London, UK

It is said that “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” As we were about to step on the 6th month of our wedding, we reaffirmed our vows by gifting ourselves a beautiful adventure. It was time to get rich!

Friday post lunch office hours often simulate a fight scene, with the aggressive work mode being invaded by evil weekend plans stopping by to say Hello.

This coupled with a late-night flight on an exploratory escapade was an absolute chaos!
Apart from drafting the “Out of Office” email, very little work was done on the second half of 4th August 2017. Thank God, I had wrapped up my deliverables early on. We rushed back to our home and finished the last-minute packing (which involved taking jiggly dance steps to the cupboard instead of just plain walking).

Our flight AI 161 took off from Delhi International airport(T3) at 2:30 AM, fed us a good Indian meal of Kashmiri Pulao and Lamb Curry, relaxed us with some good quality inflight entertainment and gently dropped us off at Heathrow International Airport at 6:30 AM GMT.

What it missed to do was warn us of the Jet Lag that would feed on half of our day today!

London greeted us with sunny clear blue skies rebutting all allegations of its notorious weather and citing them as mere defamation attempts.

We bought Oyster cards from the airport and followed the directions laid out by my childhood friend to reach her home in Island Gardens.

We took the Piccadilly Line (Blue) to Green Park (Direction: Eastbound, towards Cockfosters). From Green Park, we took the Jubilee Line (Grey) to Canary Wharf (Direction: Eastbound, towards Stratford). After arriving at Canary Wharf, we switched to the Heron Quays DLR station, which took us to Island Gardens. 2 mins walk later, we arrived at her doorstep.

For Tube & Rail Maps, click here

The excitement of meeting your preschool friend in a different continent makes you as happy as a dog with 2 wagging tails!

An hour of chat session over Kadak Chai and Desi Indian Samosa, calmed our euphoric minds and kickstarted our day in Legendary London Land.

My friend and her partner took us to Mudchute Farms for brunch. No, this is not the name of a fancy upstate restaurant, but a huge 32-acre farm right in the heart of the city.

A sharp turn around the street corner pitched us into a hidden trail strewn with trees on both sides forming the doorway to a handcrafted English countryside. The tall shining towers of Canary Wharf popping out in the background encircled the farm and the resident farm animals, almost symbolizing the spikes of a crown which protects the rare embedded gem.

We hand fed all the hungry animals. (And yes, that included us!) The human menu comprised of farm fresh eggs, veggies and bread at the Farm café. Post brunch we walked back home and decided to quickly rest for half an hour.

Little did we know we had caught the Jet Lag virus during the transit. Even the histrionic shrieking of the bullet point marked “Watch a West End show” from our To-Do list seemed incompetent in waking us up. We were out like a light for 3 whole hours.

When we were finally awake, we wasted no time crying over spilt milk and quickly head out to soak in the new city vibes. As a 90’s kid, our first stop had to be the iconic Trafalgar Square, which the famous opening scene of the Bollywood blockbuster (DDLJ) had already imprinted in our memory.

Opening Scene snapshot of DDLJ 😀

Turns out the pigeons were not unwilling immigrants as stated by one of the protagonists in the movie, but global travelers just like us.

The street artists performing outside National Gallery of Art museum in the Trafalgar Square preluded the mysterious symphony orchestrated by the classical European paintings inside.

The hub of princely art collections dating back to 13th century, this gallery hypnotized our minds, one masterpiece at a time.

A little later, we found ourselves aimlessly walking through the streets – absorbing the English flavor hung up in the air and exchanging the introductory Hellos with the Great Scotland Yard, 10 Downing street and the Big Ben.

Like a page torn out of the city’s history book, the iconic telephone booth and the London buses painted the town red, looking regal and ageless.

The sky prepared for its date with the dusk as we prepared for ours.

It had been exactly 6 months since we had tied the knot and today called for a celebration – to all the good times and the unflinching support, that helped us defeat the bad times.

The aureate interiors of the restaurant Caffe Concerto, the romantic crystal chandeliers and the candle lit dinner in the cozy corner plotted to weave the perfect date. We did not complain. 🙂

Back to my friend’s home, we lied on our bed watching Thames through the window as sleep slowly took over the reins.

Happiness comes in different shapes, sizes and forms.
There is happiness in the brief moment when you wake up and realize it’s Sunday.
And, there is happiness in waking up in a new country altogether.
Equating these two would be like comparing the Lilliput and the Gulliver!

Needless to say, our happiness quotient was peaking when we woke up. A steaming cup of coffee helped us achieve a quick turnaround time in getting dressed. In less than an hour we were out on the streets for a meet and greet session with this charming city.

To reach our first destination today, Google Maps prescribed us to cross River Thames, on foot.  Yes, you read it right!

We were not hallucinating, and Google had not lost its mind. We reached the site and entered a glazed dome like structure, which housed helical staircases and large lifts with enough space for pedestrians as well as cyclists with their vehicle.

The lift opened into the underwater Greenwich Foot tunnel which pierced right through the heart of Thames. This tunnel, which was constructed in 1902, was partially destroyed in the World War II bombing and restored later.  It felt like we were entering a Blackbox for some top-secret agency.

We stepped out of the tunnel into what seemed to look like a carnival. Numerous colorful tents sold street food and artwork from different countries, easily identifiable by the national flag fluttering from the roof of the stalls.

It was a concussion of global flavors and we rooted for Mexican Turkey Wrap. When our taste buds ran wild with the fiery Mexicana aftertaste, we tamed it down with some classic cream cheese and strawberry dessert, while enjoying the performance of street artists.

Locals and tourists had queued up to pay an ode to the Cutty Sark and the bustling energy was infectious. Cutty Sark, one of the last and fastest British tea clipper ships was born way back in 1869 and was now enjoying her retired life in this vibrant spot. Some whisky connoisseurs from Scotland decided to name their brand after her – such is her legacy and charisma.

A carnival without a Merry Go Round and Helter-Skelter would be as sinful as attempting to paint Mona Lisa without her smile.

This canvas, however, could not be flawed. All the funfair elements seemed to have settled on this ground like winged seeds, promising a relaxing and fun day. (For all the uninitiated, Helter-Skelter is a term prevalent in the United Kingdom for an amusement park ride with a spiral slide around a high tower.)

Next, we strolled past the quaint locality of the Greenwich market which had meticulously preserved its vintage appeal. Boutique cafes, antiques, handmade items and apparel shops were scripted together into a beautiful historical narrative.

We continued our trail and arrived at the Greenwich Park. A former hunting ground, this huge park attracted many locals for a quick day picnic, while others sauntered around absorbing the soothing verdant greens, crisp morning air and the sunny goodness.

The Royal Observatory was perched on top of a small hillock inside the park and an inclined path led us there.

We read it in the Geography textbooks and used it as a reference while scheduling meetings with overseas colleagues all the time, but that did not shield us from the overwhelming rush of excitement to be standing physically at 0º longitude – at the origin of GMT !

To dust off the dirt accumulated in the Geography wing of our brain, let me try to summarize the concepts.

Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) is the annual mean of the time each day when the Sun crosses the Prime Meridian at the Royal Observatory Greenwich. An imaginary line represents the historic Prime Meridian of the World – Longitude 0º which divides the Earth into the Eastern and Western hemispheres. Every place on Earth is measured in terms of its distance east or west from this line.

Best of all, we got to tick our bucket-list point – “To be present in 2 places at the same time”.

Physicists call the phenomenon of matter existing in 2 places at the same time “Quantum Superposition” and have been spending copious amounts of time and energy to demonstrate this over decades. Well, all you had to do was stand with one foot on the Eastern Hemisphere and one foot on the Western Hemisphere. Easy Peasy! 😛

Our next stop was the London Bridge, but we had to make an emergency pitch stop at The Southwark Tavern (1 min from Borough Market) as dictated by our rumbling tummies and our ‘hangry’ minds. Fish n Chips and Apple Cider craft beer provided solace and put us back in motion.

A quick 5-minute walk later, we arrived at the iconic London Bridge. Amidst the raw energy and the buzzing traffic, we took a moment to admire the majestic Tower Bridge which is half a mile downstream and often mistaken for the London Bridge. The reflection of the Tower Bridge and the slanted rays of the retreating sun on Thames accompanied with the light river breeze diluted any visible strains of fatigue.

Next we hopscotched on the remaining places on our itinerary.

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson were out solving mysteries and not available at their residence at 221B Baker Street.

Disappointed, we quickly moved onto our next spot – Lords stadium.

There was a county cricket match in session and the quirkiest thing happened. A kind couple handed us their tickets as they had something urgent to cater to and had to leave immediately. For us Indians, cricket is not a game, it is an emotion and right now we were feeling all kinds of ‘happy’!

Look what we found in our cupboard! 😀

How did we get so lucky ?!!

Well the theory in my head goes as follows : – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had perfectly plotted the story for us to not waste too much time cribbing at 221 B Baker Street so that we could reach just in time to meet the stranger couple who would have otherwise thrown away their tickets into the bin!

We had to rush out midway as my friend had planned to treat us to a delicious Ethiopian cuisine. At Adulis Eritrean Restaurant, we ordered a platter which consisted of meat, legumes, veggies, Ayib (Ethiopian cheese) and of course Injera. Injera is a classic sourdough Ethiopian crepe and the platter comes with a layer of injera which you can tear and eat with the other accompaniments.

The different flavors melted in our mouth like marshmallows and the wine soothed us beyond belief. How we made our way back home and slept off is still a mystery left for Mr. Holmes to riddle.

Day 3 started with a regal touch as we witnessed the pompous Changing of Guards ceremony at the Royal Buckingham Palace. The bright scarlet uniform and black bearskin caps intensified the splendor of this already grand event. 

This is an important ritual dating back to 1656, in which the on-duty guards are relieved of their duty and replaced by new guards who take over the responsibility to protect the Palace and Her Majesty. When the Queen is present at the palace, the Royal Standard flag is hoisted, and the number of guards is increased to ensure heightened safety.

Subsequently, we strolled through the beautiful St James Park, checked out the War Memorial and Westminster Abbey.

When the hunger pangs attacked, we swiftly responded by devouring a classic all-day English Breakfast and Custard Cake (Custcake) at Regency Café.

Our next stop was the iconic British Museum which is a treasure trove of human historical, art and cultural artifacts. Boasting a collection of eight million works, it is among the largest and highly rated museums of the world.

Trying to cover the entire museum in 1 day is a herculean, almost impossible task and although we made no such attempts, we did a fair job.

We were walking inside a live encyclopedia and our brain cells were happily over-inflated.

The 2 most significant artifacts that I can recall is the magically preserved 3400 BC Egyptian mummies in the Department of Egypt and Sudan and the Rs 500 Indian Currency note in the Department of Coins and Medals. The note had got banned overnight in India creating panic in the economy just the previous year. We were ourselves sufferers as the date of note ban clashed with our Engagement ceremony!

After all the historical overdose, we headed back home. For the very first time in our lives, my friend introduced us to homemade pizza baking from scratch using a live yeast culture. Pizza, which is not a homemade staple in India, has been quite a regular affair at my home since then and guests have loved and complimented it. Long Live, my Pizza Guru! 😀

Caviar, homemade Pizza and lots of gossip made a delicious dinner. For drinks we had the light and summery Pimm’s infused with fresh oranges from the kitchen garden.

The next day was our last day in London and day after we were pushing off to another exciting country. Unfortunately, next day we woke up feeling a bit under the weather and decided to stay indoors and relax in the morning hours. Post lunch, we explored the Piccadilly Circus and Soho area and engaged in some generous shopping.

Our day ended in Canary Wharf, with a romantic Turkish dinner by River Thames, concluding our brief but memorable tryst with glorious London.

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