LONDON, England -- It is a view to a thrill. All of fabulous London -- the curvy Thames River drawing attention to the city's wealth of famous landmarks -- is spread below as I climb up and over the roof of the O2 Arena. No stunt doubles here.
The O2 Arena -- previously called the Millennium Dome -- featured in the pre-title sequence of The World Is Not Enough. Remember the high-speed chase that had Pierce Brosnan's James Bond zipping along the Thames before a hot-air balloon fight that culminated in Bond rolling down the roof of the Dome?
Wannabe action stars can now suit up and climb the roof of the O2 Arena, stopping at a platform at the top for a 360-degree view of the city, before climbing back down. The whole thing takes about 90 minutes, and safety regulations have climbers harnessed to steel guide-cables, so there's no actual roof-rolling a la 007 involved. But the fabulous views -- and the thrills -- make for a great start to any Bond experience in London.
From the top of the O2 Arena, you can see the Four Seasons Hotel at Canary Wharf. The luxurious property stood in for Shanghai in scenes from Skyfall, the newest Bond installment starring best-Bond-ever Daniel Craig. And a soon-to-be-infamous shower scene was filmed in the hotel's Suite 712.
If you're aiming to "live the Bond lifestyle" then head to St. James. Fleming spent a lot of time in the upscale neighbourhood and frequented the bar at Dukes Hotel. Apparently Bond's signature line, "shaken, not stirred" was inspired by the barman at Dukes.
Fans can learn to make a fabulous martini, like the "Vesper," at Dukes' martini master class. Along with a steady delivery of cocktail stories, bar-manager Alessandro Palazzi shows you how to blend the Bond martini, named for 007's ill-fated love, Vesper Lynd from Casino Royale. It consists of "three measures of Gordon's gin, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet (or another dry vermouth). Shake it over ice, and add a thin slice of lemon peel." Cool and elegant.
Dukes Bar has teamed up with bespoke perfumer Floris to create The Fleming 89 Martini. Using ingredients from the 1951 formula book for Floris' No. 89 fragrance (Fleming's favourite, mentioned in Dr. No) Palazzi picked out essences and oils, and created a martini that represented the scent and was a tribute to Fleming himself.
Stop by the Floris boutique on Jermyn St. to smell Fleming's No. 89 cologne (a sandalwood-base with notes of iris and citrus). Opened in 1730, and still operated by the same family, Floris is where the Queen buys her scents, but staff are too discreet to reveal the name of Her Majesty's favourite. Patrons can buy over-the-counter (as apparently the Queen does) or have a customized scent created.
Since it is nothing but the best for 007, visit Turnbull & Asser, who have made shirts for Fleming and all the Bonds, as well as pyjamas for "M," played by Dame Judi Dench. With 11,000 patterns on file, their celebrity clients include Sean Penn, James McAvoy, Al Pacino and Christopher Plummer. A bespoke shirt runs £225 ($360).
"I give them a shirt I think they should have," says 40-year veteran David Gale. "Don't follow fashion, follow style, because style never goes out of fashion."
Diamonds are forever, but great shoes are divine so for custom shoes -- like those worn by Bond in Casino Royale -- head to shoemaker John Lobb, who also makes footwear for Prince Philip. Average price per pair: £2,800 ($4,466). If that's a little steep, Aston Martin and John Lobb have combined design forces on the colourul Winner Sport line -- calf-skin leather, sheepskin-lined shoes from £560 ($893 Cdn) a pair.
You can get to know Bond's London better by touring movie locations and sites linked to 007. Brit Movie Tours offers a "James Bond Tour of London" for £25 ($40) per person. The company also offers Harry Potter, Downton Abbey and Doctor Who tours.
Guide Akin Gazi has an obvious fondness for the secret agent, and fills the tour with great trivia and film clips. A highlight is the real MI6 Headquarters Building. In Skyfall, MI6 HQ is subject to a terrorist attack; in The World is Not Enough, a hole was blown into its side. Staring across the Thames at the real MI6 building, it looks impenetrable. And judging from all the guards and the closed gates, it looks like it would be easier to get into the Tower of London than the fortress of MI6.
"It is totally secure with bomb doors, and triple-glazed windows to prevent eavesdropping and wire-tapping," Gazi says. "Nobody gets in unless they're supposed to."
Set between the Thames and the Strand, Somerset House, built about 1550, is now an arts centre. Its former residents include Elizabeth I (before she was queen), Anne of Denmark and Dowager Queen Henrietta. In the summer, 55 fountains dance in the courtyard; in winter you can skate on London's favourite ice rink. Somerset House has appeared in two Bond films: Standing in for St. Petersburg in Goldeneye, and the defence ministry in Tomorrow Never Dies. It has also been used in other films such as Day of the Jackal, Love Actually and Guy Ritchie's first Sherlock Holmes movie.
Filming for Skyfall also headed out to the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich. The Undercroft -- a basement room below the Painted Hall -- is seen in Skyfall with several "00 agents" laid out in flag-draped coffins. The glorious Painted Hall has been used in other films including Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, The King's Speech and the upcoming Les Miserables. The Old Royal Naval College is also famous for its Sir Christopher Wren-designed twin domes and Chapel.
The remains of Henry VIII's favourite Greenwich palace (where Mary Tudor and Queen Elizabeth I were born) lie just a few feet below. More than 30 objects excavated on site are on display in the Discover Greenwich Visitor Centre, and there is a replica of Chapel Royal, where Henry married Catherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves.
Vehicle chases are the heart of Bond films, whether he's driving the famous Aston Martin DB5 in Goldfinger, the Little Nellie autogyro in You Only Live Twice, the underwater Lotus Esprit S1 in The Spy Who Loved Me, or the Ice Dragster in Die Another Day. Until the end of the year, the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu in the New Forest, Hampshire, has the Bond In Motion: 50 vehicles, 50 years exhibition. The DB5 has a recurring role in Bond films -- including Skyfall -- and the display includes an Aston Martin DB5 from Goldeneye, the Bede Acrostar jet from Octopussy, and a 1937 Rolls Royce Phantom from Goldfinger.
Marking its 40th anniversary, the National Motor Museum collection has more than 300 vehicles -- historic racing cars, rally cars, boats and motorbikes -- that tell the story of British motoring. On display: A 1909 Rover, a 1913 Newton Bennett, 1935 Auburn Speedster, a 1950 Allard, and -- my favourite -- a 1962 Jaguar E-Type Roadster.
For Bond, it's all in a day's work. For the rest of us, a lovely bit of fantasy.
TOUR LIKE BOND
FLY IN STYLE
Air Canada has 43 non-stop flights each week between Canada and London from Toronto, Montreal, Halifax, Ottawa, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton. See Aircanada.com.
-- Steps from Picadilly, the May Fair Hotel London is a stylish address with a rooftop cigar room. While I passed on the fine selection of hand-rolled cigars, I really enjoyed the Rococo Chocolate Martini. See Themayfairhotel.co.uk.
-- Dukes Bond Experience includes junior suite accommodation, dinner in the hotel's Thirty Six Restaurant, a Vesper Martini in Dukes Bar plus a night at the movies to see Skyfall. Then zip around in an Aston Martin for the day. Packages from £1,068 ($1,700) per person per night, available until Jan. 13, 2013. See Dukeshotel.com.
-- Ellenborough Park in Cheltenham is a fine example of luxurious country house living. Parts of the manor house date from the 1520s including the Great Hall. With history at its heart it's a modern hotel with a spa and award-winning fine dining -- a perfect weekend escape for Bond and his girls. See Ellenboroughpark.com.