|Donny Osmond on screen as he performed at Caesars Palace|
IT felt more like looking down on Lilliput than London as I gazed in awe from the top of The Shard.
The big train set below was, in fact, part of the busy commuter network while previous highest points of the London Eye and Monument resembled a hamster's wheel and a toothpick. As for the people at ground level, they were mere dots. Western Europe's tallest building really is a glass above the rest.
You could only get higher views than this if you were craning your neck from the window of a passing plane on a clear day.
I was born on one of the highest points in the capital so, naturally, I couldn't resist the opportunity to explore when the public area opened.
But unlike Dr Who I opted to take the lift rather than scale the outside on a Triumph motorbike. First off, you pose for the obligatory virtual photo which superimposes you outside. You are then zoomed up to the restaurant level in a kaleidoscope lift before switching to a second chute. There are two viewing levels three floors apart.
Heavens above...looking up to the very top of The Shard
The lower stage at Level 68 is totally enclosed while at the open top Level 72 you can stare up to the summit of the 308m structure and the heavens beyond.
I used to think that the London Eye, at a mere 135m, was amazing views but this is incredible. The viewing area is at 244m and you can see for 64km.
Even the bathroom has a window - a loo with a fantastic view.
On a good day, you can see Windsor Castle to the west of London in Berkshire. It's great fun picking out your favourite landmarks.
And, yes, just to the left of the Dome, I can just about see The Valley home of my beloved Charlton Athletic but couldn't find the goals..cue football gag.
You can also scour around the metropolis with the hi-tech telescopes that display tags for the landmarks and allow you to zoom in and click on information. There are lots of them and they are free to use - so you normally don't have to queue and scramble around for change.
Long way down...how London looks from the top of The Shard
Talking of avoiding queues, I got my entry tickets through online ticketing site www.365tickets.co.uk. Prices were the same as on the door but I was able to print off the tickets at home so didn't have to worry about collection.
At the upper level, you get a sense of the elements outside. I decided to chance my arm and, seeing more steps tried to go even higher but a guide intervened stating: "Sorry sir, that is for maintenance area only." I wondered what needed to be maintained up here. "Window cleaners. Some use the cradle, others attach themselves to ropes," came the reply.
Heights don't really bother me but my stomach churned as I looked straight down at pavement level and imagined what it must be like to be dangling on a cord out there with just a cloth, sponge and wiper in your hand.
French Spiderman Alain Robert, who has scaled the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State Building, would love to add The Shard to his repertoire of 132 daring climbs, but he has been banned. What would he cling to with all that glass?
Back on the ground at my hotel, I was closely inspecting glass of a different variety as I sipped on a champagne mojito at the 5-star Plaza on the River.
The softly-lit bar area has a calming Sixties feel to it as you relax over a drink or two. Up in my suite, I was admiring the views of London again - this time from my balcony overlooking the Thames. To my right stood the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Bridge and, beyond, the London Eye - this time a lot bigger and a huge coloured ring at night.
London night light...the capital from my balcony at the Plaza on the River
To my left lie the swanky areas of Chelsea and Kensington. The hotel is in a great location on the Albert Embankment with Vauxhall Tube station just a few minutes walk away. The great thing about the suites is that you are effectively renting a luxury flat. They come with up to three bedrooms - so you can have a holiday home for the family with the world's most exciting city on your doorstep.
If you want to chill out indoors, there are TVs in the lounge and bedroom, a DVD player and free wi-fi. There is also a fitness suite and in-room spa treatments while downstairs you can dine at the Chino Latino brasserie - a Pan-Asian restaurant.
And for couples seeking a romantic getaway, you can order the intimacy kit for £15 (€18). I was staying there alone so didn't want to raise eyebrows by ordering one.
But, if I find out what's inside, I'll let you know.
Tickets to the Shard start at £29.95 (€35.50) per adult and £23.95 (€28.50) for children aged over 3 years old (under 3s go free). Visit www.365tickets.co.uk which matches the door price and allows you to print-off your ticket and bypass the ticket collection.
Plaza on the River – Club and Residence. Suites start at £179 (€212) inc VAT but excluding breakfast. Romantic breaks from £399 (€473) including three-course meal, breakfast in bed and two spa treatments. Visit www.PlazaOnTheRiver.co.uk
Totally chilled...softly-lit bar area is perfect for intimate and relaxing drink
Bedroom with a view...you can wake up to stunning views of the Thames and the buzzing capital city
I WILL never forget the haunting feeling of standing in the middle of a small church where 445 women and children had been massacred by the Nazis during the last throes of the Second World War. Just yards away 197 menfolk of Oradour sur Glane were also ruthlessly executed by SS troops hellbent on eliminating the Resistance.
Since that day on June 10 1944, the village - near Limoges in France - has been left as it was on that awful day as a memorial to the dead. I looked at the tangled remains of a pram to the right of the altar as I tried to imagine how so many people crammed into that church before the soldiers opened fire.The building was then set ablaze to destroy the bodies before they were dumped in a mass grave days later. You can still see the bullet holes in the walls.
It was a similar story for the men who were divided into groups and sent to different buildings. They were shot in the legs before the buildings around them were turned into an inferno. The villagers had been rounded up in the square. The first to die was the mayor who approached the Nazi leaders to protest at the invasion. He was shot next to his car, which is still there today.
All around this village you will see other vehicles, equipment and homes just as they were. Close your eyes and you can almost picture Oradour as a happy and thriving place before the population was wiped out. At the bakery, you hear how the bodies of two babies were retrieved from the ovens. A metal Renault plate still adorns the wall of the garage.
Plaques show the trades once plied at each venue. It is easy to believe, as I did, that the place had been bombed. It wasn't. Most of the roofs were wooden which burnt in the fires - leaving the look of a bomb site. Headstones in the cemetery bear the poignant epitaph "massacred by Germans". All that changed in this area is the museum and the 'new village' built on the next hill.
At nearby Bussière Poitevine, it is easy to imagine how this village could have met the same fate. Two days after the atrocity at Oradour, 21-year-old Adrien Girettes was gunned down by the Nazis - accused of being a member of the Resistance. A wall plaque marks the wall where he fell. You can also see the bullet holes in the surrounding wall.
France's Holocaust Museum? You will find other evidence of Nazi evil in other parts of Europe. But here you have a place left as a poignant memorial to such a brutal slaughter. It is often said of wars that we must learn and never forget. Go and see this place and you'll understand why.
I stayed in Bussière-Poitevine. Here life ticks away at a relaxed place. At the heart of this quintessentially rural French village lies the patisserie and the butcher. There is also the affectionally-known Monsieur Legumes, the grocer. Tell him you want to make a pear tart in three days' time and he will direct you to fruit with the exact ripeness for the task - and he'll probably throw in a cooking tip too.
The village is steeped in tradition. Lunch is 12.30 until 3 every day - and there is absolutely no altering that time. Mind you, if you wait to hear the bells of the 12th century church before returning to work, you'll be late. They always chime at five minutes past the hour with a few other spontaneous rings for good measure. No one knows how or why this delay occurred and no one really cares. Why worry about time when you can put the world to right over a pastis or two before dinner?
Quintessentially French....Maison Bussière, on right
And, if you find yourself at a meeting of the villagers, there'll be no rush either. The first and last 20 minutes are spent with everyone greeting one another with a kiss.
There's never a dull moment here. Markets occupy the main square twice a week and the village is favourite for cycle races. The annual Foulèes 20km run was the talk of the village during my visit.
I stayed at the Maison Bussière guesthouse run by British couple Chris and Charlotte Nightingale. They are living the dream. Within three years they met, fell in love, got married, left their jobs for a new life in France - squeezing in the move between wedding and honeymoon.
The guesthouse - or chambre d'hôte in French - is just a stone's throw from the village square. The renovated 17th century building is clean and spacious with three rooms - including one with an en suite bathroom. There is also free wi-fi. Standards match those of a small hotel and yet families - especially with children - have the comfort and freedom of feeling they are at home.
You can relax in the lounge where there is telly, Wii and DVDs. Unlike most chambres d'hôtes, breakfast is included and for €15 a head, you can add a three-course evening meal. Charlotte, with supplies from the likes of Monsieur Legumes, cooks all food from scratch. The slow-cooked boeuf bourguignon is to die for. You can also enjoy a beer and a wine.
Chris, a mountain bike tour leader, offers cycle hire, tours, maintenance and instruction. I couldn't wait to explore the meandering lanes of the countryside. Ex-cop Chris insists on a thorough preparation. Not only is the saddle set to your height but the handlebars and brake levers are adjusted for optimum use too. I have been cycling for years and, due to a weak side, have always set the saddle low for fear of losing balance. But after few tips from Chris, I was able to ride in the more efficient and comfortable riding position.
As I set off on a 20km ride, the narrow and smooth-surface country lanes feel like designated cycle routes as you amble through the scenic surrounds, whistling through hamlets with barns and barking dogs before passing a tiny chapel next to a river before heading uphill and home.
There are lots of things to do for the whole family within less than an hour's drive of Bussière-Poitevine. The Lac de Saint Pardoux offers every kind of watersport including sailing, fishing and pedalos. You can go bungee jumping off a viaduct or kayak and canoe in the Gartempe river. Petrol heads will also like the Val de Vienne racetrack where you can go for a spin. The venue has hosted events such as Superbikes, the GT Tour, and the Club Porsche de France. The picturesque towns of Bellac and Montmorillon are also worth a visit
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