On bridges and ferris wheels

[Date: 15 December, 2008]

Back to my tryst with London! Now before reading further, please know that this travelogue is more for me as a record of my travel than for the general public as a tour-guide of London. So if you see me gushing over silly things – well, that’s ‘coz they are the things that I’d like to be reminded of when I read these posts in, say, 10 years (by which time I think WordPress will cease to be a free-service!). If you have wandered here looking for information on London, I would suggest you check on some travel sites ‘coz this blog here is about Me, Me and Other Me.

Right, so I’ve been here a week now and the open-mouthed wonderous moments still happen. Last night it happened when I saw this house decorated for Christmas, with the fairy lights and tree and a huge Santa Claus. The other European city that I’ve been to during Christmas season was Rome and I definitely felt more cheer in the air there than I feel here.  I don’t know why!

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London Eye, view from the Thames cruise

Sunday saw us at the Tower Hill tube station, getting ready to start the tour of the big places, ie. Tower bridge, London bridge and London Eye. It was freezing, as usual but the excitement at finally seeing all the monuments one hears about was a huge help in overcoming the cold. We had a light snack of Fish n Chips (‘coz I wanted traditional English stuff!) and an almond croissant (heaven, to say the least) and set sail on a ferry that would take us on a cruise on the Thames. All the window seats on the ferry inside were taken, so we did the next best stupid thing – go to the roof, the open air seating area. The fact that the seats were made of metal and were wet didn’t help much with my already frozen backside. But the human body can do wonders if the mind really wants it to. So there we were, on the ferry, taking in the sites and clicking the occasional photos. There was one point during the cruise were one could see all 3 structures – London Eye, Big Ben and the Parliament House-Westminster Abbey – in the same frame – stupendous beyond reasonable levels!

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London skyline view, from the Eye

We got off at the London Eye  pier and got tickets for the 30 min ride on the giant ferris wheel. There was also an offer going on where we could get tickets for Madame Tussaud’s at a discounted price if we bought them along with the tickets to the Eye – the tickets were valid for a month and we could visit Tussaud’s anytime. Wonderful – one stone, two mangoes types! Apparently, such offers are usually available for most sight-seeing places and is a good save on time and money.

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Big Ben and the Parliament house, day view from the Eye

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Night view of Big Ben and the Parliament houses

The London Eye. Hmm, where do I begin! We did this first before seeing anything else in London,  so it became like a preview for the rest of London. And guess what? We were there by around 5pm, so lucky us, our way up the wheel was a daytime view of the city and by the time we reached the top and began the descent, night had fallen and we got a night view of the city! Who would’ve thunk!! A teensy weensy tip to keep in mind. The view from the wheel was mind-blowing as expected. At one point, we had a distant view of a triangular shaped object and we actually thought that was the Eiffel Tower. We still don’t know what it was.  Yeah well, like it matters.

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Thames, view from the Eye

Once the trip on the wheel got over, we wandered around the area and it was like some carnival going on. Lots of shops selling trinkets, souvenirs and most importantly, food! Dutch mini-pancakes (with Nutella!!), pretzels, mulled wine, lots of German stuff (read pork, beef, etc. so we didn’t look that side much) and candies of all shapes, sizes and colors. A small note of caution: most often than not, candies don’t taste as good as they look, so watch out.  Safer bet would be to pick up chocolate colored ones and stay away from yellows and whites (well, my experience – both the colors tasted like crap).

Since it’s winter now, its fully dark by around 6pm and gets terribly cold. So we trundled to the nearest Tube station (I forget which) and took our train back home (yep, home it was!). We had dinner at this little Srilankan place called Hopper Hut and it was amazing – tapioca, chicken, fish, ridge-gourd curry, cashew-peas curry – divine for a palate that hadn’t had much of Asian food the last few days. I know it’s sounds weird when I say I came all this way to London and I still ate Indian food, but you know what? Once in a while, one does get sick and tired of croissants, donuts and muffins. And pancakes, toast and eggs.  Really, nothing like good ol’ rice and curd with a good pickle on the side.

Home was warm and cozy and I realized how the phrase ‘warmth of home and hearth’ came into being – no big deal in Souht India perhaps since most times home is cooler than outside, but here? Oh here, home is warm and homey!

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View from the kitchen window of our apartment

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View of the backyard from the bedroom window

And the moment I took off my shoes, I realized my feet were numb from the cold (this, inspite of woolen socks and a good robust pair of Reeboks). And as the numbness starting going off, the pains started! Now would be a good time to mention that I’m not much of a walking person in India, so all the walking here took its toll looks like. But hey, the good news? One gets used to it and learns to ignore the pain and keep walkin!

Next post, Paris!

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Frozen food and frozen self

When my husband told me that it’s always overcast and/or drizzling rain in London, I thought he was exaggerating. Well, it wasn’t exaggeration people. It IS always overcast, if not raining. Of the time I’ve spent here, I can count the number of times I saw the blue of the sky or seen the sunlight hit the rooftops. Ohmygod, it’s such a gloom-fest weatherwise! Oh, the number of times I saw sunlight so far? Twice. In 4 days.

But enough cribbing about the weather. I think one gets used to it in a while and learns to ignore it and also make the most of it when it isn’t raining. So, here I am! In London.  So far, it’s been absolutely amazing. This is my first time in the UK and I kinda like it. It’s cold, yes, but if you have around 4 or 5 layers of warm clothes on you, you’re all set.

My most unforgettable experience so far has been the Underground rail transport system. Oh. My. God. If I can get even 50% of this kind of service in Hyderabad, I’ll kiss my car goodbye. The Tube is so awesome, it’s close to infallible! Ofcourse, if one hasn’t been here a while it’s a wee bit of a challenge to get to know the lines and the directions but it’s easy after the initial few mistakes. Like any first-timer in the Tube, my eyes never left the map on the walls of the train – what station is next, how many more stops to ‘our’ station, repeating the station name after the announcer – you’d think I was 8 going on my first train trip! If it weren’t for the fact that my husband actually found my behavior amusing, he would’ve downright asked me shut the hell up. Well, I don’t care anyway. I’m a pro now at navigating the Tube, hah! But if I were you, I wouldn’t bet my life on it though.

Since I’m a tourist here (though the spouse is here on work), we did typical tourist-y things so far. Which interestingly enough included a 3 hour stop at the neighborhood 24/7 supermarket, Asda. 3 hours, I kid you not. I felt like a kid at Disneyland, for cryin’ out loud! It was mind-bogglingly out of this world! After buying every frozen food known to mankind (since the kitchen setup in the apartment is virtually non-existent, and the only thing we used was the microwave), we trundled home laden with my loot. Life never felt better.

Though most things about this trip have been absolutely spiffing (yes yes, one is practising the ‘other’ English just for the heck of it), one thing I don’t like so much is the getting-ready-to-go-out bit. I have one set of going-out clothes and thermal wear on, a sweater on top, a woolen stole around my neck, a pair of gloves and then the rough-n-tough woolen jacket. And then the monkey-cap-thingie. And my trusted chapstick and ear-plugs. And the woollen socks and shoes (goodbye to the times of wearing the first pair of sandals you see and walking out the door in India). The worst part? Inspite of all this, I’m a frozen block of ice by the time we reach the Tube station, a mere 5 minute walk from the apartment. So much for wearing protective gear against the cold. What nonsense!

Tomorrow’s post will be about the London Eye. And how I was on the verge of hypothermia sitting on the open terrace of the ferry that took us on a Thames cruise. Interesting it was, not to mention freezing. I lived to tell the tale, evidently.

The Queen says hello

The weather is as gloomy as it can get. Rain is in the offing. It has been for the last 2 days, and maybe it does rain at night – I wouldn’t know. It’s been 2 days since I saw the Sun, 2 whole days since the touch of sunshine on the barren trees and autumn-hinged bushes.  The sun, here, is just an entity that must exist somewhere above for there is a day and a night and that’s pretty much it. One doesn’t have to see the sun to know it’s there!

I see the housetops from my room and it looks like it’s taken straight out of a fairy tale, perhaps it’s made of gingerbread! It’s 7 in the morning and the street lights are still on for it’s still too dark to be morning. I can’t see past my neighbour’s house, the fog is everywhere! The little courtyard with the defunct fountain has a thin layer of mist dancing on it. I can see a bird flopping down beside the fountain, on the green lawn and I wonder what bird it is. It looks like a mynah, with its yellow little beak and the urgent skips and hops, but I’m no ornithologist!

See, the thing is, I don’t know what bird it is. Just like I don’t know what tree it is that’s still green while the rest around it are brown. I don’t know what bush it is that’s pale golden and rusty brown, or what car it is that’s parked right by my window.  I can’t say what time it is just by looking outside!

I don’t know ‘coz I’m not at home. This place, this isn’t home. But if home is where the heart is, then yes, this is home for now. For the next one month.

London. Of the Bridge, the Eye and the Big Ben. Of royalty and chivalry. Of suppers and teas, of cucumber sandwiches and fish ‘n chips. As old as an Empire that once ruled the world, as modern as the most used most stupendous system of rail transportation that I have ever known.

Thereby hangs another travelogue…

And, oh, I went by Buckingham Palace and the Queen says hello!