James Bond was always one of my favourite heroes growing up. He had the brains, brawn, charisma and sex appeal. What kid wouldn't want to be an international spy? Well, this kid is now 27 and his chance to walk in the footsteps of 007 has finally arrived. London here I come!
Taking on a massive adventure such as this, the hardest decision is where to begin. London has so many ties to the Bond world it makes your head spin. Do I start with a high-speed boat ride along the River Thames, recreating that famous chase from The World Is Not Enough, or take the suave and sophisticated route with a martini (shaken, not stirred) at the legendary Dukes Hotel?
Join me as I follow in the footsteps of the world's favourite spy.
Part 1: Live like a spy
High speed boat ride on the Thames, London RIB Voyages
My heart races, hands are frozen. The boat pulls away from its dock beneath the London Eye, bobbing cautiously towards the centre of the Thames. Everyone is rugged up like it's going to snow at any minute, yet foolishly I've just brought a jacket and scarf. A familiar theme begins to play through the on-board speakers, snapping my thoughts from the bitter cold. It's time.
The engine roars into life, like a lion escaping from its cage - louder and louder until the rushing wind all but drowns it out. In the blink of an eye we pass the Tower of London, Cleopatra's Needle, and the Shard... so many sights whiz by as we race ever faster down the river. This sure beats walking.
My ears feel like blocks of ice attached to my head, teeth are chattering wildly. My thoughts switch to Bond, busting through the wall of the Secret Intelligence Service Building. Those explosions would have given off quite a bit of warmth... maybe that's what we need. I wish I'd packed my beanie.
The boat begins to slow. We pull up at the dock and I strip off the fleece jacket they lent me. The chill of the air is now a memory, as the adrenaline rush warms my bones. Making my way back to the shore, I'm feeling pumped and more ready than ever to tackle my next mission.Scale the roof of the O2 Arena, Up at the O2
Formerly known as the Millennium Dome, a symbol of Britain's gung ho approach to the 21st century, The O2 is one of London's major entertainment districts. Featured in The World Is Not Enough, it's the next port of call for my Bond inspired adventure - I'm going to climb over the roof! Sadly they won't let me arrive the same way that Bond did, crashing a hot air balloon into the side of the structure, so I have to compromise and use the regular entrance like everyone else.
Up at the O2 is a new attraction which lets you scale the roof of the massive arena. From outside the O2 resembles a large white marquee with twelve 100m-high yellow support towers and a thin blue stripe across the top. That blue stripe is actually the pathway we'll be taking across the building.
Once we got kitted up in our grey jump suits, and watched the cheesiest (in a good way) safety briefing video I've ever witnessed, we made our way to the launch platform. After a quick reminder not to jump on the ramp, which feels a bit like a trampoline, we set off for the steep climb.
The wind is whipping at our sides, causing the jumpsuits to flap like a yacht's sail. Pulling myself up the ramp, one hand after another, I eventually reach the top. The view is stunning. It doesn't feel as high as I was expecting, it seemed a lot more intimidating from the ground. Regardless of height, the view is a winner. Plaques around the outer edge highlight important city landmarks, and give visitors like me a sense of direction when we can't see Big Ben (or maybe that's just me).
Making my way down the other side of the dome, the trek feels like it's over in an instant. Has it really been 90 minutes since we set off? Looking back towards my fellow climbers, I can tell the great sense of achievement is mutual. Perhaps arriving on a balloon may have been a tad extreme.
50 years of Bond cars, Bond in Motion
To be an international spy, you need to have the right equipment to be effective in your job. That means fast cars built to handle whatever you can throw at them. You'd never see James Bond chasing down a villain like Scaramanga in a pink Nissan Micra, would you?
To mark the 50th anniversary of Bond, the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu is holding the largest official collection of original Bond vehicles anywhere in the world - from the legendary Aston Martin DB5 seen in Goldfinger right through to the Land Rover Defender 110 that featured in last year's Skyfall.
Wandering through exhibition and seeing cars such as the Lotus Esprit S1 (the underwater car featured in The Spy Who Loved Me) and the Citroën 2CV (the yellow getaway car from For Your Eyes Only), I had a geeky moment where I couldn't believe I was seeing the cars in the flesh. If you're a Bond fan like me, this is one exhibition you can't afford to miss.
The Bond in Motion exhibition runs til the 5th Jan 2014.
Bond bus tour, Brit Movie Tours
If you don't have time to visit the Bond related sights on your own, the next best thing is to climb on board the James Bond Bus Tour of London. Operated by Brit Movie Tours, the tour takes in many of the London filming locations featured in Bond over the years, as well as spy movie sites from films with Harry Palmer, Austin Powers and Johnny English. See the website for dates.
If You Go
Getting There - British Airways operates daily services from Sydney to London via Singapore. Club World seats are a great option for the long distance, allowing you to get a bit of sleep on the way. If you're the type of person who can't sleep, there's a good selection of movies, TV shows and games to entertain you.More info on British Airways - www.britishairways.com
More info on Britain - www.visitbritain.com
-The writer travelled as a guest of British Airways.
About Chris Ashton
Chris Ashton is a curious traveller always on the lookout for the new, bizarre and unusual. A fan of exploring ancient ruins, diving with sharks and getting lost in city streets, he believes travel expands your horizons and helps shape the person you want to become.Twitter: @chrisjashton
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