28 Sep 2011

The Changing Face of the City of London

I've been working on and off in London for 19 years now, and it is barely recognisable compared with the skyline back in 1992. Canary Wharf just about existed then (only the main tower - 1 Canada Square - had been built by the early 1990s). Windows were still boarded up from IRA bombings. Things have changed. I've had a few periods abroad in my life and every time I come back, a few more skyscrapers seem to have popped up. But now even after a few months away from the City of London I return to find a new tower. I wandered around this afternoon and took a few shots of the buildings.

The newest addition to the City's skyline (the Shard aside as it's still under construction) is the Heron Tower, sitting on the corner of Bishopsgate and Camomile Street (leading to Bevis Marks - the site of my first City summer job back in 1992). 
There used to be an ugly Norton Rose building on this site, but I guess this was pulled down a few years ago. The Heron Tower was designed by architects Kohn Pedersen Fox and was completed in 2010 (originally approved by John Prescott, to be the same height as Tower 42 - the old NatWest Tower - but this was increased on appeal). It reaches 230m including a 28m mast; the third tallest building in the UK, after 1 Canada Square and the Shard (when it's finished). This winter there will be a branch of Sushi Samba opening in the tower (my favourite restaurant chain in the US - a mix of Japanese, Peruvian and Brasilian food) - can't wait!

While working in the City a few years ago I watched the Gherkin going up, floor by floor. Every week it seemed as if a new floor had appeared. The official name is the Swiss Re Building, but most people know it as the Gherkin.
It's built on the site of the Baltic Exchange on St. Mary Axe, which was damaged by an IRA bomb in April 1992. The building was designed by Norman Foster and Arup engineers, built by Skanska and completed in 2003. It towers above older buildings such as the St. Andrew Undershaft Church. At least the City has some old buildings nestled in its undergrowth, unlike the rather characterless Canary Wharf; it just has a shopping mall underneath.

Heading down to London Bridge the skyline is also changing dramatically. On the north side of the bridge is one of my favourite old buildings - Adelaide House, an imposing art deco building dating back to 1925.
It was one of the first buildings in London to have air conditioning, an internal mail system and a putting green on the roof. Renovated in 2007 it now houses the law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner. For some reason there is a bit on the right hand side that ruins the symmetry - it looks as if it was added at a later date.

Built in 1986 on the south side of London Bridge is one of my favourite modern buildings, No 1 London Bridge - although it's not that modern now. 
It was designed by the John S. Bonnington Partnership. It has a lot of different tenants, most of which appear to be charities. Behind No 1 London Bridge is the Shard, which sits on top of London Bridge station, replacing the old PwC Southwark Towers.
It's been under construction since 2009, designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, and when completed in 2012 it will be the tallest building in the European Union (although only the 45th tallest in the world, at 310m or 1,017ft tall). There was a lot of controversy over the height and design, but as with the Heron Tower John Prescott signed it off , saying that he was satisfied that the design was of the highest architectural quality. Some might argue that Prezza has destroyed the London skyline.... It certainly has changed since 1993. With the Heron Tower and Shard it has changed dramatically since 2009. I'll wait until the Shard is finished before I pass final judgment, but I'm not too keen on its position away from the rest of the tall buildings. You can see it from a long way away.

On my way back to Monument station I stopped on London Bridge when I saw this woman with an umbrella taking photos of Tower Bridge in the distance.  Everyone else walking past did a double-take.
Okay, so it was warm today (about 25 degrees C) but it really wasn't that hot. This is not south-east Asia, this is London. In September.

19 Sep 2011

Photo Opportunities in Canary Wharf

I worked for nearly two years in Canary Wharf; in fact, working there was what first made me carry a point-and-shoot camera around in my handbag with me everywhere (with the hope that one day I'd see the tops of the skyscrapers peaking above fog from my 35th floor view - it never happened, although we were hidden in fog on a number of occasions). I also began to walk part of the way along the River Thames, as far as Westminster, every morning, and was always stopping to photograph Battersea Power Station or the pretty lines of lamp-posts. Some of my favourite shots came from that walk, on a couple of foggy days last November.

Anyway, back to Canary Wharf. I used to take photos with my point-and-shoot while I was working up there on the 35th floor of one of those skyscrapers - the view of the sunsets was incredible (not so great for photographs, as there was always some reflection from the lights inside, even if I tried to squeeze myself behind a pillar). Sometimes it even made working late all worthwhile, although my colleagues thought I was a bit strange! I stopped working there at the end of May, but revisited recently, taking the Canon 60D and wide-angle lens with me (no access to level 35 this time, so all from the street). The sky was almost playing ball - with a few clouds to give it some interest, but not so many that the skies were washed out.
It's a great place to just stop and look up. Some of the architecture is quite beautiful. You just have to make sure that there are no security guards around, as it's a private estate, and they can be funny about you taking photos - officially it's not allowed. It's a huge estate, though, so it's not too hard to find a quiet spot. There are also some stunning sculptures, some a little hidden away. This is one of my favourites, just down the steps from the First Edition bar on the west side.
I really like looking up at the top of the buildings. The wide-angle lens distorts them even more than the eye does, but I still like the effect - it's pretty dramatic.
I'm off to the City tomorrow, so if it's not too rainy I may get some shots of the new skyscrapers that have popped up in the last couple of years (eg. the Heron Building). Check out my website for a few more shots, in the London gallery.

16 Sep 2011

Wanderlust likes my Waffles!

They can taste the sugar ...
PS. On Wanderlust I'm known as 'satkinson' - my former identity!

13 Sep 2011

Legalised Graffiti in Ghent

Ever since I saw stencil graffiti in the San Telmo area of Buenos Aires, I've come to quite like some kinds of graffiti. I don't like the illiterate tagging that lines the railway tracks in London or anarchic ranting, but the artistic stuff isn't bad. In Buenos Aires, some of the stencils were in English, and usually a bit humourous, although always a bit political. Not sure about the Michael Jackson one.

There's some great stuff in Haight Ashbury in San Francisco. Here's a couple I noticed at the bottom of a couple of shops.

Barrio Bellavista in Santiago de Chile has enormous amounts of graffiti; the area is renowned for its local artists.

Finding a Banksy is always satisfying; there's definitely something intriguing about the elusive character. The one on the left, in Bristol, has been hit with paintballs - vandalism of graffiti...

So I was quite interested when I read in my guide book to Ghent that there was a famous graffiti street - Werregarenstraat - bang in the middle of the old town. It has been designated as an area where anyone can come and do their graffiti stuff. It is a busy alleyway, used as a cut-through by ordinary passers-by, who climb over the paint pots and spray paint cans, passing artists at work. As we got there we saw two guys with ladders and big paint-brushes painting large areas white, over others' work. This is how it works: you paint your stuff and sooner or later someone will come and paint over it with theirs. I guess there's some sort of etiquette or code, but who knows how it works in practise. But it gives young artists a chance to get their work seen.
Some argue that it defeats the purpose of graffiti, as graffiti is a means of expressing political dissatisfaction through vandalism (or whatever!) and if it's allowed then it's not vandalism. But there seems to be enough people who leave their mark, so they must be okay with the whole idea. In the rest of Ghent there is only a small smattering of graffiti that we saw; the usual vandalistic rubbish!
Here's a selection of scenes from the street, in a mix of colour, black & white and sepia:

7 Sep 2011

Late Winter in Northern Iceland

A couple of years ago we spent a lovely - and cold - weekend in northern Iceland. I wanted to see not only the northern lights, but frozen waterfalls too. We'd originally booked to go the last week of January, which is no mean feat, as most touristy things in Iceland, especially in the north, are shut in that month, not re-opening until early to mid February. Anyway, after much planning I'd managed to book buses, flights, hotels, etc. to get us to Lake Myvatn, up in the north, about 60km away from Akureyri. Lake Myvatn is a volcanic lake with some interesting volcanic and geothermal features nearby, as well as some impressive waterfalls not far away.
The trip started well, leaving home early, with plenty of time for the Stansted Express to get us up to Stansted. That was unfortunate; if we'd left later we might have made it. As it was, the driver of the train thought that he'd seen someone jump in front of the train, so we stopped at a station not far from Liverpool Street, and spent an hour and a half waiting for the police to declare that there wasn't actually anyone; the driver had in fact seen someone near the track and assumed they'd jumped (so much for "person under a train" - perhaps half the time you see this excuse it's not actually the case). Anyway, we pulled in to Stansted as the plane had just left; later trains had detoured around us and made it on time. So another few hours back home and a weekend cancelled (not covered by travel insurance either, but fortunately managed to get most of our money back - tip: always ask the airline for the taxes back if you miss a flight!).

The second attempt was a success, although the waterfalls were nearly melted, and the nights were cloudy, so no decent northern lights viewing. The weather was good during the day, though, which made the trip fantastic. The first day a driver from the hotel picked us up from the airport and drove us to Goðafoss; the sun peaked out of some rogue clouds to let us see the incredible waterfall in its full glory. Some of it was still frozen too, much to my delight!
After lunch at the hotel he then drove us around the Myvatn lake area with two American women, one of whom had come to scatter some of her late husband's ashes under the northern lights (he'd wanted them scattered at Cape Cod, but she had other ideas, and so was travelling around the world with small portions of the ashes to scatter in places that she wanted to!). The area is full of strange volcanic features, including lava tubes, bubbling mud pools, hot springs, and fumaroles everywhere. In one spot the locals have built ovens into the ground, into which they put malt bread, which bakes in the heat from the geothermal earth. It is delicious!
At the end of that day we had a relaxing soak in the Myvatn Baths, a natural hot spring, like the famous one near Reykjavik airport, only nicer.
The following day we did a fantastic (but not cheap!) trip up to the Vatnajökull National Park in a massive Superjeep - the wheels were about a metre tall. Along the way we picked up another couple who were celebrating the guy's 40th birthday (they'd spent his 30th at the Iguazzu Falls and he'd asked his wife to take him to Europe's biggest falls for his 40th). They were both clowns; it was an interesting day. We visited three large waterfalls: Selfoss, Dettifoss (the largest in Europe by volume of water) and Hafragilfoss, all of which were spectacular, along the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river, with massive basalt columnar cliffs. There was a lot of snow still around, although only small parts of the waterfalls themselves remained frozen.
We had lunch overlooking Hafragilfoss, my favourite of the three, and drank whisky to celebrate our companion's birthday. If only I'd had a neutral density filter back then, so I could've made the water properly blurred - this was the best I could do in bright daylight without a filter.
Shame about the northern lights too, or rather lack thereof, but the woman still scattered the ashes out over a small volcanic cone on the edge of Lake Myvatn. The evenings were still pretty, nonetheless, with great clouds. 
On our way home we spent a lovely day with friends Sigrún & Johannes in Reykjavik and then made it back to London (no issues with the Stansted Express), having had an incredible long weekend in a rather remote spot of the world, having met some rather strange, but nevertheless very interesting people.

6 Sep 2011

One of My Favourite Places... the Bolivian Altiplano

I've just added some more photos of the Bolivian Altiplano to my website.
This was my third trip; I like the place so much that I had to take my new husband on our honeymoon (I do all the arranging of travel!)

The view of the cacti on Isla Incahuasi is well worth the trip - some companies don't take you there, and at some times of year it's too wet to get there. We were lucky - I hadn't gone on either of my previous trips (although this was the most expensive - booked through Gijs at Ruta Verde)
And one with a bit more colour - Volcan Thunupa, on the north edge of the Salar de Uyuni:

4 Sep 2011

Runner-up in Guardian's Been There August Photo Competition

My photo of the ethereal sunset at Oxbow Bend on Snake River in Grand Teton National Park was the runner-up in last month's Guardian newspaper's Been There photo competition. Shame I couldn't ask the river to stop flowing so my reflections were perfectly clear ;)

Been There August Photo Competition

3 Sep 2011

London Eye Pods

I was wandering along the north side of the Thames a couple of days ago and thought I'd try a few new angles of The London Eye, a very much photographed icon in London. Most shots of the Eye tend to be of the whole thing, of pods from below, or pods taken from inside other pods - have a look on Flickr and this is pretty much what a search will give you. I wanted to capture a close-up of some pods., so I pulled out the wonderful 70-200mm. I really liked this angle, taken from directly across the river. It was about 2.30pm and the light was a bit bright.
This one was taken from a little further east:
I also liked this one, where a BA plane passed overhead and a man in red stood at the window of the pod: