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

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

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

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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hampstead village, kaif, and keats

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Hampstead Village in Inner London is the London address of the who’s who in the world of arts and showbiz. It has more millionaires within its boundaries than any other area in the UK. Past residents include Keats, John Constable, Henry Moore, Robert Louis Stevenson, Agatha Christie, T.S. Eliot … Some of its current residents are Boy George, Brad Pitt, Emma Thompson and Bollywood’s very own Katrina Kaif. However, don’t expect to bump into them as you walk around, because it won’t happen. 🙂 Continue reading

richmond to hampton

Richmond and Hampton with a cruise down the river Thames. That’s the plan for the day.

The nice thing about travelling when you are older is you appreciate the finer nuances better. 😀 For one, I learnt that Richmond used to be called Shene and was highly popular with the royal family who lived in the manor house until Henry VII built Richmond Palace in 1501. It’s a little startling to take a turn and actually step back 500 years. Though much of the palace has been lost to time, the Maids of Honours Row, Wardrobe, Trumpeter’s House and Gate House still stand intact, now converted into rented apartments behind the historical facades.

Walking past the Victorian Richmond theatre, boutique shops and the Green which has held cricket matches since 1666, I reached the edge of the Thames to catch my boat to Hampton, as I was told Henry VIII would have done! The cruise is hypnotic with its serene landscapes intertwined with picturesque houses hugging the edge of the river. One feels one is somewhere far away in the country. But it is still London or to be technically correct, Greater London.

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tower of london—flirting with the beefeaters

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When you live in London, it is only right that you do at least some of the absolutely touristy things the city is famous for, which includes going to the Tower of London, packed with swarms of holiday-makers. Most famous for the beheadings of Henry VIII’s (1491–1547) wives when they failed to provide blessed little boys, the Tower has to be on the top things-to-do list in every guide-book on this country. And does it live up to its name. Millions of tourists cannot be wrong. 🙂 Continue reading

it is pronounced ‘greenich’, my dear

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Greenwich has always been inexorably bound to the sea and all things maritime; right from King Henry VIII’s time when he lived in the Royal Palace of Placentia that used to stand here and oversaw his naval fleet from it. Came the 18th Century, and along with it Queen Mary and Christopher Wren. The Queen decided to build a naval almshouse at the site of the Old Palace. Known as the Royal Naval Hospital (1752), it provided lodging and meals to the disabled and retired seamen of the Napoleonic Wars. Wren’s grand edifices later became the Royal Naval College in 1873 and were finally leased to the University of Greenwich, in 1999, and the Trinity College of Music.

The connection with the sea doesn’t end there. Greenwich is home to the National Maritime Museum which pulsates with the trade, exploration and colonization ties that the seas have had with England. And then there’s what everyone comes to look at. The Royal Observatory where John Harrison invented his famous sea clocks, and THE Greenwich Meridian Line, Longitude 0 degrees 0’ 0”, home of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Continue reading

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. Continue reading