bloomsbury, fitzrovia, and my favourite place in london

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My favourite place in London has got to be the BM—read British Museum. I know, I’m a nerd. 😀 But see it from my eyes and the BM is all of life under one roof.

I’ve been here 10 months and soon I’ll be gone. I figure it is time to unravel the traveller within me and start exploring, both London and England. And how better else to start than with the vicinity around the institution that echoes all I hold dear—Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia. The weather is beautiful. The days long and lazy. Tough to resist so many temptations!

One of London’s most attractive charms is undoubtedly its little nooks and corners which somehow seem to get completely sidelined by tourists. My walk today started with the Sicilian Avenue which dates back to 1905. It has to be the quaintest pedestrian walkway I have ever come across, hemmed in as it is with ionic columns topped with urns, brimming over with Roman ambience and street cafes.

And then starts Bloomsbury’s other prime attraction. Its squares. There’s Bloomsbury Square (the oldest square in London, 1661), Russell Square (centrepiece for London University’s various departments), Tavistock Square (with its effigy of Mahatma Gandhi) and Bedford Square with its picture perfect Georgian houses.

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Clockwise from top: Sicilian Avenue, Earl Frank Russell’s statue at Russell Square, and a cherub adorning the Victorian Russell Hotel; The earl was tried for bigamy in 1901, after which he was known in Edwardian society as the “Wicked Earl”
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Left: A picture perfect Georgian house in Bedford Square; Right: London University
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Karma free food at School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)

Exploring Bloomsbury also makes you think of London differently. I for one never expected to find the Institute of Commonwealth Studies to be housed behind a nondescript early-Victorian facade. Or to see Londoners do Tai chi in its squares. As I walked on past houses where once Sir Hans Sloane lived and TS Eliot worked, I entered the heart of London University (founded in 1836) with its towering Senate House. There were students everywhere, earnest, serious, thoughtful. Reading. Studying. Discussing. From all over the world. And amidst them all was a Hare Rama Hare Krishna devotee dishing out food from his colourful wagon decorated with the words “enjoy karma free food”.

In the middle of the University area is the Church of Christ the King, earlier known as the Catholic Apostolic Church (1853). The English Chapel is the only part that is still used today. If I say it is beautiful, it would be an understatement. Decorated with a high Tudor roof, gold relief and cherubic angels, faded red cushions line the choir seats. It was empty apart from me, a tourist and an elderly English lady.

There was one more church I wanted to have a dekko at today. Nicholas Hawksmoor’s St. George’s (1731). So I walked on till I nearly walked past it. It was squashed between high red-brick buildings. The church is a fascinating example of sculptural architecture; the tower is shaped like King Mausolus’ tomb and is topped with a statue of George I.

A quick melt panini at Museum Street, and I found myself back at the BM. They are currently running a special exhibition, titled Garden and Cosmos, on Indian Miniature Painting from the Marwar region. They’ve even recreated an Indian garden replete with tulsi and ghenda phool. I spent the remaining day in raptures over the intricate detailing on monumental works of Jodhpur art, listening to Zakir Hussain on the audio guide, and trying to fathom the mysteries of Nath yogis, yantras and chakras. The nerd was a happy chick. 🙂

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Left: Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), physician and benefactor of the British Museum lived here 1695-1742; Right: Nicholas Hawksmoor’s eccentric St. George’s
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The British Museum: My favourite place in London; The museum, dedicated to human history, art, and culture, was established in 1753 and is free to all visitors

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