Wednesday, 24 September 2008


Its been ages since I last wrote. I know I've been a bit slack. I think I go through phases of intense interest in blogging and then sometimes it doesn't seem as important. Anyway its not as if there hasn't been anything to write about either but I just got lazy. I realised that I haven't written about our trip to Berlin yet. It feels like such a long time ago that I had to look at my google calendar to find the date. We went to Berlin in early September. We caught Easyjet there and we were delayed again. Besides that the airport we arrived in was deep inside East Berlin, and coming back into town in the train we saw many decrepit and creepy looking train stations along the way. The train ride in took ages and it was very late when we checked into our hotel. We stayed at the Westin off the main street of Unter den Linden. Saturday morning we grabbed some breakfast in a nice cafe on the way to the Brandenburg gate. That was where our free walking tour of Berlin began. The guided walking tour was excellent.. and the best way to see the main historic sights of Berlin for anyone going there. It covered the following places:
  • Pariser Platz
  • The Brandenburg Gate
  • The Reichstag
  • The new Holocaust Memorial
  • Hitler’s Bunker
  • Luftwaffe HQ
  • The 17. June Memorial
  • The Berlin Wall
  • The Former SS Headquarters
  • Checkpoint Charlie
  • The Former Red Light District
  • Gendarmenmarkt
  • Bebelplatz
  • The Book Burning Memorial
  • The Old Royal Boulevard
  • Neue Wache
  • The TV Tower
  • Museum Island
As you can see it covers numerous places of historical interest, many of which have a lot of significance to the Nazi era and when Berlin was divided into east and west. We saw the remnants of the Berlin wall and its path in the city still etched on the ground where it once stood. Our tour guide (a soft spoken English girl) told us many stories about people escaping the wall and trying to reunite with loved ones trapped on either side. We went past the Humboldt University, Berlin's oldest, at the sight of which the Nazi book burning took place. There is poignant memorial to that day on the square giving a view of a room through a glass sheet embedded on the ground full of white empty book shelves representing the books burnt on that day. Across the road in front of the University there is a free book fair held every weekend giving away copies of those books once burnt. That place stirred a lot of sadness for me.

After the tour we had a late lunch and went back to the hotel to rest. We headed out to dinner that night to an area full of restaurants and there was too much choice for us. In the end we went to a Cuban restaurant and had great food. After dinner we made an impulse decision to go to the ultra modern parliament building which is open for tours till very late at night and gives a good view of the city. We rushed through the streets in the rain but were not let in as we were one minute late!!!! After getting over the disappointment of that we walked to the Brandenburg gate which is lit up beautifully at night and took some great pictures there. Berlin is full of great bars and an excellent night life and if you like to drink its a great place. We skipped the bar experience as we had just finished a bottle of wine between the two of us at the Cuban restaurant. We got back to to hotel and had some nice apple strudel and ice cream :) It was sooooo good!

The next day we spent a lot of time at museums and riding around the different parts of the city on buses. The time went quite quickly and soon it was time to head back home to London. At the end of the our time there I understood a little better how much the city itself had gone through, its legacy and why some of the wounds of the past will take many more years to heal. That is not to say that a lot of people are not trying to do just that. The city is full of history & culture but a little depressing and hard to stomach when you are there for a short visit. Much of the east parts of the city are still quite run down, grey and dirty while there are areas in the west which are newer and greener. The city is full of contrasts and the people friendly. One thing I did love were the alldescribingwordsstucktogether German names for places and things which were a bit hard to get used to at first but were a delight once you were a bit clued in.

Check out the photos of Berlin we took.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008


In mid-August we went to Edinburgh for the weekend. It was the first time we flew from Stanstead airport and I think will probably also be our last. Not only is it too far to get to on a Friday night after work, the easyJet flight was delayed (after moving the original flight forward few days earlier!!).

We got to Edinburgh by about 9pm and caught the AirLink bus to the city centre. Right outside of the airport Edinburgh appeared almost rural. After about 25 minutes we arrived in the city and got off near Haymarket station as our B&B was near there. The original hotel we booked for the weekend was flooded by recent rain so we were told a few days earlier that another room had been booked for us nearby. The B&B was on a street full of other hotels and B&Bs. The place was run by a family and looked very cosy. The ceilings were high and our room which was huge faced a cute little garden at the back.

The weather was cool as we set out walking to find somewhere for dinner. We walked towards the city centre and ended up picking an Indian/Bengali restaurant called Ignite. The place was decorated modernly but the food was the real winner. Beautiful naan bread, a fantastic buriyani and a tangy lamb jalfrezi had us ooing and aaahhing. Of course we ate too much and stumbled back to our B&B with great difficulty.

We woke up the next day to gloomy skies. Rain was forecasted and it started just as we headed out. We walked to Edinburgh castle, grateful for our waterproof Kathmandu jackets. Edinburgh castle dominates the city skyline as its set on the plug of an extinct volcano. On that day it looked dark and foreboding. The line for tickets was very long and not too pleasant in the rain but we prevailed. Finally with tickets in hand we headed up the hill to the castle.
The castle grounds are huge with many different buildings. We started our tour in the interesting Scottish War Museum. The Scottish have a long history of war and are a passionate people. We continued on to Mary Queen of Scots chambers(dark and gloomy for my liking) and the great hall with decorative weapons and high ceilings. The crown jewels were glittery and over the top as expected. We continued on to the castle wall which had fantastic views over the Queen street gardens and city of Edinburgh. The city sprawled below as far as the eye can see with the national monument and arthurs hill in the distance. The buildings all seemed to be in every shade of grey imaginable.

We stayed on to the one'o clock gun salute which was historically used by sailors to set their marine chronometers by. The shot was quite loud and made a lot of people jump including myself. Luckily by this stage the rain had stopped and it was time to leave the castle to explore the city. We walked down royal mile which was crowded with tourists and locals as well as performers and promoters for the fringe festival. We were getting peckish so we looked about for somewhere to eat. We walked past the Scott Monument dedicated to Sir Walter Scott, one of Scotland's famous authors. We had a light snack at the M&S food hall in the end because every pub seemed packed to the brim with festival goers and tourists. After lunch we went back to our B&B the long way(by foot) to rest before dinner.

After a short rest we headed to dinner at Rhubarb, the restaurant at Prestonfield's about a 10 minute taxi ride from Edinburgh city. Prestonfields is an old manor house set in a huge property that has been converted to a boutique hotel. The grounds were beautifully manicured and well kept. Upon arrival we were greeted by reception staff kitted out in black kilts. We were lead upstairs to have pre-dinner drinks in a room decorated with plush upholstery and antique furniture. Fire place and rich carpet complete the scene. The wine list arrived some 50 pages long split into sections by country of origin. We spent the next 20 minutes deciding on the wine as well as our dinner courses. We sipped champagne till our table was ready at the restaurant. In no time at all it was time to head to our table in the dining room which again was beautifully decorated with grand chandeliers and long bay windows. The whole place oozed with decadence and grandeur. Our table was by one of the huge windows overlooking the hotel gardens. Peacocks were roaming the gardens leisurely. As we were enjoying our first course as it started to rain again. It was beautiful to watch the rain through the big windows as we sat cozily inside the restaurant. Dinner was interesting and the food was very good, but I think the location & atmosphere outdid the food by a mile. We had coffee at one of the upstairs rooms before heading back to the city again.

The next day we checked out after breakfast and headed out to Arthurs Seat which is a steep hill on the outer edge of Edinburgh which many people climb to see the amazing views of the city and beyond. We caught a bus to the Commonwealth pool and walked to the top of Arthurs Seat using one of the many paths available. The climb was invigorating but quite easy in the end. The views were amazing. We waited at the top while a rain cloud moved across spraying us for a short time. It was very windy at the top so the rain didn't last long at all. The sky cleared again and we took the opportunity to take some pictures. It as possible to pick out many of Edinburgh's famous sights from Arthurs Seat including Prestonfields house and golf course. We negotiated the climb down a steeper path to what we climbed and a bit scarier as well.

Next we caught a bus to the centre of town to walk through the Princes Street gardens. The Princes Street Gardens are situated below street level and give great views of Edinburgh castle especially as a backdrop to the big fountain in the middle of the gardens. There was light rain on and off. We found an eco-cafe in corner of the gardens and had lunch. With lots of time to kill before our flight we took the opportunity to visit the Scottish National Gallery right near the Princes street gardens. The collection wasn't huge but still proved to be quite interesting with many paintings & sculptures. There were large crowds outside watching fringe festival performers. There was a girl from Australia doing a hoola hoop show, guys juggling fire sticks and a big demonstration about Palestine in the middle of it all.

Pretty soon it was time to fetch our bags and head to the airport. Can't wait to return to visit the Scottish highlands.

Check out the photos here.

Monday, 28 July 2008


Last Friday I barely got anything done at work because I was too excited. Excited at what was coming at the end of the day. Our first weekend trip to Europe.. which turned out to be to the beautiful Danish capital of Copenhagen. We left work early on Friday to make it to Heathrow for the 8pm flight. Having only hand luggage meant we could check in online which was convenient. However, it also meant that we had to put all our 'liquid' toiletries into plastic bags and make sure they were not more than 100ml each in size. Getting through security was quicker than I expected though still tedious especially since you have to go through a second screening for your shoes.

Nevertheless after an uneventful flight we arrived in Copenhagen airport around 11pm. We were both impressed by the stylishness of Copenhagen airport. Its design was impressive with sleek wooden floors, high ceilings, and elegant lighting. It didn't have the usually 7-11 feel of most other airports.. in a word it was 'tasteful'. For someone who hates airports this is pretty big. We just missed the train to central Copenhagen so we decide to get a taxi. We stepped outside and joined the taxi queue. The whole road was lined with taxis...all Mercedes. On our 12km drive to Copenhagen didn't take long at all as we whizzed past office buildings and shopping centres.

Our hotel was on the main hotel street Colbjørnsensgade very close to the centre of town, right next to the central train station. We had a good night's rest and had breakfast at the hotel which consisted of cold meats, cheeses, boiled eggs, bread, cereal and fruits. We then set out to explore the town. We walked past Tivoli, a huge amusement park in the middle of Copenhagen with all sorts of rides for kids of all ages. One thing we noticed everywhere we looked were the number of bicycles parked. Most people use bicycles in Copenhagen with dedicated bicycle lanes on all roads which were wide and spacey compared to London. Outside of the train station there were 100s and 100s of bicycles. Most street corners, cafes and restaurants had bicycles parked outside in all shapes, sizes and colours.

We arrived at a large square near an old important looking building. The area was aptly named town hall square. The front of the town hall had a gold statue of the Bishop of Absolon who founded Copenhagen. In one corner of the square was a huge statue of Hans Christian Anderson, the famous fairy tale writer and one of Denmark's most beloved sons. Opposite the square is a building with a huge thermometer on it, when the sun is out a gold statue of a girl in a bicycle comes out at the opening at the top of the building, when its raining a gold statue of a girl with an umbrella comes out. Denmark was having a heat wave that weekend and the thermometer was broken at 15 degree on both days when it was well over 30 degrees.

We bought a multi pass hop-on-hop off bus ticket and boarded the Mermaid tour opposite the town hall square. The bus took us via the wide Copenhagen streets to many famous places including Rosenborg; the summer palace of the Danish royal family, now a museum, as well as their winter and current residence at Amelienborg palace.
Many of the beautiful buildings and attractions in Copenhagen were built by King Christian the 4th of the Danish monarchy. The bus also circled the Tivoli gardens which was opened in 1843 now one of the most visited sites in Copenhagen with an amphitheatre, many restaurants and of course numerous rides. Tivoli was built to act as a distraction for the residents during times of unrest and riots which apparently worked.

Then the bus took us to the famous statue of the little mermaid by the harbour at Langelinie. This delicate statue was commissioned by Carl Jacobsen the son of the founder of Carlsberg when he became fascinated with the tale of the little mermaid by HC Anderson. Towards the end of the bus tour we arrived in Nyhavn, an area where one of the canal arteries ends. The area used to be quite unsavoury but now its full restaurants and cafes all along the canal full of locals and tourists. The buildings still retain their original look with colourful front walls and shape. The area had a very relaxed feeling and we hopped off the bus tour to explore the area. Nyhavn or new harbour is also where the canal tours of Copenhagen start.

We bought tickets and boarded a boat for the canal tour which takes you to many famous Copenhagen sights through its vast canal network and harbour. The canal tour takes you under very snug fitting bridges and tunnels and gives a very different and interesting perspective of Copenhagen. We went past a very modern looking opera house on the harbour as well as the Copenhagen library made to look like a black diamond. The canal tour lasted a couple of hours and was a worthwhile experience. At the end we decided to have lunch in one of the Nyhavn restaurants by the canal. We tried the famous Copenhagen open sandwiches with very delicious marinated herring, salmon, shrimp and beef. Lunch was a relaxing fair. Only at the end we realised that soft drinks were actually more expensive than beer!

We left Nyhavn and walked to the Rosenborg palace and gardens which we saw earlier on the bus. The gardens are much like hyde park in London full of people enjoying the sunny weather, having picnics and relaxing on the grass. Pramod took the opportunity to lie on the grass and get some shut eye while I walked around the gardens taking pictures. The palace in the centre of the gardens looked like it was from a fairytale. It had a moat and huge trees around it. We sat under the trees and relaxed debating whether to go to Tivoli later on. We decided to head back to the hotel and have a nap before dinner. On our way back we walked along
Stroget the crowded and longest pedestrian shopping street in Europe. Ice creams helped ease the heat a little but we were exhausted by the time we got back to the hotel.

After a nap and shower we went walking about looking for somewhere appealing for dinner. We decided on a Thai place right near our hotel in the end. The Thai place turned out to be great, with the best green chicken curry we've had since we got to Europe much to our surprise. The wine was expensive as well as the soft drinks and again much more than beer.

The next day we slept in a little more and had a later breakfast at the hotel. It was another hot day. We headed back to the town hall square and took another bus tour through Christiana, which is like a hippy town in the middle of Copenhagen where people are 'free' to do as they please. The bus went along the old part of Copenhagen with many gorgeous buildings which still are preserved well. After the bus tour we went to Glyptotek the Copenhagen sculpture museum. The museum's main entrance hall is very unusual in that it has a very tall ceiling housing huge palm trees and a fountain. There are many sculptures in amongst the trees which you can gaze upon while sitting on one of the many benches provided. The sculpture museum had many great pieces including a large collection by Rodin as well as works by Degas and many antique Greek, Egyptian and Roman sculptures. The Roman sculptures were displayed in the majestic main hall with huge pillars and a beautiful floor and ceiling. The museum also had a good collection of paintings by Manet, Monet, Van Gogh and Renoir. We had a great time there and I would recommend a visit to anyone heading to Copenhagen.

By the town hall square we hopped on another tour bus this time to the Carlsburg brewery. We didn't really want to go to the brewery itself but it was a good way to see a bit more of the outer Copenhagen. After a late lunch back at the square we headed to the central station to go to the airport.
So in the end Copenhagen was a nice place to visit for the weekend despite the freakish heat wave we experienced. The town has many beautiful parts and interesting places to see but it all seemed rather deserted except for tourists.

As always the photos are in picasa web abums, just follow the link here.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Midsummer Night's Dream @ The Globe

It was a hot summers day in London. After a long hard day at work we were in for a treat. We headed down to the Globe theatre by the Thames to watch a Midsummer Night's Dream.

The theatre is in the shape of a cylinder with an open top. Seating is in three levels; ground, middle and upper sections on the side of the cylinder. On the ground the area around the stage is where the groundlings stand; with ramps leading to the stage in amongst them. The whole structure is made out of wood and everything about it feels unpretentious, suited to the common people as it would have been when the original theatre was in use. The seating is also modest, hard wooden benches with no real back support which you feel a bit at the end of a 3 hour performance. Nevertheless I dont think there is a bad seat in the house. We had great seats in the middle gallery straight infront of the stage.

The performance in itself was fantastic. The actors were versatile and comic. The duke and queen of Athens doubled as Oberon and Titania, their scottish accents somehow suiting both the fairyland and the court. The noteworthy actors were Bottom, Puck, Helena and Oberon. Helena was a great comic actress, passionate and held the audience captive everytime she was on stage. Puck was like a naughty school boy and quite funny. Oberon was magestic and fatherlike. However, Bottom stole the show. He was hilarious! He had the audience in the palm of his hand, so confident and versatile. The actors/labourers were also very well picked and played a pivotal role in the performance. Their play 'Pyramus and Thisbe' had the audience in tears.

The costumes were well suited and comic when they needed to be. The actors involved the audience well, the goundlings enjoying much of that interaction. The song and dance elements were used well to boost the performance. The set and props were minimal but well used. Overall I loved this play. Everything about the theatre and production contributed to the play being in essence what it needed to be; hilarious! I've seen a few productions of this play in the past and I think this one will hold a special place in my heart in years to come. I am already planning what I'm going to see next at the Globe :) Cant wait!!

Saturday, 31 May 2008

The Lakes District

The ferry at Lake Windemere.

The last weekend in May was a long weekend here in the UK. So a group of friends decided to go to the Lakes District for the weekend, home of the famous Lakes poets notably William Wordsworth. There were 12 of us in 3 cars for a 6 hour trip up into the north-west of England.

The plan was to get our cars first thing Saturday and head up to the Lakes. The car leaving from Bayswater had Minh, Jem, Pramod and myself in it. We turned up at 8am at our car collection point to find that they didnt have a car for us. We booked through EasyCar which has other local car companies service their bookings. Its one of UK's biggest car hire companies. The problem was that EasyCar hadn't sent our booking through to Alamo which was handling our booking. We weren't the only people stranded; as the minutes ticked by more and more people turned up looking for cars they had booked through EasyCar only to find their booking missing. We were told to wait till 9am until EasyCar opened to figure out what had gone wrong. Finally after much to and fro we finally had a car from Alamo at 10am thanks to the persistence of the girl at Alamo front desk. Many thanks to that girl for her professionalism, it really made a big difference.

So we were off to a late start. The drive was not very eventful and we made it to Shap(a small town south of Penrith) on the outer edge of the Lakes district by 6:30pm. We met with the rest of the gang in Shap and headed down to the pub called Bull's Head for dinner after dumping our luggage at the hostel we were staying at. Good food and a few glasses of wine and lager mellowed us out and we slowly began to relax and ease into the weekend. Then we returned to our hostel to shower and get ready for bed. The hostel was clean and warm. The girls bathroom was pretty good (except for whenever a guy had a shower we didn't get any hot water) and we all had a good night's sleep on our bunk beds. Seven of us had a dorm room to ourselves while the rest headed to their hotel in Keswick.

Sunday morning we woke up and got ready to head into Ambleside, a town by Lake Windermere. We basically spent 3 hours trying to figure out what to do; going into Windermere Tourist Information, then heading back to Ambleside, getting lost, getting stuck in traffic and finally with ferry tickets to the other side of Lake Windermere to start a 7km walk. The water in the Lake was almost black, and it was very windy. There were patches of sun which generally made for a pleasant day. We began our walk by visiting a imitation medieval castle called Wray. The views from the castle grounds were beautiful with lush green valleys, hills in the distance and blue skies all around. We then continued our walk on the edge of the lake. The path lead us in amongst tall magestic trees and views of the surrounding lake. The wind was constant and getting stronger as the day progressed. The first part of the walk varied a lot and we walked through people's properties opening and closing gates. After a while we were feeling hungry and our lack of fitness made us a little tired. But in no time at all we came to the end of the 7km walk. We ate our sandwiches by the water while waiting for the ferry to return to Ambleside. The ferry ride was gentle and after the long walk a few of us took the time to have a snooze :)

We arrived back in Ambleside via 2 ferries. Next we decided to head to Keswick to explore the town and have dinner. The drive to Keswick was gorgeous as the road hugged a few lakes and the setting sun in the distance made for beautiful views. We found parking in Keswick which proved difficult and then walked around town exploring shops and possible places to have dinner. We settled on a nice pub and ordered up a lot of nice food and drink. Many enjoyed the lamb shanks on the menu which was made from local lamb a lot of which we saw on the lush green fields during our walk. After some fairy floss and ice cream we decided to call it a night.

The next day Minh, Jem, Pramod and myself decided to do our own thing before we headed back home at lunch. The plan was to hire some bicycles and explore the lake closest to Shap. Pramod and I decided to get a tandom bike since I cant ride a bicycle. The thing we didnt realise was that tandom bikes are not meant for beginners because you still have to balance and pedal together. Everytime we got on the bike I felt like we were going to fall off and every time I padalled the bike started to swerve from left to right and we had to pull over and stop. After trying for a while we decided to give the bike ride a skip and instead drive on the track which was recommended to us by the guy working at the hostel who looked a lot like James Oliver. The drive went through some nice quiet towns and fields and ended up along a big lake finishing at one end of the lake surrounded by mountains all around. There was a walking track up all the way to one of the mountains and many people were getting ready to take the track up to the mountain. If we had more time I would've loved to have done that trek, although it was quite steep. We went down to the water, took some pictures and decided to head to a pub we passed on the way to the lake. The pub was really cute and was also recommended by the Jamey Oliver look alike for its good food. We ordered some food and Jem and I headed out to explore the town while we waited for the chef to arrive and make our food as it wasn't quite lunch time yet. The town was called Maryvale and it was surrounded by rolling hills where cows and lamb grazed lazily. It felt like a relaxing and sweet place to live in, closer to the authentic lakes district lifestyle as opposed to the very touristy towns like Ambleside and Windemere. The lunch was delicious and very down well with Magners(apple cider). By then it was time to head back into London. The drive was much shorter on the way back, and we arrived in a wet London to be stuck in traffic about 10 minutes from home on Edgware Rd. All in all the weekend was good and we were lucky to have sunny weather most of the time, however it was far too short and I would like to go back there to spend more time away from the touristy towns on treks and walks :)

See photos for the lakes here.

Monday, 12 May 2008


View from the Observatory Hill at Greenwich

Last Saturday 10th May a bunch of us decided to go to Greenwich. Getting to Greenwich is quite interesting as you have to catch the DLR(Docklands Light Rail) to get there. This is similar to the Monorail back in Sydney and it goes through Canary Wharf with great views of the Docklands. When we arrived in Greenwich all the other guys were waiting for us. The group consisted of Chi, Christina, Minh, Jem, Myle, Pramod and I.

First order of business was lunch. We found a great cheap Chinese restaurant with massive servings. The food was great for the average price of 4.5 pounds! After lunch we headed to the Cutty Sark to begin our podcast walk of Greenwich. The Cutty Sark is the World's last tea clipper ship that famously burnt down last year. Now its in repair so you cant really look at it. We walked past the Cutty Sark by the Thames path through the gardens of the Royal Naval College which has been coverted to a visitor centre, the Trinity College of Music and the Greenwich University. Greenwich University is one of most beautiful universities I've seen with hsitoric buildings, lush green lawns and amazing views of the Thames. We stopped to enjoy the area and take some photos.

The walk then continued inland across the road to the entrance of Greenwich park which leads to the Royal Observatory on top of the hill. The park was very beautiful and full of people. We headed up to the Observatory through a gorgeous tree lined path. At the top of the hill of the Observatory you can enjoy unparalleled views of the Greenwich and greater London in the distance. The Observatory is unique in that it is where the time meridian passes through with longitude of zero degrees, one half of the observatory is in the eastern hemisphere and the other is in the western hemisphere. It also houses a museum of old clocks, telescopes, first sea going chronometers which helped to accurately calculate longitude. This is very interesting if you have the time to go through and look at the displays.

We walked on to the grassy area of the Observatory hill and took some time to relax. The views of Greenwich were beautiful and provided some great photo opportunities. The park was full of people having picnics, throwing frizbies and sun baking. Parks are the London equivalent to the Sydney beaches.

After some dozing on the hill we headed down to the Greenwich markets in the hunt for some ice cream. Greenwich markets are not as large as some of the other markets in London but it still has an interesting collection of stalls of jewellery, decorative items, food, clothes and collectables. At this stage we were quite tired so we had some ice creams and went on the DLR back home. I highly Greenwich for its history, beauty and wide open spaces. If you ever go make sure the weather is good, otherwise the whole experience will be diminished.

See more photos of us out and about in London here.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Marylebone and The Wallace Collection

Last Sunday the 4th May was another gorgeous day in London. People keep telling us that days like those are few and far between but its hard to believe thats the case with the great weather we've been having. One thing good about it is that it makes you really appreciate the good days. Which is why I dragged Pramod with me to do the podcast walk in Marylebone, the area right around where we live in Edgware Rd.

We began our walk near the Marble Arch tube station, on Oxford St and turned into one of the adjacent streets to come into Marylebone. As a side note, the podcast made us realise we've been mispronouncing Marylebone all this time. Its meant to be pronounced as Merry-Le-Bone not Marley-bone. Who knew?

The streets in Marylebone have a mix of everything from very old buildings and housing to modern offices, shops and flats. Though there are some internal streets with very homogeneous old architecture, mostly cream and white in colour. Marylebone was the closest village to the city of London until its development for housing by two landlords in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The early part of the walk took us past several squares. These are basically private gardens in the middle of a circular road where several streets meet. They are about 20-25 sq meters in size and basically allows people paying an annual fee its private use. The squares we saw were immaculately kept with lush green lawns, majestic trees, blooming flowers and shrubs. They looked so idyllic especially seeing families enjoying their time together. I was not jealous at all. One day when I'm rich perhaps.

At the edge of one of these squares is the Wallace Collection. Its a national museum set in a large historic London town house. It has a great collection of French 18th century paintings, furniture and porcelain with Old Master paintings and a great armoury section(European and Eastern). Every gallery is a room that has been immaculately decorated and arranged. There is a nice internal courtyard with a restaurant for those wanting to enjoy the weather and take a break. In the main gallery room upstairs there are many paintings and sculptures, we noticed that one particular French painter had a fascination with game. He had painted dead rabbits, birds, even lobster repeatedly, it gave us a bit of a chuckle.
Entry is free and even being a weekend it was not very busy so I would recommend this hidden treasure to everyone here and visiting London. For more info see

We spent about 2-3 hours there looking at all the galleries then continued on with the walk. We passed Wigmore Hall apparently a great small concert venue with good acoustics and down towards Oxford St on a very small but famous shopping strip called St Christopher's Place. Basically it was a small alleyway full of designer shops, restaurants and cafes leading on to the smallest of entry ways to Oxford St. We must have walked past it many times before without realising what it was.

After a short walk along busy Oxford St we turned into another adjacent street that lead into the heart of Marylebone. This area in Marylebone historically has had a significant connection with the medical profession with the Royal College of Ophthalmologists and Royal College of Physicians as well as 3 hospitals situated in the area. Even today there are many doctors, dentists, physiotherapists etc in the area. There are quite a few houses with blue plaques on their walls where famous surgeons, architects, poets etc lived. Next we arrived in Marylebone High Street bustling of shops, restaurants, cafes and pubs. The area almost had a feel of Balmain back in Sydney. I would like to go back there again.

The end of High St leads to St Marylebone church where Charles Wesley(leader of the Methodist movement) is buried. There is a path across the Church ground which leads to busy Marylebone Road just before the junction with Baker St.
Overall a very interesting walk I thought.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Covent Garden

Yesterday was another beautiful day in the city of London. Pramod had I were meeting an old uni friend of mine for lunch at Covent Garden. We hadn't been to Covent Garden before but had heard a lot about it from other people. Being a nice day it was full of people out and about.

We had lunch away on the quieter side, in a very nice Greek restaurant which had tasty, fresh good food quite cheap by London standards. We had a very nice meal catching up with my friend who I hadn't seen in about 6 years!

Covent Garden is made up of small cobblestone streets with many shops, eateries and pubs. There is a market comprising of flowers, plants, jewellery, art, bags, decorations and anything and everything you can think of. There are lots of street performers, miming, juggling etc keeping the crowds entertained. We came across a big crowd surrounding a man joking about and juggling various items. He was quite funny and engaged the crowd well. While we were watching him Pramod with two other men got picked out from the crowd to assist with his act. The performer ended up getting on the shoulder of one of the helpers and juggling some not so sharp daggers. The whole experience was quite a laugh.

The market is surrounded by cafe's and restaurants with alfresco dining available for all their patrons. Every cafe, restaurant and pub was brimming with people eating and drinking the gorgeous day away. In front of the market there are two massive peacock statues sitting on two tangly bit of tree trunk. The head and main body of the peacocks were made out of painted paper mache. The feathers of the peacock were actually small flowering plants with flowers in varying shades of purple, pink and blue all being grown on a lush green bit of lawn twisting down to ground level. It was quite beautiful.

We wondered in and out of shops in the area and headed home for a well earned rest before going to dinner at a friend's place in Hammersmith. I think we will be returning to Covent Garden again :)

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Tower Hill to St Paul's Cathedral

Its a long weekend here in the UK. A bank holiday on Monday. The plan was to go to Bath for the day, but there is so much to see and do there a day was not going to be enough. So we postponed Bath until we can stay for a weekend.

We (Pramod and I) decided to do another London Walk, this one starting at Tower Hill and ending at St Paul's Cathedral. The day was again quite nice. Sunny periods and temperatures around 20 degrees. I used my sunglasses here for the first time since I got here.

We caught the Number 15 bus on Edgware Rd which makes its way to Tower Hill via Oxford St. Oxford and Regent streets were packed with people here for the long weekend. There are a lot of tourists about with their fold out maps stopped in all sorts of places and filling up the London tour buses. I realised that I forgot to re-sych my ipod after I added the walking tour mp3 to iTunes, so we had to head back home to get it. We were walking about on Regent St trying to get a bus back home when we went right past Elle McPherson with her kids. She is so bloody tall. Anyway, we caught a bus back home, had some sandwiches from the M&S near our place and headed back to the start of the walk.

We began the walk outside Tower Hill tube station. The first thing we saw was the big sundial on the observation deck made from stone and bronze. The sundial is about 6m in diameter and on the outer edge there were very details carvings on the history of transport in London. To the left of the observation desk is the remains of the ancient Roman wall which used to surround London.

Across the road is the Tower of London. The Tower of London is a set of buildings and towers surrounded by defensive walls and a moat(now drained). The Tower of London was used as a royal palace, a fortress and a prison with some very high profile prisoners such as Queen Elizabeth I, Anne Boleyn and Catharine Howard. The White Tower was built by William the Conquerer to protect the City of London from outside invaders. Currently the Crown Jewels are held there.

We walked under the road on a walkway which emerged next to the Tower of London. We followed the path around the Tower of London to the Tower Bridge. The Tower Bridge is famous for the fact that it lifts to let tall ships and tankers through. There is a Tower Bridge exhibition that you can visit, but we didn't go in as there were two many people. The history of this bridge is interesting and I think its worth going to the exhibition if you're an engineering buff. We continued across the Tower Bridge with nice views of the Thames on either side. Then we followed the Thames path on the south bank past the snail like City Hall building and the permanently docked HMS Belfast (a WWII gunship converted to a museum). There were tonnes of people about eating ice cream and sitting around the lush green park area.

We left the Thames path momentarily to go through the Hayes Galleria (converted old wharf) with its beautiful ceiling and past the Clink prison to arrive near the London Dungeon and Britain At War exhibition. The area around here is close to several hospitals including the Guys Hospital. We rejoined the Thames path and followed it through to the Globe theatre. Here we stopped the podcast momentarily to sit by the theatre and take a look around. The Globe seems quite small from the outside. The entrance has a beautifully gothic iron gate with miniature figures of animals and symbols etc. While we were sitting by the water a performance of King Lear finished. The doors opened and we could see into the theatre stage where the actors were taking their bows. I can't wait for next month when we go to see A Midsummer Nights Dream :) at the Globe. Loads of people filed out of the Globe and followed the Thames path along the south bank to cross via the Millennium bridge.

We waited for a while people watching then continued on to across the Millennium bridge(aka wobbly bridge) which famously had to be closed a few days after it opened due to oscillations (unfortunately its quite stable now). The Millennium bridge starts on the side of Tate Modern which is an art gallery in a converted old power station, and quite hideous looking. The walk across the bridge gives great views of the Thames to either side. Looking straight on we are faced with the dome of the St Paul's cathedral getting bigger and clearer with each step.

St Paul's cathedral is a beautiful bit of architecture to say the least. The current version was built by Christopher Wren after the previous one was burnt down in the great London fire. St Paul's is the main Anglican cathedral in London which housed some very famous events such as the wedding of Charles and Diana, the funerals of Winston Churchill, Lord Nelson & Duke of Wellington. Its free to go inside the main section. A must see for everyone I think for its beauty, tranquility, amazing architecture and history. Its also possible to get great views of London from the various viewing galleries at different levels of the cathedral. I think you have to pay for that priviledge also there are some 500 steps to get there, another time maybe. The cathedral steps are a nice spot to stop and take a breather which is what we did.

The walk then lead us to the other side of the cathedral to the Temple Bar, a structure that marked the gateway to the City of London some 200 years ago. This structure was originally on Fleet st, but since had many homes before it was moved to its current location. The Temple Bar leads to the Paternoster Square with a tall decorative column and a statue of "Shepherd and Sheep".. hmmm. Of course there is a Starbucks in there too just like everywhere else in London.

So overall a very nice walk/tour of some London sights. Learned a lot of history and interesting facts. Its amazing how so many interesting things are in such a concentrated area. So it was back on the bus home before the now darkened sky opened up. Hmmmm what should we have for dinner?

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Its a Beautiful Day

Yesterday was a special day. It was the first real sunny day in London since we got here more than a month ago. People were in singlets, t-shirts, dresses and shorts. The skies were blue, temperature was about 20 degrees with a slight cooling breeze. Days are like these are special, they bring everyone outdoors to enjoy the sunshine. We were no different. The plan was simple, meet up with friends at Bayswater, have lunch and then take a walking tour of London together.

Walking tours are a great way to see London, places you might not get to see in the normal tourist sweep, learning history and little anecdotes about things you see. You can go with a guide, a good option if really want to learn about the history and if you don't mind spending money to do it, this is well worth it. There is also the el cheapo version where you download a walking tour podcast from this website and walk along listening to someone explaining the sights and sounds.
A bunch of us (Jem, Yui, Myle, Jason, Pramo, Lee and myself) did the ipod thing. We had lunch at The Waterway pub near Little Venice, right by the canal. Then we proceeded to Warwick tube station exit to start the Little Venice to Camden Lock walking tour. First we had to synchorize out ipods then off we went, all the girls with ipods in their ears and the guys walking by listening to our directions(and useful or not so useful facts) and Pramo running back and forth with Jem's SLR taking paparazzi style photos of the walking party and our surrounds. The walk was along the canal path all the way from Little Venice to Camden Lock where the famous Camden markets are situated.

The canals were completed in 1820 and used to transport heavy goods to all parts of London(the part we were walking along were just a small part of them) including coal. They became less important as the railway network came into place in 1837. The boats used in the canal are narrow, wooden and long(10 to 15m) so they can fit through some of the narrow parts of the canal. Many people live in these boats, which are moored along the two sides of the canal and some of the mooring stations allow you to connect to mains power.

Our walk took us under old rickety bridges, over a 250m long canal tunnel, past huge mansions backing on to the canal of the wealthy elite, behind the London Zoo, around Regents Park(named so because the Regent paid the Prince to name it after himself), past bushlands and sloping green lawns. The canal goes right by the London Zoo with certain enclosures(wild boar, hyenas, birds) backing on to the canal, so people walking along a canal path are able to see some of these animals.

The day was gorgeous so the canal path was quite busy with people walking and cycling by. The walk lasted about an hour and half ending up smack bang in the middle of Camden markets buzzing with people and wonderful smells of all kinds of food.

We had a well earned drink from the Japanese stall called Sunshine(orange, lemon and raspberry juice) which had a lot of zing. Then the group split up with Yui and Myle opting to have some food and return home while the rest of us walked to Primrose Hill located on the north side of Regent's Park. The hill is 78m high in the middle of the park. The top of the hill gives unparalleled 360 degree views of Central London. The park was full of people enjoying the nice weather and gorgeous views, flying kites and having picnics. We picked out some of the famous London landmarks from the distance and then decided to return to Bayswater on a bus.

Chi and Christina joined us for dinner at one of local Chinese restaurants. It was a nice end to a beautiful day out and about in London. Cannot wait to do another ipod walking tour with the gang. Or more so cannot wait for another beautiful day :) because its raining and cold again today :(.

Monday, 21 April 2008


Cheese stall at Spitalfields markets.

There are lots of weekend markets in London. Each has its own unique style and characteristics. So far we've been to a few; Camden, Portobello and SpitalFields. Camden is perhaps the most interesting. Its really huge and very busy and full of grungy/goth folk. The main section has tiny stalls crammed together selling everything from clothes, accessories, music and ornaments. Its not ideal for claustrophobic people but well worth getting lost in the maze if you can handle the closeness of the stalls and other shoppers. But you dont have to be stuck in this maze. The main street is full of shops and there are more stalls and shops near the Camden lock including some glorious food stalls. We had jerk chicken for lunch from a Caribbean stall with beautiful hot sauce and marinated/preserved banana(?). It was delicious.

The people you see at Camden markets are just as interesting as what you find in the shops. Guys covered in piercings stand around corners holding ads for piercing parlors. Seriously there 's no part of their face or body left un-pierced. Then there are the goth groupies clad all in black and platforms walking around looking very unhappy to be there. So far the people might sound scary but they are really quite charming. You will also run into a few Rastafarians at Camden markets and there are quite a few stalls/shops with reggae music, clothes and posters for sale. I was very happy to see that.

Portobello markets are geared towards food and antique lovers. Stalls are full of organic produce, a fantastic range of healthy looking fruit and veg some of which you never see in the prepackaged world of the supermarkets. Its also very cheap, especially if you're willing to buy bulk. The food you can eat on the spot is also fantastic. We bought boneless chicken thigh fillet burgers from a German stall, which was huge, hot and delicious. There are pancake stalls, giant paella pans and a famous cup cake shop will a long line of customers. Towards the back of the markets you will find many antiques and ornaments. Everything you can think of from very old cameras, cricket balls and bats to jewellery, lace and china. Time seems to slip away when you peruse through these intriguing stalls.

Spitalfields markets are pretty much all under cover. This is handy on rainy London weekends. Its catered towards more upmarket shoppers with many exotic cheeses and wines, vintage clothes and jewellery, some organic produce and mouth watering pasty and cake stalls. The area covered by these markets is not huge so it doesn't take all day to look through the stalls.

I can't wait to visit the other markets here in London and write about it. I'm becoming a bit of a market junkie.

Check out photos here.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Planes, trains and automobiles

This is my first real post it seems. So much for the title of my blog.
But I guess its never too late.

So what are my first impressions of London?.. Well, not exactly first impressions since I've been here before on a short holiday, nevertheless this place looks much different when you look at it from a non-tourist point of view.

As we got off our flight at Heathrow and caught the tube to our Hotel in Paddington the first thing we noticed were the weird and wonderful names the British have given to some of the places here. Some you read and want to laugh out loud. I mean what poor person can say with a straight face that they live in a place called Cockfosters! Not only that imagine it being pronounced in a very British accent by the tube announcements lady... 'This is the Piccadilly line train to CockFosters." As a side note the tube announcements lady Emma Clarke has done some hilarious spoof announcements, which she ended up being fired for by British Rail. Check them out at her website Some people have no sense of humour.

Anyway, getting back to the unusual names thing. There is a tube station called Mudchute. I mean how unimaginative are these people. I want to call home and tell my mum I live in Mudchute. She's worried enough that I'm slumming it here in the UK.
Here's some more that caught my eye:
- Nunhead (poor nun)
- St John's Wood (oh dear)
- Tooting (excuse me)
- Elephant & Castle (umm..?)

Weird names aside the transport in London is top notch. At any tube station here there is a train every 4 minutes. Yes 4 minutes! People still run for trains.. I don't get it.
Apparently 1 billion people use the tube every year, more than 3 million a day. Seriously this is what Sydney needs to aim at if we are ever going to rely on public transport there. In central London, the bus services are also great. Bus stops have estimated time of arrival of the next bus. How good is that? And who doesn't love double deckers?

Trains and buses are all good but when it comes down to it Londoners walk a great deal. Not a lot of people have cars in central London, its not worth driving anyway because of the congestion tax. Coming from Sydney where every person and their dog has a car it takes a while to get used to walking everywhere. I don't mind at all especially if I have sensible shoes on. Speaking of shoes, I better sign off for now. That topic deserves a whole new entry :)