April in London: Part II

We had to rush back to the hotel after the cruise, because we were yet to check in and because we were booked for the evening show of The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre and wanted to look a little dressed-for-the-occasion. Yes, how very you don’t go to operas in Sydney and theatre in London in your sneakers of us. But really, I have been to Opera House in Sydney and felt grossly under-dressed. 😀 The husband bungled up on the timings (I am sticking to my story, dude!) and made me walk (all 300 metres) very fastly fastly in high heels making me seethe and grimace in equal measure (clue: not pretty) but we got there in time. Barely screeched in, you could say. The show, which was beyond awesome, made up for the shoe bites. Almost. I’m a sucker for live performances of all kinds, and if you are too, you shouldn’t miss this for anything.

The Lion King @ Lyceum

Don’t wear high heels though – it’s oh-a-kay. We’d made a mental note of going to Hard Rock that night, which we do in most cities we visit. I wouldn’t miss it so I just swallowed self-respect for a while, took off my shoes and walked barefooted from the nearest tube station to Hard Rock. Yes, you can get horrified or laugh now.

Say it with me: You CAN do without heels - it's just theatre!

Once there, I may or may not have had two very quick drinks to drown the pulsating pain in the balls of my feet. On the way back, I was more than happy to walk in my heels (the pain seemed to have evaporated, wonder how). But the husband said we’ll take a cab, thankyouverymuch (wonder why).

Saw this Indian Restaurant "Masala Zone" in West End, that had very craftily done puppets covering the whole ceiling. This is not the best picture 😦

 The next morning, I woke up in a state of panic. *Just two days to go, I haven’t shopped, I haven’t seen anything, you waste so much time, you made me walk in high heels for over 300 metres*. The only response I got was “Tower of London first?” and off we went. It looked like the weekend had only just begun for London, with many families out to picnic. Tower of London, however, is an unlikely spot to spend time picnicking, particularly so if you know the history. We were given a tour of the place by a hilarious beef-eater, and as gory as the various executions and beheadings and secrets at the tower must have been in its time, he actually made us laugh at them. I loved this tour, for the surreal quality of the life it describes and the matter-of-fact way the story is now told. IMHO, history is both the glorious past and all that was not graceful, but it was life as it was known – you are nobody to regret it but you can learn from it.

We also proceeded to see the Crown Jewels section here, and yes, we did see the Kohinoor diamond. Bright and breathtakingly beautiful. I bought a fridge magnet with a replica of it.. I will have the rock one way or umm, totally another. We caught the Royal Guards parade too here, and very magnificent and sure as those guards look, I can’t stop thinking how pointless and barbaric the job is, in today’s context.

Beautifully synchronized and determined and all, but the point eeezzz?

Well. There’s also an Armouries section here, and if you’re into Transformers or Star Wars, you’d probably love it. We were short of time, so we just saw a few things. Like life-size portraits of the horses of various kings; all looked the same to me. A very quick lunch later, we were out of there.

We walked over to Tower Bridge, which too has an amazing story and is everything engineering should be about – an out of the box solution that combines brilliance and perseverance.

Guess who was all doe-eyed about so much machinery? Hint: not me.

It was most fascinating to see the Engine Rooms here, and know about other such grand bridges of the world, trivia about the Thames and about the fauna around the area. This is definitely a place parents with kids aged 5-12 should take them.

My mandatory touristy posing picture near the Tower Bridge (soft focus imposed for protection of my oh-so-guarded anonymity)

Next on our agenda was Westminster Abbey- attempt 2. It didn’t work out again, because like us, there were a thousand people there. It being a weekend and their decision to let the wedding decorations stay up for a week didn’t help. And then, we decided to rush to Madame Tussauds’ museum, and long story short, they were also closing for the day. For every woman, there comes a time in every vacation when the sunk cost of doing something must be measured in what it has cost you in shopping time, and with everything your husband suggests, you hiss “This better be good!” I was doing this, when he suggested we go visit Buckingham Palace. So we took the tube and went to Buckingham Palace, which is grand and with the flags and lights still up for the wedding, looked pretty awesome.

The Mall

The Royal Residence

But the best part of going there was walking through Green Park. If Mumbai had a tenth of the green environs of London, wouldn’t it so much better a place to live in? And by green environs, I don’t mean places where people go to make out 😐 Anyway, I was quite happy that we had *done* something, and still had some time on our hands.

So we decided to go see the Harrods store.

Harrods! a.k.a. You have arrived if you can shop here. Otherwise, you will suffer minor cardiac arrests at every step

Beautifully lit up and congratulating the royal couple for the wedding in style, Harrods was HUGE but that’s not what is so astonishing. What is surprising is that in such a HUGE store, I couldn’t afford anything :D. I did get some chocolates and here’s the cruel joke: While billing those chocolates, the cashier made a mistake and for a moment, the payable amount that flashed on the tab was well, err, unpayable by me. I had this mental “Oh god, did I not read the price tag properly? How am I gonna pay now? How much is this bag worth, considering they accept in-kind payments? How far is the exit from this desk.. can I make a run for it?” thought train. But she just giggled and reversed the charges as soon as she noticed it herself. HARRODS, issued in public interest: don’t do this to hapless tourists. In other news, I’m reminded of how pale I must have looked to her when she giggled, every time I try and eat the bytheway awesome chocolate hazelnut spread I bought.

Cake shaped decorations by various luxury brands @ Harrods, to congratulate the royal couple

 

I recovered from this traumatic experience over some coffee (which makes me ask, WHEN is Starbucks coming to India? Just WHEN?).

Spot something, Indians?

By the time we got to the hotel, we were pretty exhausted (the incident at Harrods may or may not have something to do with it.) So we ordered room service. But the food must have been spiked, because the tiredness subsided a bit and we found enough energy to go to a nearby casino. The husband dabbles in a bit of Roulette and Baccarat, and I hang around watching people bet like they’re on acid, sometimes imagining their stories and sometimes just taking full advantage of the free drinks. That night, I think we won about 50-odd pounds, and went back happy.

The last day, I was more zen-like because you know, how you just give up on some things and wistfully think “okay, next time”. That. So we made good time that morning too, and headed straight to Madame Tussauds. This was my first Madame Tussauds’ museum visit. So naturally, I went bonkers. I have a photograph with most celebrities there, in let’s just say, interesting poses. I don’t know, so many celebrities that look but are not real and you can click pictures with them, this kinda thing is right up the alley for losers like me. In real life, I’d act all nonchalant and unperturbed in the presence of a real celebrity when I’m SO not. I know this is common of people from Dallhee, no need to remind me thankyou.

The husband posing with Sherlock Holmes outside Madame Tussauds, because I'm not posting my various inane poses inside

But I have a bone to pick with the museum guys, Y U MAKING BOLLYWOOD AND INDIAN POLITICAL LEGENDS SO HORRIBLE LOOKING. Case in point: Amitabh Bachchan and Indira Gandhi. Ewww! Oh, the Spirit of London ride and the Marvel 4D movie at the museum was quite fun too.

We had lunch planned with my cousins who study/ work there, and they decided to take us out for some pub food at Leicester Square. Much conversation and catching up happened, over some of the biggest burgers I have seen. And some awesome ice-cream .. yumm 🙂

Finally, the best part. Shopping. Actually, the choice was between Westminster attempt 3 and shopping. So the husband decided to drop me off to Oxford Circus because my choice was made and it wasn’t this place we had given more than enough bhaav already 😀 He, meanwhile, did want to try once again. Soon, he’d have realized his folly and returned to where I’m at, because the Abbey crowds were in no mood to let up. However, my shopping spree was to come to a cruel, abrupt end when we realized that all stores close at 6.30 and not 8.30 on weekends. So yes, I just bought some presents and bid adieu to what could have been the most satisfying event of the whole vacation 😀 Of course, I was pissed off and blamed everything from the poor time management and extra lenient labour laws in the UK that enable such bizarre weekend shopping hours! And I’ll have you know I’m not done yet.

Having packed in all we could, we decided to take it easy and went to the Odeon for Thor 3D. And at the risk of my orientation seeming otherwise, I’d say Natalie Portman is HOT and one of the few reasons I could get through the movie. We also had some awesomely delicious pasta at Italia Bella (or Bella Italia?) for dinner. Later, we hit a casino again and won again! 🙂 Not as much as the previous night, but around half as much anyway.

I was suffering vacation withdrawal symptoms throughout the movie and after. Does anyone feel that packing up on the last night is the single most sorrowful experience ever? All in all, it was the kind of vacation I like, where you pack the days and nights with as much as you can, and there’s a lot to see and experience. If anything, I’m planning to go there again. To see Westminster Abbey and to shop.

Till we meet again, goodbye!

 NOTE: Thanks for having read till the end. With this, I’ve fulfilled some promises, and acquired respect for people who go through the sorting-editing-watermarking pictures routine for more than 1 post per decade. Regular posts will resume soonly.

April in London: Part I

 

NOTE: This is an extra-long post/ travelogue, but with lots of pictures. There’ll be a part 2 later.

Everybody has a favourite kind of vacation. Maybe some of us don’t discriminate too much and will go anywhere, however, whenever. I’m unfortunately not one of those; for instance, I avoid hill stations like the plague. The thought of car sickness and eerie silence makes me feel neither introspective nor relaxed. If anything, I’m jumpy and irritable. Oh, and make it one of those secluded virgin locations nestled in the hills where you’re the only people in the hotel/ resort/ cottages/ nearest 10 miles, and even if it’s not haunted (I doubt), you would have me to deal with. My other pet peeve is the “roughing it out” way, with insisting on being adventurous and having to put up with the shadiest of public toilets and bad drinking water – excuse me if I’m being a snob but I don’t see the adventure in diarrhea. There are always cheaper but fun ways to do something. But that’s for another day and I digress. What I was getting at was that by a natural default of liking crowded places with lots of people-watching opportunities, my favourite vacations are vacations to cities. And beaches. But cities with beaches are mostly awesome 🙂

Anyhoo, this post is about my recent vacation to a place I dreamed of going to, for pretty long. You know how sometimes we see a place in movies over a long time and sigh and say “some day”. That. London, baby!  So, when the husband had a work trip planned for binness purposes and proposed to extend it into a vacation, I was over the moon. And it turned out every bit as awesome as I thought it’d be. In a nutshell, lots of history, breathtaking architecture, good food, superb public transport and great people.. what’s not to love? The icing on the cake obviously turned out to be the Royal Wedding happening at the same time, which we had absolutely no clue of at the time of booking the trip.

London!

After 3 mandatory manic days that I must have before any vacation, we flew out of Bombay on 24th April and thank heavens, it wasn’t an early morning flight or I would have had no time to pack in all my summer clothes that I never wore 😀 Also, I prefer afternoon flights to morning flights anyday because if the plane is going to crash, at least people will be up and about to catch us when we go flying down. Sorry about that little graphic detail, but that’s exactly how it is in my head. Yessir, I’m a nervous flier besides being car-sick most of the time.. can I give God enough hints that I *need* to be teleported everywhere I want to go?

I finally watched The King’s Speech and The Fighter on the flight, and while I loved both a lot, I liked The Fighter a wee bit more. And I don’t even like Christian Bale all that much but he was brilliant. We landed in Heathrow at about 5 pm local time. I was pooh-poohing the concept of jetlag nonchalantly before it knocked me out like a light in about the next 3 hours. The first couple of days were reserved for work, and we were going to be in and around the Heathrow area. On Monday (the 25th) which was otherwise an Easter holiday, I had little to do other than visiting the office and reading my book. But thanks to the husband’s colleagues and their generosity, I had a shopping companion (another colleague who didn’t need to be in office luckily) and we were dropped off at Feltham High Street. I behaved like a good girl and had just a mini shopping stint (mostly a bag, only just because it was calling out my name). By the time I got back home, it was clear to me that the summer clothes should stay firmly ensconced at the bottom of the suitcases and the one pair of sandals I took along will not see the light of London day. It was C.O.L.D. and W.I.N.D.Y., and nothing like “balmy spring” as the websites will tell you. And I say this despite that I have a good tolerance for cold weather!

The next day we were visiting Leicester (again, for work) and I was super excited about seeing the English countryside. It didn’t disappoint. Beautiful mustard fields and green grass keep rolling by, just like the Punjab-Delhi highway. Only better, because you’re not braving drunk truck drivers. The cold was seeping into our bones, and caffeine came to the rescue at regular stops. At this point, I was beginning to do the desi thing of staring psychotically at the Brit girls, in their shorts and skirts. HOW IS IT POSSIBLE TO ROAM AROUND LIKE THAT IN SUCH WEATHER?

Leicester (pronounced: Lester) is a very nice but strange, strange place. Lots of Gujju thali places and mishthan bhandaars line the streets, with the Indian waiters speaking in an exotic mix of Gujarati and English in a Brit accent. If Ahmedabad chooses to go Victorian in its architecture, it would look like Leicester. The husband’s work meeting (unusually) stuck to schedule and we were back on the road by early evening.

Wednesday dawned bright and early (it can’t dawn any other way, when your body clock is running 4.5 hours behind “your” time). The husband still had some work to do at the office, and I chose to laze around a bit. Around afternoon, with all work wrapped up, the vacation would start in all earnest. We were given a drop off at the nearest tube station, and were ready to go. It helped that we had also got the Oyster train travel cards from the office which we just had to top up a few times. I’ll just say what everyone will tell you – the Tube is the cheapest, the most convenient and the most hassle free way of going around the city.

First stop: Westminster. Not that my over-excitement can be discounted in this, but the moment I stepped out of the Westminster station, it felt like I had stepped into a movie set. The Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament right opposite, the London Eye to our left and the Thames flowing right below our feet. I did what anybody would do to respect the beauty around them.. I squealed at the sight of the ice-cream stall next to me and got a rather large helping I could not finish 😀

The Big Ben. We were told the clock is big enough to have a double decker bus pass through it without touching the sides!

We decided to see the Houses of Parliament first. Apparently, visitors can go right up to the public galleries and see and listen to the debates on. We went up to the House of Commons where some heated debate about education loan schemes was happening and then the House of Lords where local police structure reorganization was being discussed. Umm, couldn’t really get excited about the debates, but the inside of the building is awe-inspiring. The carvings and the statuettes around make it seem like a true coming together of the old and the new.

Inside the Houses of Parliament

Next stop: Westminster Abbey. Or let me call it, Westminster Abbey attempt 1. We happened to be at the Abbey on a day it was closed on, so we stood outside the gates, clicked some pictures and the husband relayed a list of who all rested in peace inside and what a shame we couldn’t get to go in. I tell you, most times, we don’t need a guide :D.

Westminster Abbey

We turned around to go to Trafalgar Square, walking by 10 Downing Street and the Horse Guards Parade Grounds and many World War II memorials.

Dedicated to the Women in World War II

And Trafalgar was truly where you can feel the chaos of a big city. Surrounded by eateries, museums, government buildings, it sort of encapsulates the old world feel. Just to make it a tad bit madder, the Royal Wedding preps  – news channels putting up bunkers and giant screens – were on too. At Trafalgar, I also got to order my first fish-and-chips combo which I continued to OD on for the rest of the days, at this little pub called The Old Shades.

Trafalgar Square, the Royal Wedding preps and amidst all of it, the countdown to Olympics 2012!

Oh, and totally unrelated but, hard as it is to get used to, the British accent so totally rocks. I tell you it can make anybody sound hot 😉

The next day, we landed at the only place madder than Trafalgar itself – Piccadilly Circus.

Piccadilly Circus. Anyone remember Roald Dahl's short story The Umbrella Man? It was the first time I read of Piccadilly.

 We had planned to do the Big Bus tour that day – basically a hop on-hop off tour (or as somebody I know calls it, the hip hop tour :D) on double deck buses by this company Big Bus with a ticket that’s valid for 24 hours. For anybody with not too many days on hand, I completely recommend this tour. Not only to do you get to see many places you may not have the time to actually visit, the anecdotes and the trivia keeps you hooked throughout. Another advantage of doing this on one of the first few days of the vacation is that you get a basic idea of distance and shortest routes (For some of you, who can remember unimportant things like directions. Like my husband. Because I didn’t even try any such thing. I still lose my way to Bandra from Goregaon.)

The Big Bus tour and Me!

Not that we practise any restraint otherwise, but the tour made us go into a click-happy overdrive. Museums, sprawling parks, haunted houses, ancient pubs, palaces – it’s a joyride! All plans to “hip hop” or hop on and off the bus were forgotten, because though the cold air in the top deck was brain-numbing, we couldn’t possibly go away without having seen it all. It was twilight by the time we got off the bus, and my camera had a dead battery and a full memory to show for it 😀

People and news channels putting up pavement camps in preparation for the Royal Wedding

 

We rushed to the London Eye which was to close soon, but were lucky enough to get there on time. And catch a beautiful sunset from up there. The city looked breathtakingly beautiful with the lights just coming on, and we spotted many of the landmarks marked on the guide.

The sunset, clicked from the London Eye

With three more days to go, we had planned to move to Central London on Friday (29th), just to cut the commute time. That day being the Royal Wedding, we were advised to leave Hounslow real early and get to Central London before roads and tube stations would be blocked. We made good time and reached way before check-in time, dumped the luggage and headed out to “attend the wedding.” 😉 With all the optimism of two fools, we were planning to park ourselves somewhere near the Westminster Abbey or along the procession way to Buckingham Palace. All such hopes were dashed, when the train chugged into St. James’s Park station and the announcements said that Westminster station had been closed because of the crowd. We decided to walk it, but as soon as we stepped out of the station, it seemed millions others had decided to walk it too 😀 We were politely advised by the security personnel that getting to Westminster in time and in one piece would be “Eh? No chance, buddy, but you can try.” Our best bet seemed heading to some place with big screens, so we zeroed in on Hyde Park that was about, oh, 3 km away. Nevertheless, it was a fun walk and we got to see lots of people in wedding finery, Kate and William masks, Union Jack colors in hats and outfits and much drunkenness at 11 in the morning 🙂

While walking to Hyde Park, we managed to see the horse carriages being led to the Abbey for the procession

We got there just in time to see the happy (royal, restrained happy) couple leave the church and wave at the cheering masses. But the party had just begun. There was an impromptu concert right there, with people dancing and singing along, children having a grand picnic and old ladies wiping silent tears as everyone waited for The Balcony Kiss and the flypast.

The Royals Wed

The kiss, very oh-just-let’s-get-it-over-with-now as it was from the Royal Highnesses, pushed the excitement in the air a notch higher. The moment, I’d say, was sealed by the swooping planes that flew right over our heads with a sea of flags dancing in the wind.

The flypast - the best part of it all

I know many feel that it was an over-stated, hyped event with a vulgar spend attached to it, but it had the power to bring many people on the streets on an extended weekend and enjoy something for what it was, together and with abandon. A simple joy that many choose to forego.

The celebrations and the toasts at Hyde Park, with 150,000 people!

Anywhichway, as happens with me in life, one moment I’m enjoying myself and the next I go “What’s this nagging feeling? Oh, I know! I’m hungry!” I dragged away the husband who was singing along to the nth rendition of Aerosmith’s ‘ I don’t wanna miss a thing’ (how apt!), and we ate at the little café inside the park. And I think the food must have opened up our brains, so we decided we should get to work (what? Sight-seeing IS work!), and stop all this begaani-shaadi-mein-abdullahs business. We had passes for the Thames cruise that we’d bought along with the tour, and they were about to expire in a few hours. Some superhumanly effort (and discovering that the tube was working back again!) made us get there in time, and get on a cruise. The guide was really funny, an old chap who thought that “this cruise would be full up if what’s-her-face wasn’t getting married today”, with lots of trivia on the various bridges, Traitors’ Gate at the Tower of London, Cleopatra’s Needle and many other places.

The sights from the cruise

I also couldn’t help but notice a mother of two who had braved the weather and the crowds to get her two little boys to come on the cruise, but the little one was being more than a handful while the older one (who had a complicated hearing aid device) felt embarrassed. For a while, I was thinking why she had even bothered, but then the two boys posed for a picture and it made sense. Sort of.

More in Part II.

Pictures and More

Hola!

Finally, the pictures are here. There aren’t any of mine, because really, you guys will have to teach me how to do blurring elegantly. I give up. The last thing I did to make my face unrecognizable was putting that spray paint sort of thing in MS Paint. Let’s just say, it looked so ugly that it almost convinced me for a moment that non-anonymity can’t be THAT bad a thing.. ofcourse, then the lure of getting away with spewing more internet trash without getting thrashed in public is what won, and so we remain anonymous. Or give ourselves the reassurance we are.

Nonetheless, pictures!

This was what I saw of Mauritius from up there. It made me forget about landing panic. THAT is anyday a big deal. Did I mention I hate flying?

The hotel lobby which tempts you to walk straight and jump into the ocean. I love the symmetry of this picture.

This was the walk to the cottage. And ours happened to be right opposite the spa. Do you see my irritating penchant for symmetrical photos yet? No? Keep at it and you will!

That, ladies and gentlemen is me in the mirror! This was the first day of holiday, and I thought I’d take some for-the-blog pics. Yep, that lasted one day. And btw, *cough cough* symmetry!

A beach with nobody in sight for miles. The insignificance of one person as waves thrash against the shore is stark. One of the most beautiful places I’ve been to. 

The funny part is that when you click pictures such as these, the average Mauritian looks on and tries to figure what you see in it. It’s a bleddy road, with you know, some flowerbeds by the side and a mountain in the background. Crazy tourists!

One of the many sunsets we drove into.

Where I vegetated and read. It was also a bit freaky to read about spirituality in this setting.. don’t know why.

That scene follows you everywhere. The pink wispy flowers are my favourite.

I parasailed for the first time. (I know I’m a loser, thanks for reinforcing!) This was fun. Although, something’s wrong with me and I can’t help thinking morbid thoughts when I do this kind of stuff. I wouldn’t say I’m scared, but I imagine bad outcomes in disturbing clarity.

This picture was taken from the pool. The pool that overlooks the beach. No wonder we came back so tanned!

Aren’t they such beautiful creatures? May I add that the caretakers were being rather cruel to them and I felt rather pissed.

And that, summarizes a very long story I mentioned in one of the previous posts. To say it again, my phone fell into one of the bucket seats and wedged itself in some real inconvenient position. What followed was a long struggle we (I, the husband, the crew) had with tongs, forks, newspapers, and what not! This picture was clicked once it FINALLY slid out. Can you see the sheer joy on their faces? And can you see how sheepish I look? Haha! You can’t.. I cut my face off 😀 Now teach me how to blur… please!

Ok the pictures are done. There are more, but this is real hard work. Newfound respect for people who upload photos pretty much everyday!

I have other important stuff: Today is Chuck’s (my husband) birthday. Please join me in wishing him a very very fabulous one?

May you always have the best of everything. May this birthday bring you everything you ever wished for. May joy and happiness be your lifelong companions, along with me ofcourse 🙂 May the madness never end!

I got him an X-box, and sort of committed marriage suicide. But, I just said he could have everything he wished for. So there!

Sweetheart, this one’s for you: