What better time than this to take you to London, that it is currently inaccessible by air otherwise. And disclaimer holds, lest I miss that.
Reached London, it was again the hallowed portals of terminal 5, and bowed my head in reverence to the gate where I caught the bus to Newcastle three days ago. I also fondly remembered the two airport staffers who tried their best to humour our sagging bodies and souls up, while we waited for the coaches to arrive (refer part-2). It was a nice balance of two opposing natures, with one gentleman being quite shy. I also remembered the gentle couple from Newcastle, who so I wish, could read this peace somehow and accept it as a token of my gratitude to them. The gentleman was charmingly balding and the lady was charm personified. For anyone reading this in Newcastle, I guess above is enough description to locate the benevolent persons.
Now the airport looked so much friendlier that it had returned my bag while I was still offshore. We took the 4GBP per person ‘Hoppa Bus’ to our hotel Holiday Inn Ariel which was in Heathrow area only. Later we realized that we could actually have saved these 12GBPs by using the red buses.
This is where we stood our last hour before eventual despatch to destinations. M&S store where i got a “what if you are in a hurry? Others are too and still in queue”. I remembered an underpass near Shipra mall.
My friend Gunjan had provided me sufficient inputs for me to be able to do some quality concise sight seeing of the city. He had also told me to avoid the usual suspects like Madam Tussaauds etc. And why forget to mention, he also did a lot else for me while I was fretting over my missing baggage in Newcastle. Our flight to India was the next morning. After keeping our luggages, we repented a bit not having bought umbrellas while we were at the cheaper and personal land of Newcastle. It was drizzling. We went straightaway took the local bus to the Heathrow Central bus stand/Metro station which is near terminals 1 & 3 and connected with these by an underground walkway with conveyor belts. This local bus service in Heathrow area is free for staff and bona fide connecting passengers.
We purchased the one day ticket for about 7.5GBP each which entitled us to unlimited travel for the day. The Transport for London (tfl) site gives complete information for the last mile connectivity. My colleagues were interested in some high street shopping and wanted to relive their memories from their past visits to the Oxford street area. We Left the airport line, known as the Piccadily line at Green Park station and changed to the Victoria line to exit the system at Oxford Circus station.
On can marvel incessantly at the expanse and number of lines the Tube system has got. No wonder it carries most of the London. When we came out of the Oxford street station, all those beautiful buildings at the Oxford Circus were a mesmerizing sigh. It was still drizzling and if we wanted to walk the streets, we had to purchase Umbrellas.
As soon as we came out, we took immediate shelter in the UCB store. The staff assisted us to the rack of umbrellas wearing tags of 12GBP upwards. And we soon made a sophisticated exit from the store and landed at a street shop across the road, where the tags started from 4GBP. We purchased ‘I love London’ umbrellas and started rubbing shoulders with the huge mass of humanity on the move, most of them wearing black.
We did some souvenir shopping from a beautiful little shop named Crest of London. London is gearing up for the Olympics 2012 and how. The most common tagline in all the merchandise was “I Love London”, with a heart.
Video-Oxford Street on the Move-downsampled for mobility
After spending about more than an hour around Oxford Street, we took Tube back to Green Park from where we walked along the green park boundary to the Buckingham palace. There the squirrels are remarkably big, just like the humans. As we walked down, the elegant back side of the Buckingham palace was opening to our view. It was a sudden delight. Having heard so much about it and seen so many videos including the Mr Bean episode, seeing the monument in front was a great event. A thought blinked somewhere that yes, all the trouble has paid off in the end, of course not to discount the official accomplishments earlier at Newcastle.
We went to the doors with black frame and golden emblems. The change of guard was scheduled the next day at 11:30am – about the time of our flight back home. This side is the back side which has been converted into a ceremonial front probably for the benefit of public. The Statue of Victoria adds to the Regal-ness of the surroundings.
The usual photo-video trips later, we though about what to be done thereafter. The London eye was visible from the front of Palace. We took a look at the maps and started strolling along the St James Park, which surrounds a tiny water body. Big Squirrels were spotted all along the way and suddenly the Big Ben appeared at a distance – the ultimate signpost of London and England. As we moved ahead the Westminster unfolded in front of us in its ultimate wet winter glory.
All the Churches/Temples (Abbeys) and offices and the Parliament, the entire area was like another world. I was regaled not by any particular monumnet, but enjoyed the collective ambience, once again marveling at my luck (and perseverance) in getting there. If I had made as much effort sometime back in time, I might have even being passing by these monuments on a daily basis unconcerned like I do by India Gate or Lal Kila. But that is immaterial. I was immersed in the pleasant feeling of being in such a remarkable but otherwise not so easily accessible place. Somehow, I was not treating this as any actual tourist visit, and was just passing by the landmarks, without really going deep into them literally or figuratively.
We had been looking for an Indian (veggie) restaurant since the time we were at Oxford Street (come to think of it!) and we had no chance of getting one at Westminster either. Though there was a very good fast food shop run by a Bangla speaking gentleman, in the Portcullis House, just across the Parliament Street from the Parliament house, also housing the Westminster Tube Station. We purchased some veggie stuff and juices for our snacks and strolled onto the Westminster Bridge, one of the numerous bridges across the Thames in London.
It was just about 4:30pm only but it had started getting dark and one of my seniors colleagues had started feeling tired of all the walking. He had seen it 25 years back and was not seeing any major point of going around the place, much like Delhites do about Delhi’s Mundane Monuments. Somehow, earlier despite agreeing on it we could not get on to one of the tourist buses which take you around the city, which he had suggested. We agreed to have a ferry ride from the Millennium pier (by the Westminster bridge) to the Tower Bridge. The ticket price was 5 GBP each after the discount on our one day Tube ticket. The trip started after it was completely dark and the London eye and the Country Hall started their resplendent colour game. It was green one moment and you blinked and found it violet!
The Journey stared northward and I would enumerate all the bridges that we passed underneath: Hungerford, Waterloo, Blackfriers, Blackfriers Rail, Millenium, Southwark, Cannonstreet, London Bridge and we did not cross Tower and the Westminster bridges-all of 10 bridges in a travel of about 4.7 km.
Our journey ended at the tower of London, which had by then been closed for the day as it was about 7:30pm. After clicking a couple of high iso snaps we were moving towards Tower metro station while we saw a rush towards the Riverside – the tower bridges was going to open to give the ceremonial ship, HMS Belfast probably, a passage.
I was not aware of this bridge being a bascule bridge. It was fantastic to see the bridge leaves open up, ship pass with band playing on board and then the leaves again leveling down.
Video-Tower Bridge opening and closing-Downsampled to let HMS pass
After a light dinner at a nearby place, we made our journey back to hotel.
We came by the metro down to the Terminus 5 and had a look at the airport and its shuttle lifts, outstanding tubular structural framing arrangements, and took a bus to the Heathrow central to change for our hotel with Tiny cushy rooms. Watched Bridget Jones Diary that night on TV.
The next morning was simply sunny, with no trace of clouds. Interestingly I had noticed this forecast on Wednesday while in Newcastle and accurate it was! After a sunny breakfast in hotels’ restaurant, we took the Heathrow Express to Terminal five from Terminal 1 & 3, after a few tense moments. Heathrow express also takes one to City in a couple of minutes, on the lines of which Delhi’s airport line is being installed. The most outstanding thing about London in current context is probably its transport system including the Intra airport transport. It is unfortunate to be at the receiving end of travel related issues.
But all was forgotten and forgiven as I was allowed to check-in my both the bags this time and I did without any hesitation and entered the departure area with two free hands. They were not to remain so for long and by the time I boarded my aircraft with my seat being in traveler plus, my hands were full to the all ten fingers. On the way watched a couple of movies on in-flight system including the curious Benjamin button one and the Ugly Truth, which made me a fan of the actor.
Landing back home was smooth though and I could easily find my baggage after a short wait. Sigh of relief. The difference in settings was speaking aloud while I tried to squeeze out of the airport through a cramped passage, that day made due to some security concerns. Chhota Bhai was delighted to receive the foreign return bada bhai and chill of Delhi was full on outside, but that is peanuts.
I am not sure this really qualifies as a Ghumakkar post, but readers’ generosity enables me to post this write up as the concluding part of this series. Thank you all for your kind visits and comments. I also acknowledge that I have used a couple of brilliant snaps taken by one of my colleagues who is quite passionate about photography. Grains are all mine and regretted please.