Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Itineraries - 96 hours in London

London! A must visit for any historian, literature or travel lover. I was hard pressed to come up with an itinerary for just four days in London, but here are my favorite experiences and must-dos for the first time traveler.

Trafalgar square

Day 1

Try to get in on an early flight into London. After you are settled in and relaxed, visit the Tower of London. This is an amazing attraction with the crown jewelry on display, including the Cullinan and Kohinoor diamonds. Post visit, you can cross the London bridge to visit Burough market to sample some delicious food and English pies.

 Post lunch, take a leisurely stroll down the queens walk passing by the Globe theatre (Shakespeare buffs might want to go on a tour here), the Tate modern and several booksellers by the riverside. Get tickets to the London eye and ride on it around sunset for spectacular city views.

Call it an early night after this to get a fresh start for day 2.

Day 2

Start your day nice and early and visit the British museum. This is one of the most spectacular museums you could visit and you can easily spend an entire day or more inside checking out its various attractions which include the famous Rosetta stone.

Post visit, walk to Leicester square to get lunch at one of London's pubs where the menu includes the famous chicken tikka masala. Walk to Westminister Abbey from there to enjoy the gothic architecture and check out the tombstones of various writers, poets and even sir Issac Newton. Finish your day with drinks in a Soho area pub.

Day 3

This is a day best spent exploring the famous market at Covent garden, then walking around the Oxford, Regent, Carnaby street and Picadilly circus area. Stop for lunch at Veeraswamy, offering swanky but delicious Indian grub. Mahatma Gandhi is said to have dined here on his London visit.

Visit Fortnum and Mason for an excellent high tea experience later in the evening after strolling by Buckingham palace, the mall and St.James park.

Day 4

Venture beyond London on this day, visiting either Hampton court palace or Windsor castle to experience a bit of the royal life. Hampton court is relatively less touristed and worth a visit. For the garden lover, Kew Gardens is an excellent pick as well.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Literary pursuit of Travel - In the land of the rings (1)

I didn't know much about New Zealand when I was growing up. Sure, it was a popular site for many Cricket games played in Auckland and Christchurch and I heard of distant relatives who moved there, but I hadn't read many books which would help me imagine the scenery of this distant land.
Then came the famous Peter Jackson movies which suddenly correlated the books I had read in school with spectacular scenery.

I couldn't resist the temptation to do a stopover in New Zealand on my way to Sydney. I was flying on the national airline anyways, so it seemed like the logical thing to do. After careful analysis of both islands I picked the south, being quite the nature lover. A five day trip through the South island, staying in different cities every night, just by myself. I had traveled alone before but never completely alone on a holiday. Usually I had my husband or family meet or join me after a work trip, so this was thrilling by itself.

I chose to fly down to Queenstown and make my way up to Christchurch to catch my flight to Sydney. Queenstown, known as the adventure capital of the world is situated on Lake Wakatipu, one of the most stunning lakes I had ever seen with its glacial blue hues and the remarkable mountains as its backdrop.

After checking into my hotel room at the scenic suites where I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was no room service charges, I decided to take a cable car ride up on the skyline gondola and check out the luge tracks as well. They also have a bungy swing here for the more adventurous.

The gondola turned out to be well worth the expansive views, after which I made my way down to get a quick lunch in the city. The lines at Fergburger were daunting though the burgers they served were about the size of my face.

Jetlag got the better of me post lunch and I headed back to the room for a short nap. I awoke feeling refreshed and motivated to do something adventurous, being in the adventure capital of the world. Bungy jumping was still a far stretch, so I chose the Shotover jetboat ride instead. 

I started to rethink my decision really quickly upon arriving at the canyon. The waters were icy cold and though you can't see it in the picture, the rapids were extremely fast as well. Maybe I wasn't cut out for adventure.

Too late to cancel, I climbed into the boat, choosing to not sit up front with the driver. The ride begun slowly but very soon we were galloping on the water, making hairline stops in the narrow canyon and 360 degree turns. The adrenaline rush got me in the spirit of things and when we finished, I was glad that I ventured to do this.

Post adventure, I did a quick stop at the Mall to get dinner at a Vietnamese joint, choosing to eat alone while reading my book, enjoying the bliss of solitude. The next few days were slotted to visit some parts of Lorien, Gondor and Rohan, so I called it an early night. More on my journey to follow..

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Literary pursuit of travel - poetry and the other Potter

In this post I invite you to visit the land of the Golden daffodils, the Lake district. Located in Northwestern England, the Lake district has been immortalized though its most famous poet, William Wordsworth. I however had another favorite author in mind when visiting the lakes. Beatrix Potter, who had stirred my imagination with her beautifully illustrated Garden pictures in her tale of Benjamin bunny. It was this countryside that I hoped to see on this adventure.

I couldn't resist the temptation to do a short but still memorable day trip from London to do a ten lakes tour. After careful planning and perusal, this meant catching a very early Virgin train out of London at 6 AM headed toward Glasgow. I'd switch to the local lake district train at Oxenholme and get down at Windermere, the entry point to the Lake district. Here I had booked a ten lakes spectacular tour, after which I'd repeat the train schedule to get back in London late at night.

A cheery conversation on the train with a Scotsman about Cricket (He loved the 20-20 format) and a Cornish pie later, I arrived at Windermere, still feeling a bit tired from the previous day's traveling around Oxford and the Cotswold villages. This was a Monday but I had taken the day off to make the tour.

The tour was pleasant but it was a cold spring day with an occasional hailstorm. We took a cruise on Derwent water which was pleasant and dreamy. 

Post cruise, it was a quick lunch stop at Keswick which is a beautiful English town. I couldn't help having a scone for lunch as I walked past a shop selling the fresh out of the oven.

Post lunch, we stopped by the spectacular Honister slate mine and pass which was a sight to behold. It was amazing to see the towering slate columns on both sides. Here's a picture for scale.

We also stopped at Castlerigg to see the stone circle, a sort of miniature but just as old Stonehenge. It was very intriguing to see. Then we went on to see the Wordsworth graves and daffodil garden at Grasmere. 

As we stopped here for a while, I couldn't help but sneak off to the bookstore around the corner to see if they still stocked the Beatrix Potter books. I was not disappointed! I returned with a full collection of stories in my hands and a happy smile on my face.

It was then time to head back to England. In retrospect I'd have chosen a smaller tour so as to not pack my day full. The English spring was predictably unpredictable and did its part with the intermittent rain which can be freezing up North. This however adds to the magic of the place.

The Lakes definitely deserve a longer visit with the delightful hikes they have to offer, but if you are pressed for time, they can be a satisfying albeit long day trip to see the beauty of the rolling hills and enchanting scenery.