London: Old and New
02.01.2008 - 02.01.2008
The Docklands - once a much-mocked regeneration programme targetting London's East End - is today a burgeoning and undeniable success story. The high rise office buildings and expensive water front apartments that beautifully litter the landscape today were built on land abandoned by the ports throughout the mid 1900s as technology pushed ports further out of the City of London. Since the government initially refused to support its own regeneration initiatives with an underground network (although the Jubilee Line was later extended), an overground line - called the Docklands Light Railway or DLR - was built instead. Again, this was a mockery in development, but is today a highly efficient operation that impresses me more each time I use it.
Just can't get enough. Massive construction projects continue in the Canary Wharf Area.
A third unforgettable embarrasment in the Dockland's history was the Millennium Dome - an ill fated project modelled on the 1951 Festival of Britain which accelerated development of infrastructure - including an extension of the Jubilee Line underground network - into the North Greenwich peninsula. While the building of the Dome and the surrounding infrastructure was a success, the contents of the Dome were generally found wanting, resulting in the labelling of the Millennium project as a failure. Since then, the Dome has been taken over and transformed into an Entertainment Mecca. Visit the O2 today - as we did - and you can't fail but realize the importance of the Millennium Dome project as a basis for today's business success.
The Millennium Dome now called 'The O2' after the communications company.
With Lloyd and I camping out at the new Mr and Mrs Ross's Docklands' apartment in their honeymoon absence, we decided it would be fitting to learn more about the area with a visit to Museum in Docklands. We were really pleased we did! This museum presents - chronologically - the story of London, including the mysterious abandonment of the town by its creators - the Romans - in around 400AD.
On the left, an example of the Museum's multi-media approach. On the right, a picture we loved since it flawlessly combines the area's history with its future.
But the Museum's real strength is in its use of multiple media to communicate the story of the Docklands. We were impressed with touch screen monitors and sophisticated audio-visual presentations in addition to the static exhibits. We'd loved to have stayed longer, but had to leave after two hours to allow time for our Greenwich visit!
View of the Old Naval College (in the foreground) and Canary Wharf (in the background). A snapshot of Old and New.
And we didn't have too far to go, with Greenwich Just across the Thames from Canary Wharf. Since 1675, Greenwich has been home to the former Royal Observatory, Greenwich (not to be confused with the Royal Greenwich Observatory - don't ask). Just as we were running out of time on our World Trip, we thought homage to a site that once played such an important role in the management of time would be appropriate. Arriving on the simply fantastic DLR, we sought out the famous brass (actually now stainless steel) strip that marks the old astronomical prime meridian that is also the basis for longitude.
At the old Observatory, tourists queued to have their picture taken astride the line. What could we do but join in the fun?
It would have been rude not to....
Actually, it's perhaps not so surprising to learn that modern calculations actually result in the prime meridian being some 100 metres to the east, so all those people being photographed in the belief that they were half in the east and half in the west are sadly mistaken. They're actually firmly in the west.
After our quick wander around the Observatory (long since abandoned to escape light pollution in London's night skies), we headed down towards the Thames, via the Old Naval College which is a World Heritage Site. If the domes look familiar, it's because the College was designed by the same architect as St Paul's Cathedral, Sir Christopher Wren.
The buildings have been used for a myriad of purposes since being built around 1700. Until 1869, it was used as a hospital after which it was used by the Royal Navy for training until 1998 (hence the name). Since then, parts of the glorious campus have been used by the University of Greenwich, while others have simply been opened to the public. Over the festive season, the Old Naval College is one of several historic sites around London that offer ice skating!
We'd probably have walked around longer, but the weather had taken a turn for the worst and we found ourselves in literally freezing winds which left us all with some frozen body part or other. Fortunately, we were able to catch a boat from Greenwich Pier, heading towards Westminster, where the parents were able to thaw out while Lloyd and I braved the weather (for which we were woefully ill-prepared in terms of clothing!) to enjoy the view top-side.
Entrance to the Greenwich Foot Tunnel which links Greenwich to the Isle of Dogs. The Tunnel was opened in 1902.
I'm embarassed to admit that this was the first time I'd ever been on the Thames! The ride would take about 35 minutes and - even if it was bitterly cold - we were treated to a stunning sunset, a fitting end - we thought - to the final daylight of our adventure.
But our day wasn't over yet! As twilight approached at 4pm, we arrived at Westminster just in time to hear Big Ben sing. I used to work seconds away from here, but I will never tire of the beauty of the Palace of Westminster. The addition of the London Eye, just across the Thames, has undoubtedly rejuvenated the South Bank and the County Hall which, until 1990, housed government functions, notably the Greater London Council which was abolished in 1986.
Today, County Hall houses a variety of residential and entertainment concessions, including the London Aquarium. We're also guessing that current exhibitions include something to do with Star Wars and Dali (no, not together although I can definitely see that working....) although we didn't look into it.
And there were two more storm troopers that day, with my parents braving the freezing weather and my overly optimistic distance estimates to keep Lloyd and I company. Thankfully, a hearty prize awaited and - after an hour long walk along the river bank in sub-zero temperatures - we stumbled into a pub in between the reconstructed Golden Hinde and the Globe. With a river view, we enjoyed traditional british fare (pie and chips, fish and chips... you get the idea!) and a few drinks to wash it down and warm us up. I guess I'll start my New Year's Resolutions in February this year...
A large area has been given over to skateboarders and grafitti artists in the basement of the Festival Hall. Fantastic! On the right, a view of St Paul's Cathedral.
Thanks to my parents for a truly fantastic day which perfectly wrapped up our visit to England, and - indeed - our World Trip. After our very full day, we fell into a fitful sleep, no doubt disturbed by dreams of challenges ahead.
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