Queen Mary’s Rose Gardens and Primrose Hill

As you exit Oxford Circus Station and step into the street, there are four ways you can go. Heading west will take you up Oxford Street to Marble Arch, while heading east will take you down the other half of Oxford Street to Tottenham Court Road. You can also turn into Regent Street and head south, past Liberty’s, Hamley’s and the entrance to Carnaby Street towards Picadilly Circus.

Or else, you could just head up north in the direction of the BBC building. Keep on going until eventually you will stumble upon a very small enclosed park, which is known as the crescent and which houses, among other things, the entrance to Regent’s Park tube station. Keep heading north. Cross the road and you will find yourself at the entrance to the much larger Regent’s Park.

Queen Mary’s Rose Garden is located in the middle of Regent’s Park. The entrance is quite unspectacular, but if you go there when the flowers are in bloom, the delicate scent of the roses is quite dazzling the moment you step into the garden. Inside the garden it’s easy to forget that you’re actually still in London, one of the busiest cities in Europe. It’s peaceful and quiet and there are plenty of benches to sit and take in the sights and the smells of your surroundings.

Eventually, if you keep heading north you will arrive at the entrance to London Zoo and the exit from the park. Exit Regent’s Park and then turn east to walk along the canal, until eventually you will emerge in Camden Town near the old Camden Lock.

By this time, you may be feeling hungry. As some of you may know, I have a bit of a thing about Indian food. And fortunately for me, there is a Masala Zone in Camden that also opens for lunch. Without fail, I always have the Grand Thali…

On Camden High Street keep heading in a northwesterly direction towards Chalk Farm tube station. Turn left into a narrow lane that will eventually take you up on a foot bridge across the railway lines. Cross the bridge and keep walking until eventually you reach another vast green area – and that is Primrose Hill.

Primrose Hill is not a natural formation. The mound is man-made and was created when the engineers of London started excavating to build the tube. The rubble they dug out of the ground was eventually dumped in the same place and eventually created the hill.

From up top you have a brilliant view of the London sky line. In the summer is a nice spot to just sit and watch the city.

Concorde

Surely, you didn’t think I would write a piece about British airliners and not mention Concorde. That would be, in a word, sacrilegious.

Sadly, I am too young to have had the opportunity to fly Concorde. But at least I do remember seeing her in Heathrow on occasion. One time, I wasn’t even five yet, because we still lived in Malta, we were on our way back home on one of Air Malta’s Boeing B 720s. And anyone who has ever been in a Boeing 720 with the engines on knows that it’s certainly not a quiet aircraft. In any case, I sat glued to the window as we approached the threshold, because Concorde was taxiing out ahead of us and I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t miss her departure. Little did I know that there was absolutely no way anyone at the airport was going to miss Concorde making her grand exit.

I could just about see her from my seat, standing on the runway in front of us, lined up and waiting for her clearance. And then the blue flames lit up as the afterburners were ignited and the thunderous roar of her four engines caused everything in our rickety old B 720 to start vibrating. I could even feel the roar deep down in my ribcage. It was magnificent…

Many years later, 34 to be exact, I met a man through the univesity where I work who usually lectures at Bristol University. He came to Switzerland to give a guest lecture. And seeing as the topic was Concorde, I figured the students probably wouldn’t mind me tagging along too.

What I remember about that meeting eight years ago, is that I’m quite sure the whole room heard the loud bang caused by my jaw dropping to the floor the first time our visitor from Bristol commented, in passing really, that ‘… at least that’s what it was like when we were designing Concorde…’.

Really? I mean… really? Like, Concorde? Standing before me was a very polished, well-mannered and very funny, humble gentleman who had actually been on the design team of Concorde! Our first meeting after the lecture did not go very well, because in my excitement at meeting him, the very first thing I did was ask him if I could touch him, as though to make sure he were real. Oh Lord, did I just say that out loud…? Fortunately, the gentlemen obviously knew a geek when he saw one and kindly extended his hand to me in greeting.

But I digress. In total, including the prototypes, 20 frames were built. The fleet was rather unceremoniously withdrawn from service following the tragic crash at Paris Roissy airport in 2000. But 18 have been preserved and are more or less accessible, or at least visible, to the public:

  • 001: F-WTSS Musée de L’Air et de L’Espace, Paris Le Bourget Airport
  • 002: G-BSST Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton
  • 101: G-AXDN Imperial War Museum, Duxford
  • 102: F-WTSA Musée Delta, Paris Orly Airport
  • 201: F-WTSB Airbus Plant, Toulouse Airport
  • 202: G-BBDG Broolandy Museum, Weybridge
  • 203: F-BTSC destroyed in a crash in Paris Roissy in 2000
  • 204: G-BOAC Manchster Airport
  • 205: F-BVFA Smithsonian National Air and Space Musem, Washinton DC
  • 206: G-BOAA Museum of Flight, East Lothian
  • 207: F-BVFB Auto und Technik Museum, Sinsheim
  • 208: G-BOAB Near the threshold of runway 27L, Heathrow Airport
  • 209: F-BVFC Airbus Plant, Toulouse Airport
  • 210: G-BOAD Intrepid Museum, New York NY
  • 211: F-BVFD Scrapped in 1994 after being parted out for spare parts
  • 212: G-BOAE Grandley Adams Airport, Bridgetown
  • 213: F-BTSD Musée de L’Air et de L’Espace, Paris Le Bourget Airport
  • 214: G-BOAG Museum of Flight, Seattle WA
  • 215: F-BVFF Roissy Airport, Paris Roissy Airport
  • 216: G-BOAF Aerospace Bristol, Bristol

And yes, because I just am such a geek, bold marks the ones I’ve already seen. The others will have to wait. But my time will come…

IWM Duxford

The frame on display at the IWM in Duxford is one of the prototypes and it’s still in the layout it was during flight testing. You can go inside and one of the friendly guides will show you around.

The Intrepid Museum

The frame at the Intrepid Museum is also accessible with a tour guide. They’re usually not all the knowledgeable, but that’s okay if it means being allowed inside Concorde.

The British Airliner Collection at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford

The start of World War II meant the abrupt end to the once proud British aircraft building industry. In the wake of cessation of hostilities and the capitulation of Germany, the British naively believed that they could more or less pick up where they had left off. Little did they realise that by then the Americans had already widened the gap, technologically at least, that would make it near impossible for the British ever to catch up.

In any case, after the war Winston Churchill set up the Brabazon committee, the aim of which was to explore the needs of the British aviation industry for it to be best prepared to meet the needs of the British Empire. Which was probably the second mistake, because by then the cracks were already beginning to show that would eventually lead to the Empire collapsing under the heavy burden of the costs necessary to maintain it on the one hand, and the awakening urge for independence by the former collonies and dominions.

The Brabazon committee gets its name from the first Baron Brabazon of Tara. The committee came up with a list of five types of aircraft that would be needed in future. The list was later extend to seven to include sub-types and categories of aircraft.

Tragically, it is probably safe to say that every one of the aircraft proposed by the Brabazon committee, perhaps with the exception of the Vickers Viscount, was a commercial failure. And some of the aircraft, like the Bristol Brabazon, never even entered into service.

Fortunately, some of the aircraft the were built as the result of the Brabazon committee’s requirements are still perfectly preserved today in the IWM Duxford near Cambridge.

Type IIa – The Airspeed Ambassador

Type IIa described a medium-range piston engine aircraft intended as a replacement for the Douglas DC-3. The Airpseed Ambassador is often referred to as the Elizabethan, as British European Airways introduced its Elizabethan European Service with this aircraft.

The Elizabethan had a capacity for sixty passengers. Only 23 of the aircraft were built, of which BEA had ordered 20 and that operated with the carrier for six years between 1952 and 1958. They found a second home with charter operator Dan Air.

Type IIb – The Vickers Viscount

Type IIb described a medium-range turboprop aircraft with a pressurized cabin that was intended to serve not so busy short- and medium-range destinations.

The Viscount proved quite a success. It had a seating capacity of 75 and a total of 445 of the aircraft were built in different variants. Perhaps what makes the Vickers Viscount quite unique among the airliners of the Brabazon committee, is that it was the only one to be operated by a US American operator. The last operational Viscount was not withdrawn from service until 2009.

Type IV – The De Havilland Comet

Type IV described a highspeed jet engine passenger jet.

The De Havilland Comet is probably the most famous post-War British aircraft design – for a number of reasons. When the Comet entered into service in May 1952, it caused a sensation as the world’s first commercial passenger jet. At the time, the British had every reasons to be confident about their design. After all, the only competitor for the Comet at the time, the American Boeing B 707, was still years away from its maiden flight and the first year of operations with the Comet suggested that it might even be possible to operate a commercially viable service with the type, despite the limited seating capacity of only 36 seats in the configuration of its launch customer BOAC.

But then of course, tragedy occurred and in fairly short sequence two aircraft literally fell out of the sky. Eventually it was determined that the aircraft had broken apart in mid-air as the result of structural fatigue caused by repeated cyles of pressurization and depressurization as the aircraft climbed and descended. Eventually, the manufacturer had no other option but to withdraw the aircraft from service until a solution could be found – which eventually meant, among other things, redesigning the windows from square to round to more evenly distribute the stress to the window frame.

The Comet was the first of its kind and De Havilland paid dearly for that. Its competitors were mindful to avoid the many mistakes that were made with the design of the Comet, and were able to benefit from the ground breaking advanced that were made by the British. For the Comet though, it was too late. By the time it had re-entered into service, the public’s and the operators’ confidence in the type was gone and the Americans had made significant progress on their own design, which would later evolve into the Boeing B 707.

Only 114 De Havilland Comets were built.

The Bristol Britannia

The Bristol Britannia was an elegant turboprop airliner that probably never should have been built – even though it proved popular with passengers and operators. Its design was marred by two hull losses during the trialling phase, which subsequently lead to significant delays in its development. Eventually, by the time the Bristol Britannia entered into service with BOAC in 1957, it was already too late, because the Boeing B 707 was looming on the horizon. The Boeing B 707 outclassed the Britannia on most counts: it has a greater seating capacity and it was significantly faster.

But the Briannia certainly was pretty. Probably its most recognisable feature were its four powerful Bristol Proteus engines with their four large propeller blades – which were commonly referred to as the Bristol Spinners. The phrase was later used as a British slang term for large breasts, although I think that’s probably no longer in fashion in the age of political correctness.

The Hawker Siddley Trident

The Trident was the result of a call that was made by British European Airways for a jet airliner to serve its European network. The Trident’s claim to fame is that it became the first aircraft to do a fully automatic landing in bad visibility in revenue service. Perhaps its most unique feature though, was the nose wheel, which was offset to the left and after take-off would retract sideways to the right into its gear well and not forward, as most airliners do.

The Trident’s main issue was that it was developed around the same time as the American Boeing B 727. By then, Boeing had pretty much corrnered the market for passenger jets, following the success of the Boeing B 707. And in fact, the Trident entered into service in 1964, only two months behind its rival, the Boeing B 727.

BEA was the main operator for the type, with 24 aircraft being delivered to them. Subsequently, 20 were inherited by British Airways when BEA and BOAC merged. In total only 117 of the Trident were built. By comparison, 1832 Boeing B 727s were built, making it the most successful passenger jet until the B 737 came along.

The Vickers VC-10

And now, finally, we turn to the VC-10, which is, hand down, the most beautiful and elegant airliner ever built. I think. Technically, the VC-10 was quite a marvel. It was designed to operate long-range services with good hot and high performance characteristics for operations to and from Africa. In 1979 the VC-10 broke the speed record for the fastest transatlantic crossing of a subsonic aircraft, with a flight time of only five hours and one minute. It held that record until 2020, when a Boeing B 747 undercut it by five minutes.

Only 54 VC-10s were ever built, 29 of which went to BOAC. There are many reasons why the VC-10 failed, even though it was very popular with the crews and the passengers. For one, the Americans did everything they could to prevent it from becoming a success. For another, Vickers was already having serious financial issues by that time. But probably its biggest flaw was that it had been built too close to the specification of only one customer – BOAC. As such, many of the aircraft’s performance characteristics were of no real interest for many other operators.

But she was so, so elegant…!

Växholm

When I was a child, Ferien auf Saltkrokan, or Seacrow Island in English, was one of my favourite books by Astrid Lindgren. I have no idea how many times I read that book! Essentially, the story follows the adventures of four siblings on summer vacation on Seacrow Island with their slightly clumsy but kind and good hearted father. For me as a child the characters were so real that I often wondered what it would be like to visit the island and meet them in person.

Seacrow Island does not really exist, of course. Astrid Lindgren made it up. But the island of Växholm in the Stockholm archipelago comes pretty close to what I always imagined Astrid Lindgren’s island might look like.

And if you need a rest from ambling through the quiet streets of Växholm, I can highly recommend the Växholms Hembygdsgard Café, which has an extensive selection of truly delectable creamy cakes.

When I was there, the place was quite busy. But it was still nice to sit down by the water, listening to the birds chirping and eating a gorgeous creamy cake.

La Hummuseria, Madrid

La Hummuseria is a vegetarian restaurant in the very heart of old Madrid. If you’re not paying attention, it may well happen that you end up passing the restaurant without even noticing, because it sits right above the entrance to an undergorund carpark.

The decor of the restaurant is hard to describe. It’s an uncoordinated mix of different styles and pieces of furniture that have been thrown together haphazardly. But the decor is not why you should visit this place.

The cuisine has a decidedly mediterranean flavour and is an interesting mix of middle eastern mezze and Spanish tapas. As such, if you’re visiting as a pair or with a group, it would probably make sense to order a selection from the menu. The staff are all very friendly and will certainly be able to lend a hand if you get stuck for choice.

It’s probably best if you plan ahead and make a reservation way, way in advance. But it’s certainly worth it!

Lelystad, The Netherlands

If you’re a bit of an aviation geek or a kid that never really grew up, you should seriously consider a visit to Lelystad airport in the Netherlands and the Aviodrom museum. It really is brilliant!

First of all, the number of exhibits is quite impressive and includes legends like the Boeing B 747-300, the Fokker 100, a DC-4, a DC-3 and a Lockheed Constellation, to name but a few. Admittedly, some of the aircraft are not in such good shape anymore, exposed as they are to the harsh and not always very pleasant Dutch climate. But even so, it’s still a pretty awesome experience to stand under a 747 and give him a belly rub! You can even enter the aircraft to catch a glimpse of what the cabin used to look like in the old days.

Mount Pilatus, Switzerland

Without a doubt Mount Pilatus is one of Switzerland’s top tourist attractions. And rightly so! Perched on the shores of Lake Lucerne, the view from the top of Pilatus is simply stunning and on good days you can even see as far as Zürich.

To reach Pilatus, I take the bus line 71 from Lucerne main station to Kriens. The journey takes about ten minutes. And then from there it’s about a ten minutes walk to the station of the Pilatus Bahnen. The journey by cable car will take about 40 minutes to complete and includes changing cable cars more or less halfway up the mountain.

If you’re the nervous type or just not comfortable in vehicles that hang precariously hundreds of metres above the ground, then perhaps you should be warned: it can get quite windy at the summit, so very often the cable car cabin will have to break abruptly just before entering the station at the summit and for the wind to abate and the cabin to stop swinging from side to side…

Once you reach the top at Pilatus Kulm, the place is crawling with tourists – predominantly of the German and Chinese variety. You can’t really blame them because the vistas really are superb!

If you want to escape the crowds, probably the best thing to do is spend a night or two at one of the two hotels. The last departures from Pilatus Kulm are at around 17h45, when the place quietens again and you have the mountain to yourself.

There are two hotels on Pilatus Kulm, the Bellevue and the Hotel Pilatus Kulm. The latter is the older of the two, but is well taken care of. The rooms are spacious and all rooms face the same way, so you’re guaranteed and perfect view of the Alps.

The next morning I decide to take the cogwheel railway from Pilatus Kulm down to Alpnachstad, which is right on the lake. Apparently, the Pilatus railway holds the world record for the cogwheel railway with the steepest gradient. It’s a nice journey down and will take you about forty minutes to complete. Usually the ticket you purchase is valid for both the railway and the cable car.

At Alpnachstad is only a short walk under the autobahn and the railway lines to the pier for the steamboat to Lucerne. Of course, this being Switzerland, the departures of the boat are coordinated with the arrivals of the trains coming down from Pilatus.

The journey from Alpnachstad to Lucerne will take 75 minutes to complete.

Ljubljana

Ljubljana is a very nice and elegantly laid out city. In the evenings it’s just lovely to take a stroll through the old town and down to the river, the banks of which are lined with busy bars, cafés and restaurants.

Nonetheless, and you can call me biased if you like, the city’s main attraction lies outside the city at the airport: just in front of the offices of the Slovenian ANSP you will find this DC-6. Apparently, the aircraft was in service with Adria Airways for ten years, from 1962 to 1972. Once it was decommissioned, the aircraft was towed to its original spot and put on display where they later built the airport’s new parking. It was subsequently moved to its current location. Until very recently it was not clear who in fact owned the aircraft. As a result, this gorgeous veteran is in dire need of some TLC. Even so, I think she’s in pretty good shape for her age and it’s brilliant to be able to come up so close to such a grand old aircraft that, sadly, I am too young to ever have seen flying in real live.

Mamà Framboise, Madrid

Mamà Framboise is a confiserie and patisserie with various shops scattered around Madrid. I visited the one in the Recoleto quarter of the city, which is located on the ground floor of a mall just off the surprisingly named Plaza Margaret Thatcher (Say what?)

The service concept is a bit strange, mainly because the staff are all too busy to explain properly. But it’s still worth it. First you have to wait to be assigned a table by one of the waiting staff. Once you have a table, you can then go back to the entrance and queue at the counter to place your order and pay. The food will then be brought to your table. The queues can be rather long, but they tend to move quickly. Besides, the delicacies they serve are, in my humble opinion, well worth the wait.

I went with the Tiramisù and the Blueberry Cheesecake, both of which were sinfully good and oh so tasty. The cheesecake was filled with fresh blueberries and the combination of coffee and chocolate in the Tiramisù was heavenly.

IMG_0028

My partner went with the Chocolate Sacher and Caramel, both of which were also very good.

IMG_0029.JPG

www.mamaframboise.com

Segovia, Spain

Segovia lies about 70 kilometres north of Madrid. To reach the town by train, you have to catch a RENFE mid-haul train from Chamartin, which is the main station for all trains heading north from the Spanish capital. The journey to Segovia only takes 27 minutes, with the train travelling at an impressive top speed of 250 km/h for most of the journey. The railway station of Segovia is literally out in the sticks though. You exit the station building to find cows grazing in the fields opposite.

IMG_0001.jpg

To get into town you can either take the bus lines 11 and 12 or you can take a taxi. The journey takes between 10 and 15 minutes by bus. The bus services are infrequent, but they are timed to coincide with the arrivals and departures of the trains. So it’s best to check for trains back to the station once you arrive at the city centre.

The centrepiece of Segovia is the Roman aqueduct that is believed to have been constructed in 98 A. D. Apart from its impressive length and height, the amazing thing about the aqueduct is that the building blocks are held together by precision and weight only. There is no mortar or anything of the sort to keep them in place.

Other than that, there is the Alcazar, which lies on the opposite side of the city from the aqueduct. The castle is rather strange because it does not really fit in, architecturally, with the rest of the buildings in the town and looks more like a French château, and not like something you would expect to find in Spain.

IMG_0018.jpg
IMG_0019.jpg
IMG_0022.jpg

For EUR2.50 you can go up the tower of the Alcazar. I can highly recommend doing this. It’s only 156 steps and from the top you have these amazing views of the surrounding countryside and those big skies you rarely get to see in a place as mountainous and densely populated as Sitzerland, where I live.

IMG_0024.jpg

I had three hours to walk around and explore the old town, which I really enjoyed. If you can make it, I would definitely recommend a visit to Segovia.