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London from the air

By Wang Zhenghua ( Shanghai Star ) Updated: 2014-12-07 07:00:00

London from the air

A sleepless London as viewed from the Shangri-La Hotel, At The Shard, London. [Photo provided to Shanghai Star]

With its long history, modern architecture and vibrant food and beverage scene, Britain's capital has something for everyone. Wang Zhenghua soaks it all in.

My first morning in London started with staring out the floor to ceiling windows in my hotel room - the River Thames flowing serenely down below.

It was an impressive view, taking in many of the city's diverse offerings, from its historic roots to its contemporary skyscrapers. The Thames flows serenely past London Bridge, and Tower Bridge, the same structure David Beckham sped on his way to deliver the Olympic torch to the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics.

Other remarkable landmarks marking the skyline include St Paul's Cathedral, The Tower of London, the Leadenhall Building, which is nicknamed "the cheesegrater", and the London Eye in the far west.

I was staying in a room on the 44th-floor of Shangri-La Hotel at the Shard, the tallest building in the European Union.

Designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano - who originally compared it to a broken shard of glass, the 309.6-meter pyramidal tower has 72 habitable floors, housing the hotel, apartments, restaurants and office space.

Critics suggest it is an elevated eyesore and a blot on the landscape, arguing it is an arrogant landmark that taints the visual integrity of a great city.

But whether liked or loathed, the slender building, opened to the public in February, offers an awe-inspiring 360-degree panoramic view over the British capital from a viewing gallery and open-air observation deck on the 72nd floor.

From there, the way the Thames zigzags through the southern part of London becomes even clearer.

The 244-meter viewing deck is popular among tourists, and most of them are Western faces. Asians, like tourists from Shanghai, may be already inured to skyscrapers in their cities or countries.

As we admired London's skyline and were busy taking pictures, helicopters hovered at almost the same height outside the building. I was told they were doing filming, not conducting security.

In the afternoon, a gigantic rainbow stretched across the Thames as we sipped afternoon tea and looked out the hotel's 35-floor lounge, which felt like something from a fairy tale.

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