Every year the World Travel Market is held at ExCel London in the heart of Docklands. It’s a mad, hectic whirlwind few days, showcasing virtually every country on the planet. It’s where the good, the bad and the travelling wilburys come together to share travel stories, tourism best practice, current and future trends, hot tips and ideas, do business, meet old friends, make new ones, see quirky sights (eg Brazilian dancers, giant Falklands Penguin, living Barbie Doll, Bengali musicians) and socialise the night away.
As you can see here, I love it, BUT it’s very tiring, so when it all gets too much, my advice is – take an hour out and fly away … To be precise, go out of the Custom House entrance, don’t turn right to the Fox Pub and DLR, but walk straight on past the dockyards on the left out towards the curvaceous Royal Victoria Emirates AirLine Terminal.
Within ten minutes of leaving the hurly burly you can be in one of the red and white gondolas, being gently rocked out and up into the sky, gliding slowly over the River Thames towards the Greenwich Penisula on London’s only cable car. The journey takes about 10 minutes and from a height of 90 metres the views are glorious.
The zigzag roof of ExCel London gets smaller as you float up, up and away. It’s almost silent with just a swooshing hiss and the occasional Health & Safety briefing from a woman seemingly trapped inside the metal framework â€¦ A sheet of sunlight flashes along the water, illuminating the yachts, ferries and fishingboatbobbing craft on Old Father Thames.
St Paul’s Cathedral stands out, protecting the City and the newly opened Shard thrusts its way towards the clouds. The white buildings of The Old Royal Naval College Greenwich are laid out in graceful proportions below and the Olympic Park is a reminder of our summer of glory. The famous dome of the O2 Arena has golden spikes arrogantly jutting into the air, reminiscent of those half grapefruits at parties in the 70s, covered in cocktail sticks – only someone’s forgotten to add the pineapple, cheese and tiny pearl onions. Framed in silhouette behind the O2 Arena are the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf. It’s an uplifting sensation to see London’s famous landmarks from this jaw-droppingly unique perspective.
From passing gondolas going the opposite way, people smile and wave, taking photos of each other, the cable cars and splendid panorama. Each gondola can take up to 10 passengers, which could possibly feel a bit crowded. When I went there was just one Chinese tourist and an Italian visitor to the WTM and the three of us enjoyed the journey in quiet delight. Drifting down towards the Greenwich Terminal a disembodied voice thanks you for flying with Emirates Airline and hopes you will join them again. You can either get off and nip over to the O2 Arena or stay on board and simply enjoy the ‘360 Sightseeing Tour’. Returning to ExCel you’ll hopefully feel refreshed and ready for whatever that quirky world has to offer.
A Standard Adult (what’s a standard adult?) Emirates AirLine return ticket is currently (Nov 2013) £8.60. I used my Oyster CArd and got a £2.20 discount. Latest prices here. It’s easy to get to. You can get a boat down the river from the centre of London and combine it with the AirLine or go by Docklands Light Railway (DLR) and get off at Royal Victoria, the stop before Custom House. Great value for a great escape.
A version of this article originally appeared in my Visit Britain blog.