Just over four years ago, a bright morning had me up at the top of the Shard for a look. Time to go back for another look.
(Good lord, was it really four years ago)
Access was thanks to the annual ticket pass, of which it was easy to get last year, and required long hours in interminable queues this year. Unlimited entry for a mere £20.17.
Londoners love a bargain, even if it means getting up at silly o’clock to get one.
The doors were due to open at 7am, so I sauntered up at 6:30am, and saw a gargantuan queue. Head to the back, which was right by the road and joined up thinking, well, it’s not too long.
A few minutes a lady noticed and asked if I was queuing for the tickets, and then told me the queue continued on the other side of the road, all the way past Guys Hospital.
Heart sinking faster, almost gave up, but, it can’t take that long to sell a ticket to each person. Can it?
The rain started to fall, but come 7am and the queue moved forward at a reassuring speed. Then stopped. It shuddered forward a bit occasionally, and eventually to a point where I was under shelter.
Now the queue started to go around ropes, so a short distance to traverse contained a tube train’s worth of people.
Out came a security guard with some left over chocolates from christmas.
At last to the head of the queue, and able to go into the building itself, but only to see another queue at the top of the stairs snaking around several times.
But nearly two hours after I had joined the queue, I could see the end in sight. The tills are there. Hearts leap with excitement.
Through the doors and closing on the tills, only to see another snaking queue around the corner. Hearts sank. The murmur of phone calls to sympathetic bosses warning them of a late arrival for work, and some more loudly of people desperately pleading to jump the queue because of less sympathetic bosses expecting punctuality.
Finally, into the final stretch, another set of roped zones filled with people moving to the left, then the right, slowly edging to the front.
The end of the queue! Sent to make my purchase, mobile phone app dutifully filled in before (and boy do they need a website forms developer to improve it), and… the tills crashed.
But not for long. And a paper slip in hand as a temporary card, because for some reason they didn’t produce the proper cards. And like most people, a rush to work accompanied by frantic apologies to bosses.
That was a few weeks ago:
Today was my first visit using the annual pass, and the temporary paper slip has now been replaced with a more convenient credit card sized slab of plastic.
Security remains tight, as you might expect, so the metal detectors are in action, and there’s still a surprising number of staff to advise you where to go, when there’s really only one route to follow anyway.
But two lifts later, and back to the heights above London. The last time I was up here, I pretty much had the whole place to myself, today I shared it with loads of people.
Mostly standing by the windows, peering out and taking selfies. The major change over the years is that there’s now a bar up here, although with bottles of champagne on display you can guess the target market.
Fortunately, upstairs, in the semi-outdoor exposed area, there’s another, somewhat cheaper bar to choose from.
Up here also the wooden floor has been replaced with fake grass so that the Shard can claim to have the highest “garden” in London, and get one over on the SkyGarden on the other side of the river.
Decoratively, one wall is now covered in planting, and weirdly, people pose by it for photos. They’ve come to the highest viewing platform in Europe, and they pose by a garden wall of no particular merit.
Oh, and the audio guides advice that this is the tallest building in the European Union. That’ll need editing in a couple of years time.
Now that I’ve spent three hours in a cold queue, and got my annual pass, I’ll pop up a good few times. The bar is an expensive treat, but at least it makes visits more interesting if with friends.