Monday, December 22, 2008

London Trip, 2008: Part III - local trips

The first day I spent mostly in getting to know the underground network. By the time i reached the hostel from airport, it was already 2pm and have only 1 more hour of sunlight left. So, after relaxing for 5 min and taking a relaxed shower, I visited St. Pancras - a kind of Central station with a great architecture and then after hanging out a bit, I directly went on to Royal Opera near Covent Garden. I had already booked a premiere show for "Thief of Baghdad" - a dance theatre. I got a good seat in the front for just 16 pounds and that is lucky. This is the first dance theatre I'm visiting, and there were no songs and not much emphasis on music. It was focused more on choreography and aerobics. I will explain more on the art elements, in another dedicated post. The theatre ran between 7:30 to 9:30, and then hunted for restaurants. Couple of restaurants turned me away as it was a crowded time and finally found an Italian pizza place.

The second day, I started my day with London School of Economics near Holbourn station. I reached the school by around 10:30 and walked around the campus. The campus was not too impressive given the fact that it is the world's central place for humanities education, but it was right at the center of London. I went around the facilities a bit, talked for a few minutes with an admission consultant. At around 12:15 I left there and headed off to the railway station to go to Oxford. I went to the wrong station - St. Pancras, and then had to detour to Paddington that connects to other places in Southern England.The train to Oxford was late and after waiting for an hour (for 1 hour long trip), I finally boarded the express train at 2pm and reached Oxford at 3. I was immediately welcomed by a cold rain (around -5C) with strong gusts of wind and a setting sun, and it was pretty uncomfortable. And to add insult to injury, I couldn't find a way to reach the university. As usual I went under-prepared with no address and was walking randomly. Finally, one guy pointed me to the Said Business school and reached there at 3:30. The admissions officer took me around the school and I was very impressed with the facilities. Of all the MBA schools that I have visited - Yale, Columbia, LSE and Oxford, Oxford impressed me the most.

I boarded the train from Oxford at 4:30 and it was a slooooow train. I reached London at 6:30 and headed to British national opera, for the Ballet - "Sleeping beauty". This is the first ballet I visited and it was incredible. It was so brilliantly choreographed with a dozens of hot chicks in varied movement playing the traditional story of sleeping beauty. It was a very long show at 3 hours with 2 interval breaks, but they conveyed the entire fairly tale with no song or dialogue or voice of any kind. After the show, I quickly finished a Pizza and headed home.

The third day started with rain and cold winds and pretty much usual London weather. But, I still braved for a walking tour around London guided by New Europe tours. This is a free tour conducted in many parts of Europe and next time I visit a European city, I will make it a point to find them. We started near the Hyde Park Corner at 11am with the memorial for Lord Wellington, an Army general who faced Napolean and started walking to Buckingham palace, then stopped outside Prince Charles' house, proceeded to St. James' place - an old palace for royal family where visiting ambassadors take their briefs, and walked through Pall Mall - a famous residential area. We then saw Florence Nightingale's memorial, the famous Trafalar square (where Londoners gather for any celebration), Victoria memorial and then the Big ben, Parliament house and WestMinister Abbey (where the royals are crowned and buried for last 1000 years and also housing the graves of Darwin, Newton, etc). We went all the walking (in total more than 2.5 miles) and the guide was giving us history lessons about royals and wars and all the way.

The tour ended at 2 and I was frozen by then. I went to a souvenir shop to buy trinkets to folks back home, and then went to war interiors of National Art Gallery near trafalgar square. I went around the exhibits to see Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir and few other great Painter's famous works. After about 1.5 hours, I took the train to British Museum. I wanted to see Peacock throne, Kohinoor diamond and other precious Indian treasures stolen from India. Unfortunately their Indian gallery was closed the week I visited for renovation :(. So, I walked around Egyptian mummies, some European artifacts, and pieces of historical work from Nicobar, Central America and elsewhere. I had just 1.5 hours to visite the museum and was tired from whole day of walking. So, I didn't see enough stuff. From the museum, I directly proceeded on to Queen's theatre near Piccadilly circus station for the famous musical - "Les Miserables". On the way, I had my portrait drawn by a painter.

Les Miserables was the most incredible theatre performances I have ever seen. It was set with the background as French revolution with emphasis on class differences and sufferings suffered by common people, including young children. I will do a detailed post on this.

The last day of the tour, I spent on a walking tour in old London. I walked around River Thames, spending time near London Tower Bridge, London Bridge, Tate Modern art museum, St. Paul's cathedral. At the end, I visited Trafalgar square and Big ben to take pictures (the previous day I could not, because of the rain).. I planned to go for a Jack the Ripper tour to see the poor part of London, but didnt do as I wanted to conserve energy for the next day's journey to India.

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