But then we moved into the eaves of a converted schoolhouse and had a terrific view of the London skyline right outside our bedroom. And here, The Shard took centerstage - glinting like a knife in the clouds, especially when the sun hit it just right. I began to accept it as an integral part of the London skyline and loved seeing its sleek, pyramidal design every morning.
Then there was the time I found myself unwittingly standing beneath it, waiting for a bus at London Bridge. Craning my neck to get a better look, I almost toppled over backwards. I had to admit it: I was in love.
I don't buy the whole, "that's a touristy, overrated thing to do, I would never go up the [insert tall structure here] just for a view of [insert city here]. I don't care how touristy or overrated views from above are - I personally love them and think it's a great way to see a city. It makes me feel more connected, if anything, to the city as a whole. Seeing the cars and lights buzzing below me at night (as we did in Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City) makes it all the more exciting. I still take visitors to the London Eye because I think it allows for a magnificent view of East and West London.
Tickets to The Shard's two observation decks (the experience is dubbed, "The View From The Shard") are not cheap: at £29.95 per adult, I'd be reticent to shell out the dough. So imagine my excitement when, upon opening my birthday card from Tom and Cristy last year, I'd discovered that they had purchased tickets for me and John.
This summer was so busy that we didn't have a chance to go up, but knowing that sunny weather is limited in London (and I was determined to visit The Shard on a clear day), I checked the forecast this past weekend and took a risk on the earliest available Sunday morning slot, as the iPhone had promised sun.
We arrived early and grabbed a coffee at the base of the building, before picking up our tickets and going through to the elevators with just two other small families. The elevators are completely enclosed (i.e. not glass, thank goodness - I think there'd be one too many panic attacks had they been transparent) and very fast. It took us no time at all to travel up to the 33rd floor, where we disembarked and changed to another elevator, which then took us the rest of the way up to level 69.
When the doors opened, it was bright and all I could see were clouds. But then we stepped out into - hands down - the most amazing view I have ever had of London. You don't realize how densely packed all the buildings are until you view it from above. And for once, I felt it wasn't The Shard that was glittering and beaming at me from afar, but London - looking absolutely beautiful and proud beneath me, with its train tracks snaking out of the city for miles and red buses crawling so slowly that I could close one eye and cover them with my thumb.
I was both enchanted and awestruck - especially when John joked that our shadow loomed over London like Mordor. St. Paul's Cathedral looked particularly beautiful from such a distance and height, while I had completely forgotten how the Thames snaked around, its curves almost hiding Southbank, with only the Eye clearly visible from above. I quickly picked out St. Giles, which is not far from my office, with its bright, orange and green exterior, but Islington was much harder to pin down.
The first observation deck has real time telescopic stations, which shows you landmarks as you pan across the horizon, as well as an explanation of each site. You can also change the view to "sunset" or "night" to get a feeling of what it would look like at different times of the day.
As the daughter of an architect (who spent most of her childhood bored and embarrassed while her father spent exorbitant amounts of time examining a door frame or other minute detail in very ordinary places such as the mall or at social gatherings), I was naturally fascinated by the design of the place itself. It's interesting because Level 72 (which is the highest public observation point) is partly open (but with little to no wind, as the glass panels are high enough to block this) yet enclosed, so you don't get that vertigo feeling you might experience with other similar structures that give the illusion of being more exposed. I don't know, that was just my own experience; perhaps others will feel differently.
The glass, plus the wood-paneled floors lend themselves to a very calming atmosphere, which is only emphasized by the spa-like music that is piped in to surround you (I admit to thinking at the time that what I really wanted was an infinity pool/jacuzzi and a glass of champagne - it's okay to dream at such dizzying heights, I think).
But anyway. I highly, highly recommend a visit to The Shard - whether it's for dinner or drinks at Oblix (which has just opened but doesn't seem terribly inviting) or The View experience. I have no doubt that ticket deals will soon appear in magazines like TimeOut or other websites, so if you're put off by the price, then stay tuned.