Friday 1 October 2010

London, baby!

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Amidst downing the occasional drink on a very firmly un-occasional basis (in the presence of superiors, no less!), I had an inkling that this trip to London was going to be very different from my previous wide-eyed jaunt as a wee lad of 12 summers past. This feeling was strengthened by an alcohol-induced clearheadedness, which I had to fight a little bit to catch my first glimpse of the London Eye as we swooped down to land. And the minute we settled into the hotel, I was convinced: this *was* different already - I most definitely did NOT stay in a matchbox the last time, and my family's luggage could co-exist with us harmoniously in the same hotel-room.

But there was more to come. Keeping aside minor trifles such as work, there was a lot more to be done. I was older and had done most of the touristy stuff already 15 years ago - now was the time for adventure, the off-beat, the road less taken! So with a heart resolved against going to the Big Ben, I set out towards London Bridge (which was, disappointingly contrary to some expectations, NOT falling down) to meet a few friends for a drink. I had no idea then, of how regular a feature of the Londoner's life that was - drinking, that is, not setting out towards London Bridge.

The Bridge was about 4 km away from the hotel we were staying in, and I bravely decided to hoof it. The brilliant weather of a London summer evening, combined with the stunningly detailed architecture of even the most mundane residential and commercial establishments, did their part in endangering my life every step of the way. So awestruck was I by my surroundings, I rarely ever stopped gawking up at the buildings and the skies! A decidedly modern city in a developed country, yet so mindful and proud of its long and varied history. Nearly every step of the way had a delightful snippet of historical trivia, which completely won over the quiz geek in me.

And that quiz geek ruled dominant for most of the weekends - the Saturday-Sunday trips consisted primarily of one to the Royal Observatory as Greenwich (home of GMT, where everybody steps on the Prime Meridian), Bletchley Park (site of the World War II code-breaking efforts and workplace of Alan Turing, the Father of Computing), and a host of museums! Of course, such elitist snob activities were reserved for only when the sun was up. Dusk and beyond only saw vicarious pleasures, whether it was watching Sallu become cool again, a campy 3D horror flick, adding a notch in the gun of trivial pursuits, or just plain stumbling back into the digs after more than a few rounds of 'experimental indulgence' at a host of the local establishments.

There was the occasional day-time fun as well - London certainly knows how to manage party events. A long week-end saw the Notting Hill Carnival, and my last weekend there was the Thames Festival - both primarily open-air parades of the various cultures that make up London. The former was firmly Caribbean in nature, while the latter delved well into the realms of downright freaky, with samba dancers, zombies, pirates, giant flamingoes, dinosaurs, and robots as well! After capping off my last weekend on-site with a fireworks display of sheer brilliance, it was time to wrap up as many loose ends as possible in the remaining couple of days, down a few bagels at the Heathrow airport while waiting for the darned delayed flight to show up, pick up the customary 2 litres (and a couple of fridge magnets to prove I don't have a one-track mind!) at the duty-free stores and head back home.

If I do get an opportunity to return to the (in my humble opinion) best example of urban planning in the world, I will "mind the gap" this time.

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