London – But Not as we Know it


Working in travel, I have often told people how lucky I am to have gathered some brilliant and unusual experiences over the years.  But my most recent of these experiences was slightly different; it wasn’t a VIP ticket to a Mozart concert in the Kursalon in Vienna, or travelling in first class on the Eurostar; nor was it salsa-ing the night away in Cuba – all of which were equally amazing in their own right. This was a little bit closer to home: this was The View From The Shard!

Early birds: The View From The Shard
As an office, we were lucky enough recently to be among the first people to experience The View From The Shard. Working in its shadow, my colleagues and I watched as the pointed tower crept ever closer to the sky, and there was, understandably, talk about its progress within the office. We were excited, therefore, when a travel-trade pre-opening invitation popped into our inbox. The travel industry has its perks, and this was one we were looking forward to!
In the shadow of The Shard, as viewed from outside of my office
 
As the day neared, there was more talk and some nerves before finally it was upon us.  At 12:30 on Thursday 24thJanuary 2013, 6 of us walked the short distance from our office to The Shard, to be amongst the privileged first few who would get to experience London from above.

The Shard Experience
The Shard has taken its cue from skyscraper viewing platforms the world over in that it recognises that the overall visit has to be an ‘experience’, and not just a nice view.  After the initial security checks, the visitor steps in front of a blue screen, where your photo is promptly taken to be mocked up into a shot of your group with a fantastic London view behind you – very much like the iconic shots of construction workers sitting on a steel girder which are recreated at the start of The Rockefeller Center’s ‘Top of the Rock’ viewing platform in New York, except the Shard obviously doesn’t have any steel girders to play with. 
From here, your wait for the lift involves a ‘Q&A’ session with one of the many friendly members of staff, who are happy to answer any questions you may have, offer up facts (did you know that the lifts travel at six metres per second?!) and point out the clever gizmo on the wall which shows where the various lifts are in the building.  It’s then onwards and upwards, firstly in one bank of lifts, upon which colourful leaves fall and seasons change, eventually stepping out onto a carpet inlaid with a map of the River Thames, which encourages you to identify the various landmarks described along the river as you wait for the final lift – the final lift which takes you up, up and away to the View From The Shard itself.
‘Leaves’ falling on the lift roof
The ‘guess the London landmark’ carpet, as you wait for the second set of lifts
London from above
Once you step out onto the 69th floor, it’s rather high!!  And the height makes the views breathtaking: the river winding its way towards Canary Wharf and the Docklands, being able to see into the grounds of the Tower of London, Tower Bridge being reduced to the size of something which wouldn’t look out of place in a child’s play set….even the seeing the trains coming into London Bridge Station from this different, aerial perspective is interesting.  I think for me, my favourite view was the view directly across the river looking on to the Swiss RE building, commonly known, of course, as the Gherkin (my favourite piece of London architecture), the new ‘Walkie-Talkie’ and Tower 42.  The buildings have such an iconic, ‘London’ feel to them, and seeing them in such an up-close manner adds to their beauty. 
The view across the river towards the Gherkin, Tower 42 and the Walkie Talkie
The Shard has also embraced technology with the interactive telescopes dotted about at intervals: these touch-screen gadgets work by pointing the telescopic end at a London landmark, and the user being able to identify them on-screen and even learn more about the building in question.  These were impressive as they were, but another incredibly friendly member of the Shard team told us as we descended in the lift that they were still in the process of adding another 100 landmarks to them, to improve them still further.  There’s also the impressiveness of the structure itself; up on the floor above, floor number 72, the roof remains open-air – most Londoners will say that The Shard looks unfinished because the point at the top doesn’t meet, but I think having been up to the top, the open-air nature of the construction adds to the viewing experience, making you feel on top of the city and among the clouds.
Up in the clouds: the open-air nature of the top floor, reaching up into the ‘unfinished’ point
 
The verdict
There were some teething problems on the day of our visit – the lift, for example, on our descent didn’t want to work for the operator for quite some time, and we all stood wondering if we’d have to walk down the many flights of stairs to ground level – but that’s to be expected at a pre-opening.  At £25.00 for a pre-booked ticket, the price tag is also pretty hefty, but all of my colleagues said that had we been anywhere else in the world, and not on our home turf, we would have paid to have visited the viewing platform, so there’s no reason why it shouldn’t succeed in London.  It’s different – and certainly taller – than anything else that London has to offer, and this uniqueness will stand it in good stead.  All in all, I feel very privileged to be able to say that I’ve been up The Shard – and viewed London, but not as we know it.
Tower Bridge in miniature
The River Thames winding its way towards Canary Wharf
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