Architectural admiration (2)

As I received enough positive feedback for the first post in this series, I have decided to compile some more, starting now. They will still be, for the moment, things I have actually seen, and stood before. The selections will continue to be varied, both chronologically, and architecturally, so please bear with me.

Fort La latte, Brittany, France.
This Breton castle is an absolute delight. Built in the 13th Century to defend the coast of Brittany from attack by the English, it is remarkably well preserved. The coastal location also provides amazing views over the sea, and it is small enough to enable the visitor to get a real feel of life for the defenders. If anyone has ever seen the 1958 film ‘The Vikings’, with Kirk Douglas (and who hasn’t?) it will be immediately familiar, as the scene of the climactic battle. I first visited this castle in the early 1980s. when staying in a gite nearby. I was entranced by it then, and I still am today.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort-la-Latte

Frinton Park Estate, Essex.
Back in the 1930s, and Art Deco houses, with no apologies. The Frinton Park Estate contains some of the best remaining Art Deco housing in England. Built in 1934, in the sedate seaside town of Frinton, on the Essex coast, this development is just breathtaking. A series of Art Deco and Modernist housing, all still occupied, and as pristine today as when they were built. I made a special trip to this sleepy town, just to enjoy and photograph these houses. I could happily live there, and if I ever win the lottery, I just might.
http://www.art-deco-classics.co.uk/frinton_artdeco.php

City Hall, London.
This building was created for the new Greater London Authority, in 2002, on land adjacent to Tower Bridge, called Potters Fields. It was designed by Norman Foster, one of Britain’s most famous architects, and though it does not have any connection with the City of London at all, it serves as the meeting place for the Greater London Assembly, and houses the office of the Mayor of London. (Though not the Lord Mayor, who is Mayor of The City). It is confusing for non-Londoners, I appreciate that!
The building stands alone, and is easily viewed from outside, or from the nearby vantage point afforded by Tower Bridge. It seems to be collapsing, as the various layers appear to be incapable of supporting its weight. This is part of the architectural genius behind the design, and serves to make it all the more appealing. (At least to me.)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_Hall,_London

Thiepval Memorial, The Somme, France.
Another Art Deco structure, but with a solemn difference. Opened in 1932, and designed by the marvellous architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, this is a memorial to over 72,000 British and Colonial troops killed during WW1 who have no known graves. I cannot describe the feeling of the first viewing of this memorial, one foggy day in November. It loomed from the mist, like a cathedral to the fallen, and made me stop and stare. There was a lump in my throat as I approached it, and I found it hard to speak, as I walked beneath the central arch. I cannot say a lot more, in all honesty. Few structures have ever moved me with their magnificence, and their palpable sense of importance. This is one to experience, and perhaps to feel it as I did that day.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thiepval_Memorial

Trellick Tower, London.
Designed by the wonderfully named Erno Goldfinger, this 1960s ‘Brutalist’ tower block was finally opened for habitation in 1972. Dominating the surrounding area in the Ladbroke Grove district of west London, it remains as one of the largest and most iconic housing developments anywhere in Europe. Love it, or hate it, you cannot ignore it. Although nominally having 31 floors, the design of the flats, many having an upstairs section, makes it a lot higher. The lift tower is separated from the main block, meaning that access is provided by a walkway, affording amazing views over London. Originally designed as a community in the clouds, it once had laundry rooms, a community centre, and its own extensive car park. Though much of this is no longer used, the tower is still a very desirable place to live, and much sought after by local residents.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trellick_Tower

Hotel Ukraina, Moscow.
Since I first saw this imposing building in 1977, it has been much improved, and re-named. Now known as the Radisson Royal Hotel, it is a five-star luxury hotel, on a par with anything on offer in the West. On the banks of the River Moskva, this amazing Stalinist edifice, opened for business in 1957, after Stalin’s death, is enough to take your breath away, with its sheer size, and belated Art Deco architecture. Like many buildings in Russia, since the end of WW2, it is enormous in scale, and built with no expense spared. Until 1976, it was the tallest hotel in the world. I haven’t seen it inside, since the redevelopment, so I can only go by the pictures available, to admire its current opulence.
http://uk.hotels.com/ho133660/radisson-royal-hotel-moscow-moscow-russian-federation/

Tower Bridge, London.
I did say that there would not be any Victorian Gothic architecture included in these posts, but this is an exception. Often wrongly believed to be ‘London Bridge’ by outsiders, this iconic structure is immediately identifiable with London, and unique the world over. Not only does it span the Thames, it is the first bridge visible on arrival in the city, and it also opens in the centre, to allow tall ships to pass into the Pool of London. I was brought up a stone’s throw from the south side of this bridge, and it was a part of my life for sixty years, until I moved to Norfolk. I can honestly say that I love nothing more about London, than this wonderful bridge. It looms over the nearby Tower of London, and dominates the surrounding area, in an imposing fashion. For those interested in detail, it is a bascule suspension bridge, opened in 1894, near the end of Queen Victoria’s reign. Since 1977, parts of it have been painted in red white and blue, to celebrate the jubilee of Queen Elizabeth. It houses a museum, and is one of the premier tourist destinations in the capital.
But forget all that. It is simply wonderful.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tower_Bridge

There you have seven more to consider. there will be more to come, another time. Please enjoy these, and do explore the links.

Tourist London: Another View

This week, I read a post by my blogging friend Jude. She had just been on a trip to London, and had written about the visit, with some nice accompanying photos. http://smallbluegreenwords.wordpress.com/2014/05/07/just-back-from-london/

This got me thinking about the power of the blog to advise and inform, so I thought I would make some suggestions in this post, to help those who might want to get some more out of a trip to the capital of the UK. As a Londoner, albeit transplanted recently to Norfolk, I should have a different view of the city, and some ideas outside of the usual expensive tourist destinations. I do, and here they are. They are not the best things to take children to though, and are of more interest to keen photographers.

Blackheath, Greenwich, and the Thames Foot Tunnel.

Many visitors to London make the trip to Greenwich, in the south-east of the city. It is home to the National Maritime Museum, and The Cutty Sark tea clipper, as well as a busy market. I would suggest that to save a lot of climbing, you approach the trip in this way. Take an overground train from London Bridge Station, to Blackheath Station.  When you exit the station, walk up towards the shops, and you will see the heath before you, a large area of grassland. You will notice the distinctive needle spire of All Saints Church to your right. Continue across the heath and cross the busy main road (the A2) before walking towards the gates of Greenwich Park. Once inside, you will be on a long avenue, with car parks. A short walk will bring you to the Royal Observatory on the left. This small building is a museum of astronomy, and is also home to the world-famous Prime Meridian. marked by a metal strip and globe, where you will be able to place one foot on each hemisphere of the earth. This is a popular photo opportunity, so you will likely have to queue for the shot.

Next to this is the statue of General Wolfe. From this high vantage point, there are great vistas across London to be enjoyed, and it is one of the best places from which to photograph the City of London, and the refurbished docklands opposite. Lower down, the grounds and magnificent buildings of the Maritime Museum and The Queen’s House can be seen, with the Old Naval College behind. And of course, the River Thames, with the pier where the river boats will be landing. To the left, a steep path winds down towards the town. The benefit from this starting point is that you will be walking downhill, rather than up. At the end of this path, you emerge into the small town, with its market area, shops, cafes, and some pubs. Beyond these, you will see the masts of The Cutty Sark, recently renovated after a fire, and next to it, the smaller craft Gipsy Moth, used by Sir Francis Chichester for his solo circumnavigation of the globe. From here, you can get fine views, and photos of the Canary Wharf complex on the northern bank.

Nearby, you will see a small building with a thick glass cupola. This is the entrance to the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, a pedestrian crossing under the Thames. The deep tunnel can be accessed by spiral staircase, or lifts, and is worth the trip for two reasons. The first is for the sheer novelty of walking under the river, in this 112 year old tunnel. The second is for the photo opportunities from the north bank, looking back across at Greenwich. Next to this northern exit is the large Island Gardens open space, where you can relax and enjoy the river views after your sightseeing. A short walk north takes you to the well-signposted Island Gardens Station, on the Docklands Light Railway, from where you can return to where you are staying, or continue on to more sights. I would allow at least 4-6 hours for this trip, especially if you intend to spend any time in the museums.

The Barbican, and Museum of London.

As a tourist or weekend visitor, you may well consider this area to not be worth the effort of your time; unless you had decided to attend a concert at the excellent Barbican Centre complex. If you looked at photos beforehand, the three tower blocks and assorted shops and offices you would see might put you off completely. I hope to present the area to you in a different light, and to tell you why I think it is well-worth a half-day away from the usual sights. This is one of the oldest parts of London. It is the site of the first Roman fortress and extended settlement, dating from between 50 and 200AD. Some of the original Roman walls remain to be seen, as they were later incorporated into other buildings. When the area was extensively re-developed in the late 1960’s and early 70’s, the City of London Corporation was careful to retain many of the remaining original features, including the interesting church of St Giles Cripplegate. This is one of the few churches in London to survive both the Great Fire, and the later Blitz.  Some of the old gravestones are incorporated in the paving around the church, and the juxtaposition of the ancient building and the modern architecture is a real delight.

The heavy architecture in the aptly-named ‘Brutalist’ style, is a matter of taste perhaps. When I first saw it, I considered it to be futuristic and overwhelming, Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’ made real. It is now listed, and regarded as a magnificent example of this modern style. Inside, there are small planted areas and water features, including the man-made Barbican Lake. It is home to the City of London School for Girls, and the Guildhall School of Music and Dance. There are some cafes around, where you can relax after your walk, and a good pizza restaurant overlooking the busy London Wall tunnel, if you need a meal. At the end of London Wall, built above ground on the roundabout is The Museum of London. This is open every day, from 10-1800, and admission is completely free. As one of the oldest cities in the world, the history of London has so much to offer, and this museum is an ideal place to see it. It is not too large, but big enough to enjoy a couple of hours viewing the exhibits.

What makes this area an ideal place to visit is also the proximity to St Paul’s Cathedral. A short walk to the south, along St Martins Le Grand, well-signed from the museum, you will find this magnificent example of Wren architecture. Despite always being busy, and often full of tourists, it is still worth the effort. There is no finer church to see in London, and though it may not be as large as St Peter’s in Rome, or as exotic as the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, any visit to London would be enhanced by a trip to this cathedral. If you make the diversion to here, you can get a tube train from St Paul’s Station, to return to your accommodation, or move on to your next destination. Or you could catch a number 15 bus outside towards Charing Cross, and use this public transport to see many sights from the comfort of a bus seat.

The Globe Theatre to Tower Bridge.

Both of these are well-known landmarks, and popular with tourists. I am suggesting an easy walk between the two, easily done in half a day, and offering a lot more than you might expect. From Blackfriars Station, walk south over Blackfriars Bridge. At the traffic lights, turn left into Stamford Street, and continue for the short walk to Hopton Street on the left, following the signs for the Tate Modern. At the end of this street, you will arrive at the open area around the Tate Modern Gallery. Unless you really want to, I would avoid going in. The exhibits are usually avant-garde, and an acquired taste. Continue along the riverside to The Globe Theatre. This is a marvellous recreation of the original Globe, famous in the time of Shakespeare, and evokes a real feel of Elizabethan London on the South Bank. Nearby, you can see the house where Wren lived during the time he designed and built St Paul’s on the opposite bank, and the footbridge known as The Millennium Bridge, which connects the two areas. Continuing east, you will notice the ancient riverside inn, The Anchor. Walking along Clink Street, there is the museum of the famous Clink Prison, that gave its name to the common English expression, ‘being in Clink’, still used today, to refer to a stay in prison. A little further on will bring you to the recreation of the famous sailing ship, The Golden Hinde ll, a replica of Sir Francis Drake’s ship from the 16th Century.

Many of the former riverside wharves and dock buildings have been modernised in this area, but you can still get a real feel of the time from Dickens to the 1950’s, just by wandering around. Approaching London Bridge, you will see the stately Southwark Cathedral on your right. A church has stood here since before Norman times, and the present building dates from 1106, though later alterations were frequent. Crossing the bridge heading east, the area is dominated by the recent addition of The Shard, the tallest building in Europe. The viewing gallery affords some of the best views in the capital, but it is very expensive to buy a ticket. On your right, there is the messy frontage of London Bridge Station, on the traffic-clogged Tooley Street. Turn left through Hays Galleria shopping centre, and head for the river again. Here is the floating museum of HMS Belfast, a Royal Navy cruiser. Launched in 1938, this vessel saw extensive service during World War ll. You can go aboard for a fee, but I would suggest just getting a good photo, with Tower Bridge in the background. Continue east towards Potters Fields open space, and there you will find the unusual building of City Hall. This is the home of the London Assembly, and Office of The Mayor, and was opened in 2002. It looks as if it is falling over, and is a clever design which is also a matter of taste; though I personally think it works. Access is allowed, and there is a cafe inside, though visitors will be searched.

You will not fail to realise that you are now almost directly under Tower Bridge. As I was brought up in this very area, I am understandably biased, but I believe Tower Bridge to be the best thing in London, the jewel in the crown of the city. You will not see its like anywhere else in the world. The design and function is near-perfect, and the huge main towers, colourful decoration, and sheer majesty of the way it strides across the river never fail to inspire me. For me, as a Londoner, it is the symbol of my city, and by far the most enduring vision of London to take away with you. When I was young, it opened frequently, causing traffic chaos in the surrounding area, as slow-moving ships passed below. These days, openings are less regular, but if you look on the website, you can make the trip when the bridge is opening, and enjoy the full effect as the roadway ‘splits’ in the middle, and the vessel passes through. It is opening three times today, for example, and it really is a wonderful sight. The bridge houses a permanent exhibition, and is well-worth the fee, and your time, to view it. As well as being able to walk across the high walkways between the towers, you get a full history of the construction, and a chance to view the enormous engine room below ground, with the counterweights that still move the bridge when it opens.

Walk north across the bridge, and you will see the famous Tower of London on your left. This is always full of tourists, so best to carry on to Tower Hill station, and continue your journey.

I hope that these few examples have given you food for thought, and provided you with some alternatives to staring at Buckingham Palace, or wasting your money in Madame Tussauds. As for the popular London Eye, be warned that it is in the wrong place entirely. It faces west and south west, so will not provide you with any interesting views of anything except The Houses of Parliament, Parliament Square, and Vauxhall Station. There are views west along The Thames, but unless you especially desire to pay a lot of money to be up reasonably high in the air, it will prove to be a great disappointment. I have listed a set of links below, which you can use to look at some of the things I have mentioned that might interest you.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackheath,_London

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Observatory,_Greenwich

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cutty_Sark

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gipsy_Moth_IV

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenwich_foot_tunnel

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbican_Estate

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_pauls_cathedral

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Museum_of_london

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shakespeare%27s_Globe

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southwark_Cathedral

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hms_belfast

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_Hall_London

http://www.towerbridge.org.uk/TBE/EN/