I’m not sure when I began planning my trip to London, was it the conversation I had with Hannah while she was in India or was it much earlier, a childhood spent reading English authors? It feels like, I have always had it on my mind.
From the boiled egg sandwiches followed by strawberries & cream that were gulped down by the always famished Famous Five, to the castles and crowded railway stations of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the goofy characters of a P.G. Wodehouse novel; arriving in London felt like I was finally meeting a pen pal I had long conversed with.
I spent a fortnight in the UK, shuffling between two of my closest friends, both of whom are Londoners. I dived straight into their way of life – having English breakfasts, acing the Underground and the red buses (thanks to an app called City Mappers) and stopping for a cup of tea at any point of jubilation or despair. I returned to India with a verbal tic that had me saying “sorry” at the end of every sentence I uttered.
My friend Hannah and I, went off to Chichester in the South East of England to meet her parents, who very kindly loaned us their car for our little road trip. Chichester is a quintessential English town with an exquisite 12th century cathedral, a city center lined with predictable British fashion brands accompanied by tea shops, a decent university and a winding canal (with ducks!).
I wanted to visit Wales, so we drove there from Chichester via Stonehenge, Bath and Bristol. We arrived at Bath, just in time for an afternoon tea at Bea’s Vintage Tea Room. We ordered a high tea between the two of us which was delicious, starting off with three different sandwiches, two tea cakes and the famed English scones with clotted cream and jam. Naturally, all of it was downed with a hot cup of tea.
Bath was certainly the most scenic town I visited in the UK. A big fan of heritage buildings, I thoroughly enjoyed The Circus, the Royal Crescent and the numerous other public buildings all made in the same light-yellow, Bath stone.
Our next stop was Bristol, which seemed very alternate and hip to me. I didn’t see much of the city, but drove through the university to catch the sunset at the Clifton Suspension Bridge and then walked up to the Clifton Observatory on the cliff adjoining it.
The next day, we took a couple of wrong turns but found our way to Wales. It was a very short visit, we spent the morning at the ruins of Caldicot Castle and ended our little road trip at Barry Island beach before returning to Chichester and then London. With a heat wave on, the beach at Barry’s Island was full of chubby Britishers struggling to tan; this reminded me of Calangute & Baga beach in Goa, in the early 90s.
I spent the second leg of my journey with Vidhi, who was working during the day, so I used the hours she was away to explore the museums, parks and pubs of London by myself. I was then reading Bill Bryson’s, ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’; so I got to see the statues and fossils that he mentions in his book, at the Natural History Museum. I enthusiastically planned to visit every single museum in London but didn’t manage it. I’m glad I made it to the National Gallery; I enjoyed every inch of art there, as well as the artists and performers outside, on Trafalgar Square.
Vidhi and I made a day trip to Cambridge to meet our college friend Shreyashi. We got a detailed tour of the colleges, with interesting inputs on famous Indian alumni and their respective colleges, how many students have attempted suicide this term and how much money you could make punting. As if that wasn’t good enough, she helped us sneak in to areas that are sometimes difficult for tourists to access.
There’s always some excitement when travelling with Vidhi, on our return from Cambridge, we missed our train by a minute, bought fresh tickets, wondered around the station aimlessly only to have Vidhi discover (she is such a discoverer, I tell you!) that our former train was delayed and still waiting at the platform. What ensued was an animated run back to the ticket booth, a quick argument with the ticket collector and a speedy chase to our train that had decided to leave now that we had tickets again!
There is so much more I did that I would love to write about but this is becoming too long a read. I’d just like to mention them briefly, like they do at the Oscars, thank you to Portobello Market for delightful walks and rambling, the antique market that Vidhi took me to (I no longer remember the name), watching Les Miserables is something I will never forget and finally the countless walks in various parks – all cities must have parks I say!
I am told that the weeks I spent in London, were the sunniest days of the year. As my friend Bob pointed out, “London was trying to mislead me that she was always that lovely”. At the end of two weeks, I certainly felt that London was indeed lovely and so were Londoners. I was warned that Londoners may be rude and brash, but I am happy to say that I met the most friendly, polite and comic people there. I was completely floored by the diversity of people, their cultures and cuisines (sushi is probably more British than Japanese nowadays). It was also such a relief to see people dress, behave and love as they wished to, without a disapproving stare from anyone.
My holiday to London helped me realize what a tiny little pond I have been living in, within India. In no way am I comparing, that one is better than the other, I was just wowed by the sheer diversity of our world. It has made me excited about venturing further and I hope I can write about those trips soon.