One of the most popular things on London’s calendar is the Open House weekend, which occurs every September. We were too new to London last year to be in on it (or it might have even happened before we arrived), but this year we went! I’m a bit disappointed it was the same weekend as our church’s combined Away Day with our mother church (which took place on the Saturday). It meant we only had Sunday morning to see any open properties.
My main priority was to visit 30 St Mary Axe – more commonly known as The Gherkin. As we only ended up leaving the house a bit before 11, it turned out that was all we had time to see.
We arrived at the Gherkin at about 11:30, and followed the queue back… and back… and back. I knew it would be a long wait. They were allowing 30 people entrance every ten minutes. The long wait was confirmed when, after having been at the back of the queue for about 10 – 15 minutes, we reached the sign marking 2.5 hours until entrance.
Andre decided to go off and find some coffee and brought back a drink and chips for me. The queue actually moved a lot faster than the sign had indicated. It took us 15 minutes to move between the ‘1 hour’ and ’30 minutes’ signs, and about 15-20 minutes between the ’30 minutes’ sign and entering the building.
Finally we were at the front of the queue, showed our photo ID, and were allowed into the building. Then it was through a metal detector (with your bag going through an x-ray), then herded into an elevator in which we shot up 35 (?) floors. My ears popped! Then it was back into another elevator to go the last few floors up to the 39th floor. From the 39th floor we walked up a spiral staircase to take us to the mezzanine 40th floor, the very top of the building.
After a few minutes up the top, it was down to the 39th floor again. The visibility wasn’t fantastic – we had several days of dust and smogginess – but we still got good views of St Paul’s, the Tower of London, the Cheese Grater, Walkie Talkie, and even pinpointed approximately where our house is.
Theoretically we were ‘strictly’ restricted to a 20 minute visit. It wasn’t really strict though, although volunteers were constantly moving people on.
Once we left the Gherkin, we had some lunch and took a walk through the nearby Leadenhall Market.
We decided to check out some Roman baths underneath some office building or something like that, but got side tracked by the overgrown ruins of a church which has been transformed into a garden for city workers to eat in during the day.
By the time Andre had finished running around taking photos of that, we knew we didn’t really have time to go and check out this Roman bath and get to church on time. So we took a detour via the Tower of London to see its World War 1 centenary memorial, the Sea of Red art installation – nearly 900,000 ceramic poppies installed in the moat around the castle, one for each British military fatality – before heading back south of the river for church.