London: As far as the ‘Eye’ can see

24 03 2009

“Getting into the pod was tricky, it was almost like performing a secret dance that nobody can ever teach you, you just had to learn it by yourself.”

            
The weather had not been very cooperative that day for me when I decided to go and explore London on my own. When they said ‘It rains in London’ I wasn’t expecting it to be during the time I was visiting. But I pulled my courage together, I only had a few days to explore the city and I might as well make the most of it. Standing under a roof on a store right across from Big Ben, I tried to wait the rain out. It wasn’t raining heavily but I did not dare to walk in the puddle while wearing my brand new shoes and get my new hoodie wet. And so I waited it out. Ten minutes had passed the rain subsided to a minimal splatter and that was my cue to dash out of my roof protection. As I walked past Big Ben, the clock tower chimed announcing that it was 2:45 pm throughout London, and that’s when I realized I’ve got to get going before the weather gets worse and before time flies by. As my luck, it had started to spatter again as I crossed the Westminster bridge but halfway across I realized there was no point of me trying to avoid getting wet when I already was. Looming above the old houses, flats and office buildings London’s newest landmark stood out like a canopy tree in the middle of the Sahara. The tall structure, the perfect circular figure, the way it let light pass through it and the way its windows shone back any ray of sun (had it been sunnier) unlike most of the infrastructure that stood before its time, people were in awe and amazement when they look up. However, the real awe would be seen from up above inside this observation wheel.

Observation decks take you to another dimension to size up the city, you will see the heights, the distance, horizon and a bird’s eyeview. During my time in London, I just could not pass the opportunity to go on the London Eye. Standing at 135m it has become London’s modern landmark since 2000 when it opened and has attracted 3.5 millions of tourists a year. Used as a metaphor for the turn of the new century, it was designed by an architect couple David Marks and Julia Barfield. When I visited London, it was one of the few things I have been waiting to see next to Big Ben. Ranked as the 4th largest observation wheel in the world, it holds 32 “pods” (capsules) and rotates one pod slowly for half an hour giving the riders enough time a 360 degree view of London.

I turned around once more to get a glimpse of the Houses of Parliament where a few dark clouds hovered around it. I quickly took my camera out and was careful to not get it too wet, and took a snapshot. Realizing I was getting almost soaked up, that was when I wish I had bought the umbrella earlier at the local store. Once I crossed the bridge, I hung out at a café right outside the London Eye and waited the rain out again. Trying to keep warm, I grabbed myself a cup of coffee before heading out and getting my ticket (14pounds) to go up the observation wheel.

The queue moved at a steady pace, I reckoned the rainy weather didn’t help in attracting tourists to come out but that did not stop the few like me. Looking up, the roof of the queue was made of glass so we could observe the London Eye as it hovered above us. As the line moved forward by the minute, I watched people come and go on every pod that rotates by us. The capsule holds about 15 people giving enough space for everyone (and mind you the capsule was big).

                         

“For about two to three minutes, our pod was on its highest point that if we were to have a chance of getting a great view of the city, it was the time to get the flashes going.”

                        
Finally, it was my turn for me to step into the pod and enjoy the 30 minute ride and hoped that the weather would finally subside that I could take at least a few decent photos. Getting into the pod was tricky, it was almost like performing a secret dance that nobody can ever teach you, you just had to learn it by yourself. The capsule continues to move while you try to step inside, and you had to do it quick before people behind you would have to get on too. Joining me in one pod was a young Middle Eastern couple, an older Eastern European couple and a Canadian family (their daughter had sewn the Canadian flag on her knapsack). Looking at the pod next to us, a group of young kids struggles to get in as they did the dance that I had performed earlier.

The pod’s glass exterior had water spots on them from the rain that made it hard to take photos when you get close to the glass. I waited for a bit and just enjoyed the view, I figured I’d have half an hour chance to get the snapshots that I wanted. Looking at the pod next to ours the kids ran around and about the pod, trying to get a glimpse of London on every corner. Looking up, the pod above us had about 15 people in it where everyone scattered all over and found themselves a spot for a view.

The weather eventually cooperated so that the sun came out for a while letting rays of light streak through the dark clouds. Looking down River Thames, boats went by and went under the Westminster bridge while London’s short skyline zoomed across the horizon. The streets were wet down below but they made a great effect in photos that let the streets appear glossy. I walked across the pod and faced East where St. Mary Axe (also known as the Gherkin building) stood. Dark clouds hovered around that part of the city and I quickly lost my interest in getting a good shot. Suddenly, I got a tap from the older Middle Eastern man where he pointed out to me the rainbow that streaked behind the Gherkin. I smiled to thank him and asked him and his wife if they would like me to take a picture of them? The gratitude was repaid. The rainbow bought my interests. I walked around the pod again to face the south east, looking down I noticed the line-up to the London Eye. It was longer than what it had before when the sun finally broke out.

Once our pod reached the very top, we were given a short opportunity to get this high up the observation wheel and watch the city of London unfold before our eyes. It was surreal for me to know that I was in England’s biggest city, I have always wanted to visit the UK since I was a kid . For about two to three minutes, our pod was on its highest point that if we were to have a chance of getting a great view of the city, it was the time to get the flashes going. The Canadian family asked if I could take their photo for them. I found out that they were from British Columbia in a small town 4 hours away of Vancouver and that their daughter was going to study in Geneva and moving to Europe later that fall.

Looking around, I grasped London’s horizon: the Big Ben towered above nearby, the old city bustling with their famous black cabs on the streets, chimneys popped on the roofs of houses and offices, bridges connected the city over the Thames River, and constructions sites where newer and (possibly) more modern looking flats were being built. The city embarked in historical infrastructure while it built its modern sites, stood beside each other. The London Eye, then, wasn’t just a symbol of ‘the turn of the new century’, it showed me how it happened as I stood watching.

 

“Looming above the old houses, flats and office buildings London’s newest landmark stood out like a canopy tree in the middle of the Sahara”

The wheel slowly rotated and we eventually reached ¾ of the cycle when we heard on the PA to get our stuff ready and prepare for landing. I can imagine being having claustrophobia, this would have not been a good idea, neither would having to go to the ‘loo’ while on the flight. The pod’s door opened at touchdown and we were all subdued again to dance our way out. “Careful, watch your step,” one of the employees said and finishing off with “Thank you, enjoy your day in London”.

 

Walking away from the giant ferries wheel, I looked back in admiration of this modern architecture. It surely stood out from London’s old buildings, towers and bridges, and its symbolism as a ‘turn of the new century’ certainly holds to that. I checked my watch telling me it was almost 5 pm, almost dinner time for me to find a place to eat. I unfolded my tourist map to make my next plan on where I should head next? Picadilly Circus seemed like a great idea. As I pack my map back to my napsack I sniffled, I’ve been dying to grab a hot cup of tea.

All photos taken by me

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