London highlights

Earlier this year Mr.A and I moved to London, believing we were making a long term shift, but as it turns out it wasn’t meant to be, at least not for the time being. Long story short, we’ve happily returned home to Stockholm after living in London for four months. It’s been a helluva ride, but in all the chaos we’ve had some good days in this bustling, spirited city. Let me share some high points from our short-lived adventure 🙂

Sky Garden atop the Walkie-Talkie

One of the best vantage points for great views of the city of London is the Sky Garden. The top three stories viz. 34th-37th floors of the skyscaper at 20 Fenchurch Street, nicknamed Walkie-Talkie for its typical shape, have been transformed into landscaped gardens open to the public for free. You do have to book an entry slot but that’s quite easy with their online booking system. You can even make a special occasion by reserving a table at one of the restaurants, or keep it casual by snacking at the cafes. Obviously, the highlight is the 360° views of the city, combined with the greenery indoors. Mr.A and I enjoyed the perspective. The garden complete with full-grown palms is quite a delight to stroll in, too.

Greenwich and the National Maritime Museum

Once Saturday we rode the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) that winds through the towering skyscrapers of Canary Wharf before coming out the other side of Thames to the Greenwich station. A short, but rather steep, walk uphill through the Greenwich Park brought us to the Royal Observatory. To tick off places from my Geography lessons has always given me a certain thrill, so this was no different. Taking a picture with our feet in two hemispheres, straddling the Prime Meridian was cool, of course. The real treat on the hot day was the cool breeze on the hill accompanied by splendid views of the skyline. We also went into the National Maritime Museum, which has free entry to its permanent exhibitions, to examine ship models and read up on Britain’s naval history. Since a lot of it was associated with the East India Company and it’s influence in our own history, the days ended up with much reflection and thought. Happy Weekend, I say!

St. Paul’s Cathedral

A trip to the city of London would be incomplete without a visit to St. Paul’s Cathedral, architect Christopher Wren’s masterpiece. A magnificent structure, both from the outside and inside. The ticket price includes either an audio guide or a guided tour. We opted for the latter and were so happy following our learned guide, a charming octogenarian who made such a pleasant impression that Mr.A & I decided we would do something like he was doing when we grew old ourselves! Totally worth the slightly pricey ticket. Note however, you can save a little if you prebook online. We loved our culture trip around this 300+ year old building which has seen eons pass by and has so many stories to tell.

A walk around Hyde Park

This giant park despite being in the heart of the city, surely takes one away from its madness into an oasis of calm. Even though there were hundreds of other people, it did feel like a different world within. People seemed so much at ease walking their dogs, enjoying their ice creams, feeding ducks and even parrots (it’s true!), strolling by the Serpentine, playing a casual game of football, and what not. Mr.A and I went to the Park just before sundown and had a lovely time watching all this pass by us in a beautiful golden glow.

Brick Lane & Shoreditch

Brick Lane surely teleported us into another world. Once a settlement for immigrants from Bangladesh trying to make a new home in a new country, today it is a hep center buzzing with student activity, fashion and art. There is a considerable number of restaurants all boasting the best food from the Indian sub-continent, but make sure to research where you want to eat since our experience with the food was not one of our high points here. Graffiti-watching along Shoreditch and Brick Lanes was totally rewarding though. Some amazing street art can be found in small nooks as well as huge walls. Once can surely spend a lot of time being fascinated, especially one like me that has a thing for street art 😉 The pictures warrant their own blog post, so I’ll write more about them soon.

Barbican Conservatory

The Barbican Conservatory was a surprise find that I chanced upon in some toplist about London, and decided to drag Mr.A to check it out. It did not disappoint at all. The Barbican Complex with its brutalist architecture captured our imagination, how stark and severe it looked, somewhat reminding us of the buildings in central Delhi, perhaps one influencing the other, who knows. In the middle of the austere lines, sits the cosy world of green in the form of the conservatory, housing London’s second largest conservatory. Amongst 2000+ varieties of plants, also live some turtles and fish in sparkling ponds. There is an impressive array of chillis and a gorgeous desert garden housing cactii of all shapes and sharpness. Entry is free on Sunday afternoons, a refreshing activity before the start of a new week.

What are your favorite spots in London?

Malaga murals

Seeking out magical murals with Mr.A on the sunny streets of Malaga this summer… perfect vacation treasure hunt 🙂

 

You may also like other posts about street art from:

Inside Out

Stockholm is just the place for museum and art lovers. There are hordes of fantastic collections to be enjoyed all over the city. A city favorite is the iconic Fotografiska in the Södermalm district of Stockholm, a potent centre for contemporary photography. The building itself is worth a visit. An Art Nouveau style building from the early 1900s, it was once used for the customs control of goods. The original brick facade has been retained while the interior has been renovated to showcase intriguing collections all year round. Some celebrate well known artists while others promote new talent. The restaurant at the top floor offers delicious food, coffee as well as panoramic views of the water and neighboring islands of Djurgården and Skeppsholmen. No wonder that the seats by the windows go the fastest!

Last weekend Mr.A and I went for a visit and spent almost all day there. “Inside Out” is a series of x-ray prints by photographer Nick Veasey wherein he explores what things actually look like deep within. It is an eye-opener for sure. The artist works with both unusual subjects as well as everyday objects. What surprised me most was the scale as seashells and flowers featured in the shots, but there was also a full size bus and an airplane! The artist works in a giant workshop which is isolated & insulated to prevent radiations. For the same reason, skeletons instead of humans are used in Nick’s work. The subjects are x-rayed (is that a verb?) in one or several frames depending on their size. The output reveals their ‘gut’ in splendid ways, enough to make us visitors ponder over them for hours… 📸

 I will soon write about the other major exhibition that I saw that day, quite different from this one, but just as enthralling 🙂 Have you been to Fotografiska? What exhibitions did you enjoy? You haven’t? Well, then you simply must!

Have a happy week ahead!!

Weathered

The Temple of Sounion stands as a tribute to the Greek god of the sea, Poseidon. Situated on Cape Sounion, roughly an hour’s drive away from Athens, this ancient weathered structure has seen the aeons come and go. Although the roof of the portico has long since gone missing, many of the columns stand tall and proud. The drive along the coastal road is a great way to unwind with the Aegean Sea shimmering alongside. The cape is an excellent spot to catch a breathtaking sunset away from the crowds that hoard Athens in particular and Greece in general.

Psst! There’s more on Sunny District from the Weekly Photo Challenge!

Two trips to Paris

This post was inspired by a recent post by my blogger friend Bri, in her own words, ‘a 22 year old with an intense need to see the world.’ Read all about her adventures at A Little Slice of Bri. Cool name, right?! But wait a sec, and this might sound a bit strange to many, but Bri hates Paris!

What? How could someone hate Paris, right? But when I read Bri’s post about why she hates Paris, I started reflecting upon my own visits to Paris on two separate occasions. I was quite close to having a disastrous first trip myself & might have completely agreed with her if I hadn’t been saved by one more day on my first visit, and with the second trip this year, a very happy one at that 🙂

The first time I arrived in Paris was the day after Mr.A had returned from a trip to China, so the poor guy was totally messed up in terms of body clock 😦 Plus, we booked cheap flights between Stockholm & Paris, which meant we had to fly to and from airports far outside of the city viz. Skavsta outside of Stockholm and Beauvais on the outskirts of Paris. Unfortunately, we hadn’t accounted for the additional travel time 😦 So we arrived  at our hotel by mid-day, already tired. Hotel rooms in Paris are not my favorite, they are tiny and cramped up, and you’d have to shell out a lot for a relatively small improvement. Nonetheless, we ended up spending a lot of time sleeping off the fatigue on the day we arrived. We were going to spend only the weekend; to my dismay one day was already gone! So my first day in Paris was quite in tune with yours, Bri!

But we decided that Sunday was going to be different. Totally refreshed, we cashed in on  all the major sights with the help of the L’Open Tours hop-on-hop-off bus. The Louvre is enormous and grand but we didn’t spend too much time there. We prioritized the Mona Lisa, but it was too small and too many tourists like ourselves were trying to get a closer look. The irony, I know! It was a bit disappointing, but that’s what I mostly hear from fellow travelers, so no surprise there. It was fun to take the quintessential illusory photos at the Pyramid, though. Up at the Eiffel Tower, the view was enjoyable, and I liked the modern history around it’s construction. We rode the bus along Champs-Élysées to the end of Place Charles de Gaulle. It was interesting to draw parallels between the Arc de Triomphe and similar arches in other cities (I wrote a guest post on A Date with Delhi, inspired by that visit.) A high point of the day was the grand Notre-Dame Cathedral.  Even better, we finished the day with a really nice dinner with a classmate from our Manila days. We were exhausted by the end, but it wasn’t so bad after all 🙂

The second time around, however, things were looking up. Earlier this year we celebrated the wedding of that same friend in Paris! It’s not just that I’m slightly biased because this couple is dear to me, but I do believe theirs was one of the most beautiful and romantic weddings I’ve ever been to. On a bonus we got to hang out with a bunch of other friends who studies with Mr.A and me at B-school in Manila. It was an absolute joy to reconnect after so many years – a mini reunion of sorts. Thanks to the bride, we also got to spend a day at Disney Land Paris, trying out all the thrilling rides! Back in the city, we followed one of Rick Steves’ audio guides and walked by the Seine river at a leisurely pace, going back to the Notre-Dame Cathedral during the day and watching the shimmering Eiffel Tower (from a little distance away) at night.

I honestly think our company affected our mood the second trip in a hugely positive manner. And it does take a lot of things to click together to bring about an aha! feeling, but only a couple of negatives can spoil an entire trip. So I would say, why not give Paris a second chance, and never say never 🙂

[On a side note, if you haven’t tried out the Rick Steves’ Europe guides, I would highly recommend giving it a go. You can use the app to use it on the go & enjoy many a nook & corner that regular guide books do not provide. They are extremely well researched and thoroughly enjoyable. I’ve tried different guides in Rome, Florence, Salzburg, Vienna, Prague, Berlin and many others, and never been disappointed. Nope, he didn’t pay me to say all that, I am a true fan 😉 ]