Photo credits : visitlondon.com
It has always been a tradition in my family to give an incentive to children to do well in exams. My brother worked unflinchingly for 2 years for his engineering entrances without venturing out of our hometown. And alas, when he finally got into a good engineering school, it was time for him to extract his pound of flesh. And what better way to rejuvenate than to take a vacation in England in the peak of the Indian summer.
Its always good to have relatives abroad, and even better when you have a dozen aunts spread all over England. Our trip began in London, the biggest and most happening city in the UK. To avoid being burdens on our aunts, we booked ourselves on a couple of sightseeing tours. The first tour that we were a part of, Evan Tours, took us to the outskirts of London and covered Stonehenge, Windsor Castle and Oxford, all in a days time. Pretty exhausting, I would say, but not impossible for a bunch of 20-somethings backpacking across the Queen’s home!
Windsor Castle is the oldest working residential palace in the world and has a rich legacy spanning a whopping thousand years. Visit this place to get spectacular views of art, architecture and artefacts from all over the world including Queen Marys doll house, a miniature masterpiece,and drawing and painting exhibitions as well as relics from the Royal collection, like King Henry VIIIs armour, or a cloak worn by Napoleon Bonaparte during the battle of Trafalgar. Photography of the interiors was strictly prohibited. You can always relax in one of the numerous cafes and restaurants in the village if history doesnt interest you. Or splurge on some exquisite souvenirs at one of the official shops inside the palace.
Stonehenge is a world heritage site, and one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was built somewhere around 3000 BC and evidence suggests that it was used as an ancient burial ground. It is said that if you stand at a certain spot inside the Stonehenge monument on the day of the northern summer solstice ie. 21st June, facing north-east through the entrance towards a roughhewn stone outside the circle known as the Heel Stone you will see the sun rise above the Heel Stone. It provides an idyllic backdrop for a picnic with ones spouse/family.
Oxford City, about an hour away from London, is best known for the Oxford University, which is a group of colleges dating back to about a 1000 years, and is one the premier higher educational institutes of the world. It is a quaint old town with numerous buildings of architectural significance doting its skyline as well as cobbled streets and old alleys and door ways.
Our second day in London was spent in an internal tour of the city by Premium Tours. The first stop was the Tower of London to see the world famous Crown Jewels including the Kohinoor diamond. We then headed toSt Pauls Cathedral situated in London’s elite financial district. It was easily the highlight of our trip. The beautiful ceiling and the imposing dome and architecture took our breath away. Below in the basement was a memorial to some of Englands finest heroes like Admiral Lord Nelson who successfully defeated Napoleon in the battle of Trafalgar but lost his life, and is buried in a lead casket full of rum! How fresh he would look even today, more than 200 years after his death! Our day finally ended with traditional English tea and champagne at the Park Plaza, overlooking Big Ben- all inclusive of the tour fee!
The next day we went to a local pop up street food festival which was really fun with live music, drinks, and snacks at reasonable prices all in a contemporary relaxed atmosphere. Our last day in London was spent visiting some of the prominent shopping places, like Covent Garden, which is a premium shopping arcade and taking a sneak peek into China Town. I must warn you, though, that the English Chinese is very bland as compared to the Indian Chinese and you may find the food insipid; we certainly did, despite being averse to chillies. We then nipped into Hardys Sweet Shop, which sells some of the most delectable chocolates, sweets and candies not available in India. In the evening we headed out to Notting Hill, where there is a flea market daily, selling antiques, food, clothes and other curios at reasonable prices.
The second leg of our two week trip began when we left London for Yorkshire, which is 2 hours away from London by train. In contrast to the rushed pace of life in London, Yorkshire is a quiet and laid-back district. We stayed at our aunts farm estate in Northallerton . Out here we enjoyed the lush green fields, the clean air, and also visited the famous North Yorkshire Dales used for Grouse shooting. We visited yet another aunt the next day, wholives in a 200 year old Georgian cottage in the historic city of York. The Yorkminster church is one the largest churches in Europe and compares with Westminster Abbey in architectural style.
The last leg of our tour was spent in Birmingham, visiting some cousins. Birmingham is the second largest city in the UK and has a large Asian diaspora. It is clean and has wide streets, and slightly greener than London- reminds one of Chandigarh! Except for a couple of modern shopping malls, there is nothing much to see here and it is relatively a modern city.
Two weeks in England, clear sunny days with no signs of rain and meeting cousins for the first time surely made our trip unforgettable. There is just so much to do and see, especially in London that one trip certainly didn’t do justice to the plethora of experiences England offers. The charm of this global metropolis beckons again- and Ill definitely pay it another visit sooner than later, I hope!