Sunday, November 12, 2006

An English Fortnight...almost :)

“Hope you have a nice stay!” with a friendly smile, Mr. A. R. from Ella Cabs wished me these kind words as I carried the luggage to the flat, my dwelling for the coming 2 weeks – Warley Hill, Brentwood, UK.

Out of the blue, I got an opportunity to go on a business visit to Brentwood.
UK, being second last in the list of countries I would like to visit [USA being the last], I was a bit … ok ok, a lot tensed to go there. The work wasn’t bothering me. It was the flight journey that was.

It had been years since I sat in the airplane. My last experience during a domestic flight wasn’t a very pleasant one. With rains pouring down and lightning all over, the plane thudded. The childhood memories came back, only to make me more nervous. But as they say, the best way to overcome fear is to face it. I did that religiously. [Maybe it sounds ridiculous as to how some one can be so timid, believe me if you have seen death from very close, you too would shiver.]

All said and done, as I had promised myself that if work gives me an opportunity to travel abroad, I would take a plunge and fly again. [At least, I wont be paying for my death… sounds sick, true! Just kidding!] By God’s grace, I got this chance and here I was in the English country.

The cab drive from Heathrow Airport to Brentwood was amazing. With M25 [highway] all spread ahead of us, the cab zoomed. Mr. A.R. now-and-then confirmed as to whether I was comfortable. I was too quiet to say anything. I still couldn’t digest the fact that I flew all the way to this foreign place. I guess my silence made him worry. The in-between “am fine”(s) made him sport a smile and a nod as an acknowledgement. In approximate 1 hour and a quarter more, we reached Brentwood.

Brentwood comes under Essex County. Without much knowledge about where I was actually going, I had come up with a plan to spend 1 day for site seeing. That’s all I could grant myself J. A friend, who had recently been to London, guided me as to what I might like to see. So, London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Tower of London and Tower Bridge, in that order, were finalized.

With considerable amount of work [meetings, considerable brain-storming sessions and developing a prototype within 3 days], the idea was to just forget work for 1 day. On 23rd September 2006, I was too meet Central London J.

The site seeing day had arrived. With a bag pack stuffed with some biscuits, khakras, water and digital camera, I toddled to Brentwood station. The Day Travel card is supposed to be cheaper then the normal to-fro tickets. So hastily I bought the same. The route was fixed:
1. Normal train from Brentwood to Stratford
2. Tube train from Stratford to Waterloo

Couple of days back from today, for a business meeting, I had been to Southwark [pronounced as “sa-darq”]. Southwark comes before Waterloo.

Thus its…
Brentwood – ‘n’ stations – Southwark – Waterloo.

So I was comfortable with the rail route to be traveled.

After reaching Waterloo station, I tread on my way to take a ride in what is called as the London Eye. From considerable distance itself, I was in awe of the London Eye’s height. With my digital camera out and rolling [figuratively, of course!], I started taking pictures of the Eye.

My eyes were too excited to see the Eye!

The queue to buy tickets for the flight was okey-dokey. They have this facility of booking tickets online too. I chose to get them on the spot. With a £13.50 ticket and lots of expectations from the flight, I joined the queue leading to the cute looking capsules.

For record, a group of 4 English people was immediately ahead of me in the queue. The youngest of them (mostly in late 20’s) was the most scared to take up the flight. The other 3 elderly people comforted him.
Well, was I scared to enter the Eye? Not until the not-so-young kiddo ahead me repetitively said, “Am worried…am worried. It’s too high!”
** Oh really! Good God you confirmed. Else we all were about to believe that suddenly we shrunk. Duh! **

Before entering the capsule, there was a security check going on. The security person checked my not-so-small bag. Within couple of minutes I was returned the bag. I moved ahead eagerly to finally fly!

The slow ascend of the Eye makes one barely feel any kind of motion. As the capsule moves high, the view from the Eye becomes better and better. With the capsule reaching to meet the sky, the earth starts looking prettier J. The amazingly lit [by sun’s rays] tall structures start appearing closer laterally. I was engrossed clicking pictures at this end, and that end of the capsule. The capsule has North, South, East and West directions marked on it. The flight lasts for about 45 minutes or so, can’t remember exactly, was too busy enjoying :D.

What I liked the most during the flight was seeing the almost picture-perfect skyline. The view of couple of the bridges down below is something I will remember for long time. The time in the flight flew very fast. For bird’s eye view of London, go ahead and enjoy the London eye!

After the flight was over, I crossed over the Westminster Bridge to reach Westminster Abbey’s star attraction – Big Ben. There’s nothing so worth-a-watch about it… especially if you have no clue about the history [bet most of us don’t know, that’s obvious to!] behind this belfry and have seen it in one of those Hindi movie songs :P.

There’s quite a history about how the clock tower came into being. One of the requirement specifications for the clock tower was:
“The first stroke of the hour bell should register the time, correct to within one second per day, and furthermore that it should telegraph its performance twice a day to Greenwich Observatory, where a record would be kept."

Talk about punctuality and specifications!!!
The requirement did get fulfilled though.

Some interesting facts [Courtesy: Googling] about the Big Ben should be listed down:
1. Technically speaking, the name "Big Ben" does not refer to the famous tower; instead, it refers to the largest of the five bells inside the clock tower.
2. The placing of old pennies in the mechanism controls the accuracy of the clock movement.
3. At first, the bell was to be called "Victoria," in honor of the Queen. However, "Big Ben" was the name that came to be used. At the time that the bell was built, there were two well-known men named Ben. One was a champion boxer -- Benjamin Caunt. The second Ben was Sir Benjamin Hall, a Member of Parliament who, as Commissioner of Public Works, had a great deal to do with the clock tower and the bells. His name was on the side of the first bell that had cracked. Either of these two men could have inspired the nickname "Big Ben," but no one is really sure which it was!

Hope the history didn’t make you snore J). Now that you know at least this, you would identify a bit better with the ‘Big Ben’! I am not too sure but there are tours to the see the Tower. I didn’t even bother to enquire about it. […Had to judiciously use ‘time’. Irony, is it? ]

After the camera was satisfied zooming and capturing Big Ben from ‘n’ angles, we (me and camera… yaar!) moved ahead to meet the river. Thames cruise was next in the pipeline.

Frankly speaking I had no clue as to why I should take the cruise. It has been days since I’ve read something about some tourist place – city, country, continent! A vigilant tip – in case you are going to land up in a totally unknown place, better do some homework as far as site-seeing is considered. It proves helpful in time management!

Ok. So back to the cruise. There are various options available as far as duration, destination to reach is considered – to-fro tickets are cheaper. [That’s obvious too!] After the cruise, ‘Tower of London’ tour was on the list. So I settled down for the cruise up to the ‘Tower of London’. Now with a £6.00 ticket and no clue as to what to expect out of Thames, I stood besides a crowd waiting to pour into the cruise.

The cruise … hmm… what shall I say. I could have never imagined how beautiful the surroundings would look once the small boat starts moving. A very smart, entertaining and witted cruise member told wonderful facts about the ‘n’ structures fencing the Thames. Besides being humorous and gripping, the narration was very informative too. I felt so ignorant of the world around me :(. This complex once again became stronger post this UK visit. God bless me! [Did I hear ‘Amen!’ :P]

For me the cruise ended up really fast. Poor me wanted to sail a bit more. The twinkle in the eye, which I carried right from India to see the ‘Koh-I-noor’ added to the eagerness to enter the Tower of London (TOL). The cruise temporarily halted at TOL as it was bound up to Greenwich. I got down and eagerly walked towards the Tower’s entrance.

I lined up, bought a 15£ ticket and waited at the entrance of the TOL for a guided tour to begin! I had the idea that there was some history to be listened too…but it kind of only increased my intrigue. And then I saw one more really witty, humorous man called Dave. Dave is a Yeoman (Officer in the (ceremonial) bodyguard of the British monarch). He would be guiding the curious crowd through the Tower.

What followed was almost 3 hour or so of just seeing the wonderful things around. As we neared any tower, realization of interesting/cruel historical facts (told by Dave) generated mixed emotions. My favorite things have to be:
- Seeing the little chapel within the TOL and knowing about the history related to it
- Seeing the “Koh-I-Noor”… boy-o-boy, diamonds just shine ;). Also the footage of the Queen’s coronation ceremony that is shown before one can see the two crowns – namely, “The Imperial Crown of India” and “the crown with the Koh-I-Noor” in which lumps-and-lumps of gold was exhibited was overwhelming ;)

I purposefully bought a T-shirt with a crown painted on it and wore it today. Only later did I realize the crown actually depicted ‘the imperial crown of India’! The crown had heads turning :P.

Excuse me for comparing seeing these jewels to the Nizam’s jewellery I had seen about 3-4 months back in Hyderabad [wonderful trip with friends… wish times just come back!]. For record, the Nizam’s jewels were aaammmaaazzzzzzziiinnnggggggggggggggggggggg! I have never fallen in love with anything like ‘Blue Sapphires’ since then. All the jewellery exhibited in Hyd was exclusive and extremely eye-catching. I still remember, instead of seeing the entire Salarjung Museum, we unanimously chose to get blinded by the glitter ;). There was this ‘Jacob’s diamond’ which really caught everyone’s attention. It was worth 400 crores or so… and just to amaze any reader – it had been used as a paperweight once.
[We had this greedy joke – gimme all the moolah worth Jacob’s diamond, and I am ready to be a human paperweight :P]

Back to TOL. The camera was a bit unhappy, as it wasn’t allowed to shine in front of any of the jewels :(. But it made sure to capture the surroundings. At a point I got so tired walking, that I sat down on a bench and nibbled some stuff I had carried. I am this crazy soul who had one samosa early in during at Stratford and since then was not even feeling the urge to eat anything. Hadn’t I nibbled on to something now, returning to Brentwood would have been a distant dream :-S. I just finished eating and again started walking to discover the place around. It’s strange but I was enjoying so much seeing the surroundings. I have always liked Brit things I guess … the Fort area in Mumbai is one of my fav places too!

Ok so now its 5:30pm and the guards are asking all the visitors to leave the premises. I was a bit sad, as I couldn’t see the White tower. All I saw was the Bloody Tower, the Crown Jewels, the chapel, change of guard and a bit here-and-there. It’s only human to want more ;).

I walked out of TOL towards the Tower Bridge. A cup of tea was all I was looking for and successfully managed to grab it before the café would close for the day. One thing, which really amazed me, was that they just close the outlets and all by 6:00pm… nothing like “let’s earn more”, at least at tourist spots!

After climbing few stairs that take you to Tower Bridge, I just walked at leisure. The walk was to see the things around, especially the bridge construction and all. The sun set made the surroundings more pleasant… quite romantic too ;;). I walked all the way to London Bridge station. On the way, there were these wonderful tall structures – Hilton hotel deserves a mention :).

Never ever did I imagine walking all by myself on a foreign land and today I did that for the entire day. It surprised me too considering how able my ‘sense of direction’ is! Guess keenness to explore the scenic beauty just overtook any inhibitions that were somewhere rooted in my mind. Good for me!

I took the tube train back to Stratford. From Stratford, I took normal train to Brentwood. The day was over, but the dreams had just blossomed. Which dreams… dreams of being able to travel to as many beautiful places as possible in this small life :). Lord, hope you are reading this too :)


When asked by my family, friends, dear ones as to how I felt during this short visit…I have only this to say:
1. It was really a good learning experience
2. London is picturesque… [It has its share of problems, but still it’s the way they describe in the story books ;;) ]


“Would you like to come back?” Mr. A.R. from Ella Cabs asked me as the cab stopped at Heathrow airport. Call it coincidence; he drove me back to the airport from Brentwood. My immediate answer to this question was “not really very keen to come back soon but wouldn’t mind coming in some due time”.

He asked whether I didn’t like the place [maybe he was expecting a ‘Yes, why not’ as a reply.]. I had no particular answer to give. I was just not thinking much then. Matter of fact, being from South Africa, having come to UK to earn money for the family, life had given quite bitter experiences to A.R. in 4 years itself. He also had an embroidery business. He was sour towards the very place that supported his clan back home. This ignited a line of thought.


Now I have successfully undergone the entire ‘process’ of getting through the airport norms and ‘duty free’ awaits me :). Believe me … the ‘duty free’ is wow!!! Swarovski
And Harrods shops were really good. At least I am seeing what all I can never buy :P. Will meet you back in India :). Cheers!!!


Written especially for you… this is the gist of what all I did. When we meet dear, there are more stories to tell ;). Miss you always!!! Take care!!!


At Wednesday, December 20, 2006, Anonymous Minu said...

Amu ... i could imagine the beautiful places while reading the well written blog...wat i like the most about ur writings is the level of details u describe about some things which no one even notices!
You r complicated!

At Monday, January 08, 2007, Blogger Demosthenes said...

I love The Eye. I love London. And America is last on my list of places I like to travel as well, but that's because I live there. :)

I have lots of funny jokes about Essex gels, but... well, they're jokes about Essex gels. Enough said.


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