women and children first

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england on the up

This is the summer Great Britain stakes its place on top of the world. Buoyed by the 2012 Olympic Games, homegrown architects and designers – already recognized for thinking big – have taken the sky as their limit with vertigo-inducing  success. In celebration of all things great and not-so-small, here’s a look at a handful of the country’s newest gold medal views.

Emirates Air Line, London (164+ feet tall), Opened June 28. London Mayor Boris Johnson fulfilled his pledge to build the UK’s first urban cable car with the opening of Emirates Air Line – get it?. The three-quarter mile long river crossing, stretches between Greenwich and the Royal Docks in East London and has the capacity to carry up to 2,500 people per hour in each direction – the equivalent of almost 30 buses. For a “360 degree tour,” there’s an option to make it a non-stop journey.

The Shard, London, (1,016 feet tall), Opening February 2013. The View from the Shard is already one of the capital’s most sought after visitor attractions – and it doesn’t even open until next year! Expect high-speed lifts to transport the public to a dizzying viewing platform, where views promise to extend for an amazing 40 miles across the city. At 1,016 feet high, it’s not only one of the most ambitious architectural endeavors in the UK, but also the tallest building in Europe. Luxury hotel group Shangri-La will launch a new hotel inside The Shard, also in 2013. Personally, I can’t wait to hear about the spa.

ArcelorMittal Orbit, Olympic Park, London (377 feet tall), Opened July 28. The ArcelorMittal Orbit rises over the Olympic park giving a funky new perspective to London from its freshly redeveloped home in the East End. The UK’s tallest sculpture to date, the swirling structure took 18 months to construct and required 1837 feet of tubular red steel to form the lattice superstructure. The result is a bold statement of public art that is both permanent and sustainable. Designed by Turner Prize-winning artist Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond and sitting between the Stadium and the Aquatics Centre, the ArcelorMittal Orbit has become quite literally a beacon of the Olympic Park during the Games, with 250 coloured spot lights individually controlled to produce a digital combination of static and animated effects – including a 15-minute moving light show each evening after the Games.

Up at the O2, London (174 feet tall), Opened June 21. This summer, Londoners are being given the opportunity to climb an icon with this ambitious new attraction combining an exhilarating active outdoor challenge with a completely different perspective on the capital. The 90-minute experience takes visitors on an uplifting guided expedition across the roof of The O2 via a tensile fabric walkway suspended 174 feet above ground level. An observation platform at the summit will enable climbers to take in outstanding 360 degree views of the city and its many landmarks, including the Olympic Park, Thames Barrier, The Shard, Historic Royal Greenwich and Canary Wharf, before descending back to base.

Weymouth SEA LIFE Tower, Dorset (174 feet tall), Opened June 22. Situated along one of England’s most scenic stretches of coastland, Weymouth Bay is also home to some of the country’s best sailing waters and will host the Olympic and Paralympic sailing competitions this summer. Soaring high above England’s first natural World Heritage Site the Weymouth SEA LIFE Tower rotates a full 360 degrees for spectacular view of the Jurassic coastline, Chesil Beach and the island of Portland.

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a whale of a tale

Reluctantly about to end my time mulling things over on Mull, I’m lined up for the ferry back to mainland Scotland and staring in wonder at the hydraulics involved: this must be how Jonah felt – if Jonah had a car, that is.

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howdy, pilgrim

If you think of Mull as being shaped like a boot – or more appropriately, an Ugg – Fionnphort would be the big toe. It’s here that you catch a quick ferry to the small island of Iona, where almost 1500 years ago St. Columba was sent into exile following a dispute with St. Finnian over a book. (At least it didn’t involve a woman) Columba went on to become one of the leading figures in the renewal of monasticism and it’s not hard to see why: he was deported from Ireland with just a few mates and sent to an uninhabited spit of rock three miles long by one mile wide. What else was there for a holy man to do except look inward? It seems an especially appropriate place to explore today as I publish my 1,000th blog post.

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let there be light

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on the great caledonian macbrayne

So long, Oban. At last I’m off to mull things over on Mull, one of the Inner Hebrides. For an island with only 3,0000 full-time residents, however, it warrants a quite impressive ferry. The journey to the port of Craignure is little over an hour, and on a clear, calm afternoon it’s the most pleasant of boat trips. It’s also a picturesque harbinger of what’s to come.

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this train for oban

The train from Glasgow to Oban, where I’ll eventually meet my friends and catch the ferry to Mull, is a two-carriage “dinky” which seems to hug the shore of every loch in its path through the Highlands. If there’s a journey that could be described as lilting, this is it. As mellifluous and rolling as the Scots accent, it’s a pleasantly relaxing two and a half hours. Thankfully Oban is the terminus of this particular train, leaving me free to nod off with impunity.

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beating a not-so hasty retreat

Flying in and out of Nevis was so much easier than anticipated – as well as a nice change of pace from my last arrival on the island, which included landing in St. Kitts and taking a ferry across the straits. Bonus points to Cape Air for launching the daily non-stop service from San Juan into Vance Armory airport. It meant not having to check out of Four Seasons Resort Nevis until 45 minutes before take-off. Even better: no lines at the airport. In fact, not only were there no lines but we were the only passengers on the only flight leaving that morning, which lent an air of glamour to the whole experience – as though flying private. A pretty perfect send-off, if you ask me. If I have to leave Nevis – and unfortunately, I do –  this is the only way to go.

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every day a parade

Twice-daily a boat arrives from the St. Kitts “mainland,” ferrying resort guests and provisions to the dock on Pinney’s Beach. Here at Four Seasons Resort Nevis even such quotidian occurrences are treated as cause for celebration. Colorfully-clad locals and the island’s best string band line the gangway in a scene straight out of Fantasy Island. As the sounds of jazz and bluegrass build to a crescendo the welcoming party unexpectedly transforms itself into a parade, dancing across beach and into the resort’s lobby. With a welcome like this, who needs Mardi Gras?

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macao, or i told you so

I had been told time and time again over the past week – by total strangers even – to avoid a planned side trip to Macao, the former Portuguese colony which returned to the fold of the Chinese motherland in 1999 as an autonomous Special Administrative Region similar to Hong Kong. Yet hearing it described variously as a hole, a pit, and a cesspool only made the prospect of a visit that much more tantalizing: if Macao was truly a vision out of Dante’s ninth circle, well, I needed to see the spectacle for myself. A speedy ferry from Kowloon or Hong Kong island made it a no-brainer for a day trip. Plus, the proliferation of big-time casinos clustered at the northern end of the peninsula means winners and losers can be shuttled back and forth through the night with all the ease of a taxi. If Macao was really that dreadful I could just up and leave. Well, surprise, despite the gluttonous display of wealth the casino end of town is a pit. Duh. (Was I expecting the Fremont Street experience?) But there’s history here, too, and a European-influenced heritage that I’m determined to see.

 

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when business class isn’t enough

Superclass: because what high roller wants to jet to Macao in mere business class? Or worse, coach!

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