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Greenwich, London

18 Apr

Greewhich,  London is as close as it gets to the perfect destination for a day out from central London and here is a lovely way to do it.

For me there is no better way to get into the seafaring theme which is Greenwich than to arrive by boat by which I mean the splendid Thames Clipper service. Admittedly it is not the the cheapest mode of transport but if you have an ‘Oyster’ card or register with them online you can make a saving on your ticket.

I recommend alighting at Embankment Pier as it is just outside the well connected Embankment Underground station on the one hand and gives a nice run up to Greenwich on the other i.e about a half an hour journey.

On a nice day there is space on the boat to be outside and for those in need of a snack or caffeine shot they have a coffee bar and toilets on board so it is all very civilised.

On arrival at Greenwhich Pier I would head for the visitor centre which forms part of the Old Naval College. Here you will find an excellent information desk with lots of leaflets and literature to help orientate yourself for the day.

As Greenwich is so much to do with the illustrious maritime of Britain it seems to me that the National Maritime Museum is a logical place to start. It is free and through it’s extensive galleries provides an unrivalled insight into this aspect of the history of a great island nation.

On the first floor is a splendid world map which you can literally walk around – it is great for kids but equally good for anyone who wants a snapshot of the oceans of the world. Among its other gems are a fine 18th century Royal barge, an insight into the evolution of The East India Company and much to do with our great naval heroes and not least Admiral Nelson of Trafalgar Square fame.

I would then suggest moving on to the splendid Royal Naval College Buildings which began life as a hospital for sailors before becoming becoming a naval training establishment in the 1870s and remained as one until the 1970s.

Much of the site is now occupied by the University of Greenwich but it’s two gems are open to the public for the most part. The magnificent ‘Pained Hall’ – 19 years in the making and featuring what is probably the greatest pained ceiling in the land. Equally special is the chapel which although badly damaged by fire soon after its completion, was refurbished in the late 1700s and remains of jaw dropping beauty.

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Where next ?

If you are ready for a break at this point you might like to sample the highly rated Trafalgar public house or one of the many other eateries in the area.

Otherwise, other highlights with a maritime theme include:-

The Royal Observatory : set up in the late 17th century with a view to ‘solving’ the problem of longitude. Here you will find the world famous 0 degree meridian line.

The Cutty Sark – in it’s day the fastest tea clipper in the world which although damaged by a fire not so long ago, has been lovingly restored to it’s former glory as one of the key attractions in this part of London.

For those with a bent for shopping, Greenwhich is the home to a vibrant covered market which hums with activity and is a good spot to amble about.

Add the Queens House – the first Palladian Mansion in the Britain (currently being refurbished) The Rangers House, a beautiful park (the venue for the Equestrian events in the 2012 Olympics) and you still will not have covered all this suburb of London has to offer. You can even cross the River by way of an underground pedestrian tunnel which opened in the 1900s.

To add one further twist, I suggest you jump on the Docklands Light Railway at Cutty Sark station and you will complete your day with an insight into the unbelievable transformation the old Docklands which has evolved steadily since the early 80s.

Get in touch if you are interested in a private guided tour of this magnificent area – http://www.TheEnglandTourGuide.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2016: Another great year for London

17 Apr

Trip Advisor has ‘endorsed’ London as the most popular tourist destination on the planet for the second year running and by all accounts you can see why. I am glad to say the readers of same have also boosted my 5 star reviews so thanks to all of you !

2016 sees the 90th anniversary of HR Queen Elizabeth II – representing as she does, probably the most successful monarchy in Europe and possibly the world.

It is also the 400th anniversary of (arguably) the greatest playwright in the world – William Shakespeare which will be celebrated by events not only in his birthplace of Stratford Upon Avon but throughout the country. Not least there is currently a first rate exhibition on at Windsor Castle based on the Royal archives.

Add to that the buzz around a day of destiny – June 23rd – when Britain will decide by way of a referendum if we are going to remain in or leave the European Union which follows hard on the heels of the election of a new Mayor for London next month.

Even President Obama can’t stay away. He is clearly working hard on his legacy with prime time documentaries about the inner sanctum of his years in the White House being screened recently on BBC2. He arrives on Thursday this week for meetings with among others HM and the PM. No doubt the traffic of London will see the fallout from this.

Even the Tower of London can boast an anniversary. It was 950 years ago that William of Normandy launched his successful bid to conquer Britain and in his wake leave legacy of castles to keep lovers of such structures satiated for many a long month.

 

An early image of the Tower of London – ‘born’ in the 11th century A.D

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DESTINGATION BRTIAN : 2015

9 Jan

Let’s be honest.

January is a pretty ‘dead’ month in Britain for most professional tourist guides.

December usually sees a reasonable amount of activity surrounding Christmas week but this year, with the first ‘normal’ working day being Monday 5th January – most tourists were heading for home over the weekend of the 3/4th which pretty much sounded the end of that flurry of activity.

The good news is that I was recently speaking to somebody who used to run an inbound booking office who said that those looking to travel the following year start their planning on Boxing Day !

As has been the case for the last few years, there is much to commend London/England as a destination during 2015 so I thought I would wet your appetite with a few of the highlights:-

First off is the magnificent Bletchley Park.

The 'real thing'.

The ‘real thing’.

As films are prone to do, ‘The Imitation Game’ has focussed attention on the nerve centre of Britain’s Codebreakers during WWII. Set in beautiful parklands within a reasonable distance of London as well as Oxford & Cambridge, you can quite literally see how operations grew from the manor house. First into hastily constructed huts in which the first of the ‘unbreakable’ Enigma codes broken and then into brick built structures which now house first rate exhibitions.

New for 2015 is an exhibition about the making of the film which will run until November and two others, one of which will look at Codebreaking activities from WWI.

June 2015 sees the 800 year anniversary of the Magna Carta, that most cherished of constitutional documents so profound in its importance that it was drawn on by the draftsmen of the US Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights. The British Library are staging a special exhibition in London and there are events planned at Runneymede where the King reluctantly travelled to hear the grievances of the barons and clergy which led to the document and at Salisbury Cathedral where the best of the surviving copies is displayed..

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We now seeing ‘Number One London’, aka  Apsley House on Hyde Park corner having  a ‘facelift’ no doubt to mark the ultimate victory over Napoleon at The Battle of Waterloo in June 1815 which is I understand going to re-enacted at the actual site where it took place.

For art lovers an early blockbuster will open later this month at The Royal Academy to celebrate the later works of Peter Paul Rubens whose tour de force in the form of a painted ceiling at the Banqueting House is also set to re-open to the public around the 20th January following some restoration work.

Rubens ceiling

So there is much evidence of London continuing to make itself a destination to be reckoned with either for a city break or as part of a more general visit to Britain.

I am going to do my best to keep you updated on highlights for 2015 and would naturally welcome your feedback .

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INSPIRATION FOR VISITORS TO LONDON/ENGLAND IN 2014

30 Jan

clocktower

LONDON IS ROCKING

My last blog was some while back but such is the level of activity in London in 2014 that I could not help but dust down the old keyboard and highlight some top picks. The kind of things in other words which I might drop into a tour plan for London to add to the more standard sites.

In no particular order :-

Summer 2014 sees the re-opening of the Imperial War Museums’ (IWM) First World War Galleries. This is especially poignant in this Centenary year since the outbreak of the First World War.

The IWM already had fantastic galleries covering both World Wars as well an excellent holocaust display and much more. The new galleries promise to be something very special.

Where better to see a blockbuster exhibition with fashion as its subject matter than in one of the great fashion cities of the world? From April 5th until the end of July the Victoria & Albert Museum will be hosting ‘The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945 – 2014’ featuring work from some of the greatest names the industry has produced – Dolce & Gababana, Armani and Gucci to name a few.

Miss Saigon, the classic musical which made it’s London Premiere in 1989 and picked up over 40 awards is set to return to the London stage at the Prince Edward Theatre in May 2014 – order your tickets now !

So if all that has wetted your appetite I will round off by mentioning the opening of a second ‘Big Easy’ eatery in the Covent Garden area. The first has been a big hit on the King’s Road in Chelsea with it’s offerings of lobster, barbecue, burgers and loud music – so if you want somewhere quiet for an evening of chillaxing this one may not be for you !  Fear not, Covent Garden boasts an array of restaurants, bars, pubs and specialist food emporiums catering for all tastes.

Contact me at : guide.mitchell@gmail.com if you are looking for a guide/private driven tour in London/England and want further inspiration. You can check me out at www.theenglandtourguide.com

Best wishes and happy holidays in 2014.

Mitchell 🙂

A 5 Star Review on Trip Advisor – Amount to much ?

5 Dec

This thing we call the internet has clearly been used by many to such good effect and by others for not always honourable uses.

As a sole trader interested in telling people about tours to London/England with its rich history and tradition not to mention that biggest of world ‘soap operas’ – ‘The Royals, it is a quite fantastic medium or at least it can be.

Only recently I heard a story on a BBC Radio programme which told of how a successful author had been promoting his own works by way of excellent reviews on the Amazon website under a false name but worse than that, he had actually taken to undermining the work of his supposed ‘rivals’. It seemed from what was being said in the programme that the volume of ‘reviews’ on Amazon were such that they were not able to police them as well as they might like.

Hearing this saddened me as I felt that being able to see what readers have said about a book can be very helpful when deciding on one’s next purchase. Having heard the story I was beginning to wander how much of what I was reading I could actually believe as being the truth about what somebody ‘out there’ really thought about it or was the product of some ‘clever’ marketing of the positive or negative variety.

I talked about this with a few friends some of whom are far more internet savvy than I and having listened to a cross-section of opinions concluded that one could not discount all that is ‘out there’ just because there is an element of ‘foul play’. Indeed, where something has received quite a lot of reviews and especially where they were mixed, I have felt that I could still gain a valid sense about whether a book or other product might be worth buying or not.

More personally I was concerned that if there was a growing feeling that internet reviews were not above-board then any good ones that might be given about my guiding services might equally be undermined.

So what can I add to this debate. Well first off although I deal with a lot of people and a lot say they will write a review about you – the reality is that very few actually do it. That is not a criticism – far from it. That is life and not least with a one day tour which might form part of a much longer visit. Yes, on the day you hope having done your best that your clients had a great day out and got from it what they were hoping for or better.

However, by the time they have got home and back into everyday life so I guess the memory of a single day on what might have been an action packed trip can fade pretty quickly as everyday life takes over.

What I have realised from my own experience is that when somebody does take the time and trouble to sit down and write a review – it means you have made a significant impression on them and they clearly remember it well enough to want to spend the time it takes to tell others about it.

Now in a previous life I did work with a company which had many reviews but often and for many reasons of a negative type. Thus it seemed that people who had a bad time wanted to be able to tell others about it as a means of letting off steam about it. However, the lack of a good review did not mean the majority did not enjoy the experience – they just did not find the time or inclination to sit down and tell others about it.

To get a good review is therefore very uplifting. Of course it is a bit of an ego boost but it is more than that.

It is a person who has been prepared to make the effort to tell others about something they got something out of and must surely be the greatest form of marketing there is – word of mouth.

So I sincerely  thank Michael D of NJ, USA for saying the following which appeared this week on Trip Advisor. I hope that as the number of such reviews grows for my or any other business that readers can get some sense of genuine feedback on the internet which might help guide their decisions about whatever product or service they may seek on the net and that we don’t allow those who seek to undermine its value to ruin it as a medium for the expression of genuine views.

Michael D

Hamilton, New Jersey, United State

“Mitchell Cregor helped make our trip even better!!”

Reviewed 27 November 2012

We recently hired Mitchell to take us on a trip from London to Stone Henge and Windsor Castle. He was certainly a wealth of information on many topics….. He spent the day with us traveling to see the sights, offering knowledgeable and insightful information about our destinations. His upbeat personality and sense of humor were certainly appreciated! We soon felt like we were old friends and chatted up a storm!
Thank you Mitchell, you made our trip that much more terrific!

Visited November 2012

Before I sign off – an update on London.

We have another Royal ‘event’ to round off this remarkable jubilee/Olympic year – I could not believe the extent to which it has aroused interest around the world. We will no doubt learn of every ‘twist and turn’ for the next 9 months – as nothing of course compared with the debate/vote on Scottish Independence !

Today saw the Chancellor of the Exchequer (the money man) set out his autumn budget statement – far from being full of yuletide joy but I tell you this – the shops in central London are full of people – there are spectacular Christmas Lights all around and here is literally a gem of a place to get some Christmas bling – ‘The London Silver Vaults’ another of those nuggets to be found in ‘Hidden London’.

As from February 2013 you will be able to go to a viewing platform on the 72nd floor of London’s latest ‘Landmark’ building – The Shard – currently the tallest building in Europe and shortly to be offering to all the highest viewing point in London.

Soon to feature the highest viewing platform in London

‘The Shard’  –  London

End of an Era ?

24 Oct

While the word icon may be hackneyed in describing sites in London, the so-called ‘Black Cab’ really can be said to be one and news this week suggests the most common shape of the vehicles used for this purpose mayy be coming towards the end of its life.

It has been widely reported in the press that insolvency practitioners have been called in to consult with the holding company that puts the cabs together in the UK after it became evident that a much-needed cash injection which looked to be in the offing had not in fact happened.

Increasingly the ‘classic’ model is also coming under pressure from manufacturers such as Mercedes whose six seater ‘Vito’ taxi is becoming more and more common among the 20,000 or so cabs estimated to be on London’s roads and Nissan have also been given the green light to introduce their take on a taxi which is expected to make a splash in 2014.

One thing is for certain and that is the mix of vehicles which make up the fleet is changing – so here are a few things to know about London cabs which might help if you are due to visit London and thus possibly be a user.

 

Classic

Ready for hire

Above is a classic ‘Black cab’ as we Londoners often call them. This is if you like a modern version of a classic shape which first hit our streets as long ago as 1947 and then modified in 1958 and many times since . In that sense – a bit like a VW Golf.

When the driver has his yellow LIGHT on it means he is ‘open’ for business and wants to pick up a new passenger. The driver of such a vehicle will have passed a very stringent exam know as ‘the Knowledge’ which proves they know the roads of London like the back of their hand and they by law have to wear a badge showing their driver number. These are the ONLY cabs you can legally hail on the street.

a white one

As you can see a ‘Black Cab’ does not have to be black – it a generic expression. Here you can see the classic shape in white which is an older model than the black version shown above. They may also be heavily branded to reflect an advertiser but still be the same basic shape.

Other vehicles which are usually saloon cars or MPV’s are used as what we call the ‘mini cabs’. The big differences here are that :-

1. You can’t legally hail one in the street – they must be pre-booked.

2. The drivers have not done the knowledge

Vito in white

Above is the’ new kid’ on the block otherwise know as the Mercedes Vito which can take 6 as opposed to 5 but I guess you could still say is a ‘Black Cab’. In other words the drivers still have ‘The Knowledge’ ( if they have the amber ‘Taxi’ illumination on the front) and can thus be legally hailed on the street but they are clearly a different shape from the ones we have come to know.

I guess you call it progress. In the end if the drivers seem to want to buy and run them then clearly it is an offering the market likes and no doubt Nissan must be of the view that there will also be a demand for its version.

In short, while for nearly 40 years the ‘Black Cab’ has been one basic shape with various modifications produced and marketed by a single specialist maker there is now already a different shape out there with another to come but all doing the same job.

Only time will tell if the ‘classic’ taxi model will stand the test of time or whether, like it’s other iconic ‘cousin’ the London route master double-decker bus, it will gradually be a less and less common feature on our streets as new versions take on an old theme.

Either way, when you are in London never get into a cab which stops for you if you hail it unless it has the amber light at the front and the driver sports his driver number badge. He/she will put on the meter at the beginning of your journey and you will thus be able to see how much it is going to cost.

One last thing – you can also pre-book ‘Black cabs’ in the same way that you can a mini cab but a mini cab can’t be legally hailed although the vehicles used for this purpose must be licenced and insured for them to be able to operate legally. The idea is that because you have to phone for them –  the licencing authorities can keep tabs on them to ensure that they are operating in line with the laws of the land which are all about protecting passengers.

London Art

27 Sep

With the London Olympics 2012 now a wonderful memory, once again, as a London Guide, I am struck by just how much else there is to  be found in this amazing city which is also world-class.

I am talking today especially about what you can find on the art scene which has come to the forefront of my mind as I had the pleasure of spending a delightful day with a visiting art lover earlier this week and it really did open my own eyes to what is on my own doorstep and there for visitors to behold.

Over the last two days alone the ‘headlines’ which have caught my eye take in Edvard Munch – the subject of a fabulous offering currently on at the Tate Modern along with its new ‘tank galleries’ – the place where they quite literally kept the fuel which generated the turbines when that place was a great cathedral of Victorian power generation. My guest reported that you can still smell the aroma of the fuel !

While Munch’s famous ‘Scream’ (of which there are at least four copies) is noticeably absent from the show that is really probably quite a good thing as you can only focus on what is there which thus provides a perfect opportunity to see what his contribution was beyond his ‘best seller’.

Talking of best sellers is looks as though the recently announced Manet show (of his portraiture) due at the Royal Academy from January is going to one of hot tickets of 2013.

It does not end there. Great though it is to go to visit big galleries to see famous works – the vast majority of which is free to all comers, it is also worth a look at the exciting private galleries which remind one of the worldwide market for art and not least in Cork Street which is just around the corner from the Royal Academy. It might well be that you are not in the market to buy art but that does not mean that you can’t drink in the atmosphere of such a fascinating street.

I am now working on a project to bring parts of London to your attention which you might not have considered before – watch this space as I will release further details as soon as they are available.