Monday, January 16, 2012

London's Museums

Of late, I have been visiting a few museums in London. And I have enjoyed each of them!

The first one I visited was Grant Museum of Zoology. This is a small museum, but what it lacks in terms of space, it more than makes up with the quality of its collection. As the name suggests, this museum has a large number of interesting and varied exhibits from the animal world, and is a fascinating place to spend a quiet hour.

I then visited the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology. Like the Grant Museum, this is located within the University College London premises. This one has a large collection of exhibits from Egypt and Sudan, and will appeal to fans of Egyptian history.

The third museum I visited, and quite possibly, the most interesting, was Horniman Museum. This is located in Forest Hill, a suburb to the south of London, well away from the standard tourist attractions of this large city. But it's more than worth it to make the trip here. What attracted me to this museum was it's African Heritage collection. This is a collection of artifacts from the African continent such as headgear, masks, etc. But in addition to this, the museum has a fascinating collection of natural history exhibits and musical instruments. The musical instruments section especially was fascinating, with its collection of varied musical instruments from all over the world, and from the present day to instruments played many centuries ago. In addition to the well documented exhibits, they had an electronic, interactive exhibit where one can listen to many of these instruments played live, as well as a hands-on space where one can try their hand at playing a few of these instruments.

And the best part of these, and many other museums in London? They are all free!

Friday, December 23, 2011

A winter's day in Brighton

I made a visit to Brighton one Saturday in December. Winter is not the season to visit Brighton, it being a favourite summer destination due to its location by the sea. But traveling in off-season has its advantages - I was able to enjoy the sights minus the crowds. And, to make it even better, the day was a bright and sunny one, albeit cold.

I left London in the early morning by National Express coach. The coach was nearly empty and we made the journey in a little over 2 hours, via Gatwick airport.

On reaching Brighton, I first made my way to Brighton Pier. The Pier extends out on to the sea and has numerous rides, attractions and pubs / restaurants. It seemed like a place that children would enjoy, but not much to interest adults.

I then made my way to an area called 'The Laines'. This is a complex of narrow, winding streets, lined with interesting shops. I was on the search for a cup of coffee and found a place that looked inviting. The chilli mocha helped warm me up considerably!

My next halt was The Royal Pavilion. Constructed during the time of King George IV, with Mughal, Moorish and classical European influences, the palace is now open to the public to explore and find out more about how the King lived. An informative audio guide is included in the admission price. In addition to the richly decorated and preserved rooms, one of the highlights for me was a small, but good, exhibition that documented the time during the first World War when the palace served as a hospital for injured Indian soldiers. In recognition of this, The Maharaja of Patiala had a gate (called India Gate) constructed close to the Pavilion as a gift to the town of Brighton.

Next to the Royal Pavilion is Brighton Dome, an entertainment complex with a museum. The museum had a temporary exhibition of Indian miniature paintings called 'Ragamala'. But it left me underwhelmed.

Being on the sea, I was keen to have the local fish. But this is where traveling in the off-season revealed one of its drawbacks. Most of the fish and chips shops were already shut. I finally ended up at what turned out to be the local branch of a national fish restaurant, and the food was not very satisfying.

By now, it was turning dark. I spent the rest of my time walking around the city centre, taking in the festive lights on the streets and the pier, before catching the coach back to London.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Mayfair and Soho

I found an interesting book at the library a few weeks back - London's hidden walks, by Stephen Millar. In it, the author describes 13 walks in London. The first walk described was one on Mayfair and that's where I headed on the first Saturday in December.

Starting off from the touristy hot spot of Piccadilly Circus, I walked past the Royal Academy of Arts, through the Burlington Arcade and found myself in the heart of the expensive shopping district of Mayfair. Tiffany's and Faberge were just two of the exclusive brands who have showrooms in this area. Interestingly, it was only after I reached home that I discovered that the Faberge showrooms had only just re-opened in London, after a gap of 96 years!

As the centre of the popular music scene of the 1960's, London has a fair few places with connections to great bands such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. I walked past the building where Keith Moon, drummer of The Who, was found dead in 1978, Grosvenor Square, which was the scene of a demonstration that inspired Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones to write 'Street Fighting Man' and the buidling on Savile Row where The Beatles had the headquarters of their Apple Corps and where they played their last concert in 1969 on the rooftop.

From Mayfair, I headed into Soho, and what a difference it was as compared to Mayfair. Soho is bohemian and edgy, with a profusion of bars, cafes, restaurants, record shops and other small stores. I had a great Japanese lunch in a small corner restaurant, followed by homemade chocolate brownie from a stall in the Broadwick street market.

I followed Berwick street out to Oxford Street, before making my way to Tottenham Court Road and back home.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

At the Emirates stadium

London has a fair number of famous sporting grounds and events - Lords Cricket Ground, Wimbledon and Wembley are just a few of these. But the first one I visited was the home of my favourite football club in the English Premier League. Arsenal moved to their new Emirates stadium a few years back from their previous home at Highbury, and it was this ground I visited in late October to watch them play Bolton Wanderers in the Carling Cup.

The Carling Cup is one of the 4 trophies that clubs in the top tier of English club football play for, but it is generally considered as less important than the others - the FA Cup, the League and the Champions League. As such, it is used by leading clubs, including Arsenal, as a testing ground for young talent who might not always play in the Premier League. Also, possibly because of this, the ticket prices are usually lower than what it would cost to watch a Premier League or Champions League match.

The build up to the game starts as one gets closer to the ground in North London, with crowds of supporters dressed in the club's colours of red and white making their way to the stadium. The atmosphere continued to build up as I entered the stadium and made my way to my seat high up in the stands. Emirates is a big stadium, with tiers of stands that can accommodate upwards of 60,000 fans. The stadium was not full for the match, but the official attendance for the game was about 48,000, and it made for a great atmosphere.

The game itself was a good game, if not terribly exciting, with Arsenal winning 2-1, thanks to a couple of good goals from Andrey Arshavin and Park Chu-Young.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Stonehenge, Bath and Cotswolds

Our first overnight trip outside of London took us first to Stonehenge. With London traffic and some local errands to do, it was 3 pm by the time we left London. We had a smooth drive, reaching Rollestone Manor, a few miles from Stonehenge, by around 5 pm. After checking in to our lovely room and having a cup of tea, we headed to Stonehenge.

Stonehenge needs no introduction, and our visit lived up to expectations. It was 30 minutes to closing time by the time we entered the complex, and it might be due to this that the place was not crowded. We got some great views of the ancient rocks silhouetted against the evening sun.

We had a lovely dinner and goof breakfast the next morning at the house restaurant, after which we left for Bath via Avebury. Avebury is a lesser known collection of ancient rock structures, like Stonehenge. Though the individual rocks are smaller, here one can walk next to the rocks.

Bath is an old Roman settlement, containing, as the name suggests, Roman baths. We went for an evening visit to the bath complex when the ancient baths were lit by torches, making for a wonderful spectacle.

The next day, we left for the Cotswolds region. We had lunch at Painswick, where we also visited the local church. Our destination was the town of Chipping Campden, which we reached in the early evening. We went for an evening walk in the pleasant town, but could not view the local church as it was closed by the time we reached it.

Chipping Campden was the last stop of our all too short tour around the western region of England.

Sunday, September 4, 2011


Welcome all to my new blog. As the title says, this blog will be about my stay and experiences in London.

We moved to the UK in February, 2o11, and after a few months staying with a friend in Essex, we moved to our (rented) place in North London in May.

While we were fortunate to have moved here in the beginning of summer, summer itself has been a bit of a damp squib this year. While spring itself was sunny and (relatively!) warm, this summer was the coolest one in the past 18 years. But having said that, we did have a fair share of sunny days, and it was great to have daylight till about 10 pm.

My initial view of London is that it's very similar to my hometown of Mumbai. Both the cities are the financial centres of their respective countries, and people are always on the move. Public transport is good (and crowded) in both the cities.

My second observation is that London is a very big city! And it takes a while to get around. Which is one of the reasons why we still have seen very little of this city. We have been to the usual tourist places such as the Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square (and National Gallery), British Museum and Tower Bridge. And we did make one (short) trip to Stonehenge, Bath and the Cotswolds.