south bank: my favourite walk in london

My favourite walk in London. 🙂 It is also a long walk—from St. Katharine Docks to Westminster, by the South Bank, meandering over London’s many bridges and through the cathedrals, theatres and pubs that line the edge of the River Thames. The nicest part is that as you walk, the sun starts to set and the lights come on and it is like walking through one huge painting.

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St. Katharine Docks were once the Port of London’s most central docks Continue reading

beautiful wells and mystical glastonbury

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Early Saturday morning and all of London seems asleep. The only sounds I hear are that of my running feet on their way to the tube station. It is a good few hours to Wells and Glastonbury. And when you leaving in a few days, oh well, sleeping in on a Saturday morning is the last priority on one’s list. 😀

England’s smallest cathedral city, Wells, derives its name from the three wells within its walled precincts, which during the Middle Ages were believed to have therapeutic qualities. Its other key attraction, for nearly a millennium, has been its cathedral [Cathedral Church of St. Andrew], and understandably so. Continue reading

blenheim, churchill and me

“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” ~
Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

There are many advantages to travel—it reveals facets of people, places and our world which are often quite extraordinary.

Blenheim Palace is not in the top “things to do” list, and so tends to get sidelined. Which is a good thing, as it is thus, saved from the crowds and plastic commercialism which invariably smothers the real essence of overtly popular places. But what is Blenheim? It is a home, a very grand home of a man who was a statesman, orator, writer and artist, all rolled into one. It is the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill—Britain’s most famous prime minister and Nobel Prize laureate for literature in 1953, who also happened to be the grandson of the 7th Duke of Marlborough.

The 300-year-old baroque palace puts Britain’s statesman in a completely different context, amidst ceilings by Nicholas Hawksmoor and stonework by Grinling Gibbons. I had to keep telling myself this was somebody’s “home”! Look at the pictures and you will understand my awe.

The baroque splendour of Winston Churchill’s family home:
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trafalgar square to westminster palace and abbey

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This is my favourite photo. I was walking across Parliament Square towards Big Ben and Winston Churchill’s statue rose in front of me …

I love the way London is segregated in its functionality. It is pure Classicism in its order. There is legal London. Royal London. Financial London. And political London, also more commonly known as Whitehall.

Whitehall is a homogeneous line of government buildings, pierced with landmarks both significant and world-famous such as No. 10 Downing Street, Horse Guards Parade, Banqueting House and the Cenotaph. Not many tourists take this road. It is populated by government officials going about the business of running a country. Yet, Trafalgar Square at one end, and Westminster Palace [housing the UK Parliament] and Westminster Abbey at the other end, constitute the most visited tourist spots of London. Continue reading

george III and the kew gardens

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Some places turn out to be such a pleasant surprise! I had put down Kew Palace and the Kew Royal Botanical Gardens for today. I’d been starting to feel a bit jaded—you know the “been there, done that” feeling and I, therefore, wanted to do something inconsequential for a change. Botanical gardens and palaces seemed to fit the bill perfectly. 🙂 Not too demanding was what I told myself. Continue reading

historic york

When I moved to London last year, York topped my “things to do/ see/ experience” list. And then I got busy studying and travelling to nearer places. But I never forgot York. There is something iconic about York—perhaps attributable to its historic value and the fame of its York Minster. 6 am this morning I was, thus, off to catch my train from King’s Cross station, to keep a promise to myself.

The history of York has been said to be the history of Britain. Dating back to 71 AD when it was founded by the Romans, the city first served as the capital of the Roman province “Britannia Inferior”, and thereafter that of subsequent rulers, namely, the Angles and Vikings. It was also in York, in 306 AD, that Constantine the Great was proclaimed emperor by his troops. A Roman column marks the site; the column was once part of 36 similar ones that supported a great hall in the Roman garrison.

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fitzrovia, piccadilly, the strand

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Fitzroy Square, the home away from home for many Indian students

This post is about my walk today through three places which I often feel are the very soul of this city: Fitzrovia, Piccadilly, and the Strand. The former is home to University College London, the first university institution to be founded in London, and the first university institution in the country to admit students regardless of religion or sex.

Piccadilly is where every Londoner’s and my favourite art gallery is—the Royal Academy of Arts. The Royal Academy, founded by Sir Joshua Reynolds, enjoys a unique position in being led by renowned artists and architects to promote art through education, debate and exhibitions. Bliss for the artist! Continue reading

london’s ‘square mile’

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I bumped into these gentlemen within five minutes of my walk in the City. They were liverymen from the Guilds going about their duties. I just loved their outfits 🙂

The actual City of London is in fact just over a square mile. The rest is Greater London. Known as ‘the City’ or the ‘square mile’, it is built over the Roman ruins of Londinium and represents the country’s financial services industry. It’s a crazy mish-mash of Victorian buildings, steel and glass towering skyscrapers, poetic churches [including St. Paul’s Cathedral] by Christopher Wren and medieval traditions and customs. It has a parliament older than Westminster and its ancient freedoms are guaranteed to date under the Magna Carta. 350,000 people come to work here every day. Only 6,000 people actually live in the City.

Grey stone, grey glass, white skies, men and women in black suits, and a group of liverymen in full attire. I must admit I had a blast with my camera. And to complete my day, I climbed 311 steps up a claustrophobic spiralling staircase inside the 350-year-old Monument built by Charles II to commemorate the Great Fire of London in 1666, and got a certificate in the end. 🙂 Continue reading

the prettiest castle and grandest church in england

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Leeds castle is presently kept as a living house; guests can stay in its bedrooms. Over 10 million people have visited the castle in the last 30 years

Take the prettiest castle and the grandest church in the country and that was my day for today. Yes, I went to Leeds and Canterbury.

By now I can honestly say I have been to most of the castles and churches in England—the important ones, the lesser known ones, those that the guide books rave about, and those that the locals get sentimental and have loads of personal memories attached to ones. And the two I visited today easily qualify as the best of the best. 🙂 Continue reading

3 famous places and 1 personal favourite in london

A museum, a palace, a theatre, and a church. I would like to have come up with some exotic story linking the four—a walk, a theme, even a day! But the only claim I can honestly make is that I’ve been to all these four places time and time again and enjoyed them to the fullest. 🙂

The Natural History Museum. Ok. Stuffed animals don’t really get me all excited, but the dinosaurs and ambience of the old Victorian building and in its contrast the modernism of the Darwin Centre and Cocoon is a whopping WOW. The latter is awesome, turning anyone who walks through its corridors into a lover of the science of nature. And if you are ever in London whilst the Wildlife Photography Exhibition that the Museum hosts is on, please DON’T MISS IT. It is stunning. Next is Buckingham Palace, the home of the queen with its state rooms, royal mews, and queen’s gallery. Ever wanted to look at Tipu Sultan’s Bird of Paradise from his royal throne or the regal crown presented to the British royal family by the Tulaqdars? They are here. And then there’s Covent Garden, which was once upon a time a fruit and vegetable market. Grab a coffee, sit on the pavement and be entertained in London’s only area which is licensed for street entertainment.

And finally St. Paul’s, the actor’s church tucked behind the 17th Century square of Covent Garden, where famous British artists and actors lie interred, and a handful of Londoners light a candle, pray and have silent conversations with god. It is so beautiful in its sheer simplicity it warrants mention in this blog.

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circles of stones—part 2—avebury

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Travelling to places off the beaten path is an exhilarating experience. And yes, there are still such places in England too. Everyone clamours to go to Stonehenge. Which is understandable. It’s pretty fantastic. But there is a site even older and bigger, spread over the rolling meadows that Thomas Hardy repeatedly invoked in his timeless novels set in eastern England. It’s called Avebury. Continue reading

circles of stones—part 1—stonehenge

I am finally visiting the sight people commonly see in their first week in London—I am going to Stonehenge. I wasn’t too sure as to what I ought to be feeling as I made the 90-minute train journey to Salisbury. I had seen too many pictures; heard and read endless reviews, some ecstatic, others disappointed. I could even close my eyes and picture the prehistoric ring of stone slabs, complete with blue or grey skies. It is after all the most popular wallpaper on Windows as well.

Before I took the coach on to Stonehenge, I spent some time at Salisbury also known as New Sarum though nobody ever calls it by this name. I wish I’d had more time in the town whose chief claim to fame is its cathedral which has got to be the most beautiful in the country.

It is also an architectural marvel. Where do I begin? Because of the high water table in the area, the 123 metre high church stands over foundations merely 1 metre deep. The 60 metre hollow spire weighs 6,500 tonnes and is the tallest spire in the United Kingdom and the tallest pre-1400s surviving spire in the world. Designed by Bishop Richard Poore, the cathedral was built over just 38 years (1220-1258) and is a masterpiece of Early English Gothic architecture. The world’s oldest working clock (1386) with no face and which only struck the hours was used in the bell tower till 1789; it now stands in the north aisle. One more fact. The Chapter House contains one of the finest versions of the only four surviving original copies of the 1215 Magna Carta—the very cornerstone of Human Rights. Whew!

salisbury1 Continue reading