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Three (more) eventful days in London !

There is so much that we have done over the last week that it is going to be so difficult to capture all of it in a blogpost, but I'll try...

We spent three days in London...30th April and 1st and 2nd May. We stayed with the very warm and welcoming H, S and their wonderful daughter A. On the 30th we reached Euston and decided to walk about Central London for the day and go to H & S's home in North Harrow in the evening.

So we walked about Tottenham Court Road, a bit in Soho and later in Covent Garden and on Shaftesbury Avenue. The lanes of Covent Garden are quite unique. There are small (both inexpensive and expensive) eateries serving all kinds of food. We saw a monument called The Seven Dials Monument and the quintessential London landmark - the red telephone booth. We also came across a monument to Agatha Christie ! 

The great fun was to see (play) theatres almost at every corner. There was the Ambassador's Theatre where Stomp is being staged and there was St. Martin's where The Mousetrap has been running for 60 years now and there were many others. It was wonderful to be in that area. At Cambridge Circus there was a theatre where Singing In The Rain was being staged and the decor outside was made using a lot of umbrellas. 

I've noticed that there are interesting signs outside shops and pubs here. 

Also, there is art everywhere...on the entrance of shops or pubs or restaurants, on top of buildings, on lamp-posts in streets...everywhere ! We even saw very brightly coloured office buildings !

While walking on the main road outside Covent Garden tube station, I sent a text to my brother that we were walking in the area. He promptly called and gave us nearly ten options for food ! Chinese, Japanese, British, American, Mexican. He also recommended several places where we could have desert. After walking about a lot we were very hungry and decided to eat at a restaurant called Chipotle that serves Mexican food. We had to go across the counter assembly line. First they asked if we wanted a burrito or a burrito bowl (stuffing only and no tortillas - the maida chapati). Then you specify which stuffing you want. Typically it is some type of rice plus some type of beans plus some meat plus some salad plus some sauce. Almost everywhere we ate, we were asked which drink we wanted to have with our food...ranging from soft to hard drinks...but never water. If we want water we ask for tap water without ice ! 

After a sumptuous lunch we decided to see the National Portrait Gallery. So we walked to Trafalgar Square. The place was literally choc-a-bloc with tourists jostling with each other to get photographs with the lions in the square. TH somehow managed to click Lord Nelson's column with nobody in the frame.

There were some street artists. One chap was in a frozen pose and all dressed and painted in copper. Another was walking about wearing the Shrek costume. A third was singing Jazz Blues. Another was creating poses with audience members who wanted to be photographed with him. Usually they were ballroom dancing poses or action movie poses.

We spent a little time in Trafalgar Square before proceeding inside to the National Portrait Gallery. Like all other museums we have seen here, it has a huge collection. Amazing works of art from as old as the 1200s to present day. But there is only so much art that I can take in at one time :) Soon we were tired from walking all day and decided to head to H & S's home.

We went down to the Charing Cross tube station in Trafalgar Square. I couldn't see any ticket window. There were a couple of automatic machines. Here the machines have clear instructions for passengers. Some machines accept only cards. Some accept cash and cards but do not return change. So you have to tender exact change. Then there are some that accept cash and return change. All this is mentioned on each machine is a large font. So we found a machine that accepted cash and returned change. This was the first time we would be buying from a machine and frankly, I was a bit nervous about whether we would get tickets and also our change back. Yet I punched in all details on the touch screen and TH inserted the cash. And lo and behold ! Promptly there was change as well as our tickets in the receptacle ! I was so trilled that I almost jumped up and down :)

Ticket purchased, we proceeded to North Harrow. One station before North Harrow, I called H (who is my cousin SIL's cousin...distant, I know...and yet she was so warm and welcoming). She sent her husband S to the station to fetch us. Their place is hardly 5 minutes walking distance away from the station. 

When we reached their home their lovely daughter A had just returned from piano class. S & H gave us a very warm welcome and so did A. We were given the spacious guest bedroom to live in. They had thought of the smallest conveniences for us and made nice arrangements. Our conversation that began as soon as we reached continued through the evening, through dinner and went on till 1:00 a.m. and would have continued further had we not realised that the next day was a working day for both H & S. We heard A play the piano. She is such a talented girl ! She is just 9 and her reading skills are those of a 16 year old. She plays the piano and she composes too ! We heard some of her compositions and liked them. Above all, she is so sweet natured. TH and I instantly took a liking to her.

The next morning, our first stop was Baker Street just to have a look at Sherlock Holmes' statue and home. The statue is just outside the Baker Street station. Outside the famous address '221B Baker street', we found a long line of people waiting to get inside and view The Sherlock Holmes Museum. We had already decided not to see it.

So we proceeded to Regents Park. It is indescribably beautiful. Photos hardly do it justice. There are flowers of all imaginable varieties and colours, thoughtfully planted rows and rows of flowers and trees to form different designs and vast, well manicured lawns. Also, there are ponds with many types of ducks. We had decided to spend only an hour there but ended up spending an hour and a half and we could see only half of it !

That was a very bright and sunny day and TH actually complained twice that he was beginning to perspire ! So we hopped on the bus and went to Picadilly Circus. What a wonderful ride we had ! The whole area - Bond Street, Oxford Circus and Picadilly Circus is all about high fashion. All the branded shops are here. These areas are always packed with tourists and it is very vibrant.

It was nearly 3:30 when we realised we were famished. So, again on my brother and SIL's recommendation, we went here:

After eating we went to the London Bridge. We wanted to go to The Globe. As we walked from the London Bridge station to The Globe, we saw such beautiful old architecture along the Queen's walk ! The Southwark Cathedral is so beautiful and quite petite compared to others we have seen here. At one point on the walk you can see The Shard - a very modern building and The Southwark Cathedral - as old as the 1500s next to one another...and that is a nice sight.

We took a leisurely stroll to Shakespeare's Globe to book tickets for a show on the next day. It is an interesting space. As all other establishments, staff here is very helpful and friendly. We bought yard tickets to the afternoon show of The Tempest, loitered around a bit on the premises, looked at all the interesting stuff in the shop and were on our way. 

We decided to walk back to London Bridge station and then go to North Harrow. I must say that everywhere Google Maps helped us so much ! As we were walking to the London Bridge tube station, we came upon a place where there was a very well dressed, office-goer crowd standing and sitting on the roads with glasses of beer and wine in their hands outside a large pub. I instantly remembered how back home we see people standing at tea-tapris with cups of chai in their hands :)

Just a little further we saw the Borough Market, which was closed, since it was way past 5:30 p.m. But the vibe seemed interesting. So we made a mental note to visit it the next day before going to The Globe for The Tempest.

When we returned to North Harrow, I called up my friend K, who, I had found out, lives in the area. We decided to meet for post-dinner coffee. He came to pick us up from H & S's home. His home was just 5 minutes away by car. When we reached K's place, we met his very friendly wife S and her mom, his shy son A and his baby daughter S who was three days shy of being one month old. We had so much fun at their place...all are such friendly people and her mom gave us wonderful South Indian coffee. We chatted till late into the night and then he dropped us back. We were both so happy that we could meet...what were the chances that I would visit his place in London ?

Early the next morning there was Victorian dress day at H & S's daughter A's school. H asked us if we were interested in seeing her school and all kids dressed up in old Victorian costumes. We jumped at the opportunity. We went to her school, which is small and cosy. It was fun to see all her classmates dressed in old Victorian costumes.

Later we went into Central London directly to the Borough Market. It is London's oldest fruit and vegetable market which now also sells all imaginable varieties of food from all over the world. 

There were amazing amounts of cheese and the fruits and vegetables were so fresh and arranged in an aesthetic way.

There were artichokes and mushrooms and even olives of at least ten types.

There were was this interesting display of Oysters.

In one shop they were selling burger patties made from meat of ALL kinds of animals possible. We were clicking photographs over there when I heard a woman to my left exclaim in despair, "Ohhh !". I looked at her and she caught my eye. By this time we had seen another type of meat and this time she exclaimed with even more horror in her voice, "Oohhhhh !" And then she said to me, "Oooohhhh ! Do we have to eat camels now ?". Then we moved to the next animal and by this time she was so mortified that she very loudly exclaimed, "Oh my god ! Oh no ! And I'm a vegetarian too !! Oh god !" and quickly scurried away, the most pained expression on her face.

We wandered around some more stalls in the market and then realised that we'd have to leave right away if we wanted to be in time for the play.

When we came to The Globe, some yard ticket holders were already standing in line to get an entry...and it was half an hour before the show. Luckily there weren't too many people in line ahead of us. Five minutes later the doors opened and we all went in. TH and I quickly moved towards the centre of the stage and got to stand behind two Japanese girls who were almost leaning on the stage. They were really good positions. Gradually the crowd increased and within 15 minutes the yard area was full.

About five minutes before the actual performance began, three musicians came on stage in costume and started playing music. Then an actor came and encouraged the audience to clap along with them. After about 5 minutes, when he had the entire audience's attention, the musicians left and he introduced the play and almost immediately it began. It was in broad daylight. So there was no support of a light design. It was an open stage. So the advantage that a closed space offers in terms of audience attention was missing too. Yet that didn't make one bit of difference. The performance was amazingly energetic. I absolutely loved the performances of the actor who played Prospero and the one who played Ariel. All others were good too. Even the other spirit girls who sang. There were just two or three special effects in the play and they were executed well. 

After a first act of an hour and fifteen minutes, the entire yard audience sat down right there on the floor...that is how much our legs were aching !

The ushers were older people who, I think, volunteer to be ushers. They were standing from way before we came in the theatre to much after we left and never once sat down. The entire audience standing in the yard, on the other hand, promptly sat down as the interval was announced.

We were not allowed to take photographs during the performance. So we took some before and some after.

In the morning H had dispatched us from home after feeding us a very heavy breakfast. So we knew we wouldn't get hungry at lunch time. Still we took along some munch. I was wondering if we could eat inside the auditorium, but when the play started, I saw several people drinking even during the performance...some even had beer glasses in their hands, some had juices and some had soft drinks. During the interval, we even saw two British grannies bring out tiffin boxes in which they had brought home-made sandwiches and cakes. So we too had our munch in the interval.

After the performance, we were feeling hungry. This time we decided to visit Ciao Italia in the lane behind the National Portrait Gallery, again on recommendation from my brother and SIL. Ciao Italia is an Italian joint. What is special about it is, however, the ice-creams they serve. They are very different than usual choices available, the portions are large and some are even uniquely designed ice-creams. 

So we went to Ciao Italia. It was 6:15 p.m. as we entered the restaurant. We had a train to catch to Rugby at 7:45 p.m. So we knew we would have to be out of the restaurant at the very latest by 7:15 p.m. We thought one hour would be sufficient.

As we were entering the restaurant, this waiter stepped forward and said, "Hi Love" ! :D He was flirty with all ladies in the restaurant. I've had this experience in another Italian restaurant here. These Italians...hmmm ;)

So, we ordered a pizza called Neptune pizza that had anchovies and ham and olives. 

It took so long for the pizza to arrive. Here everything is at a leisurely pace in restaurants, which is a wonderful change from the restaurants back home where waiters and customers alike will hover around and stare till the time you finish your food, pay up and leave. But that day, since we were in a rush, this leisurely pace wasn't to our liking ! So when the waiter came with the pizza, we requested him to take our order for ice-creams right away saying that we had a train to catch. The waiter was so good. He said he'd keep a watch and bring our ice-creams as soon as we were done with the pizza. But we didn't once catch him 'keeping a watch'. And yet, as soon as the pizza was over, he came and took away the plates and promptly returned with the ice-creams...and I promptly regretted eating pizza ! See for yourself why...

The first is an Amaretto cup with ice-cream, biscuits, nuts, liqueur and whipped cream and is nearly 9 inches tall and the other is smaller but more potent due to all the gooey chocolatey goodness ! The ice-creams were unbelievably delicious :) But we gobbled them up. We were cutting it really fine. While eating we had, with help from Google maps found out that the Leicester Square tube station was the nearest and from there we would reach Euston in a mere eight minutes. We left Ciao Italia at 7:15 p.m. sharp and made a run for Leicester Square station, ran into the tube that arrived just as we reached the platform and thus reached Euston in time for our train back to Rugby.

We were at home the next day only to venture into London once more to meet our friend AG whom we hadn't met for nearly 5 years. She doesn't live in London any more but lives in Essex which is close enough. So we decided to meet outside the Tate Modern, which he hadn't visited. On our train from Rugby to Euston, as we entered we saw these three guys wearing complete green costumes with top hats and fake beards. Apparently they were on their way to some football match in London and supporters of a particular team. On that day, it seemed as if everybody was going into London. Very soon the train became full and there was loud laughter, chatter and occasionally even some singing. At one point of time the compartment was so noisy that we couldn't hear the announcements !

We reached London in high spirits...having caught the weekend mood of our co-travellers. We proceeded to the tube station to go to the London Bridge station. The one thing that I never cease to be awed by is the sheer depths to which the escalators take us to reach the various tube stations.

We reached before her and sat outside looking at the river. The weather was cloudy and it looked as if it would rain. Since we had gone on a Saturday of a long weekend extending to Monday, we knew that slowly crowds would come out to enjoy the museums and activities on the South Bank. Already there were a couple of musicians setting up. 

Soon afterwards AG arrived and we were all very happy to see each other. We sat outside the Tate Modern under some cafe umbrellas and chatted away to glory. Suddenly it started to rain and it was a Pune-type 15 minute shower and then just as suddenly it stopped and the sun came out !

A while later we decided to take in an exhibit about Poetry and Dreams inside the Tate Modern. Here are some exhibits. 

The next two are photographs from 1936-1940 by an artist who made thousands of these to protest against Hitler's policies and activities that ultimately led to WWII.

After this exhibition, it was nearly lunch time. So AG said she knew this nice little Turkish restaurant just outside Southwark tube station, which is just 10 minutes walking distance away from the Tate Modern. Since it was a Saturday, the whole area wore a deserted look.

EV, the Turkish restaurant, had a nice vibe. They had seating outside...lovely wooden tables and chairs with Turkish blue upholstery and table decor typical of Turkey... amphora for water ! As we sat down a waitress came and set down a bowl of bread and a nice minty dip with olive oil to eat while we placed our order and waited for it to arrive. We ate some good food...prawn casserole, orange and cinnamon rice, artichoke and vegetable casserole (we ate artichokes for the first time) and some falafel with tahini sauce. We followed it up with very strong Turkish coffee. Along with good food there was good conversation and it was so good to meet AG :)

Later AG had to return and we decided to quickly pop in at Hyde Park. It is so vast that it is impossible that we would be able to see even a quarter but we decided to see just a little bit.

Later it was time to return to Rugby. We didn't have a specific train this time but we needed to catch one at a reasonable hour so that we would reach Rugby at a decent hour and my brother could come to the station to pick us up. So we took the bus to Charing Cross station. This one too passes through the Bond Street-Oxford Circus-Picadilly Circus area. Since we were on the top floor of a double-decker bus, it was one enjoyable ride. The area was full of tourists and we saw all the glitzy shops. This time we took a much later train to Rugby and yet it was full to the brim. In fact some people even had to stand. This time, diagonally across us was a group of four grannies sitting on either sides of a table and playing dumb charades. They were having so much fun...laughing loudly and arguing in good humour that we had fun watching them.

The next day we visited Warwick Castle...but that is the subject of another (much shorter than this) post :)

So I wind up this blogpost for now...till I return with the account of Warwick Castle and some barbecue fun and chocolate fondue indulgence we had the day after Warwick Castle.

Au revoir :)


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