Thursday, 3 July 2014

91 - The Shard - Honorable Mention - London

Last month I visited a high point with a difference and I have decided to include it in my highest points blog. The Shard in London is a little controversial because it will be the only high point on my list which is not a hill, it is however the tallest building in western Europe so I have decided to give it an honorable mention.

I wrote about the Shard in another blog so here is that blog post

It was going to be my 40th birthday and to help celebrate it Nathan suggested we head up to London for the day, The main thing we wanted to do was see Phantom of the Opera but we wanted to do a few other things as well, we booked tickets to see the Viking exhibition in the British Museum and then planned a small trip to Camden market, one more thing we wanted to do was to visit the Shard, its one of those buildings that you always look at and thing "yes we must do that sometime" and then the risk is you never will do it but a few months ago we checked it out online and Nat booked tickets for us.

We arrived at the Shard half an hour early so stopped to take some photos and then found a little restaurant to grab a few diet cokes while we waited for our time slot, it was not too long to wait and we soon headed through the doors and up the stairs to the main entrance. As we had pre-printed our tickets at home there was no need to queue anywhere, there were no queues at all and we walked straight up to a very happy and chatty lady who scanned us through. 

Next we headed through security, this was very much like being at the airport, your bags are put through scanners and you walk through a scanner yourself, there was no waiting around, we were straight through that. Just past security and we had to have our obligatory photo taken in front of a green screen and then we were straight onto one of the elevators which took us half way up the Shard, we then transferred to another elevator for the rest of the journey up to the first level of the viewing area.

On exiting the lift I was a little taken aback as I was expecting to instantly see some amazing views but the windows were obscured with big pictures of cloud types, I would imagine the reason for this is to prevent too much congestion around the lift areas but we were soon making our way up the last set of steps to the magnificent views. 

The first viewing level is totally enclosed, there are full 360 degree views all around London with some of the most impressive being towards Tower Bridge, Canary Wharf and along the Thames towards the east. It is amazing to see the network of railway lines and roads spread out below you and the little toy cars and trains zoom around on them. Situated around this first viewing area are lots of computer operated telescopes, these give you the option of seeing a variety of views including the live views, night time views and various other times of the day, they also give you plenty of information about the sights you are seeing. We spent quite a while looking for famous landmarks such at the Thames barrier and Wembley stadium. I was amazed as to how quiet it was up on the viewing levels, there were always plenty of places to stop and peer out of the windows and you could always find telescopes available to use (which were all free to use as well which is great).

After a short time on the first lever we headed up to the second viewing level which is partially outdoors, there are still glass walls all around you however there are sections open to the sky above you which means you can hear the distant noise of city life below you. Although the views were much the same as the first level I think I preferred this lever as it was nice to be out in the open air. On both levels they played a lovely relaxing music track, I really liked this as it gave the whole area a nice 'up in the clouds' type atmosphere. 

It was a little bit difficult to take photos of the view as the whole area is surrounded by glass, you end up with reflections galore but this isn't really a problem as you just need to hold your camera closer to the glass, I think the problem was worse for us because it was a beautiful sunny day.

This upper lever was a little busier but I was still shocked as to how quiet it was, there really was a lot of space to spread out. There seemed to be a lot of staff on hand to answer questions and take photos too, every member of staff seemed really cheerful and this really added to the whole experience. We stayed up on the top level for a while and eventually made our way back down to the lower levels for a quick look around the little shop.
The lift journey down was again in 2 stages and then we were arrived out into the shop area. I was a little put off by the fact that we were directed to the photo booth area where we were forced to view our green screen photos. I really don't like these green screen photos they do, I just don't understand the point of them, they basically showed us 4 or 5 poorly taken photos of me and Nat badly superimposed onto various scenes taken from the top of the Shard, What is the point? we took some identical photos while we were actually at the top of the Shard so why they need to create these fake photos I do not know. I don't mind the fact that they do offer this green screen service but why can't we have an option of opting out? 

Just past the pointless photo sales we were into the shop, we didn't buy anything, there were a few books I liked the look of but didn't buy any as it would mean I would have to carry them around and I knew I could get them cheaper elsewhere. We finished off with a quick trip to the toilets which had the most useless taps on the planet, They were combination taps/dryers which seem like a good idea, basically you wash your hands and then the water stops and warm air comes out of 2 blowers either side of the water nozzle to dry your hands, sounds brilliant until the water gushes out again after your hands are dry.

The View from the Shard was a wonderful experience and one I hope to do again, it is a little expensive but I think its well worth the money to get some incredible views and once you are at the top there is no time limit so you could stay all day if you wanted to. I was really impressed with the experience from start to finish, the only thing I thought was a bit off putting was being forced to see the pointless green screen photos but apart from that it was awesome and I thoroughly recommend you all go and visit it.

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