An Interview with: City Cruises

By Go City Expert

A Thames River Cruise is a highlight on a trip to London and is a real must when you’re planning your itinerary. City Cruises offer daily tours and a handful of different Thames experiences and routes to choose from, offering a unique perspective of London. Not to mention stunning views of the London skyline – and sunsets on a good day! We went down to their pier and spoke to one of their veterans, Gary Hancock, a boat captain, who has worked on the river for over a quarter of a century and who has his fair share of Thames tales! From the funniest questions he’s been asked, to his top London tips, Captain Hancock reveals all in our exclusive interview... London Pass: So tell me a bit about yourself and your life on the Thames GARY: I’ve actually worked for City Cruises on and off for the last 20 years... But I’ve been working on the River Thames for the last 34 years – time flies when you’re having fun! LP: What kind of views can you get from the Thames; you can really see London from a totally unique perspective can’t you? GARY: Well, if you’re travelling from Westminster to Greenwich and you get to Canary Wharf, with a clear view you can see back to Tower Bridge. Literally, the River bends in big horse shoes and people don’t believe that you can look back and see the all the landmarks when you’re that far along. You can even see the Gherkin and the Shard. LP: You must get some stunning sunsets? GARY: In the summer it is really beautiful when the sun’s setting and you get this orange colour just as the sun disappears over the horizon. LP: So where is the best place to be along the river to catch one of these sunsets? GARY: I think down Greenwich Pier, or down by the Naval Colleges in Greenwich. Greenwich is a very historical and important place. People often forget there are a lot more places to go than the obvious – they just think of the main ones: Cutty Sark, Royal Observatory... But there are lots of nooks and crannies to be explored, tucked away in Greenwich. You can spend a whole day down there. LP: There’s also a nice market isn’t there? GARY: Greenwich indoor market: that’s great for cuisines all round the world and is inexpensive, too. So if you’ve got children and are travelling as a family, or if you’re on a budget, it’s great! LP: So is that your top tip; you must go to Greenwich! GARY: My top tip would be, yes, go to Greenwich but go early in the morning and spend a day down there; plan your trip out – because it can’t be done in a couple of hours! The Cutty Sark is a must-see, especially since the multi-million pound re-development. Greenwich is a beautiful area; you’ve got the Naval College and the Queen’s House – and as you come into Greenwich Pier the view hasn’t changed in over 300 years, we sometimes take the boat in a bit further just to see it. It’s even depicted in Canaletto’s painting A View of Greenwich from the River – it still looks the same now as it did then. As you look up, you’ve got the Old Royal Naval Colleges, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and you’ve got the Queen’s House and Greenwich Park and the statue of General James Wolf in the Royal Observatory. LP: So what would be the best trip for a tourist to take on a City Cruise boat? GARY: If you’ve got limited time, I would do the 45 minutes non-stop circular cruise from Tower pier – but you can’t go to Tower Bridge without going in the Tower! LP: Definitely, it’s most tourists’ favourite London landmark – and I’m not surprised, it’s got such a diverse history, plus it’s right on the river... GARY: It’s funny when a tourist asks about the Tower of London being an old prison, they never believe me when I tell them that the last people imprisoned there were Ronnie and Reggie Kray [1952]. They look at me like I’m mad! LP: You must have had some funny questions from passengers on your boat – what is the funniest thing you’ve been asked? GARY: I think the funniest thing was when we were at Westminster and someone asked me for the time, just as we were going under Big Ben... Big Ben’s another great landmark, and you can’t miss it either! Someone also asked me once where the rails were that the boat was running along... Like it was an underwater Disney ride! LP: They’ve definitely not been on a City Cruise boat before then! GARY: I get a lot of people who buy the ticket and don’t know where they’re going either – they don’t care where they end up or what they see, they just want a trip along the Thames! LP: So how much longer do you think you’ll be working on the Thames for? Indefinitely seeing as you love it so much? GARY: Until I feel the time is right – there are still watermen out here in their 70s! City Cruise boats are all-weather, modern boats with open upper decks and heated lower decks with seating and refreshments. For more information, visit their website.

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Interview with: Kew Gardens

Kew Gardens is one of London’s most popular attractions situated in the leafy suburbs of Richmond, West London. We should give thanks to ‘mad’ King George III who, together with his wife Charlotte, commissioned Kew gardens to become what it is today. With 121 hectares, a glass house, lakes, tree walks and nature trails – it’s no wonder Kew Gardens is a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most popular things to do in London. We spoke to Wesley Shaw, Palm House manager at Kew Gardens, to get more insight in what it’s really like behind-the-scenes at Kew and what it feels like to work in one of the best gardens in the world. What inspired you to work at Kew Gardens? Kew had the most diverse plant collection in the UK and for a gardener like me, who is naturally really into plants, it is just the best place to work. Kew contains the rarest and most unusual plants you are ever likely to come across. How long have you been working at Kew Gardens? Over eleven years now... Kew is a special place; there are some great people who work here and there’s a really great team effort. Why in your opinion, is Kew Gardens unlike any others of its kind in London? Kew Gardens is about the plants, of course; but it is more than that. We’ve got the science aspect of it and you have to appreciate all the research that goes on, too. In total, there’s the laboratory, we have art galleries and restaurants – the gardens come with the whole package. What do you think most attracts tourists and visitors to come to Kew Gardens? It’s obvious! Tourists come for the plants and to have a nice day out. Especially in the summer, everyone loves relaxing in the sun and enjoying everything Kew has to offer. How easy is it to maintain the gardens at Kew? It takes a lot of work. It takes a large workforce to keep everything looking good throughout the year. It is difficult and a challenge, but I think we all rise to it and do a pretty good job. Kew Gardens is made up of a number of different gardens - do you have a favourite and if so, why? I'd have to say the Palmhouse really, because that is my domain. The Palmhouse is Kew's iconic glasshouse, it is the one you see on all the pictures. It is the oldest of the glasshouses here at Kew, built back in 1844. Architecturally it is very important, it is a beautiful building home to a selection of tropical plants. Here we represent the habitat of a tropical rainforest. We keep the temperatures high and humid to grow plants from all over the tropics. We have a lot of important economic plants - so they would be things that people use every day in terms of medicine and clothes and food. Unlike other areas of the gardens, in the Palmhouse, we deal more with education than conservation. Conservation goes on behind the scenes, but with the plants in the garden, we try to tell visitors about the plants and how they are used so that people can both enjoy but learn about what they are experiencing. What plants or flowers do you plan to grow ahead of the summer season? The Palmhouse is really a static collection; it doesn't change that much. We have a seasonal display in the water lily house, which I also manage, but that’s more of a floral tropical display. What hints and tips are you asked by visitors who come to Kew Gardens? Working in the Palmhouse, we get lots of questions mainly about how to manage and grow house plants, so we always give people tips on the best way of doing that. There’s a lot of inspiration to be had from the Palmhouse. You must have had a few celebrity visitors at Kew Gardens? We've had Bradley Wiggins who did a photoshoot here in Kew. We've also had the top model, Lily Cole, come for a visit and Dido was here a few years ago. Because it’s not your typical garden, or park, there is so much going on here all the time – it always keeps things fresh and interesting. I suppose the last celebrity we had was James Cracknell doing a Question of Sport! Visit Kew Gardens for free with The London Pass - pay nothing and explore the huge gardens for the perfect family day out.
Vanessa Teo

Enjoy London's summer with a day on the Southbank

Ask any Londoner what one of their favourite things to do in London is, or where their favourite place to go is, and we’ll bet you a steaming cuppa their likely answer is the Southbank. A favourite haunt of locals and visitors alike, the Southbank attracts hordes of people on a daily basis; no matter the season, or the hour. What is the Southbank? It’s the southern bank of the Thames, stretching from the London Eye and Aquarium, opposite the Houses of Parliament, all the way down to the Tate Modern and Blackfriars Bridge. Known as one of London’s most cultural hubs, it's home to the National Theatre, the British Film Institute and the London Television Centre. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of a famous face as UK premieres are usually hosted in the area, too. The best time to visit the Southbank (due to popular belief) is during the summer when you can spend all day exploring the man-made beaches, coastal-inspired beach-huts and pop-up shops - not to mention the museums and landmarks along the way. One of the most impressive aspects of the Southbank is the sweeping views over the Thames, which stretch down to the iconic MI5 buildings by Vauxhall, all the way up to Greenwich. Ok, you might not be able to see that far without bendable binoculars, but a quiet walk along the Southbank offers you a wealth of sightseeing opportunities from a totally unique perspective. Stand back and admire the spires of Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, not to mention the huge clock face at Big Ben, and observe the ever changing urban landscape of London. Hungerford Bridge, which links Waterloo to the Embankment, could mark this area as the 'centre' of the Southbank. Lined with restaurants and bars it's a great place to go for a jug of Pimms and a bite to eat as the sun goes down. To the west of you is the London Eye and Aquarium - and the pop-up Udderbelly which runs from April-July every summer - and to the east, the daily book fair under the arch, a popular skate park and the quirky Gabriel’s Wharf full of independent shops, a top notch fish and chippy and unique wood carvings to picnic on. The Queen's Walk promenade takes you up further along the river to the iconic Oxo Tower which serves as another notable Southbank landmark, full of gallery spaces and craft shops to explore (perfect for finding that really unique souvenir, too!) If you fancy something a little more special, take the lift up to the Oxo Tower's brasserie and dine at the high end restaurant overlooking the Thames and St Paul's Cathedral for a truly memorable Southbank experience. Further east and you’ll come to the famous Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre where you can catch some of the Bard’s most famous plays including Anthony & Cleopatra, Julius Caesar and King Lear among many others. Tickets start at just £5 for standing - an unbeatable price! Around the corner from the Globe is the Tudor ship the Golden Hinde II – a perfect reconstruction of the 16th century ship sailed by Sir Francis Drake, worth a visit if you’ve got kids who love tales of the sea and piracy! To end on a real cultural high, the Tate Modern is the perfect place to complete your experience of the Southbank and Bankside (just to get particular). The Tate Modern hosts around 4.7 million visitors a year and is held in an old power station, which accounts for its industrial feel and huge open spaces. Displaying works from 1900 to today, there's a wide range of artworks to explore, including Henri Matisse on show this summer. Discover more of London with The London Pass and experience the city to the fullest.
Vanessa Teo

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