London: A City that Constantly Re-invents Itself

13 Jan 2013

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 Buckingham Palace

In London to participate in the 2012 annual course for reporters by Guaranty Trust Bank, Charles Ajunwa glimpsed some of the important landmarks and public monuments in the city…

After spending long hours at work many people still make out time to either relax during break time or the end of the day. Such persons are quick to tell whoever cares to listen that all work and no play make Jack a dull boy as they say. This popular saying is applicable in every human endeavor and cuts across all ages. Therefore, when the Guaranty Trust Bank Nigeria held its 2012 annual course for reporters last November in London, the organisers appreciated the need for relaxation during the week-long course; there was provision for sight-seeing and shopping.

This afforded the journalists ample opportunity to traverse some parts of London. London is a city that not only constantly reinvents itself to meet the needs of its inhabitants but also offers something for everyone.

Through the assistance of a tour guide simply called Mara and the driver of the couch, Larry, we were conveyed to so many places of interest such the Buckingham Palace, Parliament Building, Trafalgar Square, River Themes, London Eye, London Bridge, British National Gallery, London Stock Exchange,  10 Downing Street, 2012 London Olympics Stadium and Malls at Stratford and many others. Mara who is about 60 years old took time to explain the history behind some of the places of interest we went to.

Houses of Parliament
When we arrived at the British Houses of Parliament (the Palace of Westminster), a gorgeous gothic revival building located on the banks of the River Thames, we were told it has two chambers:  The House of Commons and the House of Lords. The Palace was constructed in 1840.  Members of the British House of Commons (659 seats) are elected by UK citizens.  Members of the House of Lords (over 1,000 seats) are appointed by parliament. When parliament is in session, visitors are allowed to watch the parliamentary debates from the visitor’s gallery.

London Eye
We also went to the London Eye, which is a giant Ferris wheel situated on the banks of the River Thames. On arrival, it was filled with tourists from around the world struggling to get tickets. The entire structure is 135 metres (443 ft) tall and the wheel has a diameter of 120 metres (394 ft). It is the tallest Ferris wheel in Europe, and the most popular paid tourist attraction in the United Kingdom, visited by over 3.5 million people annually.

When erected in 1999, it was the tallest Ferris wheel in the world, until surpassed first by the 160 m (520 ft) Star of Nanchang in 2006 and then the 165 m (541 ft) Singapore Flyer in 2008. Supported by an A-frame on one side only, unlike the taller Nanchang and Singapore wheels, the Eye is described by its operators as “the world’s tallest cantilevered observation wheel”. It provides the highest public viewing point, and is the 20th tallest structure, in London.

According to the tour guide, the London Eye, or Millennium Wheel, was officially called the British Airways London Eye and then the Merlin Entertainments London Eye. Since January 20, 2011, its official name is the EDF Energy London Eye following a three-year sponsorship deal.

The rim of the Eye is supported by tensioned steel cable and resembles a huge spoked bicycle wheel. The lighting was redone with LED lighting from Color Kinetics in December 2006 to allow digital control of the lights as opposed to the manual replacement of gels over fluorescent tubes.

The project was European with major components coming from six countries: the steel was supplied from the UK and fabricated in The Netherlands by the Dutch company Hollandia, the cables came from Italy, the bearings came from Germany, the spindle and hub were cast in the Czech Republic, the capsules were made in France (and the glass for these came from Italy), and the electrical components from the UK.

The wheel’s 32 sealed and air-conditioned passenger capsules are attached to the external circumference of the wheel and rotated by electric motors. Each of the 10-tonne capsules represents one of the London Boroughs, and holds up to 25 people, who are free to walk around, though seating is provided. It does not usually stop to take on passengers; the rotation rate is slow enough to allow passengers to walk on and off the moving capsules at ground level. It is, however, stopped to allow disabled or elderly passengers time to embark and disembark safely.

The London Eye was formally opened by the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, on December 31, 1999, although it was not opened to the public until March 9, 2000 because of technical problems. Since its opening, the Eye has become a major landmark and tourist attraction. Since January 1, 2005, the Eye has been the focal point of London’s New Year celebrations, with 10-minute displays taking place, involving fireworks fired from the wheel itself.

Buckingham Palace
We were also taken to Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s official London residence, which is used to entertain guests on state, ceremonial and official occasions. Buckingham Palace was built in 1702 by the Duke of Buckingham as his London home. The house was then later sold to George III in 1761 by the Duke’s son. In 1774 it was renamed “Queen’s House” as Queen Charlotte resided there.

The Palace is said to have seen many renovations and alterations, the first of which was in 1820 when Nash was commissioned by George IV. Nash, one of the foremost architects of the day added a new suite of rooms facing west into the garden, this doubled the size of the building. However, the face of the palace has remained virtually unchanged from the original design over 300 years ago.
Queen Victoria was the first monarch to take up residence in Buckingham Palace in 1837.

Once again extensive changes took place. Today Buckingham Palace is used not only as the home of The Queen and her husband, The Duke of Edinburgh, but also for the administrative work for the monarchy.

We also had the opportunity to see a change of guard at Buckingham Palace. This colourful ceremony is a “must see” on a trip to London. The State Rooms of Buckingham Palace are open to visitors during the Annual Summer Opening. The State Rooms are said to be lavishly furnished with some of the greatest treasures from the Royal Collection - paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens, Vermeer, Poussin, Canaletto and Claude; sculpture by Canova and Chantrey; exquisite examples of Sevres porcelain, and some of the finest English and French furniture in the world.

Buckingham Palace was opened to the public for the first time in 1993. However, it is still also the official London residence of the sovereign. You can always tell if the Queen is in residence, look at the flagpole on top of the Palace, if the flag is flying then ‘the Queen is at home!

The palace opens at 9.30am and the last admission is 4.30pm. Buckingham Palace operates a timed-ticket system, with admission every 15 minutes throughout the day. Buckingham Palace visits last approximately three hours. Seating is available at the Visitor Entrance, in the Ballroom, on the West Terrace and in the garden.

Trafalgar Square
The famous Trafalgar Square another stop on our odyssey. It is at the same location with the British National Gallery.  And a few metres from the square is the Nigeria House where the Nigeria High Commissioner to United Kingdom carries out his official duties. And this offers one more reason to visit Trafalgar Square when you travel to London.

Tags: Business, Nigeria, Featured, LONDON

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