Historical structures, numerous museums, enchanting little towns, several parks set in sylvan surroundings, tasty Indian cuisine and a vibrant culture, London has them all
“No matter how many millions of fawning bloggers discover them, no matter how many adoring travel articles they’re the subject of, no city cabbies or cabs are as classy as London’s with the customer feeling privileged to shell down the odd pounds for a lift down the street” says an article that lists the high points of London and I couldn’t agree more.
Stopping at London to discover its various delights on my way back from America where one is miserably dependant on hosts for commuting, the cabs, buses and trains in this vibrant city left me feeling liberated to say the least.
After wading through endless terminals at the Heathrow airport we were in for a disappointment as the travel agent had got our dates wrong and there was no one to receive us.
We finally found a cab driver, who was extremely courteous and very British in speech but halfway through our ride we discovered that he was a Punjabi settled here two decades ago. London is home to people from all over the world with Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis found in large numbers we are told. “You are likely to see all four seasons in a day and you will be lucky if it doesn’t rain,” we are warned.
Two other cab drives proved to be equally pleasant with the cabbies winning you over with their courteous manner.
“The hop on and hop off” buses which took us to different tourist destinations proved to be a delightful experience as one could get off at any place en route and get on to another bus to see a different place. The guides on these buses regaled us with their humour even as they pointed out several important land marks on the way.
As we passed by several of the star hotels we were informed of Royalty and celebrities that frequented these hotels. “This is the hotel, where Prince Philip had his Bachelors party,” we were told. One of our guides pointed to another elegant structure and announced grandiosely “This is where Elizabeth Taylor had five of her seven honeymoons and guess what they had a revolving door installed for her.”
Since it is the tourist season between May and August London was bustling with visitors. The Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Buckingham Palace road, Westminster Abbey, the Parliament houses and the great Thames River were sites passed by several times during our three days in London.
The Westminster Abbey, the 1,000-year Gothic church in the city of Westminster proved to be a very interesting place being the seat of all coronations of monarchs since that of ‘William the Conqueror’ in 1066.
The live coverage of the funeral of Princess Diana held here in 1997 and watched by millions all over the world immediately comes to mind as we look at the imposing central hall. Of the several Royal weddings solemnised here that of Prince William and Kate Middleton remains the most recent in memory.
The glittering and grand interiors and distinct architecture leave you in awe as does the poet’s corner with graves of many British poets, playwrights and authors beginning with Geoffrey Chaucer.
A cruise on the River Thames with the five piers, the Westminster, London Eye, Bank Side, and Greenwich is an unforgettable experience and a perfect vantage point for several iconic sites. Our guide described the bridges along the way and while talking about a bridge built by women during the World war, dramatically lowered his voice, “Guess what, they used the most expensive material as only women do, but it was also sturdy and more importantly completed on time.”
The famed “London Eye”, a giant Ferris wheel on the South bank of the Thames is a favourite spots of tourists who get a breath-taking view of London from the 32 sealed and air-conditioned capsules attached to the external surface of the wheel. About 25 people are accommodated in each capsule but one hardly feels the rotation while getting a breath-taking view of London from this 135m high tower.
As we stood looking out of the capsule we saw raindrops descend with heightened rhythm. By the time we got down, the place was absolutely dry. That is the unpredictable London weather for you.
The London Tower, Windsor Palace and other palaces have distinct architecture but the interiors pale in comparison to the ornate possessions seen in the luxurious palaces of India. This interesting quip by our guide sums it up. “The Buckingham Palace has 775 rooms of which the Queen herself hasn’t visited most, so don’t you worry about not getting there.”
Madame Tussauds the iconic wax statue museum close to Baker Street immortalised in Sherlock Holmes novels, has a room with the recreation of Holmes detecting a murder mystery, moors et al and proved to be a pleasant presentation.
A visit to Stone Henge, a World Heritage site and Oxford with its quaint shops and college buildings of the famed Oxford University including the World’s biggest underground library where some scenes for Harry Potter movies were shot is a two-hour bus journey from London. The drive through the countryside is replete with enchanting views and is most refreshing.
Stone Henge, a prehistoric monument with a ring of standing stones set within earth works in the middle of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments is preserved with utmost care. Considered a burial site and a temple, research on this protected monument is still on.