Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Date with Diplodocus

Awesome! Entry Free. Situated just off South Kensington station, getting to the Natural History Museum involves a short walk, except in our case a walk in the rain. It's supposed to be summer in England for crying out loud! We made a mad dash to the entrance of the museum and after a quick stop at the washroom we were left feeling a little less drenched.

The moment you step into the museum you feel dwarfed by the enormous skeleton of a Diplodocus dinosaur. The museum is home to more than a million specimens from fields such as Botany, Entomology, Mineralogy, Palaeontology and Zoology. What's amazing is that in this museum you will also find specimens collected by Darwin himself.

As you explore the museum do lend an eye to it's architecture. Victorian in nature with huge vaulted halls, it also boasts of an ornate terracotta facade, mouldings of which are symbolic of diversity in nature.

An extensive powerhouse of knowledge, I suggest you set a day aside just to explore this place. While at the museum familiarize yourself with the different coloured zones which will lead you to different galleries housing the specimens. The Red Zone revolves around the history of the Earth. Here you will find specimens of rock, gemstones, dinosaur eggs, dinosaur skeletons, etc. The Green zone will bring you closer to birds, fossil reptiles, plants and the primates, the Blue Zone houses dinosaurs, mammals, fishes, amphibians, reptiles and human biology and the Orange zone has a wildlife garden and Darwin's centre.

Be prepared for the crowds and educational groups thronging this place.

Do check out my photos on how our trip to the Natural History Museum unfolded.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Day Out at London Zoo

London Zoo at Regent Park is one of the most spectacular zoo's I have ever seen in my life. In India the zoo's are in a pitiful state and best avoided. However the London Zoo is a must visit! It's educational and helps you get away from the buzz of the city. A perfect way to unwind.

At the zoo simply follow the route to meet the different animals. Click here for the interactive map of the zoo and experience what we came across.

Do visit the London Zoo website  for more details and plan your trip better.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Wicked in London

 Uh huh not me :)  But the musical. Based on the novel by Gregory Maguire 'Wicked,' the musical too tell the story of two girls in the land of Oz - Glinda the good and Elphaba the wicked witch of the west.

Wicked narrates their profound friendship, life in college and destinies. For more than two hours we sat glued to our seats, eyes on the screen as the stage came alive. It was truly a magical evening in London. 

Your trips not complete unless you watch a musical in London. I suggest you go watch it now, it's still playing at Apollo Victoria Theatre at Wilton Road.

Immortalized in Wax

We rode the London Eye and got 20% discount on our entry to Madame Tussauds. Well what do you know... the offer is valid till today. Click here to grab it. This pass also includes your entry into the brand new 4D cinema.

Madame Tussauds is on Baker Street and to get there from Clapham Common, we had to ride the Northern and Bakerloo lines and walked a short distance till we were at the doorsteps of the museum.

Oh man the crowds! Lucky we had a quick pass, which helped cut the line but not much though. The crowds can be quite a putting off experience especially those who do not respect the works of art these sculptures are.

Inside the museum you go through different sections - A List, Premiere Night, the Royal Family, Sports, Music Stars and Historic figures. Well it was hard not to pose here. OMG Justin Timberlake, Hitler, Shrek, Lance Armstrong... may be this will be the closest I ever get to any of them.

After checking out some of the figurines we headed to the Chamber of Horrors. And it was horrible! This part of the exhibition included victims of the French Revolution and newly created figures of murderers and other criminals. There's no telling from what is real and what is created. Live models at every corner ready to spook you. I lost Tan here and it was seriously scary. Holding onto God knows who I finally made my way out. And man was I so glad to see Tan.

Oh God. Deep breaths does it. It took us quite some time to settle down. OMG what an experience!

The last part included learning a little more on the history of this place, how it got started and the lady, Madame Tussaud, herself.

London: View from the Top

When you are on a budget trip it's all about managing your money smartly. For us discounts, free entries were a big deal. Our London Eye pass also got us a 20% discount at Madame Tussauds. The ticket cost us about 28 pounds. My cousin was of the recommendation that we not waste our money riding this, but it's not everyday that I will be in London and some things just got to be done... like enjoying a ride on the London Eye.

Not many people know this but the London eye or the Millennium Wheel as it is commonly know as is actually named The Merlin Entertainments London Eye. This ferris wheel situated right besides the County Hall on the banks of the Thames is the largest in Europe and is also an observatory tower.

I for one enjoyed my ride on the London Eye. You can see the entire city from the top and it is amazing. Tan and I played a game of landmark spotting and what fun it was. You can see Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Lords, the Gherkin amongst many other sites.

Soon it was time to step off. But not before you are asked to pose for a shot that captures your time spent on board. I still have that photograph, paid a mighty 5 pounds for it but it's worth it. It's one of those once in a lifetime things to do.

221B on Baker Street

Oooo we are going to play detectives. We are going to snoop our way to Baker Street. And try finding 221B.

Not difficult since we were geared with our maps and Ryan on speed dial. But then again, you are talking about Tan & me, we get lost everywhere. And so looking for 221B, we walk right past it and begin to think we are lost. Luckily everyone in this country speaks English and soon we were guided to our destination. The home of  Sherlock HolmesYou can easily miss it if you don't pay attention to the signs. 

The house of this fictional character, created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a quaint little thing and has an eerie feeling to it. You almost expect Sherlock Holmes to appear behind you smoking his pipe. As you climb the steps you start to realise how easy it is to make real of non-fiction. Spread over two storeys, the home now a museum is immaculate maintained with real life wax figurines and memorabilia. At every level you can find scenes recreated from his books. 

Exploring this place, I made friends with a young attendant and we got talking. She asked me from where I was and having said Goa, she got into narrating her experiences of my home town. We chatted for sometime before it was time for me to leave. But the good thing is that she pointed things out to us we would have normally missed. Like the book filled with letters from little kids. Super hilarious stuff. Check out two of my favourite letters. 

Also check my photographs to see how my day unfolded in 221B on Baker Street.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Transport for London Gadget

Check this super cool gadget I found on the Transport for London website. It gives you the tube as well as bus stop routes from end to end locations.

You can find the same on the left panel of my blog and use it any time you want. I am loving it :) 

Journey Planner

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Riding the Tube

                 The London Underground or the Tube as it is commonly known as, is hard not to fall in love with. From the moment I had the tube map in my hand and my Oyster, all I wanted to do was ride it. We planned our travels at times that beat the crowd and almost rode everywhere comfortably.

Travel on the tube is of a different kind. It's exciting, especially when you have to make sense of the different coloured lines to get to the underground station you need to get to in the shortest possible time. Most of the time we took the tube just for pure pleasure of the ride rather than getting to our destination faster.

Click here for an interactive experience with the London Underground. And what's more, the lines have such beautiful names - Bakerloo, Central, Circle, District, Hammersmith & City, Jubilee, Metropolitan, Northern, Picadilly, Victoria and Waterloo & City.

With the tube and buses we explored almost all of London. Oh and while you are riding to the tube do pay attention to the announcer heralding the next stop, it helps plus she is a very pleasant sounding lady.

Day 24-27: London

The next few days in London were filled with shopping, more shopping and riding the tube. The next few post will be broken down by the places we visited or activities indulged in.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Day 23 cont... An Evening in London

In the evening after a short nap we set out along with Ryan to get acquainted with London. From Clapham Common we take bus no. 137 to Oxford Circus. Here we head to Primark, a must visit store for all bargain buyers. Unfortunately we would have to come back later as it was closed.
We then head to Victoria and from here to Westminster Abbey. The Abbey is a beautiful place, and the architecture in almost black stone was alluring. 

Having spent a few minutes here we then head to see Big Ben.

On the banks of the Thames we also catch a glimpse of the London Eye before we head to Buckingham  Palace. The residence of the British monarch, this square has beautiful gardens and the famous changing of the guards. We sat here, clicked some pictures before making our to Hyde Park. 

Hyde Park is one of the largest parks in London and known for the concerts that take place here. It was a sad that there was not a single gig during our stay here.

In just an evening we covered a lot of London walking about. The thing about London is that it feels a lot like Mumbai, except it's way cleaner. 

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Day 23: Au revoir Paris!

After almost 23 days into our trip, it was time to say goodbye to yet another amazing city. I love Paris. I really do.

The day started with a quick breakfast before we had to make our way to Gare du Nord to catch the Eurostar to London St Pancras International. We had to hurry as we were got a bit late trying to find the right terminal and then had to go through customs before we board the train.

We made it just in time. And soon we realised the air conditioning in our carriage was not working. Shouldn't be that big a deal in Europe you say? Well you are wrong, the route to London is under the sea and with 100+ people seated it tends to got pretty stuffy.

The entire trip it was just Tan and me. I was glad to finally meet family. My cousin Ryan came to receive us at  St Pancras International and he was a blessing. Or else we would have been lost a new city as usual. He introduced us to the Oyster card, it's a blue plastic card used for public transport - tubes and buses which you need to put credit on in order to travel. Wow! I loved it.

We then rode the tube, OMG this too is awesome, to his home which was at Clapham Common. We switched different lines on the tube to get there (more about the tube later) and the famous red bus to finally reach his home.There's a fabulous meal cooked. Chicken Xacuti, mashed potatoes and salad. Oh man am stuffed. Finally I ate a full meal.

Time-out! Will be back after my siesta...phew what a lunch.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Social Spark, am using it

I do blog occasionally, but having started my travel blog, I starting taking blogging more seriously. From regular posts to interesting content, I then got wondering what I could do to increase traffic to my blog. And moreover if there was a way to earn from it. Having casually mentioned this to a friend of mine who is a social media enthusiast, she suggested Social Spark. I was like “what?” She jabbed me the link and… I was a fan in a matter of minutes.

The look and feel of the website is so simple and easy to use. I soon read up all the information on the site and the offerings before I registered my blog. Signing up was so easy. Simple fields before you are led into the ones with the more details. What I must say is that the ‘claiming your blog process’ is so much simple than the ones available on other such sites. What’s even better is the interface. I simply loved it.

Now that I came across this website and service am sure to recommend it to all my blogger friends. And hope you, my reader, will use it too :)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Day 22: Disneyland Paris… Wooohoooo!

I was so excited today. Super duper excited. We took the local train to Marne-la-Vallée. The moment you get off the train you land in Disneyland. The park has two theme parks - Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney Studios Park

Now when at Disneyland, it's hard not to become a kid again. Tan officially disowned me, as I was a excited as a 5-year old, but OMG the place has sleeping beauty, Prince Charming, Dumbo, the Castle and loads of things more that you previously seen only in fairy tales. Wow! This was a dream worth not waking from.

Determined to have a blast, we rode almost all the rides before it was time for the Disney Parade. While at Disneyland you CANNOT miss this. Involving a spectacular display of music with all your favourite animated characters live in action, it really a dream coming true. We had to climb over fences to catch a glimpse of the parade and huge crowds.

As soon as the parade got over, we made a quick dash to watch the Lion King musical. And man was it magical!

Time flew by so fast we just had two hours to explore Walt Disney Studio Park. Just one thrilling ride here in the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

Check out these park maps to plan your time better.

I was sad sad sad to leave Disneyland. But I will come back. Oh I also realized it was our last day in Paris or France for that matter. And I really sad to go. Bye Disneyland. Bye Dumbo. Bye Marie. Bye Mickey Mouse.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Day 21: Louvre in the day, Lido by Night

Today we decide to take the blue and green line to get to the Louvre. Big mistake. It took us almost two hours to get there.

Well the Louvre. I was very excited to get there, especially after all the hype the movie Da Vinci Code created and as an art student I was hopping like crazy desperate to get to the Mona Lisa.

The glass pyramid is cool, the rest is OK I guess. Even the Mona Lisa is so overrated. I was really dissapointed after seeing her. The rest of Michelangelo's artworks were amazing. We then made our way to Napoleon's chambers, and oh my the rooms were dripping in gold and royalty. From the grand piano to the chandeliers to the tapestry, everything screamed royalty.

Our trip to the Louvre was really short. Tan & I both did not find it exciting. Soon we headed back to the hotel to rest and dress up for the exciting night ahead.

Tonight we party. Tonight we sip on champagne in Paris. Tonight we see Paris by night. All dressed up we hurry to the night bus tour pick up on the other side of town, and... we are late. We miss the bus! Two pretty Indians girls stranded. There's where a kind French man helps us and gets the bus to come pick us up.

We soon make our way to catch the illumination of the Eiffel Tower. It happens every hour and involves a spectacular display of lights. 336 light projectors and 20,000 sparkling strobe lights make the tower come alive. It was a sight to behold.

From here we then are driven to the Lido show at the Champs-Elysee. We booked ourselves for 'Bonheur' and as they said it was a dream. For an hour and 45 minutes I sat glued to the performance and in awe. Everything was exorbitant, elegant, rich and classy. And we also got champagne to drink. The spectacular cabaret infused a lot of dance and pantomime touching different cultures and arts. They even had a cats performance. All in all the night ended on a high note. And in true Paris style. C'est la vive Paris.

Day 20: Paris Calling

After a hearty breakfast, we head out to Gare du Nord to find the Tourist Office. Like any other city, we decide to take the city pass and the sightseeing package. You can find your tickets at the local tourism office. For more info, click here.

Collecting our passes we then made our way to the blue line bus stop. As usual we missed the one closest to us and walked quite a while down to the Place de la Bastille. The Place de la Bastille is a square in Paris, where the Bastille prison stood until the 'Storming of the Bastille' in 1879-80 and its subsequent destruction. Today at the centre of the square stands the Colonne de Juillet (July Column) which is dedicated to the 1930 revolution.

Across the road is an impressive structure. A huge block in the city and modern in every way, we later learned that this place is the opera house or known as L'Opéra de la Bastille, and is the home base of the Opéra National de Paris.

Observing all this we waited here for almost an hour and half before we called up information only to gather the fact that today there was a bus strike and the blue line was not plying. Grr! Lucky for us there was a Metro station right there. By now having got the hang of public transport in Europe we make use of it just right. We rode the metro to the Notre Dame stop. And from here we followed road signs to get to the Cathedral.

The Cathédrale de Notre Dame de Paris or commonly known as the Notre Dame is an amazing and beautiful cathedral. Built in Gothic architecture this catherdral caters to the Roman Catholic population of Paris. Well there were hordes of tourist waiting to enter and one needs to be reminded that this is a place of worship. The architecture is amazing inside and out. One has an option to climb to the top of the cathedral but we decided to skip it. We spent some time in the cathedral praying as well as admiring the architecture and stained glass windows. Situated on the  banks of the Sienne, one must visit the Notre Dame when in Pars.

From here we hoped back onto the bus and rode to the Place de la ConcordeMusée d'Orsay , Champs-Élysées and the Arc de Triomphe.

The Place de la Concorde is one of the largest public squares in Paris. 86,400 square metres, it is situated along the Seine and separates the Tuilerie Gardens from the beginning of the Champs Elysées. We got down at the square, admired it beautiful fountains and the obelisk. The Fontaines de la Concorde are two monumental fountains located in the Place de la Concorde, the south fountain commemorating the maritime commerce and industry of France, while the north fountain c navigation and commerce on the rivers of France. These fountains are a must view for the sculptors and attention to detail. And it feels wonderful to be sprayed by the waters in the Paris sun.

The center of  Place de la Concorde you will find a giant Egyptian obelisk 'Luxor Obelisk' decorated with hieroglyphics from the time of Ramses II. It is said to have been gifted to the French in the nineteenth century by the Egyptian government.

After a brief stopover at the place de la concorde, we get back on Paris L'Open Tour bus before we proceed to the Champs-Élysées. The Avenue des Champs-Élysées as it is known in France, is truly the most beautiful avenue i have ever seen in my life. Lined with cinemas, coffee shops and shopping boutiques, this drive confirms that you are in the heart of Paris. What you will also come to love are the beaitufully shaped tress and gardens.

Next stop the Arc de Triomphe. We got off the bus here and it started raining. Had to cross a really busy intersection to get some shelter and also reach the monument. The structure is impressive and was built in honour of all those who fought in the Napoleonic Wars. On the inside and the top of the arc, one can find the names of all the generals and wars fought. Underneath the monument is the tomb of the unknown soldier from World War I. A flame continually burns here in memory of all those who sacrificed their lives.

From here's, though we can see it rising up above, is the next stop that will get us to the Eiffel Tower. Woohoo. As the bus snakes through the lanes, getting closer all the while, you can get to see the Eiffel Tower from different angles. What wouldn't I have given to live in one of those homes that open up to this majestic beauty everyday.

We get off at the Trocadéro and walk towards the tower. I honestly cannot put into words how awesome, magnificent, breathtaking the Eiffel Tower is. I stood in awe and must have clicked a 100 pictures of this beauty. Standing underneath the tower you cannot but marvel at the way this structure had been built. It's an engineering perfection. We decided a trip right up the tower is a must. We walk to the first level are some 300 steps. A lift takes us up the second level, you also have the option of climbing up here. The third level however and the highest is accessible only by lift. So we rode up to the 3rd floor some 137 meter high. The ride in the open elevators can be freaky but it's a must do. The view from the top is simply mind-blowing. You can see the whole of Paris and as far as the eye can see. Also on this level is the office of the master genius designer and engineer Gustave Eiffel. It has been reconstructed to show him at work in his office. I wish I could stay here forever but I had to go. Bye bye Eiffel... I love you!

Back on the ground I purchased mementos for my family and self. I still have that key chain which brings back fond memories.

We get back on board the bus and indulge in some sightseeing. We pass the Musée Rodin and catch a glimpse of 'The Thinker' in the museums extensive gardens. Also on our route is the Musée d'Orsay, the tuilleries and the Jardin des Tuileries.

We get off at the Notre Dame stop and make our way to the metro station to get back to our hotel. I love the public transport system in this country.

Now back at Gare du Nord, we grab our lunch cum dinner and call it a night. What a day it was. Will remember it till I die.
Everybody wants to be a cat
Because a cat's the only cat
Who knows were it's at
Oh yeahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh......zzzzzz