City Cruises review
A boat trip to Greenwich is #17 in my London Bucket List
City Cruises operate the most popular boats in town. I think I prefer the TRS boats though -- you can catch them from the same pier and they both go to the same stops, but City Cruises always seems to be packed out from stern to bow. Their boats are bigger and they have a lot more seats on top, but I think you get a much nicer ride with TRS. City Cruises is for the tourists. But hey-ho, I am here now so I will give them a go. I can always jump overboard and drown myself if it gets too much.
I'm a bit paranoid when it comes to boats. When I get on a plane I like to look out of the window to make sure that both of its wings are securely fastened on and there aren't any screws loose, etc., and when I get on a boat I like to give it a quick once over to make sure that it hasn't got any holes in it. This makes perfect sense, I think, and I am surprised that more people don't do it to. But of course you can't look underneath, can you. And when was the last time you saw them send out a diver to check for leaks underneath? -- never. I have never seen them do that. And where's my life jacket? (It's not under the seat.) Where's my whistle? (I will need that.) What happens if we capsize -- is it women and children first, or is it me first, and then everyone else after? I need to know the answer to all of these questions before I feel safe.
It's quite nice sitting here on the boat waiting for it to begin. It's got a nice seaside feeling to it. There's a fresh sea-salt smell in the air and the sound of seagulls wheeling around the back -- brown water chopping up against the side of the boat as we pull away from the pier.
You do get a little commentary with City Cruises but it's not up to much. They point out all the obvious sights, but you'd have to be blind as a bat to miss those. They seem to be recycling the same old jokes as the TRS boat, so they've obviously been spying on their gags. (I had a live guide on the way out, and a recorded one coming back.) If you start at Westminster then you'll have Big Ben behind you and the London Eye on the other side. Once you've passed under the first bridge you'll have Cleopatra's Needle and the Royal Festival Hall.
When you pull level with Tate Modern and the Globe you'll have a semi-decent shot of St. Paul's on the left. It doesn't look very tall when you're passing on the river, but trust me -- when you're up there you'll be having panic attacks. I can just about see some people walking around the highest dome, probably gripping tight to the railings as the wind buffets them around and bashes them against the side of the wall. They'll be clinging on for dear life. They climbed five thousand steps to get up there.
After that comes London Bridge and The Shard. Keep your peepers peeled for the replica of Francis Drake's Golden Hinde in a dry dock, and Southwark Cathedral hiding amongst the buildings behind (I will give you bonus points if you manage to recognise that). If you look to the left straight after London Bridge then you'll catch the golden urn at the top of The Monument, which is close to the spot where the Great Fire of London broke out.
You'll have a nice view of the City skyscrapers here (the Walkie Scorchie, Cheesegrater and Gherkin), before floating past HMS Belfast and City Hall. When you pull up alongside the Tower of London keep your eyes open for Traitor's Gate. The entrance has been bricked up now but you can still see the arch marked out in black where they rowed the poor prisoners inside.
The boat will stop for a short while here and you can take a few pictures of Tower Bridge whilst you're waiting for the tourists hordes to disembark. You'll have a good five minutes to look back down the river at HMS Belfast and The Shard -- it's like having a ringside seat in the centre of the Thames.
We seem to have picked up a new passenger... a seagull has spent the last two minutes buzzing our heads in search of somewhere to sit, and finally rested his legs on the railing. He has become the star of the show all of a sudden. Forget the landmarks. Forget the thousand-year-old Tower of London to our left -- everyone is gathering around to get a snap of the mangy old bird. At least he's not asking for money, I suppose. He hasn't got a wife and six kids to feed. All he wants is a fish. But all I've got is a packet of Polos -- sorry mate.
When the boat starts up again it passes straight under the centre of Tower Bridge before heading upstream towards Canary Wharf and Greenwich. This is where the sights will dry up and you can just sit back and enjoy the cold and windy river. You really do feel like you're on a boat out here because the guide shuts up and leaves you alone. The only noise is coming from the wind as it slaps you round the face. It makes your cheeks solid like an ice lolly, and you get sheets of spray coming over the side of the boat as the muddy water bangs and slaps up against the bow. They finally let the engine have a bit of fun out here, and I can feel the vibrations passing up my elbows and into my chin as I lean upon the rail. Apparently that's how Beethoven used to write his music after he went deaf -- he stuck a bit of wood in his mouth so he could feel the piano's vibrations pass into his teeth (I read that in The Beano so it must be true). I can't hear any music though. No sea shanties. This boat don't know any tunes.
There are a couple of places worth seeking out before you reach Canary Wharf. On the right you can try and spy a little pub called The Mayflower (it's quite difficult to spot unless he points it out). This is where the Pilgrim Fathers set out for America. There's another pub on the left called the Captain Kidd. It was around here that the famous pirate was hanged on the beach, although he actually died a little further upstream, in Execution Dock.
I always like the bend of the river that comes up next, around the front of Canary Wharf. The view of the skyscrapers as you're floating past the pier is one of my favourite shots in London. It's a bit too sunny today though... you really need a fierce wind blowing and tears in your eyes and a bruised sky to get the best effect. It needs to be late afternoon so you get some of the office lights lit up. (My favourite-ever view is approaching Tower Bridge from the other direction -- which you will see on the way back.) It's hard to believe that Canary Wharf had the tallest building in London because it looks like a midget these days. If you look past the crap flats on the right, back over your shoulder towards where you came from, you'll see The Shard in the far distance -- that's a proper skyscraper. One that's too high for the sky.
The final stop will see you pulling into Greenwich, right in front of Christopher Wren's Naval College and the tall masts of the Cutty Sark. If you stare through the masts of the Cutty Sark into the trees beyond, then you'll see the Royal Observatory perched on top of a distant hill.
I never knew this before... but if you disembark the boat and walk along the riverfront past the Cutty Sark, and past that big brown brick circular building (the entrance to the Greenwich Tunnel), then you can see all the way back to Westminster. There is one particular spot that you can stand and see the London Eye, BT Tower, Gherkin, St. Paul's, Canary Wharf and The Shard. That's quite a wide view considering you are still at ground level!
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