Now that Christmas is over and all the gifts have been unwrapped, I can tell you about the rest of our most festive day in London! Before our mad two hours at the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland and bedazzled wander through Selfridges, Jon and I enjoyed one of his presents a few days early: drinks and a breathtaking view at the top of the Shard.
I managed to keep our reservation at Gong, on the 52nd floor of London's tallest building, a surprise for Jon, despite several conversations (instigated by him) about whether or not we might want to go to the top at some point on our trip. We arrived at 2pm and, after having our bags x-rayed on the ground floor, were whisked silently up in the fastest elevator to the Shangri-La Hotel's main reception on the 35th floor. Easing our way past stacks of high-end luggage, we gawked at the view from the floor-to-ceiling windows - but only for a moment, because we knew we were heading to an even more impressive vantage! Our ears popped in the second elevator and we both laughed. I think we were feeling a bit giddy, to be honest, but when we were ushered into the bar proper and shown to a table by a window our giggles turned into awe.
London is incredible from 52 floors up. It's always incredible, of course, but seeing it open up below you like a map is really something. Landmarks like Big Ben, St. Paul's, the Eye, and Tower Bridge are just as iconic from above, and it was glorious to see the city's green spaces dotted below us; we even spotted the transmitter at Crystal Palace! There were a few clouds, but it was a brilliantly clear day and we could see all the way past the Thames barrier in the east. (It's fascinating just how curvy the Thames is towards Rotherhithe and Canary Wharf!) We enjoyed our drinks and the company, naturally, but were really there to soak in the view.
A note about our non-visual experience at Gong: Jon ordered the award-winning Black and Blue Swizzle, which he liked but which wasn't to my taste at all, and I played it safe with a yummy Bermondsey Bubbles. I was told in my confirmation email that there's a £30 minimum per person, which would have been two drinks each, but we asked for the bill after one and our lovely waitress brought it without comment. Given that it costs £25 for one adult ticket to the Viewing Galleries on floors 68, 69, and 72 just to look around, I think we got quite a good deal!
This was, if I do say so myself, the perfect Christmas present for Jon. He loves architecture and urban planning, so the opportunity to take him up a Renzo Piano masterpiece and let him explain his beloved city to me was ideal. He pointed out all the construction work that's going on at the moment, identifying buildings that have sprung up since I moved away and waxing lyrical about proposed changes to this neighborhood or that. He was in his element! Whenever we're on walks through London, Jon recalls the most random trivia - I have no idea where he learns this stuff, but I asked him if I can share some of his favorite tidbits here, and he emailed me the following with barely a pause:
Helicopters with only one engine have to fly along the path of the Thames if they're going over London - if you see one going directly overhead then it has to have two, just in case something breaks down!
Crystal Place, one of the world's most spectacular buildings until it burnt down between the two world wars, is going to be rebuilt by the Chinese! Churchill is said to have wept when he heard about the destruction of the first.
Speaking of foreign largesse, the "helter skelter tower" in the London Olympic Park is funded entirely by India's wealthiest man, Lakshmi Mittal. It came about when mayor Boris Johnson cornered Mittal in the changing rooms at Davos and "persuaded" him. Aesthetically, the tower is divisive - some people think it should be torn down and the earth underneath salted so nothing can ever grow there again. Others think it should be turned it into a kick-ass roller coaster.
The average Londoner's soul is no longer enough to put down as the deposit on a studio apartment, and now requires the blood of the first born and the ritual sacrifice of the family dog to guarantee getting a mortgage.
The West End has the highest concentration of bars, clubs and pubs of any city in the entire world.
The reason London has never had skyscrapers, until recently, is because there isn't any bedrock to support foundations - unlike NYC. London is mostly built on a clay floodplain - and one of the reasons why the city had the world's first subway network is because clay is very easy to tunnel through.
Why is there always some strange work of modern art on the fourth plinth at Trafalgar Square (as opposed to some bloke on a horse, as with all the others)? It's an open secret that the spot's being reserved for Her Majesty the Queen, on the sad occasion of her eventual passing.There you have it, dear readers! London from Jon's mind - and the top of the Shard.