It all started of with a desire to see the sights of London and a quest to witness its rich heritage and history. There were two very convincing factors that helped me make my decision.
The first one was that being on a ship which would regularly dock at the port of Liverpool, a metropolitan borough of Merseyside in the historic county of Lancashire. I had decided that once my tenure on board the ship was completed I would “sign-off” in Liverpool.
The second and equally godsend factor was that a very dear friend of mine from the good old college days was staying in London with his wife and he was most eager to meet me and he most graciously agreed to accommodate me for my entire stay.
I was helped in a very big way by the local Ship agent, Mr. Andrew , who assisted me in my Visa extension (which was one of the most relaxed and smooth procedures I have yet to witness) and he also drove me to the train station to put me on the connecting train to London. On the way he kept me entertained with the history of Liverpool. An amazing fact I learnt was that all the Beatles team members were born here and their first performance was in Liverpool….Well the history of the country had begun unraveling in front of my very eyes…..and the journey had just begun!!
The train journey was about six hours long and left a dent of 56 £ on my wallet. Well there was one thing I had to learn soon and that was how expensive everything was out here.
I was picked up by my friend, Manish and his beautiful wife Poonam at Victoria Railway station. We drove back to his home located in a place called Osterley, which lies midway between Southall and Hounslow.
27th Nov :
This was a day rest and of pre-planning. Got myself an Oyster pass for 20 £, which is a travel card, making travel by the tube and the buses very economical and hassle free. At Hounslow changed some currency and from the tourist information desk gathered the Official city guide and a whole heap of brochures covering a range of events and activities.
28th Nov :
NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY / HERITAGE WALK OF PARLIAMENT SQUARE / THEATRE SHOW – CHICAGO
Travelled by tube from Osterley to Piccadilly Circus, then walked it out to Leicester square.
They have this lovely garden where the distances to all major cities are engraved in Brass plaques, embedded in the ground along the points of the compass.
Fun fact – The distance from this point to New Delhi is – 4171 miles (or 6713 Kms).
Visited the National Portrait gallery, a 150-year-old gallery housing great portraits of politician, monarchs and celebrities of yesteryears up to present times.
Later walked past Trafalgar Square, along WhiteHall Street which has been the site of principal government offices since the 1530’s including the famous address of 10 Downing Street, the official residence of the Prime minister. Reached in time for the guided heritage walks (for Parliament House and Westminster Abbey) commencing at Westminster Tube station.
I strongly recommend these guided walks which are conducted daily at different locations around London and encompassing a range of interests, from the Big-Ben trail to the Jack the Ripper trails.
The persons leading the groups are intimately aware of all the facts and also those “Believe it or Not” tidbits, not usually mentioned in any of the history books!!
For example some of the eye popping facts I learned were that the Big-Ben clock piece weighed 13.5 tons, took a total of 30 men two days to hoist up to the top of the spire. In the course of the walk we were shown some other lesser known addresses like the home of Archbishop of Canterbury, across the Thames River besides Lambeth Bridge, St. John’s Smith Square church, which because of it’s construction was known as the Queen’s footstool, turned upside down.
We also walked up to this quaint street, still frozen it medieval times, with the gas street lights, cobbled stones and brick houses. At one point I half expected a drawn carriage to appear at the turn in the road. T.E. Lawerence, better known as “Lawerence of Arabia”, the famous military strategist and author best known for his legendary war activities in the middle east during World War 1 also has his residence on this street.
The walk ended at Westminster Abbey, explaining the role of the abbey. One amazing thing I learnt was about the all-boy choir designated for the abbey, who had an extremely rigid selection process and an equally challenging role to play as a member of the choir. Apparently even these boys are on leave there is always a possibility that they might be called back immediately for some urgent event, as was the case when the last rites of Princess Diana were conducted.
In the evening my friend Manish and his wife Poonam had surprised me with a pre-theatre gourmet dinner followed by a show (Chicago) at the Cambridge theatre. It was my first experience in a theatre and I must admit it was an awesome experience.
29th Nov :
STONEHENGE AND BATH
Manish had taken the day off at work and along with his wife we drove down to Stonehenge and later on to Bath.
Stonehenge – is perhaps the most outstanding prehistoric monument in the British Isles. 8 Miles NW of Salisbury in Wiltshire, it was built in prehistoric times starting around 3050BC (That’s nearly 5000 Years back!!!)….Talk about a jump back in time………We were doing backward-leaping-somersaults!!!
At first glance, this monument of stones in a horseshoe shape does not seem so awe inspiring in this age of Sky-scrapers and Rocket science. However some of the facts about this construction, like the size of the saresan stones forming the outer Horseshoe – each stone being about 9 meters in height and weighing about 50 tonnes, like the smoothness of the surface achieved by the laborious pounding of stone hammers, like the fact that the bluestones (forming the inner horseshoe), each weighing about 4 tonnes were transported from the Preseli mountains, a distance of 385 Kms. And to top it up even to this day there are speculations as to the actual purpose of this structure. Talk about keeping future generations guessing!!
Well we were still twiddling our thumbs and playing the guessing game whilst we departed the place.
Our next stop was the beautiful city of Bath, in the county of Somerset, lying along the River Avon , in a natural amphitheatre of steep mountains. It is one of the most architecturally distinguished cities of England, known and named for it’s natural hot springs, originally discovered and used by the Romans.
Although we did not get much time to explore the city, but the few hours spent rambling along the streets left us with a pervading sense of being amongst the rich and famous. The entire city, along with the stylized Georgian homes, gave me a surreal feeling of being inside a picture-postcard complete with gilded edges and gold trimmings.
Well once again, at the end of the day, I was overwhelmed with the sheer volume of experiences I witnessed. We reached home and unwound with a bottle of wine. It was earl to bed for me as the new day to dawn held the promise of witnessing something I had longed for ever since I had read Dan Brown’s – Da Vinci Code.
30TH Nov :
NATIONAL GALLERY AND WESTMINSTER ABBEY
Started off early from Osterley and headed for Trafalgar Square via the tube. Destination – The National Gallery which flanks the square in broad majestic lines.
One wonderful fact about this country is that mostly all the Museums and Galleries have a free entry which was sweet music to my ears!!
Well I was spellbound finding myself at the feet of the great works of the greats masters who ever lived. Leornado da Vinci’s – The Virgin of the Rocks, The Madonna of the Pinks, Ruebens – Samson and Delilah, Michelangelo’s – The Entombment, Rembrandt’s – Self Portrait, Botticelli’s – Venus and Mars, Van Gogh’s – Sunflowers. These are just some of the master works. Although I am not much of an art connoisseur, I nonetheless had done some prior homework, and also the Audio tour was quite informative and helps one to understand the language of the painters and explains the meanings hidden amongst the brushstrokes. But believe me even for a first time art lover like me, some of the works displayed here took me into another realm altogether.
After my visit to the National Gallery, I was now on my Da Vinci Trail, Destination – Westminster Abbey. This monument held a “come-hell-or-high-water-I-gotta-do-this” status in my itinery and I could almost feel my senses tingling with anticipation as I found myself walking towards the doors of this historical Abbey. Well after paying 10 £ and gaining entrance into the Abbey I found myself retracing the path of our good old, Mr. Robert Langdon, in his quest for the holy Grail. My quest however was not so titanic in proportion. If I were to talk about all the greatest of greats who lie buried here, I could take for ever. To highlight a few salient points to the uninitiated – This Abbey was founded in 960 AD. Ever since the coronation of William The Conqueror here in 1066 it has been the “Coronation church”. The Coronation chair, made in 1301 and still being used, is on display.
The Church also houses tombs and memorials of king’s, queens and Britian’s most famous subjects, Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Darwin, and Sir Isaac Newton, to name a few. Sir Isaac’s tomb (shown below) was of particular interest to me due to the residual effects of Dan Brown’s novel.
Truly, standing in the presence of such great men one is compelled to bow in obeisance and salute the spirit of achievement in mankind.
01st Dec :
BRITISH MUSEUM + PUB
Today I headed for the British Museum, situated in the Bloomsbury district. Nearest Tube station – Holborn.
This place is huge with a capital H!!!There are nearly Six Million exhibits on display here.
Established in 1758, it is a comprehensive museum with particularly outstanding holdings in archeology and ethnography. The exhibits are distributed in nearly 100 rooms and cover the most famous artifacts from almost all continents. Some of the noteworthy were – The Ginger man (whose well preserved remains dates back to 3400 BC), The Rosetta stone (196 BC, which provided the key to reading ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs), the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon of Athens.
Another striking feature in this museum is its fantastic Reading Room. Apart from the sheer size of the Room and its vast, inexhaustible collection, the most outstanding part is all the great personalities who have visited this place during the ages. To name a few – George Eliot, Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, Lenin, Karl Marx, Mark Twain…..the list could go on and on. I was beyond myself to have witnessed a place so grand and so hallowed by the eminence and sheer brilliance of all these famous personalities.
After having immersed myself in ancient history for the entire day it was time for me to head for the nearest watering hole to sip a few beers and unwind. Ended up going to this swanky place in Hammersmith with Manish and his friends and danced the night away.
02nd Dec :
TOWER OF LONDON / TOWER BRIDGE
Although we ended up sleeping late last night, I was still up and about early and set out to visit another famous landmark of London (actually two landmarks), the Tower Of London and The Tower Bridge.
After getting off at Tower Hill tube it is a short walk past the Tower Hill memorial to the Main entrance and Welcome Centre. The ticket left my wallet lighter by 15 £. The Guards of this magnificent tower, better known as the Beefeaters conduct regular guided tours starting from the Middle Tower.
Construction was commenced somewhere around 1066. The Towers buildings and grounds served historically as a royal palace, a political prison, a place of execution, an arsenal, a royal mint and also a public records office. Things to see are the famous Crown Jewels collections and the even more famous Kohinoor diamond, the Fusilier’s Museum, the White tower which houses the arsenal display, the ravens, the execution block (now converted into an elegant monument).
After touring the entire Tower area, I stepped out via the Traitor’s Gate onto the wharf area with the other famous landmark, the Tower bridge on my left.
I also took the tour of the Tower bridge during the course of which they take you right up to the tower and you can click some awesome photos of the River Thames (Best time to do this is at sun down when the city comes aglow with lights). The tour also consists of a visit to the Base of the Bridge where the actual lifting mechanism of the bridge is located.
After seeing such fabulous and ancient structures for the better part of the day, it was time for me to rest my poor tired feet.
03rd Dec :
ICE SKATING / WINDSOR CASTLE
One would think that with all the sight seeing I would lie back and relax. No Sir, not me and definitely not in London where every new day spelled for me the unraveling of newer grandeur of ancient history and the Legacy of the Throne. And with a friend so enthusiastic as Manish, there was something new to experience everyday.
Along with his friends we went Ice skating to the wonderful Ice-Rink, situated in an open park, with the Windsor Castle as the background. It was a first timer for me and most of his friends too. Nonetheless we had a lot of fun and I did pick up a few moves although I had bruised knees and a sore backside at the end of it.
After that it was a quick meal and then we headed to Windsor Castle. This is a working royal palace and it is closed to public whilst the Royal family is in residence. It is as close as a layman can get to experiencing life within the royal chambers. The Palace is absolutely stunning and grand.
04th Dec :
KENSINGTON GARDENS / ROYAL ALBERT HALL / NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM / NATURAL SCIENCE MUSEUM
As this would be my last day, I wanted to make the most of it so I headed to South Kensington which housed the three famous museums….Natural History, Science Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum. As I had reached before the opening times of the museums, I went over to Kensington Gardens in which is located the impressive Albert Memorial. Across the street was the Royal Geographic Society and the Royal Albert Hall.
After that it was over to the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum. The thing I loved about these museums were that they were very interactive and catered so well to the learning demands of school children. For example in the Science museum, there is one section explaining the photosynthesis in plants wherein you enter this section of a leaf magnified to larger that life scale and you are actually witnessing the scene with a “bumble-bee-eye-view”. Fascinating.
Well, the journey was about to come to an end and although I was on the move throughout, there was still so much I did not have time see……..the London Dungeons, The Wax Museum, London Eye, Buckingham palace….I guess all these will have to wait for next time.
But, honestly I have no regrets of the things I missed out because I spent quality time in all the places I visited.
Manish and Poonam were real darlings and were there to drop me to the airport. I’m sure that without them around London would not be half as much of fun.