Saturday, 24 January 2015

Paddington Trails - Christmas Trail

The Bear of London

At Covent Garden I handed over from the Year of the Bus Westminster Trail to the Paddington Christmas Trail.  This was set up less formally than the bus trail and almost immediately I had some trouble finding the elusive bears.  There were two housed at Covent Garden but I didn’t find it for some time as it was largely hidden by all the Christmas shopping crowds.  The other was more prominent and attracting a good deal of attention from passing kids as it was stationed outside the Royal Opera House.

Leicester Square Bear
Having started the trail I headed off towards Leicester Square via Charing Cross and Trafalgar Square.  I found the next Paddington not too far from where I had seen one of the buses.  While I shaped up to take a picture I was approached by a triumphalist ‘spotter’ who had ticked this one off as the last one he needed to find.  Just to rub it in he told me that he had also seen all the buses too.  Nothing like an encounter like that to make your own efforts seem rather worthless…

Paddington the Explorer
Leicester Square proved to be rather frustrating as the Paddington stationed there was in the middle of the Square, which was locked off until later in the day because the funfair in the green area was not yet open to the public.  I had to view the Paddington from afar (called Blush and sponsored by Nicole Kidman) and make do with that.  I did have more luck with the one along the road at Picadilly Circus, which was Paddington the Explorer and a rather more expected design than the rainbow affair I had seen earlier.

Christmas Arcade
By now lunchtime was upon us and the crowds were really building up.  I struggled to make very good speed down Picadilly and was relieved when I was able to disappear into the same shopping arcade that we had walked up during the London 2012 mascot trails.  It looked extremely good decked out in Christmas decorations but I didn’t like to look at the prices in the shops as I imagine they were rather eye-watering.

Thread Bear
The next bear wasn’t too easy to find – I think I need to rely less on maps for some of these trails and think about the Apps that go with these trails.  They seem to work for people rather better, although I am a bit of a luddite when it comes to mobile technology.  Thread Bear was a rather fun design though – looked like it was based on cross stitch.  I was rather pleased to see that the next bear was in Berkeley Square – this really is a smashing part of London.  The gardens in the middle seem to be very serene and the buildings all around look so grand.  Somehow the square seemed more regal in the winter without all the leaves on the trees that we had seen on our last visit back in 2012.  The Paddington here stood proudly on the grille of a Rolls Royce.  It seemed rather upstaged though by the astonishing piece of art installed further down the square - the fabulously colourful 'The Sun' by Dale Chihuly.

It was about this point that I realised that this was quite a long trail, especially as the distances between Paddingtons was quite long.  As I headed towards Bond Street I cross the substantial works of Crossrail, the massive new engineering project that will link the rail network east to west across London.  It made me wonder how much of the substructure of London is devoid of any works whatsoever?  Underneath the city must be a honeycomb of tunnels and engineering features almost as dense as what you find at ground level.  It must be enormously complicated finding clear paths for the tunnels to run.

Berkeley Square
Any notion that I had seen busy London thus far was soon scotched when I entered Oxford Street.  This was a teeming mass of humanity, all frantically trying to get their Christmas presents and shopping arranged.  Only one more day remained after this one and I could sense the feeling of tension in the air.  It seemed slightly ludicrous that I was here looking for Paddington Bear sculptures, but I was rather caught up in the atmosphere.  I especially enjoyed the window displays of Selfridges – they were all especially festive and original.  Despite the crowds sights like these made me think it was worthwhile coming to the Capital for a Christmas walk.  I spotted A gold Paddington in the window among a display of what else, marmalade!

The Sun
Further along Oxford Street were two other bears, one called Sparkles and another called Bear Humbug, sponsored by Ant and Dec no less.  The latter was stationed by a very jaunty steel band belting out ‘Little Donkey’ Caribbean style – it was all slightly odd but thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless.  I chucked some change in the tin after waiting for them to finish.  They weren’t the only musicians along the street, there were plenty of others at respectful distances from each other and all doing Christmas singing in various styles.  The black gospel choir outside Bond Street station were my other favourites.

Oxford Street
Just past Oxford Circus and I was able to leave the madness of Oxford Street behind, disappearing down the back streets of Soho.  I passed by the London Palladium – funnily enough that is the first time I have ever done that!  Just along from there was Parka Paddington, a rather classic looking design that seemed to be ignored by all who passed by.  Seems strange that some commanded a huge amount of attention while others didn’t.

Golden Bear

My way back to Picadilly Circus took me through Carnaby Street, still full of the sorts of shops that made this street famous in the 1960s although I suspect these days less trendy and more ruthlessly designed to remove money from the pocket.  The atmosphere in Carnaby Street seemed a lot less intense than back at Oxford Street and I liked it for that reason alone.  The Christmas decorations were rather eye-catching too as the street was decorated with hundreds of lightbulbs hanging down across the street.  I was rather disappointed that I wouldn’t get to see them lit up…
Bear Humbug

The final Paddington on this trail was parked along a side street near Picadilly Circus and depicted a scene from the Amazon.  The Bear was called Bearodiversity – a rather appropriate title I thought.  Now back at Picadilly Circus I decided to head to another part of London for the next Paddington Bear Trail around Paddington station itself – seemed an appropriate thing to do and got me away from all the crowds that I had experienced on this walk.

Carnaby Street
I did find the Paddington Bear mascots rather more difficult to find than the buses – the trail suffered from not being properly mapped and in that respect it was like the Gromit and Clyde trails that we had recently followed in Bristol and Glasgow.  I have to say that these trails are far better when properly arranged and take in the best aspects of the cities in which they are based.  The Paddington Trail didn’t seem particularly well devised I have to say…


Sunday, 18 January 2015

Year of the Bus - Around Westminster

Changing Victoria

As 2014 wound down I was pleased to have some time away from work accompanied by some decent weather.  I always find winter walking rather difficult due to the shortage of daylight and even the early morning option is denied me.  Unusually for the time of year there were a couple of mascot trails still on offer in London and so I thought it would be fun to go and check them out pre-Christmas.
Westminster Cathedral

The first was the Year of the Bus, with four trails on offer in different parts of the Capital.  I tried to drum up support from the girls to accompany me but there was none so I went alone.  I only had one day available so the idea was that I would look for as many of the buses and Paddingtons (also on show throughout London to tie in with the release of the latest film) as I could.  I knew that I would only have about six hours of daylight to do this, so armed with a one-day Travelcard I set out to do the Westminster trail and the Around the River Trail as well as the Christmas Trail and Around Paddington Trail of the Paddingtons.  It was a tall order and as it turned out not easy as many of the sculptures were in awkward locations.
Tunnel Vision

As I arrived in Victoria station I started out with the Around Westminster Trail.  Because of my starting point I decided to do the trail back to front from the suggested route.  It had been a grey start to the day so I was very pleased when I discovered that when I arrived at Victoria most of the cloud had shifted to reveal some pretty good weather.  The route looked pretty promising and gave me the opportunity to walk a route that I would normally do by Tube.
Lord Mayor of the City of Westminster

The area around Victoria station is a bit of a confusing mess at the moment as much of the surrounding area is being redeveloped.  In fact London is changing so quickly that I am grateful for these routes in order to give me the opportunity to check out the changes.  Walking along Victoria Street is a case in point with many of the buildings recently changing (and getting bigger!).  I do walk along Victoria Street reasonably often for the various work trips I make into the Capital for the types of event I attend are often hosted by Government departments who favour these locations as they are close to their offices.
Buckingham Palace Bus

My first bus was just shy of Westminster Cathedral and was called Tunnel Vision, depicting some stylised artwork that you might associate with the London Tube (seemed a slightly strange choice for a piece of artwork celebrating the bus?).  I also took a look at the Cathedral across the road.  I had read recently that the Cathedral had been mistaken for a mosque by a UKIP politician recently.  Although much derided at the time it was easy to see how he arrived at such a conclusion since the Byzantine architecture is not something you would normally associate with a church.  I love its bold design – the stripy bricks seem to accentuate it somehow.
Westminster Abbey

Victoria Street was rather a procession of buses – there were four more along the street before I reached the rather more famous Westminster Abbey in all its Gothic splendour.  This had rather more attention from tourists than the Cathedral.  For the record the buses on Victoria Street were Lord Mayor of the City of Westminster, Gull Graeni Straeto, Buckingham Palace Bus and London Takes the Bus.  They were all fantastic creations although the Buckingham Palace one was perhaps my favourite – it really looked the part!
Nelson Mandela

After inspecting the outside of the frontage of Westminster Abbey I negotiated Parliament Square outside.  I noticed a huge queue for the Abbey and could only guess that perhaps there was a service about to take place?  I guess that most of the queue should have been able to get inside but I have never seen so many people waiting to go into church before!
Winston Churchill

Around Parliament Square I admred statues of some of the most prominent people in history, from the splendidly attired Nelson Mandela to the rather more classic view of Sir Winston Churchill on the other side of the square.  This was a precursor to the statues of famous soldiers all along Whitehall.  I passed by the bus dressed as a telephone box on the way and then prepared myself for a history lesson as I admired the parade of statues along Whitehall.   
London Telephone Bus

Along with the sudden appearance of a golden sun and the magnificence of the buildings all along Whitehall this was perhaps the highlight of my entire day’s walking.  Some of the soldiers I recognised were Earl Haig and Monty but the memorials to the women of World War 1 and the Cenotaph itself were also very moving pieces.  I imagine attending Remembrance Sunday here must be an incredible occasion.  It was perhaps fitting that the bus stationed here was called ‘Lest We Forget’ and depicted a very memorable poppy/ World War 1 design.
Nelson's Column

The top end of Whitehall is of course Trafalgar Square and I think I probably found it at its absolute winter best bathed in glorious sunshine.  It was a hive of activity as you might expect, with lots of ‘statues’ all on show waiting for tourists to give them money for the art of dressing up as famous characters and balancing in impossible looking positions clutching sticks.  There were a couple of Yodas and a Santa Claus in the midst.  I don’t know whether these folks make much money from their exploits but it must be incredibly uncomfortable.
Christmas Tree

Other memorable sights from the square included the enormous Christmas tree, an annual gift from the good people of Norway and said to be the largest Christmas tree in the UK each year.  The blue cockerel on one of the plinths was an unusual sight but looked particularly radiant in the sunshine but it was the bronze lions that seemed to get the most attention.  People were queuing up to get their pictures taken on the plinths next to the magnificent creatures.  Almost unnoticed was the Trafalgar Panoramic bus that sat in among all of it, depicting a scene of the square.  It wasn’t easy to move on from here, such was the atmosphere and pre-Christmas mood that pervaded the square.
Trafalgar Square

I headed towards Leicester Square, catching the London Skyline bus as I passed the Coliseum.  The trail then took a rather strange turn here as part headed towards Covent Garden and the other towards Leicester Square.  I headed towards Covent Garden first and almost missed a bus on the way as I passed by the Stanford shop hosting the Travels With Edward Bus.  I should have realised there was one in there as we had seen one of the book benches there on that trail earlier in the year.
Father Christmas

Covent Garden was absolutely packed as you might expect a couple of days before Christmas.  I really enjoyed the buzz of the place – it is definitely one of my favourite places in London.  Finding the mascots wasn’t so easy though – I transferred to Paddingtons here and found that they didn’t stand out so well.  The buses here though were excellent, especially the one dressed as a guardsman with a big bearskin hat just outside the London Transport museum.  One day I shall go inside there – it looks most interesting.  At the other end of the market was Poppy Fields, a more summery design than the one I had seen along Whitehall.
Covent Garden Buses

Having seen all three of the Covent Garden buses I headed towards Leicester Square.  Now that the day had properly got going it was becoming more difficult to walk as the streets were so busy with shoppers trying to complete their shopping before the big day at the end of the week.  It seemed rather strange that I was searching for painted buses while all that was going on.  The final ones were all colourful – Rock n Royal, Swinging London and Cath Kidston.  They embodied the partying, shopping and fashion that London is known the world over for.  I was now at Picadilly Circus and it was lunchtime so I stopped briefly for some refreshment before heading onward on the next trail.  This was a particularly good trail – I thoroughly enjoyed the mix of history, culture and busy shopping streets on the way.
Cath Kidston Bus