I always had mix feeling for London as a city. One feeling was, it’s a city flourishing on the blood and sweat of many of the colonies that British Empire occupied and one of them being my country. But then as you come out of your history lessons learnt during schooldays and face the world as it is today, it seems like, that’s the rule of the world. The strongest would always try to rule the weakest and get more powerful and prosperous. London prospered as the British were more intelligent, disciplined, powerful and ready to explore the other parts of the world.
The other views about London were off course the baker street from the Sherlock Holmes novels, the shady alleyways and the criminals from the dark corners of the London. Another view is the royal palaces and marriages, especially I still remember watching the marriage of Princess Diana and Prince Charles, the huge palace, the horse driven carriages, Diana’s wide silk wedding dress with an enormous train that filled the aisle of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the two cute blond girls trying to hold on to her silky linen as she walked the footsteps of the palace
The impressions about Englishmen were, off course, very shrewd, yet very disciplined. This is the country which has very less resources, but very strong will power to reach every corner of the world and seek opportunity. This goes as the most admirable quality of Englishmen and contributes to their success in not just colonizing the countries, but to develop the modern industries and become prosperous. They also seem to be quite different from the rest of the Europe in the way that they seem to be more top nose, a little more shrewd and little too disciplined as well.
There were few other images of London acquired from King Arthur, Brave Heart, the Irish history of freedom and on the other hand, the fun loving culture of pubs, the foaming Pitcher, the Whiskey. The Scottish bagpipers, the contribution of Newton, novels and plays of Shakespeare which probably was a total contrast to the royal and imperialistic image of British. So British to us are people whom we off course have some degree of hatred, but at the same time, can’t really ignore their influence. The greatest influence of all is their language, which ultimately is the language of the world now.
The last time I landed at Heathrow in 2009, while returning from FICC project onsite assignment, it was so cloudy and dark that I could hardly see anything. But this time I was really lucky. London was cloudy as usual, but since it was day time and the clouds were a bit considerate, they gave enough space to have look at the Thames river, the millennium bridge, London eye and the tiny cute houses. Although crowded, it looked quite planned. The rows of houses at the outskirts were well aligned and water transport seems to be one of the transport options available. I was badly looking for few castles, but could not locate any.
Well that’s about the impressions and the past, but to get to know the real England and especially London, a quick two hour tour was not going to be of any use. But then few people, things and places fascinate you so much that even the slightest Opportunity to be rendezvous with them sparks up the explosion of happiness within your mind, mine was the same case. It’s just the mixture of curiosity, respect, and a degree of contempt when I walked out of the immigration.
The first though that came to my mind after seeing the 10 hour halt in my return journey was how to spend those 10 hours at the airport. I had made up my mind to do some window shopping, click few snaps, make few friends, if possible and do some internet surfing to pass that time. But then I got really lucky here.
The custom officer really made my day. She probably saw the urging and genuine face 🙂 and decided to give me 24 hours transit visa. I gave a big smile and huge thanks to her and I was on my way out to explore London. The story is quite interesting after that, but in all ended up having a good day in London, before catching my Bahrain flight.
Wait, it’s not that easy, Heathrow is quite on the outskirts of the city, how do I commute. I had no clue what to do, after I got that visa. I didn’t really have phone numbers of all the friends in London, as never planned for a visit. Getting the visa was totally unexpected. My best bet was to talk to my team-mates in London, the Citigroup guyz. I could get though Kotendra using a credit card phone and realized that going to Citi office in Lewisham, can be out of reach looking at the complexity of transportation (More than 3 trains to be changed) and again I didn’t have lot of time.
Well, decided to take the Heathrow express and reach London on suggestion from Lyndall. Plan was to roam around and return back. As I boarded the train, I tried to enquire about my options with the only lady who boarded with me. She gave a real good suggestion. She asked me to take up a Hop in-Hop Out tour and cover as much as I can in 2-3 hours that I had got.
The train service was quick. A five minutes free train from terminal four to Heathrow central station and then a fifteen minutes ride from Heathrow central to Paddington. After some enquiry, could pick up tickets for Big Bus tour in local souvenir shop and soon I was in the bus, watching the narrow (too narrow compared to US) streets and traditional old buildings, much more artistic, which did not look like square blocks as in US. Well the difference was really drastic and pleasing to the eye.
I did not have time to hop out and explore so strategy was to watch and listen to the recorded commentary as much as I can and capture the London using my camera. We were soon passing by Hyde park, the favorite amongst Londoners during sunny summers, many of them relaxing lying on the lawns while the fitness lovers taking their daily jog along the track. It seemed similar to central park and since it was pretty hot people were having fun in the sun, lying down and getting the tan.
After passing the Glouchester Place, we were soon at Baker Street. Baker Street seemed so close to my heart, as I have been reading Sherlock Holmes novels right from my childhood and has been one of my favorite detectives. All the shady, narrow streets and thugs of London as painted by Sir Arther Connon Doyal were right in front of my eyes, as I imagined, while reading the Sherlock Holms novels. I could really see this great detective and his friend Dr. Watson pass by in the horse carriage. I added Sherlock Holms Museum in the list to be seen later as the bus moved on.
The bus stopped at Madam Tussads Museum for a while. A bunch of school kids, coming out of the Museum waited at the stop. The energy, the fun, teasing each other, quite loud and excited, as the teacher was trying control them, everything seemed quite familiar. Isn’t all kids behave the same, did we not do the same kind of things, during our school picnics. It was such a fun to watch them.
London seems to have lots of haunted houses and the stories seem to be horrifying. The house number 50 and the guy who shot himself or then the horse carriage driven fire station and the whining of horses at night. All that was unbelievable yet painted those scary pictures of those houses very well.
The commentary was really interesting and informative, adding to our knowledge about London to the minute details. On the way we were watching the places where the friend nations discussed and decided the strategies during world war two, the statue of Eisenhower in front of this building, the boutique of the famous hair dresser of the famous Londoner figures, including Princess Diana. After passing Repley’s believe it or not we were at Trafalgar square.
The Trafalgar square looked quite happening. This is the place quite favorite amongst tourists and Londoners alike. Most of the Londoners spend their New Year Eve here to embrace the New Year at the stroke of 12, heard from Big Ben quite close to this place. The fountain, the giant statues of lions and the ambiance of the place added a new energy to everyone and people could be seen soaking into that fun and energy to be a part of the great history and historical figures this square might have seen so long.
As we moved on looking at the flying banners of union jack all along, the commentator asked us to be ready with our cameras at the next turn, as we had our first glimpses of the Big Ben and the Parliament House. We were soon at the Westminster bridge and I decided to hop off and start my return journey as it was already 2 hours since I boarded the bus. The traffic had delayed the tour.
My mind was all set to take the river cruise as it was included in my ticket, but then I had to stick to the timings. I was wondering, look !!!! , in the morning I was really worried about spending so much of time and now I was running out of it. The London eye ticket also seemed within reach, but then I just added it to my TODO list for the next visit.
I could not really reach up to London Bridge and also missed Cleopatra’s Needle, Tower bridge, Tower of London, The Shard, London bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral etc. But then I was really happy to get the view of the London Eye, Big Ben, Parliament House and the river cruises. This place also seemed to be quite famous among tourists and full of touristic activity. The cafe’s on the banks of Thames, the souvenir vendors, the river cruises, the Big bus and Original bus employees in their uniforms and the hurrying tourists. It was fun to watch as I waited for my next bus to Paddington station. The sunny weather had added some energy to the activities and people seemed to be flocking to this place and enjoying the warm weather.
There were several stops and spots which were described by the continuously running recorded commentary and gave us good insight into the history and significance of this historic city. There was time during 18th century when the gentlemen settled their conflicts publicly using swords and guns. Well a so called dignified way of settling conflicts. We had lot to see and watch, but now I was really running out of time. The last thing I wanted was to miss a flight. I really had to suppress my curiosity and drive to explore, but still was quite contented, when I was back.
The way from London Eye back to Paddington station, wasn’t that quick. Although I had missed London Bridge and few other interesting destinations in the tour, I did get a chance to have a quick glance at some of the unknown structures, historic buildings, streets as well as gardens. The current parks in London were historically the hunting grounds of the royal family, now surrounded by ultra urbanized London from all the side, but still maintaining the greenery and freshness of air right in the middle of the city. I could also relate this to the Central park in the middle of New York and then realized the American way of adopting the best from around the world. I had visited even The Madam Tussad’s Wax Museum, “Ripley’s believe it are not” in New York and had fair idea about these places.
The Blue Line bus took a turn from the “Lambeth Bridge” giving us few nice angles to catch “House of Parliament” and “Westminster Abby”, as we headed towards ”Parliament Square”. I could have a quick glance at the Scotland Yard, Wellington Arch, Hard Rock Cafe, Marble Arch, Victoria and Albert Museum, Science and natural History Museums as well.
From the South Kensington Station we took Gluchester Road, as the commentator explained the historical significance of some of the places like St. Mary Abbots chapel and Kensington Palace. Passing the Kensington Church Street we were at busy Notting Hill, where a movie of the same name was also shot . Saturday market gives ample opportunity to do jewelry and readymade garment shopping here.
Buckingham Palace was another place where I again tempted to go out and have a look at this historical palace, where Queen Victoria might have taken so many important decisions as she ruled her entire empire spanning over all the continents. Passing by Kensington Garden, The Serpentine and getting some knowledge tablet on Lancaster gate Station, we were finally at Paddington.
The striking difference that I can feel here was the buildings were ages old and had lot of artistic nature. I haven’t been to Florence and Rome yet, but coming down from New York, this was much more artistic for me. London is full of narrow lanes and the houses in rows are built as if they have come through the same mold. The streets were decorated with banners of “Union Jack” in dark red and blue, which made the street quite colorful.
By the time I was back my camera battery was drained and had to really miss few of the beautiful shots and could not capture few structures and buildings on the way.
Again a quick 15 minutes ride by the Heathrow express and I was back to continue my journey back home. Was really hungry as the hunger to see London had kept me going on an apple, which I had in the morning .Now I could not hold it for any longer. The fasting is not meant for me and I just remember doing it once or twice before, ending up in heavy headache and swearing not to do it again. But surprisingly, it did not hit me today. After passed though the immigration I quickly grabbed a Chicken, Guacamole sandwich with pomegranate juice. Every bite was fulfilling and gave a feeling of satisfaction after a surprisingly busy day.
I was reminiscing the whole day while taking a relaxed late lunch sitting at this cafe at the airport. Right from the time I landed here, getting the transit visa, the phone calls, getting few advices and then the actual tour. The day was quite interesting and full of unexpected experiences. I really enjoyed every bit of it and thanked the custom officer again. I had lot to tell my family and friends.
Got my camera charged at one of those free charging points, so that I do not miss any action in the rest of the journey. Life is always full of such interesting surprises. Life turns out to be the way you look at it. Had I been kept cursing the travel desk and then the gulf air for making me stay at the airport for 10 hours, I probably would not have even thought about coming out of airport and doing something different. I in fact was thanking them for this halt and had a few good memories to share, rather than having just the same routine flight, with few hours at the airport.