London, UK – Tourism close to home   Leave a comment

For some bizarre reason, I have always found visiting London a bit of a chore. I think this is because it usually is a chore. Despite living so close to the big smoke, a train fare from our part of Kent can cost as much as £36. And readers of this blog know that we like to get value for money, and London is often far from cheap.

But over the past month we have both found ourselves visiting London as tourists. And being as London is considered one of the greatest cities on earth it rightly deserves the wonderful honour of featuring in our blog. Something along the lines of “Claire and Mark go travelling just up the road”.

Our first port of call on this tourist adventure was the Natural History Museum. Which costs exactly nothing to get into. And that is an outstanding bargain because it is a truly superb museum.

Though we actually visited the museum to see an exhibition by photographer Sabastiao Salgado entitled Genesis. Rather high brow I know, but this was travel related photography of the highest order. The photographs were of spectacular wildlife, landscapes and remote communities.

Sebatiao Salgado

I have never been a major fan of black and white photography but this guy is clearly talented. The exhibition is on until September and I would recommend you stop by if you are in the area and like travel photography.

After this we took a stroll through the museum itself. I am a bit of a science geek whereas Claire is not, so I reckon I enjoyed the museum more. And I got to see the dinosaur, which I am pleased to report was not missing.

Up at the o2

Next we headed off for our second tourist activity of the day at the o2, or as it used to be know, the Millennium Dome.

This upturned wok of a building was constructed for the millennium celebrations. I never visited in the lead up to the year 2000 as I was too busy worrying that all of my gadgets would cease to work. So this was in fact my first ever visit. The dome now contains many restaurants, some shops and a cinema, and is used to stage music concerts.

We were not here to explore the interior of the Dome however. We were going to climb over the Dome.

After completing a disclaimer the likes of which would never stand up in court, we were ushered into “base camp”, which was a room with flimsy walls and lots of seats. We watched a “comedy” introductory video before being issued with footwear, jump suits and a harness.

The route over the Dome is in fact on a suspended walkway which is a bit like a very long trampoline. After being shown how to use the harness Claire kindly volunteered me to be the responsible leader on the ascent. Which doesn’t really say much for the rest of our group as I am not famed for my ability to act responsibly in situations such as this, and I am also a little afraid of heights.

Up at the o2

Nevertheless, it seems I am good with mildly complicated safety clips and found myself making good progress, closely followed by Claire who insisted that I should not jump up and down on the walkway. The rest of the group got held up by somebody with no ability to carry out simple instructions.

At first the climb is quite steep and it takes some effort to progress. But as one starts to climb higher up the upturned wok the slope shallows and before long we made it to the viewing station at the top.

The views were great, and it occurred to me that there can’t be many places in London that afford a 360 degree view such as we enjoyed upon the Dome.

Atop the o2

Eventually the rest of the group arrived, most clearly fed up with being behind the person that could not operate the clip, and who  it also transpired was entirely petrified of heights. Which kind of begs the question, why climb up the Millenium Dome. It isn’t like the Dome creeps up on you and before you realise it you are halfway up. It can be seen from quite a long way off.

Anyway, after enjoying the view for a while we started to descend. This was incredibly easy with gravity on my side so I put the hammer down  and bounded like a new born giraffe so that I could capture a photograph of Claire completing her descent. The rest of the group inexplicably got stuck behind the now hysterical fearer of heights.

Descending the o2

Tickets to climb the o2, or “Up at the o2” as it seems to be know, start at £26.

This completed our first visit to London as tourists. However this weekend just gone we spent two more days in London as part of a family wedding.

We were fortunate enough to be offered the chance to have a tour of The Houses of Parliament. This was somewhere I had never thought of visiting, but it was a thoroughly interesting and at times breathtaking experience.

Sadly no photographs are allowed, but we visited most of the important rooms, including the House of Lords and the House of Commons. We also saw endless photographs, statues and our guide, a jovial scouser with a hit and miss sense of humour had plenty of interesting bits of information to tell us.

Tours can be arranged as follows (click on this link for info).

The following day we attended a fantastic family wedding at The Swan at the Globe , which is the restaurant at the Globe Theatre. The location of the restaurant is superb, just a short walk from London Bridge railway station, and it enjoys this astounding view.

St Pauls Cathedral - View from The Swan at the Globe

We have visited a fair few cities over the past 4 years. So it was really interesting to look upon London with the eyes of a tourist. And I can now see that it really is deserving of it’s status as one of the greatest cities in the world. It may be expensive, but on the flip side a large number of museums are free to enter. Street food is very big at the moment which makes eating almost reasonable. Transport around London, whilst a little expensive, is incredibly easy. And the sights are actually pretty astonishing.

So we will be back, as it would be rude not to.

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