Sunday, 1 September 2013

Be above it

Gotta be above it. Gotta be above it. Gotta be above it...

I am not citing the opening track from Tame Impala's latest album Lonerism in vain. Not I am not. It just happened to play on my music player by the time I was thinking about this entry. Although they really sing 'Be above it' sings about personal strength, to be above the obstacles, about how they cannot bring you down. I wanted to direct this more into a more pure physical perspective. We all keep being, surviving on the surface, but this city has also quite an interesting level above our heads.

We all dominate the ground floor of London: the streets. We all have been below this ground level, the great London Underground that takes us from A to B without really understanding where we go through, but still, we keep missing what is above everything else: the roofs.

It just opened a year ago, and The Shard seems to be the great attraction for the elevated views of the city. Unfortunately, it is not affordable for all pockets (£24.95!!!), and the fact that requires booking in advance doesn't fully convince me to go up to the highest tower in London. Second most expensive view is the London Eye, slightly more economical (£19.20) and limited on time to enjoy. Still, I had my go there, and although the cells feel slightly confined, it is definitely a To-Do touristy thing to do in London.

Houses of Parliament. Westminster. London Eye

But you still can go cheaper. Born from the hype of the London Olympic Games 2012, so yeah, last year, financed (I guess almost partially by Emirates, of course) the Emirates Air Line was built in a few months and now it is part of the London Underground map without almost realising. It is a method of transport as pendular as Waterloo & City line, but with the difference that it goes from North Greenwich (02 Arena) to literally woop-woop (as my housemate R says). Woop-woop is formally known as Royal Victoria. The now unexplainable route that crosses the river for no useful reason costs £3.20 using your Oyster Card and if you leave aside the fact that one of the destinations is no-man's land, it is an incredible view across the river providing you are not afraid of heights and cable-cars or both at the same time. In fact, for major enjoyment, my personal ideal transit is from Royal Victoria Dock to North Greenwich, so that coming back to the City using a Thames Clipper makes the day ten times more excitement. I must say though, that Royal Victoria is now quite a residential area and a new up-and-coming part of the city next to the Docklands currently being revamped and soon will be fun. Nevertheless, if I was living there, I would definitely commute to work by Cable-car and boat, just to have the awkward moment in the morning to have to apologise to my boss for being late because my clipper was late because a cruiser was waiting for Tower Bridge to open this morning. The Air Line is open from 7am to 8pm.

Emirates Air Line. Greenwich

Emirates Air Line. Greenwich

But I can do better in terms of price for quality of the views. In fact, I can go gratis, zero, nada.
Lets start East:

Dalston Roof Park
Stopping at Dalston Junction Overground, epicentre of East London hipster galore, but a great place for things popping up. I am note sure if it just opened last summer, but at least it is when I discovered it, one of those first Friday nights attending Street Feast. Dalston Roof Park is literally opposite the Overground Station. The only access is through the ground floor, through The Print House Gallery.

Oval Space
A few weeks back I attended Visions Festival, punk-rock based and rather enjoyable. But my first surprise was the venue. Oval Space was actually the epicentre where the wristbands where distributed and therefore became sort of our first stop. Right next to the canal, round the corner from the hidden Sebright Arms and right next to the glorious Victorian gasometers. I has the pleasure to see Public Service Broadcasting, which I loved by the way (although they were probably the lightest act of the evening), right after we loaded up with some Red Stripe at the rooftop. The views are slightly industrial, as the main feature is those steel scaffolds that comprise the gasometers and a lot of rusty mega pipes. But still, quite a pleasant mini roof top right next to the actual venue and apparently few weeks after, house of the London Craft Beer Festival. Home of great events.

Oval Space rooftop
(Photo courtesy of

Gasometers Broadway Market Canal

Gasometers Broadway Market Canal

Netil House
Keeping Visions Festival on the line, my second stop was Netil House. For some reason, in my mind, since I read last year about the hot tube cinema taking place on it, I thought it was the same as Netil Market. Netil Market is right off London Fields and a bit of escape area after the crowded Broadway Market on Saturdays. House of the famous Lucky Chip which I have not yet tried because every time I'm on the area it is minus 5 degrees Celsius and all I want is a Sunday Roast next to a chimney in a pub (or The Marksman please). But no, although they both had very similar name, they are physically separated by The Doorstep dry cleaners (good one, by the way). Netil House was many parts, but from this big grey building, I must highlight the ground floor, as a concert (or similar) venue and moreover the rooftop.
It reminded me a bit of Frank's, but from the East. The access remind me of the Queen of Hoxton of Dalston Roof Park. With enclosed staircase and doodles on the walls that makes climbing all those stairs a bit more enjoyable (probably 4 floors up). But yeah, the rooftop from the Netil House is grand. Stunning views of East London plus the standard City Skyline. Benches, beanbags, couple of food stalls and a bar... You don't want anything else. And of course, this was really the proper house of the Hot Tub cinema and another venue for the Rooftop Cinema. Grand, as I said.

Netil House Roof Top

Netil House Roof Top
(Photo courtesy of:

Queen of Hoxton
Ideally, to increase the surprise factor, you should go to the Queen of Hoxton by getting of at Liverpool Street. Look to your right and you see the mayhem of The City. Suits and high-rise buildings, the Gherkin and the rush. But this time, keep going along Bishopsgate until you reach Worship street, then turn left.  Right there, at the junction with number 1 of Curtain road, in the corner is where the Queen of Hoxton lives. Bar, club and gallery that comes handy for those long nights out until 3am when partying around Old Street.

But just go up the stairs, up to the rooftop, even better on time for the sunset. It is just perfect.

Queen of Hoxton rooftop
(Photo courtesy of

Queen of Hoxton rooftop sunset

One New Change
There is something about the Barbican area that unless you work nearby, it is not appealing to visit at all. Brutalist architecture is not everybody's cup of tea, the Museum of London is rather unknown for Londoners and going inside St Paul's is a bit of a rip off (£16). But right opposite to the cathedral, there is a glass building, that's One New Change. It can be seen from miles away because there is a Topshop in the corner. Going inside the weird semi-open building slash shopping mall, there is a lift. A lift that I kind of took by mistake 3 years ago but that I will never regret. Jump on it and turn around leaving the lift door at your back. Now click the button to the top floor. You are now going upwards, and you can see St Paul's. the building is designed so that those windows actually turn into mirrors in that angle so that the cathedral gets beautifully reflected on it. It is worth a photo, trust me.

One New Change St Paul's

One New Change St Paul's lift

One New Change rooftop

One New Change rooftop

One New Change rooftop St Paul's

Just when you are at the top, forget about the restaurant or the bar right as you walk in: they are overpriced and the last time I went, the staff was very rude. You're not here for the food, you are here for the views. Yes, the cathedral dome feels almost at touching distance, and all of a sudden you can see the mysterious South London as you have never seem it before. Because I don't why, but we never pay attention to Southbank, the London Eye, Tate Modern and the building with wind turbines at the top in Elephant & Castle (Strata SE1)... it is quite picturesque.

OXO Tower
Found it a couple of years ago, written on a small article in Tired of London, and instantly I was fascinating by its architecture and the history behind it. Oxo Tower Bar / Brasserie Restaurant is now party of Harvey Nichols. 

To reach the OXO Tower, the ideal tubes are Waterloo, for the short walk or London Bridge for the long adventurous one (walking on a Saturday starting from Borough Market). From Waterloo, follow the signs to the London Eye and keep walking on the riverside walk towards East. Along the way, you will find Southbank Centre, the Hayward Gallery and the National Theatre (amongst others). Keep walking until you pass Gabriel's Wharf, which reminds me of famous piers in San Francisco (sans the sea lions). After it, the first block of flats/shops are known as OXO Tower Wharf. You may not see it, but it is there. Just walk to the end of the little pier and look above: there it is, the OXO Tower. 

To access to the OXO Tower bar, go around the building and jump on the lift to the 8th floor. The brasserie/restaurant is a high-end place which you may or not be able to afford to have a meal, but the deal is that there is no need to spend any money at all. Just walk inside, close to the wall on the right. You may be asked by the staff if you need anything, and your only answer should be: 'Yes, thank you, I am just going to the VIEWING GALLERY'. They will leave you alone. Push the giant glass door and there you are, the viewing gallery. Keep looking above, because the OXO sign is even closer than it was from the ground floor.

Now get a cocktail if you fancy it. 

Rather stunning, huh?

OXO Tower viewing gallery

OXO Tower viewing gallery

Tate Modern
The Tate Modern may or may not be everybody's cup of tea in terms of art but just the building itself is well worth the pilgrimage to Southbank. In fact, I should not call it pilgrimage, as it just located opposite to St Paul's cathedral and accessible through the infamous Millennium bridge. But focus on the building, one of the greatest power stations still fairly intact, previously called Bankside Power Station, and built in the 50's. Its enormous Turbine Hall is house of the biggest temporary exhibitions from the most well-known contemporary artists around the globe and it is, undoubtedly one of the most impressive and big rooms I have ever seen. But returning to the topic of great views, just hop on the lift or climb up the stairs all the way to Level 6 and enjoy the views, along with a Curiosity Cola or just a latte from the cafe on it. 

Tate Modern restaurant

Frank's Cafe

Frank's is right on the heart of Peckham, tucked away hidden on a multi-storey car park, and one of the trendiest places to go in Summer. You have to go early to avoid the queues, but fortunately they have come up with an app to also avoid the queues for the bar. Still, it is worth the wait. They views are just one of my favourites, specially with an Aperol Spritz in hand. Downside is, it just happens in Summer. 

Frank's Cafe Peckham Rooftop

Frank's Cafe Peckham Rooftop Aperol Spritz

Frank's Cafe Peckham Rooftop

Enjoy it while the Summer lasts. Won't be long till is gone, because you don't know what you've got till is gone (citing Janet Jackson's version here). But that will be another story...

God's own junk yard

I did it. I finally rode the whole Victoria Line from beginning to end: from Brixton to Walthamstow Central in an impressive 40 minutes. From proper South London SW2 to mega North East, E17.

In fact, I managed to convince quite a big group of friends into shortening their Saturday morning lie in to jump into zone 3 of the tube. Precisely, my friend M, halfway through the 40 minute ride, she asked me: 'Where exactly are we going?'. Unfortunately, people that know me could tell that I am not very good at both telling jokes and describing things in an exciting manner, so all that I could come up with was: 'a Neon Junk Yard', being Junk Yard pronounced with my spanish accent, causing a fair discussion about how I mis-pronounce Junk and Yard that made the trip even shorter. 

Once in Walthamstow we chose not to take the one-stop train to Wood Street station, the closest to our final destination, so we walked through St Mary's Rd, Church Ln and finally to 96 Vallentin Rd, our final destination. At this end of Vallentin Road, it really is a very industrial workshop area, after the nice residential alleyways coming from Walthamstow station, but the industrial hint assured us that we were in the right place.


I don't think this needs any explanation

Pretty mental right?

The artist is Chris Bracey (@GodsOwnJunkyard) and his work can be found al over London and the world. 

One of my favourite pieces is probably the Sex, Drugs and Bacon Rolls heart, famous for decorating the walls of the branches of The Breakfast Club

The Jesus hut was also a winner.

Quite a good excuse to go all the way to E17.

I am still missing Blackhorse Road to complete the line, but that will be another story.