which is my favourite, here or Westminster Abbey. On the way we saw the blue trees, one of London’s temporary art moments which we kept bumping into during our travels.  My guests were an energetic pair and wanted to climb to the very top so 365 feet later we emerged onto the very small platform of the Golden Gallery and enjoyed the view. We also loved seeing the display of donkeys in the cathedral – a visual art exhibition of 25 life sized differently decorated donkeys called Caravan 2013 highlighting interfaith co-operation. St Paul’s is an enduring symbol of London and the blue trees and donkeys show how there is always something new to see even when you think you know a place!

View from the top of St Paul’s
Bright blue trees

 

Painted donkeys

We strolled over the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern and explored a couple of the permanent collections, catching some Rothkos and even a Monet before a much needed coffee with a view back over the Millennium Bridge.  The Turbine Hall is closed as the Tate builds a massive extension so it’s not as impressive as usual as I love the grand entrance into that massive space but it’s definitely still worth a visit. Outside the Tate is another temporary art installation, the Endless Stair, a wooden structure based on Escher’s work. It’s fun to run up and down the stairs and take photos from all angles!

 

A walk along the south bank of the Thames gives you a chance to enjoy part of the Thames Path, voted second in a poll of great city walks by Lonely Planet readers, so that’s a major endorsement. Our destination was the London Eye for a 35 minute ride of changing views and perspectives. It’s such a smooth operation as you get on and off without it missing a beat and my guests certainly thought it was worth the ride.


A stroll over Westminster Bridge gives great photo opportunities of Big Ben and from there we had a good look at the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey and I went through some of the stories associated with both buildings including setting the record straight on what exactly is Big Ben. Everything looks so much more impressive and huge close up so it’s always walking right up to these historic sights. 

Houses of Parliament and Big Ben

We reckoned that was enough for one day, as the lights were coming up to display Big Ben beautifully, so we headed back to Earl’s Court for a  meal and a rest! 

Day two saw an early start to catch the 9.30 Thames Clipper boat from Embankment to the Tower of London. Passing the sights we had seen from the bank yesterday, we saw these from a different angle and sailed beyond, passing close up to HMS Belfast with its huge guns.  It’s best to arrive at the Tower by boat, just as people have for millennia, especially those entering through Traitors Gate which always gives me a bit of a shiver as once in you’d not be coming out again – alive!  We were lucky enough to watch a Tower Bridge lift from our vantage point on the massive defensive walls by the medieval palace. Some days there are several lifts but some days none at all so I was very pleased to show my guests another of London’s iconic sights.  Our lunch stop was the Dickens Inn where they serve a decent fish and chips among the boats in St Katherine’s Docks.

The Tower of London from way up high

 

Tower Bridge lifts to let a sailing barge through

We hopped on the tube to Green Park to take through the greenery past many folk enjoying a rest on the deck chairs but we were on our way to our timed entry tickets for Buckingham Palace so no sitting for us. When the Queen goes on her summer holidays to Scotland, she allows her subjects, and other visitors, to have a look round the incredibly grand state rooms and galleries of fine paintings.  Each year there is a special exhibition and this year it is, of course, a celebration of the coronation which took place 60 years ago in 2013. As we’d visited the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London, we could join up some of the dots having seen the coronation crown and film of the event itself. In the palace they have her coronation dresses and robes and the crown wore as she travelled to Westminster Abbey,  a beautiful sparkly piece which you can see on the Queen’s head on every UK stamp, though I have to admit I’d not noticed it before I went to this exhibition…..

Beautiful coronation robes

 

Sparkling crown

 A well deserved coffee was on offer at the cafe in the Buckingham Palace gardens where they dust the cappuccino with a chocolate crown and decorate the cakes with chocolate crowns – nice touch!  The exit is via the excellent shop and the extensive gardens. 

Fancy cakes and coffee at the Buckingham Palace cafe

To complete the London Transport experience for my guests, we grabbed ourselves a trip on a red double decker bus along Piccadilly, past the Ritz and along Pall Mall before hopping off to enjoy a wander through St James’s Park and Horse Guards Parade. There is always something happening on the streets of London and we were not disappointed as we bumped into the Round Britain Tour Cycle and saw one group whizz past us at speed while trying to grab their drinks!

Tour of Britain

A short walk up Whitehall took us to Trafalgar Square to see Nelson’s Column – I’d told my guests all about him when we saw his grave in the crypt of St Paul’s – and to climb on the lions for the essential photo. We enjoyed the temporary art work on the fourth plinth which is a massive blue cockerel, the same blue as the St Paul’s trees strangely enough. We had just enough energy to pop into the National Gallery to see the impressionist rooms and marvel at the exquisite work by Van Gogh, Monet, and Degas.

The brilliant blue cockerel

As Covent Garden with its plentiful bars and restaurants was just next door we headed up to the balcony bar at the Brasserie Blanc for a well earned glass of wine (or 2!) and a snack as the sun went down.   

Phew – I must admit it was tiring but we saw so much and didn’t have to rush around to fit it all in. My guests were full of energy and enthusiasm and really enjoyed their experience of London and the opportunity to some of the top sights that it has to offer with their own private tour from It’s Your London.

What would be your favourite day and a half in London?

Bye for now,
Sue
www.itsyourlondon.co.uk
@itsyourlondon

3 more great London bars!

Did you see my recent blog on ‘3 of the best rooftop bars in London’? Check it out here if not. It struck me while writing that post that London has so many other great bars you need to know about, so I’ll be featuring them now and again in my blog. This week I’m taking you to a couple more rooftop ones with great view and my favourite old pub.

The Vista Bar is perched on top of the Trafalgar Hotel on Trafalgar Square and has a really great view right down into this famous square.  You can check out the new art work on the 4th Plinth or listen into the live streamed opera from the Royal Opera House or just chill out with a cocktail or too. They have pretty strong heaters so even on a chilly evening it’s still ok to drink outside.  

What a view of Trafalgar Square

 

Roof tops through to the London Eye

 

Roof tops through to Houses of Parliament
Up close to the top of Nelson’s column!

I love going to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, on a small alleyway off Fleet Street, as it feels so old and untouched. The sign outside tells us clearly it was ‘rebuilt in 1667’ as the previous building was destroyed in the Great Fire of London that devastated London the year before. The site has been the home to a pub since 1538. Charles Dickens was a frequent visitor and drinker  and there are claims that Dr Johnson was too and although he lived very close by, we have no real proof of that. Inside the is a wonderful small, dark room which is very atmospheric, especially when the fire is lit in the grate. Downstairs is more spacious with vast cellars thought to date from the 13th century and there is a dining room I’d love to try out sometime.

And still standing…
Down a little alleyway of Fleet Street
Atmospheric interior

The Sky Lounge at the DoubleTree Hilton near the Tower of London has a huge outdoor terraceYou are right up close to the new high rise buildings going up in the City of London – the ‘walkie talkie’ and the ‘cheese grater’ – we do love giving names to new buildings! If you are interested in regeneration and  new buildings there are enough cranes to keep you very happy! You are also treated to great views across to some of the more familiar London landmarks such as Tower Bridge and the Tower of London.  When night falls, the views are even better as the historic sights leap out of the night sky.

Outdoor terrace nestling in front of the Walkie Talkie

 

Historic London

 

River Thames and City Hall

 

Regeneration and cranes….
Magical night views

 
So many great bars, so little time – still I do my best!  I’ll be taking you to more over the next few months so keep an eye on this blog but there’s lots going on in London this autumn so the blog will not just be bar based….

Bye for now

Sue
www.itsyourlondon.co.uk
@itsyourlondon

* In case you are wondering –  no financial inducements were offered for this post!

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.
Sue
www.itsyourlondon.co.uk
@itsyourlondon

 

 

 

Messing about on the River Thames

Saturday was a beautiful day in London with blue, blue skies and a soft warm sunshine. This was very lucky as it was the day of the Great River Race when over 300 crews were taking part in a marathon rowing race and thousands of spectators were lining the route.

We set up our position by Kew Bridge and watched some paddle boarders go past, a little wobbly on the part of the learner but by the time they returned he seemed to have got the hang of it!  The Thames is much cleaner than it has been for a very long time but I reckon it’s still better not to fall in….

Teacher and pupil paddle boarders

Then the racers started to appear and we saw the first boats heave themselves into view. The race starts at the Docklands and finishes just past Richmond, 21 miles later. The slower boats start first and the quicker boats then have to catch them up to win, though each boat is timed individually.

It was a great spectacle especially when seen against the lovely riverside of Kew. 

The early boats come into view
Rowing through Kew Bridge
A great figure head and a drum beat to row by

 

Outriggers were there too

 

The beautiful backdrop of Strand on the Green

Alongside the serious rowers are some ‘fun’ rowers. A bit like their land marathon comparators, people like to dress up or try rather challenging boats for this daunting task and I salute their achievement! 

Fun rowers in tutus!
Gondoliers from Malta
Dressed for a different occasion!

Bye for now
Sue
www.itsyourlondon.co.uk
@itsyourlondon  
 

For the love of the River Thames – London’s brilliant new children’s tapestry

This week saw the unveiling of an amazing new art work in St Paul’s Cathedral, bringing a splash of colour and fun to these classic surroundings. The Thames Heritage Tapestry is a school arts project celebrating the River Thames and has involved schools all along the Thames to produce a heart warming and beautiful work.

Each school has contributed one metre square and they have used their imagination to depict an historical and/or up to date representation of their home area and how the Thames influences where they live. The schools are from all along the river so you can trace its full length in tapestry squares from the source in Gloucestershire, along the panels to the estuary at Southend. 

We were lucky enough to have some of the children there to explain their work, as well as the Bishop and organisers of the tapestry who knew the story behind every square. It is an inclusive event with Special Needs Schools represented and I especially liked the Pearly Kings square from the East London Independent School. 

You can see bridges, rowers, famous monuments, boats and of course plenty of blue water but what struck me most was the riot of colours and the almost Hockney-esque beauty of the tapestries. Most of all, the wonderful imagination and hard work from all the kids involved. Do go and see it if you can, it’s in St Paul’s until 27th September and is another good excuse to see St Paul’s – read my recent blog if need any more reasons to visit! 

The biggest problem was how to chose which children’s squares to put in the blog so here’s a small selection but if you want to see more click here. 

 

One of the four panels tracing the length of the Thmes

 

The Bishop enjoys the Pearly Kings

 

‘We made this’!

 

Mid Thames secton

 

Around Teddington

 

Tales of the Riverbank!

 

Rowing at Henley
Houses of Parliament

 

The proud creators of the bottom square

 

A local hero

 

Colourful Kew (I think!)

 

Just like a Hockney!

 

Love the sheep!

 

The sun shines brightly in this one

 

All the fun of the South Bank

I’ll have to stop here but each of the 240 squares is worth a photo and stopping to hear the story behind children’s choice of images woven, stitched or stuck onto their own square.

Bye for now,
Sue
www.itsyourlondon.co.uk
@itsyourlondon 



A new cable car swings out over the Thames!

Today was another big day in London. We have so many at the moment in the build up to the Olympics but this was a good one marked by the opening of London’s first cable car across the Thames on a bright sunny day. We also saw the Queen unveil the memorial to the crews of Bomber Command in the Second World War, a new monument in Green Park, but more of that in a future blog.

I hopped onto a Thames Clipper boat to zoom to the start of the cable car at the 02 Arena, or North Greenwich Arena as it will be called during the Olympics to avoid brand advertising! These boats are a great way to travel and on a warm and sunny day it was a perfect way to arrive. 

Thames Clipper



The new cable car route goes from the 02 to the Excel Centre (also called the Royal Docks) which is a short 5-10 minute ride. I got on at the 02 side and the entrance is just a short walk from the Thames Clipper jetty or the tube station. More branding is on show on your approach the station as Emirates have sponsored the cable car and call it their Air Line – could be confusing on internet searches!

 

Boarding is very smooth and reminiscent of being in a ski resort, but much easier without the skis and poles. There are 34 cars travelling around the circuit each holding 10 people but as the service had only opened 2 hours before I boarded, I got a car all to myself and  could easily take my photos. As soon as it is running at full capacity, 2,500 people an hour will be swinging across the Thames in each direction. 



Getting on the cable cars
The cars head out across the Thames

The views as you swing over the Thames are amazing and the cars do swing a little but nothing too scary. You can catch a great vista over the 02 Arena back to the sky scrapers of the City. Looking downstream you catch sight of the Thames Barrier, open again after being in action during the Jubilee Pageant to keep the river flow in check. 

 

The Olympic Park is easily identifiable in the distance by the red curling frame of the Orbit tower and the view along the dock alongside the Excel Centre takes the eye along to the City Airport.

 

The white towers supporting the cable wires form a graceful line across the river and the cars themselves comfortable with plenty of glass to take in the views. . I enjoyed it so much that I got back on again and took the return journey!

Arriving at the Excel Centre

This new cable car has opened ahead of schedule and will be very busy in a month’s time linking Olympic venues on opposite sides of the river.  I really enjoyed my trip and it was fun to be among the first to use it!

Bye for now,
Sue
www.itsyourlondon.co.uk
@itsyourlondon