Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Day 34: Last day in London

After getting back late last evening from Witham to Ryan's place at Clapham Common, we realise that's it is effectively our last full day in London. 

OMG I need another suitcase to take back the things I've bought and collected on my trip. My backpack suddenly seems so small. 

In London we stayed with Ryan and his roommates - Richie, Ali, Graham And Al Bano. These guys are super fun, awesome cooks, with strict house rules and a home that was so spic and span that it could put the girls hostel I live in back in Mumbai to shame. 

Well on the morning of our last day, Richie took us to a local eatery where we has a super sumptuous English breakfast. After breakfast Richie headed to work while Ryan, Tan and I went to Oxford Circus to do some last minute shopping. Primark, Hamleys, Sainsbury's were all on the list. By evening we had so much to stuff to take back home. 

A not so quite dinner then followed at Ryan's place. Nostalgia was creeping up. I was happy to go home but I did not want this trip to end EVER.

Day 33: A flowery day at Chelmsford

Another day in the county of Essex. We take the train to Chelmford. Violet says we must see this beautiful garden here – Hyde Hall. Problem is we don’t know how to get there. But no worries. We get exploring. At the local bus station we learn that the bus has already left and the next one is in 3 hours. The only to get there now is a taxi.

I think the word taxi had Tanaya and my mind doing mental calculations on how broke we were going to be after this ride, how many more meals would we have to skip… with a heavy heart we decided to cab it out. The route was scenic but I think I was more concerned about the meter ticking.

 Hyde Hall is in the middle of nowhere. On top of a hillock you can miss it, if you are not a local. This 360 acre of land is home to almost all plants on the planet. Flowers the size of your face to exotic trees whose names you had only heard before, can be found in this amazing haven.

Check out my photos below, it shows the garden in full bloom and what you can expect when you visit RHS Garden, Hyde Hall.

After spending all morning and afternoon at the gardens we hitchhike back into Chelmsford. A young gentleman was kind enough to give us a drop back after which we spent some time at High Chelmer Shopping Centre.

Soon it was time to head back to Witham, pack our bags, thank Violet & Bruno for opening their home to us and taking us around and head back to London. It’s almost the end of the trip. I can feel our feet dragging. Not because of the heavy bags on our shoulders, but due to the realization that this fantastic trip will soon come to an end.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Day 32: Witham - Colchester - Clacton-on-Sea

We get up to an extremely quiet house. I tip toe downstairs not wanting to wake up anyone and find Violet already up. I then woke up Tan and proceeded to help Violet spruce up some breakfast. Not before long we were out walking the streets of Witham to find a bus to take us to Colchester.

Colchester is a historical army town. Remember the rhyme Old King Cole, well I presume it originated here.  The major of the day we spent visiting the Colchester Castle Museum , a beautiful park adjoining it and another museum whose name I cannot recollect. After a lazy lunch by the pond feeding the ducks we walked about the town till we stopped at a local bar for some drinks.

Tada! Let me introduce you to the most fantastic drink on this planet. PIMMS!  This drink is mind-blowing. I loved it and I suggested when you in England please walk into a bar and demand it! Do check this link for more information.

By now it was early evening, time to head back to Witham as Bruno, Violet’s husband, was taking us out for dinner. Freshened up we head out to Clacton-on-Sea. Yeah we are going to the beachside. Lovely! Clactopn-on-Sea was closed for the tourist off season. But the beach in twilight is so perfect. We dined at a restaurant at Clacton Pier. The food was delicious.

A light rain ended the evening as we drove back. All in all it was a wonderful day in the English countryside.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Day 31: Getting to Witham

Witham was not on our travel plans. But having come to England I had promised to meet a much cherished friend, who also was my next door neighbor in Goa. Violet is a real nice person and we experienced first-hand what a lovely host she is. From cooking us a sumptuous welcome to Witham dinner to taking us around the county of Essex, meeting Violet was so much fun.

Getting to Witham was quite an eventful journey. From Glasgow we had to get into London first as we were supposed to meet Violet’s husband Bruno there. However were some train lines down and most of the trains were not plying. We were almost going to give up and proceed to Clapham Common (Ryan’s place) when the indicators signaled a train to Witham. A mad dash to grab a seat saw us in an even stuffed up train. The situation did not improve all along the journey. At Witham station things did not improve, thankfully we met up with Bruno who was able to take us to his home.

We were hungry and like I said before Violet had prepared a sumptuous dinner which we all gobbled up in silence. It was quite late in the evening and after catching up on the years we missed we called it a night. Tomorrow Violet has promised to take us around Witham and the county of Essex.

By the way I must mention Violet has a cozy and amazing home with a lovely garden

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Day 30: Galivanting in Glasgow!

It was time to say goodbye to Edinburgh and head to Glasgow. A short train ride and we at Glasgow Central. Like all railway stations in Europe this one too is beautiful. Luckily our hotel was not too far from the station and in a few minutes we managed to locate it.

While at Glasgow we stayed at the Alexander Thompson Hotel on Argyle Street. The hotel is rather cramped, with six floors just rising vertically without any thought of expanding horizontally, but since we were here for just a night it did not matter. However what mattered was the uncontrolled excitement of an Indian origin housekeeping staff on spotting two Indians girls. She told us that she was from Punjab and asked if we were on vacation but man was she glad to see us. Abroad any Indian you spot becomes family… grrr!

Anyway the room at Alexander Thompson was functional and modern. There is no restaurant but breakfast was served in the dining hall. Like I mentioned before Glasgow was a day trip. So after dumping our bags and refreshing a bit at the hotel, it was time to hit the streets. Let me tell you one thing. Glasgow is pretty, very pretty with flowers around every bend.

First on the cards - the Necropolis. We could take the local transport to get there, but considering how we tend to miss the stops we decided to walk it out. It did not look far off on the map. Following the map we made our way to the Necropolis, and found it rather easily.

The Necropolis is a Victorian cemetery in Glasgow, situated on a hill and the resting place of over 50,000 people. The trek up hill is beautiful. To get to the main entrance one has to cross a bridge, known as the ‘Bridge of Sighs’ as it was part of the route of funeral processions. The cemetery's paths meander uphill towards the summit, where a dominating statue of John Knox was erected in 1825. You will find tombs designed by famous personalities, namely Alexander Thomson, John Bryce and David Hamilton. Though we were walking in a cemetery, which is weird, you cannot help but feel at peace here. The tombs are so pretty and peaceful and the view from the summit is amazing. It’s almost as if all the souls are looking down protecting the city of Glasgow.

After spending a major of our afternoon roaming the Necropolis, we then headed to Glasgow Cathedral or St Mungo's Cathedral as it is commonly known as. The cathedral is simply striking built in Victorian style. The Pastor invited us for the service and it being Sunday Tan forced me to go for mass. The service was perfect and heavenly with its piped organ choir. After the service there was a small gathering, where we thanked the pastor for the wonderful service and making two Indians girls feel at ease in a foreign country.
Since photography is prohibited in the Cathedral, we could not click any pictures of this beautiful place. Do click here to see this magnificent structure.

From here we lazed back our way into town, exploring the streets of Glasgow with my Lonely Planet Europe on a shoestring guidebook. We spent the rest of the evening walking about Buchanan Street, Argyle Street, and Sauchiehall Street. Oh and they have Primark here too, my favorite store in the whole world. Click here to familiarize yourself with the streets of Glasgow.

The evening ended with dinner at McDonald’s, the cheapest place to dine since we were at the end of our trip and short on cash. Yum but not exactly yum.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Day 29: Exploring Edinburgh

Our day began with a ride into the heart of the city. After this we decided to simply walk about. So off we went exploring Princes Street - the main shopping street in Edinburgh.

We decided to explore the Princes Street Gardens, situated just next to Waverly railway station. The gardens are beautiful, with perfectly manicured lawns, oak trees, wooden benches and roses as huge as one's face. All I wanted to do was sit on the lawns and soak up the sun. From the gardens below you also get a glimpse of the Edinburgh Castle. The gardens also houses the famous Scott Monument. It is a Victorian Gothic monument dedicated to Scottish novelist and poet Sir Walter Scott. The tower rises almost 200 feet high and has a series of viewing decks. 

From the gardens we decided to wait for the bus to take us up the hill to Edinburgh Castle. However after a futile wait we trekked up and were exhausted by the time we got there. Queues to enter the castle were humongous, so be prepared for them. The Castle is a  must see for every person who visits. There's a lot you can see here - from the crown jewels, hammerbeam roofs in the Great Hall to the Chambers that housed the prisioners of war. At one o'clock there's the master gun fire, which recreates scenes of yesteryears. While you are here don't miss St. Margeret's Chapel and the Dog Cemetery. 

After the gun fire, we said goodbye to the Castle and walked down the Royal Mile. The Royal Mile is a beautiful cobbled street leading from the castle to Holyrood abbey down the hill. The Royal Mile is Edinburgh Old Town's busiest tourist street. 

Taking in everything along this street, our eyes fell on a board that read 'The Whisky Heritage Centre'. So... we are in Scotland, from where you get the best whiskey's and we don't enjoy the moment? Ha! With a little coaxing from Tan we went in and decided to indulge in a Scotish Whisky Experience. We took the Adult Silver Tour which amounted to 9.50 pounds. At precisely 13:15 began a sensational journey with a whiskey glass in hand. Note: you cannot have a shot at it, till the end of the tour. The tour is a ride through a replica distillery. It's here you learn the whisky making process and the stories behind this magical craft 

After that we were back on the street. And guess what we get to see. A Jaguar! Not the animal, but the car. Whoa baby, what a machine. And it was booked for a Scottish wedding. The entire entourage was pretty. The bride, the bridesmaids and the men in the quilts. There were bagpipers too lending to a true Scottish experience. We just stood there and looked. Oh so pretty! Now all this was happening just outside St Giles Cathedral. The Cathedral has been a place of worship for the Scottish people for nearly 900 years.  

Back on our path, we did a lot of window shopping, before we came to the end of the street and face to face with the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Commonly referred to as Holyrood Palace, is the official residence of the monarch in Scotland. Holyrood Palace is the setting for state ceremonies and official entertaining. It's said that the British Monarch, Queen Elizabeth II spends one week in residence at Holyrood Palace at the beginning of each summer, where she carries out a range of official engagements and ceremonies.The palace is open to the public throughout the year, except when members of the Royal Family are in residence. No photography is allowed inside in the Palace. The Palace however is extremely rich in decor. The State Apartments are renowned for their magnificent plasterwork ceilings and collection of tapestries. Frankly, the palace did not impress me. I found it overtly rich, but on the other hand it gave us a glimpse into the royal life. 

The Palace grounds also holds the ruins of the 12th century Abbey. It is said that the abbey was built in 1128 at the order of King David I of Scotland, at the very spot where he had a vision of a stag with a cross between its antlers. The Abbey is also the burial place of several Scottish kings and it was here that Charles I was coronated king. The ruins are a result of the roof giving way in 1768. Today the Abbey has an almost eerie feeling to it. But I loved this place. It was so tranquil. Making my way through the ruins, feeling the stone, you can't help but marvel at the architecture and effort gone into building such a place. 

It was almost five in the evening. Tan and I were drained and hungry. However before we call it a day, there was one last place we had to visit. The Scottish Parliament. The architecture of this place contradicts the Palace opposite. This place reeks of modern architecture. We sat here for a while admiring the contrast of the place and enjoying the sprinkle from the fountains. 

From here we waited for the local bus to take us to Princes Street where we hoped off at KFC and feasted on some chicken. 

What a day it was. Back at our hotel, and after a warm bath relaxing our tired muscles we sat to watch a documentary playing on TV. It was Queen Elizabeth love story and marriage to Prince Philip. What a perfect way to end our day in Edinburgh! 

Day 28: Off to Edinburgh

It was time to set off again. This time on we were off to Scotland. I must confess, I am not a fan of the Brit Rail or the National Express. Mostly because one can never seem to get a reservation on it! So here we are at King's Cross Station waiting to board a train to Edinburgh. Watching the indicator... waiting... watching... waiting... making a mad rush for the train. Apparently you can sit anywhere till the person who has reserved that seat comes along. Crap!

Anyway amidst everything, we make our way to Edinburgh and after almost four and half hours we are at Edinburgh Waverley Railway StationYet again it was a classic case of we getting lost. Well we managed to track down a bus, the wrong one... had to get off and find the right one, thankfully this bus driver was kind enough to point us out to our hotel. 

Parkview House Hotel, 14 Hermitage Place, is ideally located just opposite a parkland, whcih at that time was buzzing with a local fare. The place was cozy and super comfy for a bed and breakfast. After settling in, Tan & I decided to take a little walk around the place, to find a local mart. We stocked up on bread, cold meats, chips and cold drinks, which would all come handy in preparing our dinners. 

After this since the local fare was on, we decided to walk about in the park. Back at our hotel, dinner was prepared - sandwiches and coke, and we soon got planning our day tomorrow in Edinburgh. 

A few hints: For  local transport familiarise yourself with Lothian Buses transportation system, bus tracker, planner, timetables and much more.
For route maps, click here

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

London by Bus

By now we were pretty much familiar with London. However Richie, one of my cousin’s friends whose house we were staying in at London, got us free tickets to ride the Original London Open Tour Bus so we hop on to see the city and get to know a little more about the places and history. Check this out for all the places you can visit.

It was a rainy day again; viewing London from the roof top was out of the question. Still we managed to have a pretty good ride in this mega city and a Free Thames River cruise. Awesome!

We joined the Red Tour bus from Picadilly Cirus and off we went visiting the following sites. Victoria, Wellington Museum, Hyde Park, Speakers' Corner, Madame Tussauds, Regent's Park, Oxford Street (great for good deals on shopping, do visit Primark), Regent Street, Piccadilly Circus, Statue of Eros, Leicester Square, The National Gallery, Nelson's Column, Trafalgar Square, Horse Guards' Parad, Downing Street, Big Ben & Parliament, The London Eye, Covent Garden, Fleet Street, St Paul's Cathedral, Monument, London Bridge, London Dungeon, HMS Belfast, Tower Bridge, The Tower of London, Shakespeare's Globe, Tate Modern, Sherlock Holmes Pub, Westminster Pier, Lambeth Palace and Buckingham Palace.

We did not get down the bus for major of the tour. While in the other European cities the tour bus proved to be economical, in London however it was short of a nightmare. You get caught in traffic at every junction.

 Tan and I split ways at Trafalgar Square and decide to meet up at Tower Bridge for lunch. So in the meantime I go off on my own. I visit St. Paul's Cathedral. Like the other Cathedrals’ in Europe, this place was rather simple. I guess I was just too used to the grandeur of the Basilicas in Rome. I then walk across to see the Millennium Bridge. I had heard so much about it - the architecture, the design, but I was utterly disappointed by it.  

I get back on board the bus and head to Tower Bridge and meet Tan. I loved Tower Bridge. It's old and it's magical. We spend some time by the park watching the Thames pass by and the beautiful cityscape that I have so come to love. Not toot soon we hoped onboard for our cruise on the Thames. Lovely ride with a standup comic! All good things come to an end so soon and so also it was time to get off at Westminster Pier and head home to Clapham Common.