Opened to the public on the 1st of February 2013, and designed by the architect Renzo Piano, the 'Shard' is officially Europe Union’s tallest building standing at 1,016 ft (309.6 meters). The Shard contains premium office space, a hotel (The Shangri-La London at the Shard will open in 2013), luxury residences, retail space, restaurants, and a five-storey public viewing gallery. The public viewing gallery is located between the 68th and 72nd floors, with its highest section at a height of 245 metres (804 ft). The Shard's observation floors, unlike most other high rise global landmarks, does not have a fancy restaurant, or a cafe. The cost of entrance to the Shard viewing gallery is £24.95 per head. Now, while this may sound expensive just to go to the top of a building and see the city, in fact the price is competitive (and somewhat acceptable) when compared to other similar global landmarks.
To put things into prospective the entrance fee for the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai is set at 100 AED (about £20) if you book in advance, and 400 AED (around £70!) if you pay at the door on the day. Well, OK, that’s the tallest building in the world I hear you say, and we are only talking about the tallest building in the EU (not even in Europe….that title goes to the Mercury City Tower in Moscow). Nevertheless, as with any new establishment, the price is going to be a bit high in the beginning so that the holding company can try to break-even, and eventually in time we hope that the entrance fee would go down (it’s been proven with the CN Tower, Petronas Towers (Malaysia) and many others). Thankfully the views are, as one would expect, priceless.
The flight from Belfast to London Heathrow only takes around 40 minutes (or a bit more thanks to the heavy traffic jam over London). In our case it took about an hour and 10 minutes as we had to hold in a stack over Bovingdon (North-West London).
At this time of the year England is experiencing easterly prevailing winds, which means that the easterly runways at Heathrow are used (09L/09R), and planes have to go over Slough/Windsor to land instead of the usual London approach. However the gods must have been looking from above as the winds changed in the late afternoon of my flight.
The flight-path was straight forward from Belfast towards Isle of Man, then over Blackpool, Birmingham, East Midlands, and down to Bovingdon, and into London Heathrow from over Central London. This enabled some amazing shots of a few landmarks to be taken as we landed on the westerly runway (runway 27 right). Though a bit blurry (not easy to get night shots from a plane, especially when you have a double glazed window in between!), the shots do provide an insight into the neon being spent at night in UK cities.
No matter how many times I look at it, it just looks magical every time. While Ireland and the United Kingdom prepares to get ready for another night, the view of the stunning sunset in the Southern Hemisphere is one to die for. Taken en-route from Belfast to London Heathrow at around 28,000 feet.
Belfast is going through a fantastic time right now. With only less than an hour's flight from London, the city has a lot of things to do and see (Titanic was built here!). The weather is somewhat chilly but tourists (mostly North Americans, Australians, along with a handful of Chinese and Japanese) – are coming back in droves. Interestingly enough, despite it’s previous ‘freedom fighting’ image in the worldwide media, Belfast is officially classed as the 2nd safest city in the WORLD by the United Nations (after Tokyo). There had been some protests (about flags) a few weeks before I arrived, but nothing of the serious nature to what the city has seen in the past. There was a sense of normality on the streets, and it was just like being in any other city in Europe.
Most people don't seem to understand that the fighting that used to be common in the city has thankfully seen its worst days over. Even at the famed Europa Hotel in the city centre, where I stayed, one could not feel or see a single whisker in sight that this place was at one time in history the most attacked hotel in the whole of Europe. Perhaps quite reassuring was that even former US President Clinton stayed here, to which they have renamed one of the suite as the Clinton Suite.
People in these tough economic times would also be glad to know that the city in fact has the lowest cost of living in the United Kingdom. The city is also home to the famed Queen’s University Belfast, which is attracting inward investment through becoming a beehive for students from the Far-East, and South-Asia.
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