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Walking The 8th Wonder of the World: Thames Tunnel Pictures

24 - Thames Tunnel Entrance
Tunnel entrance from Wapping

This past bank holiday weekend, I and thousands of other Londoners got a rare opportunity to visit the 8th Wonder of the World: the Brunels' Thames Tunnel.

Started by Marc Isambard Brunel and completed by his son Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the tunnel finally opened in 1843 after nearly 20 years of work. On top of being the first tunnel under a navigable river, it was also the first underwater shopping arcade and underwater dining hall. And it remains the oldest part of TFL's infrastructure.

50,000 people are supposed to have walked through the tunnel on opening day in 1843. However, these days it's a bit more difficult to get access, as it now forms an integral part of the Overground network. Fortunately, a confluence of engineering works allowed myself and others a rare walk through.

This was an extra treat as I've previously walked the East London Line above ground and it's the first time while walking the Underground/Overground that I've actually been able walk directly between two stations along the track. You have no idea how times people have asked me if that was how I was doing my walks.

Here are just a few of my photos:

07 - Rotherhithe Platforms
Rotherhithe Station from track level

11 - Original Arch Thames Tunnel
One of the original arches

12 - Ghost in Thames Tunnel
Possible ghost sighting

13 - Original Arch Thames Tunnel
Old arch next to the preserved one

14 - Walking in the Thames Tunnel
Gives you an idea on the height of the Tunnel

17 - Thames Tunnel
Clear view down the tunnel

18 - East London Railway Marker
This used to be part of London Underground's East London Line

20 - Thames Tunnel
Looking down the tunnel from Wapping

25 - Wapping Station
Wapping Station from track level

28 - Warning in Thames Tunnel
The irony is this sign can only be read when on the tracks

29 - Red Signal in Thames Tunnel
Just to be sure, the red signal was still turned on

30 - Surprise in Thames Tunnel
Surprise!

31 - 33,000 volts
Very glad the power was switched off

33 - Middle of Thames Tunnel
Roughly the middle of the tunnel

35 - 300m
Rotherhithe, that way

36 - Preserved arches in Thames Tunnel
There are a lot of arches

37 - Old and New archs in Thames Tunnel
Original section next to a preserved one

43 - Pumping Equipment in Thames Tunnel
If this pumping equipment wasn't there, the station would quickly fill with water

47 - Rotherhithe Station from track level
A different view of a landing at Rotherhithe Station

49 - Water channel in Thames Tunnel
Just some of the water that has to be constantly pumped from the tunnel

53 - No service
Seems a little unnecessary to state this

54 - Thames Tunnel plaque
Thames Tunnel Plaque

56 - Original Thames Tunnel shaft
Original shaft down to the tunnel

57 - Original Thames Tunnel shaft
You can clearly see where the spiral staircases used to be

58 - Thames Tunnel door to shaft
Just be advised that the entrance to the original lift shaft is not for the claustrophobic

Learn more about the Thames Tunnel:

The Brunels' Tunnel
King of the Underworld: Building The Thames Tunnel
Brunel Museum: History of the Thames Tunnel
Thames Tunnel on Wikipedia

More pictures of this past weekend's visit from other blogs:

BBC - Thames Tunnel: Rare access to 'eighth wonder of world'
Do Not Alight Here: Thames Tunnel Visit
Walking through a Tunnel under the Thames — Part 2
London Reconnections: In Pictures: The Thames Tunnel

5 Reasons Why Madrid’s Metro Is Better Than The Tube

Madrid Metro Logo

The logo for Madrid's Metro looks a little similar to the iconic London Underground Roundel.
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

After spending 4 days in sunny Madrid last week, I think got a good feel for the city (friendly people, great food and cheap beer) along with its metro system (Metro de Madrid). While it's no secret that I'm a huge fan of the Tube, I think there are (at least) 5 ways Madrid's Metro clearly beats the London Underground.

1. It's Cheaper

While both have zone systems, pretty much anyway you cut it, Madrid is much cheaper than London. In Madrid, the basic cash fare for the Metro is €1.50 (£1.21), whereas in London, it's £2.20 (€2.70) for a non-peak zone 1-2 journey paid with Oyster or a whopping £4.70 (€5.80) if the fare is paid in cash.

2. It Has More Lines

Map of central section of Madrid's Metro

Some of Madrid's Metro lines. Click for a complete map.

London boasts an impressive 11 underground lines (well 10 if we exclude the two-stop Waterloo & City line). However, Madrid has it's own two-stop line, along with 12 others. This means that it beats London by 2 whole lines.

3. It Has More Stations

London Underground has 270 stations, which is pretty good until you learn that Madrid has 300. Moreover, until the recent financial crisis, Madrid was adding stations at rate that hasn't been seen in London for over 60 years. According to Wikipedia (would be great if someone had a better source), Madrid's Metro added 90 km (56 mi) of track and 80 new stations to the network between 2003 and 2007.

To put this in perspective, it's roughly equivalent to the length and number of stations found on London's entire Overground network.

4. It Has Far More Stations Per Capita

What's even more impressive is that it has far more stations per capita than London. Madrid itself only has a population of 3.3 million compared to the roughly 8.2 million people who live in Greater London.

This means that Madrid has one station per 11,000 people, whereas London has 1 station per 30,370 people.

5. It's Less Crowded

Waiting

Normal day on the London Underground

Roughly 1.2 billion annual trips were taken on London Underground in 2013 compared to just 558 million taken on Madrid's Metro. This means that, on average, only half the number of people use the Madrid Metro each day compared to the Underground. Great if you want to get a seat!

So while London still has an older network with significantly more miles of track, Madrid's Metro stacks up pretty well on most head-to-head comparisons.

A Few Other Random Observations

  1. For some reason the Madrid Metro is left-hand running, which is odd as Spaniards drive on the right. This may be due to the fact that residents of Madrid used to drive on the left until 1924.
  2. The Madrid Metro turns 95 this year, which sounds old until you realise that the Underground is 56 years older.
  3. The Madrid Metro doesn't currently have a direct line from the City Centre to the main airport. Almost all passengers have to change to another line. While only the Piccadilly line goes to Heathrow, it does pass through central London.
  4. I didn't see any adverts in the trains themselves. Although you do get ads in the stations and on platforms...
  5. VodafoneSol

  6. And, most surprisingly, Line 2 of the Metro along with Sol station are both sponsored by Vodafone. And don't think this can't happen to London as it's already being talked about.

These are just a few of the things I noticed in my rather limited interaction with Madrid's Metro. If you know of anything I've missed, other differences and/or interesting features, please tell me about them in the comment section below:

Which Party Has Traditionally Controlled Your Council? Borough By Borough Political Timeline

London borough council political timeline

Click for full size

The chart above shows which party has controlled your local London council from 1964-2014, with each square representing one year. Blue is Conservative control, red is Labour control, yellow is Liberal Democrat (formerly Liberal or SDP) control and grey is for when no party holds a majority.

The chart was created by reddit user BlackJackKetchum. Who's also created a chart to show how many times each council has changed hands:

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The 68 Proposed ‘Great Tower(s) For London’ That Would Have Surpassed The Eiffel Tower

Great Tower For London

Click the image above for full height comparison

In 1890 Sir Edward Watkin - a British MP and Chairman of the Metropolitan Railway (now part of London Underground) - held a design competition for the "Great Tower For London" that would have rivaled (or in many cases surpassed) Gustave Eiffel's tower in Paris. In total 68 designs were submitted. You can see a full height comparison of each design by clicking the image above. (created by reddit user herky140).

The Tower was going to be the centrepiece of an amusement park located in Wembley, which would have served as a tourist attraction to lure rail customers out from central London. The winning design would have been 1,200 feet (366m) tall, over 150 feet (45m) taller than the Eiffel Tower. However, the scheme slowly ran out of money and only ever reached a height of 154 feet (47m).

Thus, the tower was nicknamed Watkins Folly and the London Stump. However, all was not lost as Wembley Park turned out to be rather popular. In 1924 the site was picked as the location for the British Empire Exhibition Stadium, better known today as Wembley Stadium.

You can see some of the other proposed designs below:

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Walking the Length of Manhattan From The Harlem River to Battery Park Along 5th Avenue & Broadway

Sign for 5th Avenue at the Harlem river
Only one way to go, and fortunately it's south

While walking across Manhattan along 42nd Street offers many interesting sights to see, it's not exactly a walking challenge. For that I decided to walk the length of Manhattan along 5th Avenue. and Broadway (the dividing lines between east and west).

I decided to begin my walk in Harlem and walk south to Battery Park. The reasoning was two-fold: one, I wasn't sure what Harlem would be like and I've found that it's far better to go through dodgy neighbourhoods early in the day than in the afternoon or evening. Second – as I've stated elsewhere on this blog – going south feels like you're going downhill.

When I got off the number 3 subway at 135th Street, I concluded I'd probably made the right choice in starting rather than finishing here. According to this handy tool from the New Yorker, household wealth drops off quite quickly the further north you go from here. Now this isn't to say that less affluent areas are guaranteed to be high crime, but I figure it's better to somewhat safe than sorry.

The Harlem River, official starting point for the walk
The Harlem River, official starting point for the walk

From here I made my way north to the Harlem River so I could begin the walk south. I was very conscious that a stocky, white guy in shorts (it was only about 10C out) taking photos of things like street signs, probably stood out just a little bit. However, I was not alone, as another obvious tourist with a much more conspicuous camera than mine had also decided to come to the northern limit of 5th Avenue.

Given that I had over 10 miles to walk, I didn't bother to stick around and chat. The first 20 blocks weren't really that interesting, just social housing and other medium to low-rise apartment buildings with occasional glimpses of the Empire State Building offering just enough inspiration to keep going.

The Empire State Building in the distance
The Empire State Building in the distance

Marcus Garvey Park was somewhat of a surprising obstacle, since I'd not spent a great deal of time looking at a map before setting off. The quickest and most obvious route would have been to just walk straight through the park, but seeing a group of a about a dozen guys drinking beer from paper bags at 10am made me second-guess this decision and instead I just walked around it.

I passed more social housing projects, which I find somewhat surprising given how close I was to Central Park. My original image of New York was that anyone living within a few blocks of Central Park was likely to be at worst upper middle class. So it's interesting to see that this isn't always the case.

Martin Luther King Jr. social housing project
Sign for one of the many social housing projects I see along the first section of my walk.

Central Park transforms the nature of the walk as I no longer had any buildings immediately to the west of me and wouldn't again for the next 50 blocks! This was the most open the walk would feel until the end.

I was somewhat tempted to walk through the Park instead of along the increasingly busy and traffic-clogged 5th Avenue, but I have found in the past that parks don't really offer very interesting insights into a city. Plus, my wife and I had already visited it the day before.

Walking along the edge of Central Park
Walking along the edge of Central Park

This turned out to be a good decision as I was able to at least see the outside of many museums along Museum Mile. The area also became noticeably wealthier. Gone are the social housing projects, replaced with buildings with one (or often more) doormen.

The Guggenheim is arguably the most interesting of the museum buildings along Museum Mile
The Guggenheim is arguably the most interesting of the buildings along Museum Mile

While I didn’t really have time to visit any of the museums during my walk I figure I can at least pop in and use one their facilities. I decided that MoMa would make as good a choice as any other. However, I can't even get into the building without a security screening and then I am told that all restrooms are after the ticket barrier (an adult ticket costs $25).

This is a marked contrast to the museums in London where you never have to pass through security checkpoints and often don't have to pay for entry. Given there was nothing I could really do, I continued my walk south past the Central Park Zoo and to the southern end of Central Park.

Amish buggy handsom cab sign New York
I know this sign is supposed to be for handsom cabs, but looks more like an Amish buggy

I had now walked over 80 blocks, which sounds a bit more impressive than the actual distance of 4.5 miles. Once again the scenery changed completely going from being at least partially open to a concrete and steel valley of skyscrapers rising up either side of me. I was now on the world famous 5th Avenue – miles, both literally and figuratively, from the 5th Avenue in Harlem.

The world famous section of 5th Avenue8
The world famous section of 5th Avenue

Not being one for shopping or crowds, I knew this section of 5th Avenue was likely to be my least favourite and it did not disappoint. I was constantly dodging groups of shoppers as I attempted to continue heading south. Of course, I can't really complain too much as I was constantly stopping to take photos of things along the way.

Alas as seen on 30 rock intro
As a 30 Rock fan this guy looked familiar...

Royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom on the British Empire Building
Also the Royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom on the oddly named British Empire Building

There is a certain relief of being a tourist surrounded by other tourists. While I'm sure I got in someone's way at some point along this section of the walk, at least I don't stand out and can take my photos in relative anonymity. I reached 42nd Street which was the intersection with my much shorter east-west walk and meant that I'd now walked 100 blocks!

The Empire State Building which had looked so far away back in Harlem was now just a few blocks south. However, as I approached it, I found it nearly impossible to get a good photo. It's simply too tall relative the surrounding streets.

In case you can't tell, this is the best photo I could get of the Empire State Building
In case you can't tell, this is the best photo I could get of the Empire State Building

I'd also agreed with my wife to meet here and we could continue the rest of the walk together. As I'd arrived a bit earlier than I'd predicted I decided to see if I could get any better pictures of the building by going down some side streets and getting a little further off 5th Avenue. While, I failed at getting a decent photo I did stumble upon some more colourful businesses than I was expecting in the area.

This place looked anything but upscale.
This place looked anything but upscale.

I finally gave up trying to get a better picture of the Empire State Building, and met up with my wife. We grabbed a quick bite to eat and then we're on our way together. Time certainly seems to pass much faster when we're walking together and before I know it we're at the Flatiron Building

Flat Iron building New York
Pretty. Toronto has one of these too!

While the plan is to eventually finish the walk along Broadway, we didn't follow it at this point and instead continued down 5th Avenue to Washington Square Park, admiring the relatively low-key but undeniable wealth of Greenwich Village.

Looking back up 5th Avenue at Washington Square Park
Looking back up 5th Avenue at Washington Square Park

At the end of 5th Avenue, after 140 blocks and 7.5 miles of walking it felt as though I should be nearly done. I mean, I'd walked all the way south from 142nd Street to the point where 5th Avenue ends and the streets are no longer numbered but actually have names. Reality proved slightly different as there was still another 3 miles of walking to come.

Looking south down Broadway
Looking south down Broadway

We shift the walk a few blocks east and continue down Broadway. It reminds us both of Yonge Street in Toronto, full of chain stores and restaurants – the sort of place you go when you don't know where else to go.

Those words don't sound like they should go together...
Those words don't sound like they should go together...

The monotony was eventually broken by the impressive Manhattan Municipal Building and the less impressive City Hall. Yet, they were just an added bonus as I had not gone out of my way to see them. Instead, I'd picked this route because I knew it would bring me past the 9/11 Memorial and the base of the ridiculously nicknamed Freedom Tower.

Freedom Tower silly name, but very impressive building
Silly name, but very impressive building

Unlike virtually any other memorial site in the world, you can't just turn up and go in to the 9/11 memorial. Instead you can either book online or turn up and hope you can get passes to get in. On top of that there are a huge number of rules and regulations you must follow. Given that the goal was to walk Manhattan not spend all day in a queue, we only had a very quick look before continuing on.

New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), centre of global capitalism
New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), centre of global capitalism?

Our last stop before finishing was to have a quick look at Wall Street. While this may be the global centre of capitalism – unless you work in The City – it was all a bit underwhelming. The NYSE building is indeed impressive but less so than many others I'd seen that day. Perhaps I was just ready to be done.

A quick walk down the surprisingly empty and quiet Broad Street and over to Battery Park and it was. At 10.5 miles (4.5 of which accompanied by my lovely wife), it was shorter than any of my Tube walks except the Waterloo & City line. Yet, I feel like I've seen far more than I do on a typical Tube walk.

DSC05359
New York Harbor, the symbolic end to my walk.

I think this is likely due to the fact that this is the first time I've visited New York as an adult. Thus, the impact of seeing many of the sights of New York was much greater than in London, where I've seen the sights dozens of times prior to passing them on a Tube walk.

Beyond that it's difficult to compare the two cities too much as they are so different. London is a much older, lower rise, sprawling city, whereas Manhattan is much newer, denser and more self-contained (being an island helps of course).

Besides that, there are only two other observations that come to mind. First, New York's neighbourhoods feel more homogeneous than those in London. For example, Harlem felt pretty universally poor and Greenwich Village felt universally rich. Conversely, in London, you'll often get council estates next to some of the most expensive real estate in the world.

Second, New York feels like it has fewer hidden secrets than London does; everything just feels a little bit more out in the open. In London, I'm frequently surprised by what I find on my walks, whereas in New York both walks yielded fewer genuine surprises than I would have expected. Both walks were the perfect way to see Manhattan, but it helped reinforce that London is my home.

What do you think about how I've portrayed Manhattan? Fair? Way off base? Let me know in the comments section below:

Walking Across Manhattan Along 42nd Street – New York City Trip

DSC05178
I started my walk at the UN Headquarters

Last month I was lucky enough to be able to visit New York with my wife. It had been 14 years since I last set foot in the city and some things had definitely changed. As always I'm firm believer that you have to walk a city to know a city.

And so over the 5 days we were there we did a fair bit of walking. Here are some photos from my walk across Manhattan along 42nd street.

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150 Posts About The Tube At 150 – The London Underground Anniversary

Google Doodle of the Tube's 150 anniversary

Even Google's getting in on the 150th anniversary.

While the official grand opening of The Metropolitan Railway (the first bit of what would become the London Underground) occurred on January 9th, 1863 - it did not accept it's first fare paying customers until the 10th. Given that it's a means of mass transportation for the masses and the fact that our political elite wouldn't be caught dead using it on a regular basis – many (myself included) think the official 150th anniversary of the Tube should be today, not yesterday.

In any case if you celebrated it yesterday, today or more likely don't really care one way or the other you will no doubt have seen a huge amount written about it. Now given that I'm walking the tube network in support of Bowel Cancer UK, you might reasonably assume I'd have some sort of post ready for the momentous occasion. Alas, a move to a new flat and sporadic internet have meant that writing anything interesting has been difficult.

More importantly there is nothing really left to say. Below I've collected 150 websites/articles/books/etc. about the 150th anniversary of the Tube. They should provide you all the information you could possibly want about the London Underground.

Official

1. London Underground's 150th anniversary (TFL)
2. Transformation of the Tube network continues apace during historic 150th year (official press release)
3. TFL Facebook Timeline
4. 150th Anniversary of the London Underground (London Transport Museum)

From London Bloggers

5. Happy Birthday, London Underground (A View From The Mirror)
6. Happy 150th Birthday to The Tube (Shit London)
7. Mind the Maps: Celebrating 150 Years of the Tube (Mapping London)
8. Rather English - Celebrate 150 years of the Tube (Tired of London, Tired of Life)
9. Underground sesquicentennial! (Caroline's Miscellany)
10. Underground on film (Caroline's Miscellany)
11. TimeOut Tube Infographic (Annie Mole)
12. LU150: London Underground Past, Present & Future (Annie Mole)
13. 150 years of the London Underground (The Great Wen)
14. London Underground at 150: its past and future (Dave Hill)
15. Photos and Videos: Eye Candy Celebrating the London's Underground’s 150 Anniversary
16. See how the Tube was built 150 years ago
17. LU150: A Birthday Steam Test (London Reconnections)
18. LU150: Steam On the Underground Timetable and Prices
19. Google celebrates the London Underground with a Doodle (IanVisits)
20. Best places to photograph London Underground’s heritage steam train trips (IanVisits)
21. Diverting the Fleet River for the London Underground (IanVisits)
22. 150 - 150th anniversary celebrations (Diamond Geezer)
23. Happy 150th Birthday London Underground: 30 reasons we love the tube (TimeOut)
24. @tube_boob’s ode to the Underground (TimeOut)
25. And don’t forget the humble tube map’s 80th birthday... (TimeOut)

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Map Of Average Weekly Rent By Station Along The Victoria Line

Weekly rent by station along the Victoria line

Weekly rent by station along the Victoria line

This Victoria line map created by Rentonomy could not have come out at better time. It shows the average weekly rent at each station along the Victoria line. Prices reflect average 2-bed flats near to stations. The overall shape shouldn't be too surprising for anyone who's lived in London for more than a month.

The peak is at Green Park (£965 per week), just north of Buckingham Palace and the gateway to Mayfair. I am a little surprised to see that Oxford Circus and Victoria are almost the same price as you couldn't pay me enough to live in the former. Also, I'm surprised Stockwell is more expensive than Brixton as I'd much rather live in the latter. At the far end of the line, Walthamstow (£193 per week) is by far the cheapest.

You can of course learn more about the Victoria line from my facts, trivia and impression page. Plus, stay tuned for more my post about my Victoria line walk coming soon.

Special thanks to Rentonomy for the use of their map.

Why Are London’s Property And Rental Prices So High? Hint: It’s Not Greed

One Hyde Park - Some oftThe most expensive flats in the world

One Hyde Park - Some of the most expensive flats in the world

After the weather, there are few things Londoners like to complain about more than the high cost of either buying or renting a place to live. To say London is an expensive place to live is to state the obvious. However, one or two examples will serve to show just how bad the situation has become.

According to the BBC housing calculator the average price of a house now stands at a staggering £402,000 in Greater London. This is around 2.5 times more than the average for Scotland and well over £100,000 more than the next closest region (unsurprisingly the South East). These prices make buying a home in London extremely difficult – if not impossible – for families on modest or even not-so-modest incomes.

Examining the situation from a global perspective doesn't make the situation look any better. According to Global Property Guide, London is second only to Monaco in terms of the cost of buying or renting a place to live. While other studies don't place London quite so high on the list, no one claims that London is cheap.

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