Saturday, January 9, 2010

01.1 Westminster Bridge, County Hall and the London Eye

continued from previous post...

As I walk along Victoria Embankment towards Westminster Bridge, it is hard to ignore the vibrant activity around me. To the right are the many cars, coming and going to Bridge Street and Parliament Square. To the left, the river surface is alive with watercraft of all sorts, purposes and descriptions. The ones filled with tourists interest me most. Are they headed downstream to the City, to Greenwich or even the Thames Barrier, or up river, past Battersea Power Station, Chelsea Embankment, Bishop's Park, Hammersmith Bridge, and Kew Palace, towards Hampton Court Palace or Windsor? Given the cold winter air, that is all doubtful. Perhaps these are art lovers shuttling between the Tate Modern and Tate Britain. While not endless, the possibilities are plentiful.

Dominating the Landscape of the River Thames Valley, here, across from Westminster Palace is the London Eye, (recently taken over by Merlin Entertainments, ).

The walk over to County Hall by way of Westminster Bridge offers some interesting considerations. At the northwest corner of the bridge, there is the monument to Boudicca, Queen of the Icena, who led a ferocious revolt against the Romans, forcing the Empire to build a wall that now defines the City of London. Sadly, many never notice the marvelous sculpture, as it is hidden behind a large souvenir stand, erected in the shadow of Big Ben (the bell in St Stephen's Tower, adjacent to Westminster Palace). Across the way, on the south side of the street, stands the Palace of Westminster, a sprawling city that has evolved over nearly one thousand years. Look down below, through the significant security screen and you can see the smokers from the Houses of Parliament, chating outside on Parliament Green while catching a quick breath of fag. It is quite a remarkable site, to see this magnificent building stretched out along the riverside.

Then there are the vistas of London offered from the mid point of the bridge. Like all London bridges, it is worth the stroll out onto the windy precipice, to see the city form this open site. Looking north (downstream), the Embankment stretches around the bank of Kings Reach. The great performance halls of Southbank can be seen on the right, beyond the Eye. Looking south, the Albert Embankment stretches down the riverside on the left. St Thomas Hospital was moved here in the 19th Century, but has a history that probably goes back nearly one thousand years. Here can be found Florence Nightingale Museum, Further down the road is the Archbishop of Canterbury’s London residence, Lambeth Palace. Beyond that is the Museum Of Garden History,, is based in the deconsecrated parish church of St Mary-at-Lambeth. On the right side is the sprawling Houses of Parliament, originally known as the Palace of Westminster.

Where Westminster bridge meets County Hall stands a large white Lion, and the significance is extensive. The Lion is made of Coade Stone, and was fired in Mrs. Coade's furness, located near here for the Lion Brewery which was also located in this neighbourhood. Coade Stone offers an incredible story. The ceramic stone stood up to weather very well. The factory manufactured much of London’s structural and architectural orniments between 1769 to 1833, including decorations on Buckingham Palace.

County Hall was originally built as administrative centre for the Victorian metropolis. Margaret Thatcher's Tories decided that they had had enough of the Left wing activists elected to that Office just across the river from the Parliament buildings, so the GLC was disbanded by the government and the building was turned into a cultural and entertainment complex,

The GLC has since been replaced by the GLA and their ultra modern City Hall,, and their ultra modern City Hall was erected across the river from the Tower of London. I suppose it was a matter of 'out of site, out of mind', or perhaps a message was intended where thoughts of Execution should replace considerations of parliamentary progress.

The most significant tenant at County Hall is the London Eye. It is a favorite destination for visitors, but some locals also enjoy it. A night flight might enhance a romantic evening. It is even promoted as a wedding site. Imagine the tag line... ‘a ride takes about a half hour, but a vow might last a lifetime’. Merlin Entertainment has added a short pre flight film in an effort to add 'more' for the very stiff price. While the "4D" film is less than four minutes duration, the process, from line-up to exit, seems to take much longer. Plan at least an hour from ticket queue to walking away from the wheel. The London Eye was built for Millennium celebrations in 2000 and was kept operational through 2002, for Queen Elizabeth II's Golden Jubilee, but its popularity and profitability, have kept it going with no end in site. It moves very slowly, and riders simply step on, and then step off, as it creeps along. It can be stopped if someone has trouble or necessity, but that seems to happen very rarely. A ride is one revolution, and offers incredible aerial views of the river, Westminster, Albert Embankment, the Queen's path and Southbank, not to mention The City and in the distance, Canary Wharf and the docklands.

The London Eye is located on the very edge of the River Embankment. The ticket office and theatre are located in County Hall.

Other tenants at County Hall include The London Sea Life Aquarium, a couple of hotels, TheLondon Film Museum, a couple of restaurants, and the The Dali Universe,

from here, a walk downstream offers glorious views of the City, enjoy, cheers

Check these spider maps for Bus accessaccess.

Westminster Tube Station,

County Hall

Here is a local map for the north (or west) side of the river,

Here is a local map for the south (or east) side of the river, .

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