This was our itinerary:
- Day 1, 2 and 3: London
- Day 4: Cotswolds and drive to Wolverhampton
- Day 5: Spend time with family at Wolverhampton
- Day 6: Warwick castle and drive back to London
- Day 7: London
- Day 8: Fly back to SF
Day 1: Arrive in London
We arrived in London around 3PM, and took a black cab to our Central London apartment from Heathrow. Black cabs are so iconic in London and are what Sherlock Holmes goes about in - I almost felt like the driver will turn around and it will be Moriarty!
We were determined to stay awake till night time, so once we got freshened up, we set out explore London! This are some pictures at the flat, Vihaan (nice and cozy in his stroller) and I in front of Westminster Cathedral, and the three of us having dinner later. And with that Day 0 was a wrap!
Day 2: Exploring London
Having seen the Buckingham palace in so many movies, official government visit photographs etc., it was a little underwhelming to actually see it in person. Yet, when I stood in front of the building I had shivers down my spine thinking about the enormous impact decisions made in this building, and all that it stands for, has had on the course of human history and civilization!
Here are some pictures we took in front of the palace.
We then walked via St. James Park to Trafalgar Square. The park has a small lake and is dotted all around by Plane trees whose leaves were a warm brown. The trees blanketed the street noise, with the result that the park felt like a little oasis in the midst of busy London traffic. Chirpy pelican cries added to the charm. Vihaan had a great time watching the pelicans and playing in the fallen leaves!
Our next stop was Trafalgar Square which is at the other end of St. James Park. One of London's most famous landmarks, the square is surrounded by galleries and museums, and is considered a symbol of democracy as it is frequently the site of protest gatherings.
There was some live music and dance happening at the square when we visited. By this time, Vihaan was blissfully taking his afternoon nap in the stroller, so we did not get a chance to visit the National Gallery. Still, we had a nice time hanging out at the square.
We grabbed a quick bite near Trafalgar Square and then proceeded to Westminster Bridge. The bridge boasts great views of Big Ben and London Eye - and is the image that I most associated with London before this trip! So it was great to finally be here!
The Houses of Parliament is also called the Palace of Westminster, and was the home of the Kings of England for many centuries. It was ravaged and rebuilt by fires a few times. The impressive structure we see today was built in the 1800s in Gothic Revival style.
Vihaan was up by the time we got to the bridge, and had a great time people watching (there were lots of people on the bridge) and running around!
The most famous icon dotting the London skyline, we spent a good one hour admiring the gorgeous views all around us at the London Eye. Vihaan spent that one hour chasing the scores of pigeons around the base! Opened to the public in 2000, the London eye was originally intended as a temporary attraction with a five year lease, but given it's popularity (well, duh!) it was granted permanent status in 2002.
Our last stop for the day was at Westminster Abbey. Westminster Abbey is the site where someone becomes a king or queen - it has been the location for coronations for a millennium now! It was in the news recently as the wedding venue of Prince William and Kate Middleton. The Queen of England was also married there! It was amazing to think of the all the history associated with this place. I thought of Westminster Abbey again when we visited Warwick Castle, built by William the Conqueror - the first king to be coronated at Westminster Abbey!
While walking through London, I couldn't help thinking about how India has so much heritage and history as well, but unfortunately our history is as not as well documented and publicized. Though this might be improving as more youth in India want to understand their heritage, and information starts becoming available online. Reading about England's history and heritage was good inspiration and a reminder to me to educate Vihaan about India's kings, gods and mythical stories, something that is more important for us to do since we live abroad (which limits his exposure).
I love history - not only the stories of kings, knights and battles, but also thinking about live as it was lived earlier. I always think about how my life would have been, had I lived in such and such country in a specific period - what would have been my daily life, hopes and aspirations. When thinking about life in England, I was reminded about Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice - perhaps my biggest aim would have been securing marriage to a worthy man! I don't think I could have found a husband better than Abhishek - 1000 years ago or now! :D
This is also my favorite part about travel - how your mind slowly completely disassociates with your daily life! :)
A picture of the grandeur that is Westminster Abbey.
Day 3: More London Exploration
St. Paul's Cathedral is another famous icon dotting the London skyline. The second largest cathedral in England, it was built in the late 17th century.
We had seen Mission Impossible - Fallout just before our England trip. In the movie Tom Cruise is seen making a spectacular jump from the castle roof onto a nearby building. The cathedral looked so much bigger in person than in the movie!
Juxtaposed with the tower (which is almost a millennium old) were buildings with full glass facades. Perfect example of being steeped in history, while having firm footing in the 21st century!
An aerial view of the Tower of London (from their website) which actually looks a lot more impressive than in person, since in person you can only view one gray wall at a time from the outside. We went on day with overcast, cloudy skies, so the sky and the gray tower seemed to merge into one. I also felt the tower looks smaller in person compared to pictures online.
Did the rhyme "London Bridge is falling down" start playing in your head as soon as you read "London Bridge"? :) Or maybe it's just me since I have a one year old :) We spent time walking on both London Bridge & Tower Bridge, which is right next to the Tower of London. Here are some pictures around Tower Bridge.
Since we were in London over the holidays we wanted to visit a place with Christmas lights. Covent Garden did not disappoint - with it's large Christmas tree, holiday lights, shopping and cheer all around!
Day 4: Cotswolds
Cotswolds is composed of numerous small towns and villages, which have been preserved as is for over a 1000 years! We visited Castle Combe, which is a quintessential English village, it reminded me of scenes of the English countryside in Pride and Prejudice. The village had an intimate feel to it - there were honey colored stone homes lining the streets enveloped in lush greenery, and a small village center with a compact church and a few eateries around it. A stream ran through the village with quaint pedestrian bridges over it, and birds could be heard chirping in the forest nearby. It had just rained so everything looked wonderfully fresh. Overall I felt it was a very peaceful and wonderful place, especially after the hustle and bustle of London, and we had a great time!
Day 5: Wolverhampton & Birmingham
Day 6: Warwick Castle
England is famous for it's castles - it's quite likely the word originated there, and I was very keen to visit a castle and do a day tour while we were there. What better castle to visit than the one built by William the Conqueror - the first Norman king of England! Initially built as a wooden motte and bailey castle it was rebuilt as a stone fortress in 1260. The castle has impressive fortifications that have withstood repeated attacks - the castle sits on a small cliff with a shallow moat all around it, and a solid stone facade wall running all around the castle - making penetration very difficult. The main entrance has an iron gate with two iron portcullis on either side. Tall towers and ramparts made excellent vantage points for archers to rain down their arrows. The castle has a checkered history and played an important role in safeguarding the English midlands against rebellion.
The castle had nice displays of armor and weaponry along with state rooms furnished in Victorian style from the 14th century. We had a nice time walking around the castle and exploring the displays. Chitrupa's son is a year older than Vihaan and had lots of questions about the displays. Her in-laws had brought a yummy south indian lunch that we had on the castle grounds. It reminded of the what Yuval Harari talks about in his book titled, Sapiens - how we are now a global empire or civilization - and our habits, language and cultures have melded so "pure" or "authentic" culture that are untouched by others no longer remain, rather our culture is one of integration and borrowing. Here were some Indians, who many centuries back had roots from different kingdoms within India, eating South Indian food and sipping coffee made in Italian style (cappuccino), in an English castle, dressed in American clothing of jeans and jackets, talking in a mixture of English, Tamil and Hindi. Talk about a melding of cultures.
Some pictures from our visit to Warwick Castle:
Day 7: London
Pictures at Harrods, the famous department store:
The pictures below are at Winter wonderland, a Christmas amusement park set up at Hyde park. Vihaan had a great time dancing to the music near one of the rides, much to the amusement of passing onlookers.
Nevertheless we had a wonderful, short and sweet trip. Thank you UK for the memories!
So long, and thanks for all the fish!