Friday, 22 August 2014

Olympics 2012 Legacy - Extensive green Park in East London

These days it is considered crucially important that when a city is chosen to host the Olympic Games it is able to prove that the event will leave a valuable legacy.  This is certainly the case with the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London where the athletics, swimming, cycling, and various other sports were staged.

Already around 3 million people have visited the park, at this stage mainly for recreational purposes.  Even though the main stadium won't be again open for public visitors until the Rugby World Cup in 2015 there are plenty of other venues to visit.

The Aquatics Centre has been open to the public for several months now, and anyone can go for a swim there for just a few pounds in cost.  You might even have the good luck to see Tom Daley practise his diving.  The Copper Box regularly hosts indoor sporting events such as basketball and handball.  There is a cafe as well.  And cyclists are taking advantage of all the facilities of the Velodrome, for cycling both indoors and outdoors on the mountain biking and BMX courses.

Next month the site will be hosting the Invictus Games with wounded, injured and disabled service men and women from 14 countries around the world competing.  Prince Harry is very much involved in this event, and I'm sure it will prove to be very popular.

The ArcelorMittal Orbit is also open to the public, and from there you get excellent views of the surrounding park and stadium, as well as towards the City of London and Canary Wharf.

So if you are in London, either living here or visiting, it is certainly worth checking out all the attractions and features of the new Olympic Park.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

London considered by Forbes to be the most influential city in the World!

The US financial information provider, Forbes, has announced London to be ahead of rivals such as New York and Paris on a range of economic criteria.  These include the amount of foreign investment, concentration of company headquarters, and ease of travel to other global cities.

View of London with Parliament House, London Eye and City financial district
London has definite advantages over other cities.  As the capital of the English language, it is a important media centre and advertising source.  It's cultural, legal and business practices can be said to define global capitalism: it helps that the Industrial Revolution started just 120 miles or so to the north-west of London.
It is beyond doubt Europe's top technology startup centre, with around 3,000 recent businesses set up, and Google will soon be making Kings Cross the base for its largest office away from Silicon Valley.
In May of 2014 Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC)had similarly given London leading position in a Cities of Opportunity classification.  A study had declared London to be "technologically on top of its game", with with important software and multimedia development and design businesses located here..  
So another couple of feathers in the cap for London.  There will be more posts on business advances in this city over the coming weeks and months.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Swimming 623 feet high in the London Shard's Shangri-La Hotel

If the idea of having a spectacular swim, on the 52nd floor of a luxury hotel, with wonderful views of London ... then this will be perfect for you!

Swimming Pool on 52nd floor of Shangri-La Hotel at the Shard, London

The Shangri-La Hotel, situated between floors 38 and 54 of the Shard in London, opened to the public just a few months ago.  And now the swimming pool, the highest in western Europe, is available to anyone staying at the hotel.  Admittedly you will be needing £450 per night for a room, but for many visitors to London this added feature will be a decisive factor in their choice of where to stay.

The pool measures 10.6 metres long, 4 metres wide, large enough for a casual bathe and maybe a few laps as well.  It is heated to 25C, just right for physical and mental relaxation.

It is right next to huge glass windows, and you are able to see as far as the familiar overhead curve of Wembley Stadium, as well as closer landmarks such as St Paul's Cathedral, Tate Modern, Houses of Parliament, and Buckingham Palace.   Also you can watch the boat movements along a mile or so of the Thames river.

Darren Gearing, Shangri-La executive vice-chairman and hotel general manager declares "I am delighted the Skypool has opened 52 floors up within out signature bar Gong.  The stunning infinity pool, which faces west across the capital's iconic skyline, adds a unique touch not only to the hotel but to London's luxury nightlife scene".

So yet another spectacular feature for London, for the better-off at least.  And, if nothing else, this will attract even more visitors to London, particularly those who will very much enjoy swimming so high while admiring the views.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Extending London's Bakerloo line - Consultations with Public

In September public consultations will begin on extending the Bakerloo line much further into south-east London.  At present the line finished at Elephant & Castle (area named after a local pub!), just three stations south of the Thames.

As south-east London is currently poorly served by Underground train, any extension to the Bakerloo line will be warmly welcomed.  But an appropriate route still needs to be decided.  Below you can see proposed routes.

Extending the Bakerloo line in London
On the map, the Bakerloo line is shown in brown.  There are tentative plans for new stations, or interlinks with existing stations, at Walworth, Southampton Way, Peckham Rye, Nunhead, Brockley and Lewisham.  Stations further down the line could include Hayes and Beckenham Junction.  It could even go as far as West Wickham and Bromley, getting towards the edge of London.

The peak service would have up to 27 trains an hour as far as Catford Bridge, with 15 trains per hour to Hayes, and 6 trains an hour to Beckenham Junction  A cost has been given of £2.6 billion, although this seems rather on the conservative side.

Certainly the proposals for an extension are being encouraged from the offices of the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.  A spokesman has declared, "The Mayor believes that south London deserves greater investment in transport infrastructure, which is why he is seeking more control over suburban rail services .. and exploring the possibility of extending the Bakerloo line."

We will just have to wait and see.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Whatever Next for London?: Swimming in the Thames?

It's early days yet, but serious consideration is being given to the idea of having fresh-water swimming pools, actually floating in the Thames.

Already architectural drawings have been produced which show a series of three pools to be located off Victoria Embankment.  One would be a 25 by 8 metre lap pool; another a 5 by 5 metre paddling pool; and the third a 12 by 8 metre plunge pool.  The baths would be attached to the shore by arm-like structures which will need to rise and fall with the tides each day.

The lido would take around 6 months to build, and cost £5.5 million.  Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, has already approved a £40,000 feasibility study for this major new initiative, "... a London Lido".  The structure could be built by next summer if planning is approved and the necessary funding raised.

Chris Romer-Lee, co-director of the design company Studio Octopi, asserts "Swimming in them would feel like you were swimming in the Thames without any of the danger of doing so.  We want to create a controlled environment where it is safe to wild swim."

We can only wait to see if this project comes off, but I can't help feeling optimistic.  This would be one more amazing feature for London, and situated very close to the proposed Garden Bridge which, hopefully, will be open in the next couple of years.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Big Increase in Visitor Numbers to UK .. and of course London too!

Yet again there has been a major growth in the number of people choosing to visit the UK, and most of these will at least pass through London.

So far this year, more tourists have visited the UK than ever before.  For example, between January and June, there were 16.41 million visitors, up 8% on the same period in 2013.  Similarly spending reached £8.92 so far this year, a major benefit to the economy.

In June there were 3.18 million visitors, 10% more than in June 2013, surely an amazing and unexpected figure.  It is anticipated that by the end of the year, visitors to the UK will have spent well over £20 billion.

David Edwards, head of research and forecasting at VisitBritain, declared "Tourism is an essential part of the wider success of our economy and these first six months has set us up for what could be another record year for inward tourism".  Helen Grant, Minister for Tourism, said the figures were fantastic, and indicate that the government's tourism strategy is working.  This creates more jobs, and helps the economy generally.

We can only wait for the figures for the whole of the year, but I'm confident that this growth in tourism will continue.  Hopefully more people who have visited will be encouraged to return to see and experience more.  And the recounting of their UK and London adventures when they return to their home countries will encourage friends and relatives to try out the unique experience for themselves.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Making Ticket Payment easier on London Transport

Contactless Payments is one of the latest innovations to be introduced to public transport in London.  In the past you needed to buy paper tickets.  Then, when Oyster card was introduced, you only needed to tough your Oyster card to the sensor on the bus or at the station entrance.

Now making contactless payments makes your travel even easier.  Before long you will be able to pay using your Credit or Debit card which is automatically detected, rather than use the Oyster card.

A great advantage will be, as when you use Oyster cards, after you have used up a certain amount of money for a travel on a particular day, you won't be charged any more.

For instance, the maximum you will pay for bus travel will be £4.40, so that any travel after your fourth bus ride of the day you won't need to pay any more.  For Monday to Sunday travel, the maximum you will need to pay is £20.20, the same as a weekly Bus and Tram pass.

Hopefully, this greater ease in paying for travel, and the convenience of having a maximum amount you will need to pay on any day or week, will encourage more people to take advantage of public transport in London.  Further advances to be introduced by Transport for London will be welcomed.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Major Community Cycling Event in London and Surrey

Over the weekend we had lots of rain from the remnants of hurricane Bertha.  Nevertheless the RideLondon cycling event went ahead, and despite the sogginess over parts of Sunday afternoon, the day was undoubtedly a great success.

Altogether around 60,000 cyclists competed over the two days along roads which had been specially closed in London and the neighbouring county of Surrey.

The climax to the weekend was the finish over the 86-mile route of Adam Blythe who is the national circuit race champion.  Sir Bradley Wiggins also took part, although unfortunately his finish was a bit further back.  Nevertheless it was great to see him competing again.

The event director, Hugh Brasher, declared the festival to be "a fabulous celebration of cycling".  An indication of its success is that this year, despite the stormy wet weather, 25% more people finished than in 2013.  This makes it surely one of the most important sporting events in the world, particularly in terms of numbers of people actually participating.

Boris Johnson went so far as to assert that RideLondon "has cemented its status as the world's premier mass-participation cycling event".  He was so positive that "for all the families and kids who've hopped on to the saddle, to the elite athletes and enthusiastic amateurs who've battled through driving rain, it's been a fantastic advert for cycling and for our city".

It would be interesting to know the number of people from outside the UK who make a special trip to London for this event, just as they do for the Triathlon which was staged recently in East London.  One more feather in the cap of (sporting) London?  I think so!

Monday, 11 August 2014

Newest Bridge for London in the East End

Now this is definitely not the most imposting bridge in London, but nevertheless will be useful to many people over the coming years.

It is situated immediately next to Canning Town station, to the east of Canary Wharf and south of Stratford.  It is designed for pedestrians only, and will give access to a virtual island in an almost complete curve of the River Lee, shortly before it meets the Thames.

Initially it will be mainly used by workmen to gain access to a large housing development site, although it is possible that it will also be used by people wanting to visit the sales office.  As you can see, the bridge has been positioned well above the level of the river as boats will be passing beneath on a regular basis, and it has been necessary to take into account the rising of the water level due to tides.

There will be an impressive City Island development on the other side, designed to be a "12-acre micro-Manhattan joining commercial and creative neighbourhoods".  By the time the site has been fully developed there will be 1,700 new apartments, outdoor spaces, waterside parks, bars and restaurants, artist studios, boutique shops, a school and a private residents' club.

It promises to be a highly attractive place to live, particularly for anyone working in the immediate area or at Canary Wharf.  It remains to be seen whether it will attract many artists, although there is already something of an artists community at Trinity Buoy Wharf, just a short walk away and directly overlooking the Thames.

At this stage, as far as I know, none of the apartments has been put on the market.  I'm sure they will be high-priced, but for many people it will be worth paying extra for all the attractions of the location and the development, and to live in such a unique situation.

Friday, 8 August 2014

London - Fascinating Views from Maps of the City

One of the most amazing ways to see London is from close inspection of historic maps of the city.  Too much we take the current layout and structure of London for granted, and don't take into account how it has evolved over the last two thousands years.

If you are want to get further insights into how London has changed, then I recommend an exhibition soon to take place at Oxo Tower Wharf, a short way east of Festival Hall on the South Bank.  The exhibition runs from 4th to 8th September 2014.  This is part of September's Totally Thames festival which will emphasise the key role that the Thames plays in London life.

The maps on display cover a 450 year period, showing the changing and enlarging landscapes.  The first available map dates to 1572, and there are also three printed visual surveys of the capital from 1746, 1799 and 1827.  There is even a contemporary map of underground London, produced last year, which no doubt which have many curious features for people looking at it in a hundred years time.

Even if, up to now, you haven't had a particular interest in maps, this exhibition will nevertheless give you a new understanding of how London has become the way it is.  You can learn more of the London Maps exhibition, which includes a slideshow of some of the maps to be included in the exhibition.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Boats Tours of London's Olympic Park Waterways

There have been plans for boat tours of the Olympics Park for a long time .. and now they have come to fruition.  You can see proof above, with a substantial passenger boat passing by the Aquatic Centre which had been used for the 2012 Olympics swimming and diving events.

For the most part the boats will be travelling up the Waterworks River, which extends from south of the Aquatics Centre, northwards to the Velodrome and on to the Broadcasting and Media Centre.  Sights along the way will include the Olympic Stadium, the Orbit, and Copper Box.

Both sides of the river are lined with a wide range of attractive greenery, with a particular feature being the reed beds.  These have encouraged occupation by a variety of birds including herons, coots and swans.  If you are lucky you might be able to spot a cormorant.

The boat tours last around 45 minutes, and run three to five times a day.  Cost for adults is £8, and children £4.  At present the tours are expected to run until the end of August, although I'm sure there will be some demand from passengers after that date.  It would be great if some boats could come up all the way from the Limehouse Basin, immediately adjacent to the Thames, as was originally planned.

These boat tours are another welcome addition to the range of activities available in London, and will help build visitor numbers to the city still further.  Apart from anything else, there will be plenty of excellent photograph opportunities, and friends and relatives are sure to be impressed by the images.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Moving West to East in London

There can be no doubt about it: the 'centre of gravity' in London is moving from the western, typically more upmarket side of London, to the eastern, traditionally more working side.

Sure the west is still prospering, and generally speaking property prices and rentals are much higher in most parts of west London than in the east.  However gradually people are beginning to like particularly parts of east London more, and in the future many people will actually prefer to live there.

This ongoing change has come about for a number of reasons.  The development of the business location of Canary Wharf, a few miles to the east of the City of London, has encouraged people to live closer to where they are spending most of the day.  This has been helped by the building of dozens of high-rise luxury apartment buildings.  These are particularly popular if they have river, or even canal, views as everyone likes to look over water from their living rooms.

The Olympics being staged at Stratford helped a lot too as this event brought about the regeneration of one or two square miles of previously run-down land.  At the same time, the massive new Westfield Shopping Centre was built: with almost 300 stores and 70 bars and restaurants: this has meant that people living in the general area no longer need to head into the West End for their shopping.

And this remaking and improving of the East End is ongoing.  The next focus will be on the Royal Docks where large-scale business parks are going ahead, along with luxury apartment developments.  With the famous Earls Court exhibition centre due to be demolished within the next year, the ExCel Centre which overlooks the Royal Docks will monopolise the staging of exhibitions in London.

Plenty more can be written about future developments in East London, so look out for future posts on specific topics.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

London's West End Theatres continues to Sparkle and Excite

If you are a lover of theatre, particularly glossy musicals, then there is nowhere better in the world than London.  And just now there is plenty new on offer if you have already been to many of the most popular productions here.

For example, there is a one-off performance of Billy Elliot the Musical starring Liam Mower playing an Older Billy (he is considered to be too old to be playing the original part now).  This will be at the Victoria Palace.  What is particularly exciting is on that particular night the production is being screened live to various cinemas, so you don't need to buy a ticket to the actual live performance as these will be particularly difficult to obtain for that performance.

Kerry Ellis will be returning as the Wicked Witch to Wicked as Willemijn Verkalk is having surgery and is needing to withdraw from the production.  Hopefully she will be able to resume the role before too long.

That very famous musical Phantom of the Opera is welcoming to the cast Liam Tamne who made such an impression on the BBC TV show The Voice UK, even though he didn't quite win.  He will be playing the part of Raoul, starting from the 1st of September.

As it happens, various productions are moving between theatres.  The distinctive Urinetown is transferring from St James Theatre to the Apollo in September.  Great Britain, which sends up the political establishment, the police and the press has done surprisingly well in the National Theatre and so will be able to play to larger audiences at the Royal Haymarket theatre from September.  Similarly Forbidden Broadway is upgrading from Menier Chocolate Factory to the Vaudeville Theatre.

So there are regularly new developments in London's West End, which partly explains why it remains so popular with large numbers of people from around the world.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Making the Most of the River Thames in London

For a long time Londoners almost did as much as they could to ignore the Thames.  It was associated with pollution, mud, and gritty port areas.  They would cross the river over the many bridges, hardly looking upstream or downstream.

Over the past couple of decades the Thames has become much more popular, and is now very much valued, particularly by visitors to London.  It still looks very dirty: the continual rising and falling of the river levels due to the tides mean the bottom of the river is continually being stirred up.  However the water now has little pollution and a wide variety of fish and other water life occupy the river.

The Thames is being increasingly used for transport.  There have always been rather tatty cruise boats to take tourists for outings on the river.  However over the past decade or so there has also been a fast growing river transport business for professional people travelling to and fro work.  This business is likely to continue to grow over the coming years.

Also large numbers of people are now wanting to live in accommodation, mainly upmarket apartments, which have direct views of the river.  Major developments are coming about from around the Brentford area, over the river from Kew Gardens, as far to the east as Woolwich.  The latest major, and very expensive residential development is around the Battersea Power Station: it is very easy to pay one or two million pounds to a luxury apartment there.

But the river is being made much more accessible to everyday Londoners and visitors as well.  These days you can walk virtually beside the river from its origin west of Oxford all the way to Woolwich and beyond.  There are many attractive sights along the way including beautiful countryside, Windsor Castle and Hampton Court.

I would encourage anyone to see and enjoy as much of the Thames as you can, although I have to admit that I don't walk alongside it often enough myself.  This video will give you some idea of what the Thames has to offer you in London.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Making the most of your Leisure Time in London

If there is one thing that you can be confident about regarding London .... there is more to see and do here than in any other city in the world.

For instance, coming up later this month will be the Notting Hill Carnival, the biggest street party in Europe, and in many ways as good as anything elsewhere in the world.  Many people will have been preparing for this spectacular event for months already, and I'm sure they will be becoming increasingly excited as the weekend draws near.

Of course there is all the theatre and arts to keep you busy .. if you have a particular love of culture.  In London you are certainly spoiled for choice.

And it can be interesting and pleasant enough just to wander around.  If you don't already know London well, then I definitely suggest the walk between London Eye and Tower Bridge, and a few hundred metres beyond.  There is an amazing amount to look at along the way, on both sides of the Thames river, and you can easily enough take a break at the very popular Tate Modern gallery.

You can be a bit more adventurous in your walking, and explore different parts of London.  For instance, what about going to a part which you have never seen previously, and try to find as much of interest as you can.  Alternatively, buy one of the many books of walks around London, and follow the prescribed routes, reading about the places of particular distinctiveness along the way.

Or, if you are not feeling particularly energetic, go to a nearby park and enjoy the relaxing experience of absorbing your feelings of the natural surrounds.  If you have children, they will definitely enjoy running around, making the most of their greater freedom.

This summary has only touched on some of the things you can see and do in London.  In later postings I go into more detail on different aspects to encourage you to make the most of London.

Here's a video of Notting Hill Carnival: see if you can feel the excitement.