I spent New Year’s Eve 2011 and the following couple of days in London soaking up the pyrotechnics, fireworks & rain…
Lights, Camera, Action
I’d always wanted to be in London for a New Year’s Eve. It’s the home of ‘time’ and the home of the most famous clock in the world. Each year, they put on a show that betters the last. Bigger, louder, more colourful, longer… well this year (or should i say last year) i got to go and see it up close for the first time.
I’m not sure how many people were there but there was a lot, 250,000 according to the daily mail. I’d say there was more because everywhere you looked in and around central london there were streets crowded with people, all trying to catch a glimpse of the London Eye / Big Ben.
I’d looked a few photos & reviews online from previous years and learned that the area around Westminster (with the best views) is closed off by police early in the evening around 7pm or 8pm as it gets crowded. To get a decent view, you’d need to be there earlier. But of course that means staying out in the elements longer and the elements in London on 31st December 2011 were unpredictable. Not heavy rain but the odd light shower. Strangely, it was quite mild. Milder than Spain, Morocco & Iraq (still jumper and coat weather though at about 14 degrees).
I didn’t fancy hanging around all day in the one spot, wondering whether one step backwards or to the side would cost me a position i’d spent hours queuing for so we headed down to Buckingham Palace at about 9pm where there were already people standing & waiting. Buckingham palace is about 1 mile from the London Eye (focal point of fireworks). From there (a certain angle) you can see the top half of the London Eye, but it’s quite a distance back…
St James Park is right beside Buckingham Palace and the end of that park is less than half a mile from the London Eye, so that’s where we ended up watching the show from. We *could* have gotten a better view had we moved closer up but only at the sacrifice of being able to move around 360 degrees without bashing in to someone. It’s not as spectacular as on TV, but here’s some of the show, from where i was standing.
We couldn’t see the countdown or hear the music, nor could we see Big Ben but then again not many could, even if you were right beside either (best place to be was right in the middle of the Thames river) or on a private rooftop. We could certainly hear the fireworks though as could the birds and wildlife in the park who didn’t know what hit them and started freaking out.
Tube, y u no open 24/7?
Despite the fact i’ve been to London about a dozen times now (lost count), i never bought / used an oyster card up until this trip. Reason being that despite what people will tell you, it’s not cheaper, nor is it any more convenient if you’re just using the tube all the time. A one day travelcard does the same thing and there’s no £5 deposit (that’s what on oyster card costs, then you gotta top it up). That said, it is a nuisance having to buy travelcards day after day (if you’re staying more than a few days). I don’t think i’ve ever seen a bank of empty ticket machines in any tube station… there always seems to be someone at them. Same with the ticket / info desks particularly in the train stations.
But i decided to get an Oyster card this time around because i seem to end up in London once a year or more and this saves me a bit of time plus it’s easier to carry & not bin a plastic card -v- a paper card.
“Why take the tube?” you say… well on our last night we went to the cinema in the O2 (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). It lasts 2 hours and 40 minutes and started at 8.45pm. I knew the last tube left at roughly around midnight but i figured we’d make it / have plenty of time. WRONG. Thanks to about 15 minutes of cineworld trailers & ads and *constant* promotions for their £14.99 unlimited movies that left us literally about a minute late catching the last tube. So we missed that but needed to get back over to canary wharf where we were staying. It’s almost a stones throw away but across the river thames. To walk to it however would take about an hour and a half as there’s no pedestrian bridge close by. It’s about a 10 minute drive.
As it was new years day / night, taxis were entitled to charge £4 extra. So total cost was £20.80 but driver accepted £20. To put that in perspective the same journey on the tube would have been quicker and cost about £2.00. So the lesson to be learned is never take taxis, unless you’re desperate. I also find it strange the tube closes in central London relatively early (between 12am-1am) given the fact there’s always so much on and so much tourism. I’d like to see it run 24/7 or at least stay open until about 2am.
Taking a swiss army knife through airport security
When in London, i decided to put my car keys in the hotel safe and noticed that i’d left my swiss army knife on the key ring. Not only that but i have a swiss utility key too (a key that opens up in to a knife / bottle opener). Both of them are strictly prohibited and should / would have been confiscated had i had them in my hand or brought them to someones attention. They went through the scanner though and nobody said anything.
When i realised, i wasn’t thinking to myself “how am i gonna get these home?”, i was just surprised they made it through. Of course i should have been thinking security is a lot tighter in Stansted but i did the exact same thing again coming back – completely forgot they were in my bag (i’m so used to carrying them around on my key-ring at home). Again though, same thing happened – nothing. Bag went through the scanner although my body didn’t make it without bleeping (i’m convinced they manually set the scanner off randomly because i make a point of emptying out everything of my pockets and wearing no belts, glasses, watches etc… i didn’t bleep in Dublin and i’d pretty much the same clothes on coming back apart from a tshirt & jumper change).
Maybe i got lucky or maybe they’ve just eased up a bit. I still find it strange they ban stuff like that yet you could in theory buy a glass bottle of something in duty free, smash it and use it as a weapon.