Tower Bridge London

Tower Bridge is my favourite bridge over the River Thames out of the 34 that connect the two London embankments from the Queen Elizabeth II bridge in Dartford to the Hampton Court Bridge in East Molesey.

This year Tower Bridge celebrates it’s 120th anniversary and we were invited along to complete the tour to learn more about it.

Tower Bridge tour

My dad told me when I was a child that an American, Robert McCulloch, had visited London and wanted to buy Tower Bridge for his retirement real estate development on Lake Havasu. Only he made a mistake and bought London Bridge instead! This was a popular belief which is vehemently denied by Mr McCulloch and Ivan Luckin who sold the bridge but funny all the same.

Tower Bridge from walkway

I can certainly understand why anyone would want to buy the bridge as it is pretty spectacular and by visiting it we were able to see even more closely how unique this bridge is.

Tower Bridge was opened by the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) in 1894 after 8 years of construction. It was the result of a public competition to design a new bridge held in response to London’s massive growth and the need to connect both sides of the river as east London had expanded and was fast becoming an important trading port.

Tower Bridge walkways

Sir Horace Jones won the competition and worked alongside civil engineer Sir John Wolfe Barry on the £1.1m project. For more details visit the Tower Bridge website

The Tour of Tower Bridge

The tour starts on the Tower of London side at the north west tower. A lift takes you up to the walkway level which is 44 meters above the river at high tide and you arrive in a small room where you can listen and watch a wonderful enactment that explains the history of the bridge and a few details of its construction.

Tower Bridge tour

You can then walk along the walkways and take in the breathtaking views of London to the east and to the west.

Descent is via a staircase on the south east side but there is a second video to watch with more construction detail first. There is a lift also for those in need.

Tower bridge display

The way down has plenty of art and interesting things to look at and on arrival at the bottom you are back out on the street again.

By following the blue line you are lead along the bridge and down onto the walkway along the Thames. Once under the bridge the blue line leads you to the Victorian engine rooms and here you can see how the bridge used to be worked. When it was built it was the largest and most sophisticated bascule bridge ever built.

This was the winner of the most recent Design a Bridge competition, what do you think?

Tower Bridge design winner

The bascules were operated by hydraulics using steam to power the enormous pumping engines. The energy created was stored in six massive accumulators so when the bridge needed lifting the energy was available. The Accumulators fed the driving engines which drove the bascules up and down. The bascules only took about a minute to raise to their maximum angle of 86 degrees.

view form tower bridge walkway

Today the bascules are driven by oil and electricity rather than steam but the original pumping engines, accumulators and boilers are well worth a look as it is amazing. There are also interactive games to help the children understand how it worked.

tower bridge engine rooms

There are constant art exhibitions on show adding to the wow factor and making this a great place to visit for all the family

 art at tower bridge
 
An excellent exhibition which we thoroughly enjoyed
Disclosure: We were given free entrance for the purpose of this review, tickets aren’t expensive 1 adult + 2 children costs £14.10 see here

Start of the poppies at London Bridge

A while ago I took the girls up to London to visit Tower Bridge, we walked from Tower Hill tube station and I wondered what all the poppies were about.

I have recently seen on the news exactly what the Poppies are about. Each ceramic poppy represents a life lost fighting in the first World War

The installation continues until November, I want to go back and take more photos in September and then again in November and pay homage to those lives lost for us.

Poppies at Tower of London

 

Buckingham Palace

For the girls birthday my treat this year was tickets to go inside Buckingham Palace and see how a real princess lives, a Royal day out. With an entire year of Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Rapunzel and then the Frozen sisters Anna and Elsa I knew I was on the right track.

I wanted them to start learning about our British history and about the Royal Family too. They have spotted ‘baby George’ on the TV and in newspapers so the discussion has begun.

I found various Buckingham Palace tours on the Royal Collection Trust website and opted for a tour of the State Rooms and Garden Highlights tour. For 1 adult and two children under 17 the total cost was £63.75 and I think it’s important to note that most of this money goes into the Royal Collection Trust, a registered charity, find out more where the money goes here

Changing of the guard

Our time was set for 11.45, in hindsight I wish I had chosen a later time as the Changing of the Guards starts daily at 11.15, it would have been great for the girls to witness that beforehand, however we did get a glimpse of the guards as they made their way to the palace and it was stunning.

I would advise getting there at least 15 minutes early, we got held up by the Changing of the Guards and I had to run the last bit and queue to collect tickets.

Guards of Buckingham Palace

 

On entering the palace all bags are scanned and checked, my rucksack was kept and taken to the end of the tour for me to collect later. NO PHOTOGRAPHY is allowed inside the palace or on the Garden Highlights tour either.

Then, if you wish you can collect an audio guide. We went for the Family Audio and the girls loved it. It gives a great description of each room and on the guide you can touch ‘Rex’ the resident corgi who will tell you lots of extra secrets about the rooms you pass through. There is also a section with games and extra buttons to touch to find out about the art, or gilding or other objects of interest that you see around you.

Buckingham Palace detail

I loved spotting where the Secret Door hides in the White Drawing Room which the queen uses from her personal quarters, closed to the public into the State Rooms. It’s very clever and you have to look hard to see it.

We stopped half way through the tour to sit and watch a brief film made from the Royal Family’s personal videos, this year the focus is on Royal childhood and there are lots of toys, prams, clothes and more from various members of the Royal family.

Buckingham Palace Bow room exit

We arrived in the Bow Room which is also the end of the tour of the State Rooms at around 1pm. The girls were in need of a drink and something to eat and I was disappointed to discover there was no where to eat a packed lunch.

I took them to the Palace cafe and ordered a scone, some water and a cup of tea to tide us over.

Buckingham Palace cafe

We also visited the Family Pavilion which was air conditioned and had tables laid out with sheets to do some drawing or dot to dots on. There was a box of clothes to dress up in and an area to play in. There was also a blackboard where the children were invited to write on, every day pictures are taken and shown to the queen so she gets to see every message left. Whilst we were there the board was wiped clean and set up for a new set of young visitors but I was assured the photo had been taken.

Buckingham Palace - family pavilion

At 2.15pm our Garden Highlights tour commenced. Again no photos were allowed which I was really disappointed at as it was one of the major reasons I had chosen this tour. Our guide was Alan Lion and he led us along a very interesting walk through the private gardens passing the Royal summer house and a beautiful rose garden. There are trees centuries old planted by many royals including Prince Albert and I learnt lots of facts, like Queen Charlotte kept an elephant in her back garden. That the garden had been home to a giraffe and a zebra in it’s time and that the pesky fox have killed off the flamingo population.

Buckingham Palace Garden

8 gardeners look after the 36 acres of land and we walked around one side ending up at the bottom.

We decided we wanted to see the shop so we back tracked up the path and I was pleased to see there were a few ideas in there that were in pocket money reach but mainly above.

A beautiful pink Faberge egg caught my eye and the price tag £9,995.00 made me gasp but I guess that’s what they cost these days? I’m not sure what husband’s reaction would have been  if I had returned with it?

Buckingham Palace souvenirs

The tin tray costs £7.50 from this year’s Limited Edition, the crowns above were around £10 and the cushions start at around £35.

The girls each chose a Princess Alice at £12.95 and I treated them to the book ‘Does the Queen wear her crown to bed?’ which we all read later that night and will act as a great reference book too.

Top Tips for a Royal Day Out

1. Keep in mind the Changing of the Guard at 11.15 when booking tickets, the roads are closed and it is busy, if you want to add this into your day get there for 10.15 – 10.30 for a good place.

2. If going with children I think leave out the Garden Highlights tour and maybe add on the Royal Mews for a visit to the Royal Carriages instead.

3. No food or drink can be eaten in the palace and there were no facilities to eat outside either, we had to hang around for the Garden tour but opposite the palace is St James Park with lots of green space to picnic on and a play area for children to let off steam.

4. If you go to St James Park take some bread to feed the ducks but only in the designated gravel area.

5. Don’t forget to get your tickets stamped on exit so you can return one more time within 12 months to see the same tour.

6. Nearest tube St James Park or Victoria; we walked from St James Park through the park.

guard at Buckingham palace

Travelodge double room

Last weekend was a special weekend as I attended the annual conference BritMums Live but what made it special is my daughter Megan came along too. 

You may remember we have recently set up Folgaria News where we chat about what’s going on in TWO languages, English and Italian. We’ve been writing since April and decided the best thing for Megan, a newbie to blogging, was to visit the conference and learn as much as she could.

Her verdict: LOVED it! She’s written all about it on Folgaria News – and then I translated it all ;)

As her plane wasn’t leaving until early Sunday morning we decided to spend the night in London and treat ourselves to a little one on one time. We were invited to stay at the Travelodge London Covent Garden as a stopover and here’s our thoughts.

travelodge facilites

Location location location

Travelodge Covent Garden is the perfect choice for a hotel within walking distance of the centre. It sits at the top of Drury Lane and is walking distance to the Travelodge London High Holborn which we ended up staying in as the two are connected. You have all the theatres on your doorstep, Covent Garden at the end of the road and London stretching out ready for exploring.

travelodge view

 

What are the rooms like?

We were given a double room on the 9th floor, I was pleased to see the door through to the lift and rooms was only accessible by a room key card meaning only guests could access them.

travelodge double room

Our room was large, clean and pleasantly furnished, the bed was comfortable and the bathroom had a great shower (bath too but I am a shower person). There were tea/coffee making facilities and a television too but no phone so we weren’t able to book a wake up call – sign of the times eh with mobile phones being so popular?

travelodge bathroom

We were on the 9th floor and I was hoping for a cracking view, it would have been fantastic if that building in front didn’t look so derelict, never mind, look past that and I could see for miles as the sun began it’s descent over London.

Service

Cannot be faulted, an extremely easy and pleasant check in where the receptionist Alin chose to accompany us to the High Holborn Travelodge to allow us a room with a view, the staff on the desk at Travelodge went to great lengths to try and secure us a taxi for 5 am the following day which wasn’t an easy task I was surprised to discover. In fact the taxi didn’t turn up, through no fault of Travelodge but luckily there were black cabs going past frequently so we managed to get to Liverpool Street Station on time for the bus to Stansted.

travelodge tv in room

Breakfast

Breakfast is not included in the room price but for £7.95 you can help yourself to an Eat All You Want Buffet offering a cooked breakfast, cereals, juice, toast and more. The restaurant area is calm and spacious and very inviting, I’d advise to consider this option as it is an excellent way to fill up for a busy day sightseeing ahead.

Travelodge cooked breakfast

Price

A quick look on Travelodge is showing prices for £169 for a double room, there are a few other Travelodges dotted around the city of London and I can assure you a clean, comfortable stay should you choose this option.

undercroft skate Southbank

My nan used to live in Waterloo and lots of our weekends as children were spent visiting her and staying over; the Southbank was our ‘park’ and both of my brothers would bring their skateboards along; they would watch the skilled skaters for hours and then they would try and learn new tricks. It was a continual source of inspiration for them.

In fact the Undercroft is known as the birthplace of British Skateboarding and celebrates 40 years. It is the home of skateboarders, BMX riders and graffiti artists making it one of the oldest recognised and still existing skateboarding spaces in the world.

undercroft skateboarding southbank

This weekend, I walked along with my daughter Megan as we made our way to the Royal Festival Hall for a jug of Pimms, I told her how her uncles spent hours and hours there trying to be as good as the others and we watched the amazing skateboarders perform in front of us, expertly using the ramps, jumps and curves (is that the technical word for the curved walls?) 

undercroft southbank

I love the Undercroft as it brings back so many happy memories of childhood. I love the art on the walls, the skills of the skateboarders who I could watch for hours and I love the buzz, the alive feeling I get when I am there. It’s special, you have to see it to understand.

At dinner I reminisced with my brother about those times and was disappointed to hear the Southbank Centre had plans to move the Undercroft and replace it with retail units as described in the Feilden Clegg Bradley’s controversial plans for a much more ambitious redevelopment.

brutalist buildings southbank

Of course it goes without saying that stretch along the Thames is a hugely popular area and would most likely rake in thousands no, millions but at what cost?

It’s true the 1960’s brutalist buildings are in desperate need of refurbishment but moving the Undercroft to a specially designed skatepark under Hungerford Bridge which is just a bit further along the way is not the solution, take a look at this video by Long Live Southbank and you’ll see why.

 

Even London’s mayor Boris Johnson stepped in saying he supports much of Southbank’s redevelopment plans, but not moving the skaters from the Undercroft.

You see the Undercroft wasn’t “designed” to be a skate park but the space was adapted by skaters – you can’t rebuild that. There were plenty of attempts during the 90’s to stop kids skating, gravel thrown down on the surfaces, parts of their area taken away but still they continued to do what they loved most.

The beauty of the Undercroft is that all levels of skaters use it and it has a “cool” factor among skaters. I like the fact that the Undercroft is a space that has grown, it has been nurtured for decades by people passionate about skateboarding, this fight comes from the heart and that is why I am adding my name to their battle so future skateboarders can discover the thrill of street skating in a safe place alongside top skateboarders.

royal festival hall 2014

Megan told me our Gracey has a skateboard on her birthday wishlist this year,  I took a look at the Z-Flex Skateboard – you never know, we may be looking at a future pro here.

Fortunately the Southbank Centre has recently won a £16 million grant towards the conservation and the refurbishment of the brutalist buildings, the Feilden Clegg Bradley is back to the drawing board to see what they can come up with and expects to make recommendations towards the end of the year and one last word is

You must visit the Festival of Love at the Royal Festival Hall this summer if you are in town, I had a quick look and it looks amazing, I’m definitely bringing the girls up to explore more this summer.

agape festival hall