The Addepallis Go To London
The Addepallis Go To London
Suman Chhabria-Addepalli reminisces (with a sigh) about the fortnight she spent with her husband, Srinivasa, and their daughters, in London, a few weeks before the Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
As the wheels of the London-bound flight folded inwards, I advised my girls to fold back their in-flight entertainment screens, and relax. We, the Addepallis (to be pronounced with the same respect as the Von-Trapp family from the Sound of Music) would be in spring-hit London for a fortnight. We couldn’t spare a minute for jet lag, or catching up on sleep—London’s finest weather beckoned us during a historically active season.
Summer in the Queen’s domain presents a lush green landscape, peek-a-boos between the sun and the clouds, and light showers. Through the holiday, we were awakened by sunrise shining on us through dense curtains at 4:45am, only to set a little past 9pm. Long days indeed. And while Srini and the girls loved the rain, I only survived thanks to rain-gear.
We stayed at Shaw House, Park Lane Apartments in the heart-of-the–heart-of London, Mayfair. Drenched in history (author William Somerset Maugham lived here from 1911 to 1919), Park Lane Apartments indisputably had the tiniest lift in the city. It could be compared to the one that took Colin Firth (playing King George VIth) to his speech therapist, Dr Linel Logue’s basement clinic, in The King’s Speech. The lift had a regal effect on my walk, until I realised I there was no staff to make me English tea and breakfast in our fully equipped kitchen.
London For the Indian tourist
Food For The Indophile
Not only are we vegetarian, but my kids love Indian food. We ate unbelievably often at Masala Zone (Covent Garden) where the taste was so authentically Indian, it made me forget where we were. We also had the odd meal at Indian restaurants such as the Mayfair Tandoori, Taj Mahal and Chutney Mary in Chelsea. Dishoom, a Bombay Café (12 Upper St. Martin’s Lane) sells authentic Maharashtrian vada pav and pav bhaji. We did three meals there, most amused at how the tasty fennel seed and mint infused buttermilk was inventively called Bombay Colada. Near Theatre Royal, at Drury lane, we ate some yummy okra, tadka dal and ras malai at ‘Sagar.’ We ignored the four-year old’s comparison of sticky okra to the worms she saw Shrek the ogre, eating in the musical. And of course we ate at Burger King, McDonalds, and Subway.
Once the city became a little familiar, we got acquainted with the iconic red London bus, which is extraordinarily comfortable, clean (unless going to Hayes or Southhall), and economical, compared to the black cab. Not as complicated (for tourists) as hiring a Barclay’s hire-a-cycle either, you can buy tickets at the bus stop or as you get into one outside Central London. There are some good, albeit touristy, hop-on hop-off bus tours, which take you through eighty stops on six tours, including the best of London sites such as the Tower of London, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminister Abbey, Madame Tussauds and Trafalgar Square. You can also just hop off where you want to, and return to the same stop to continue your tour (tickets are valid for 24 hours).
Note worthy: If your bus passes through West End just at the end of a musical, watching a herd of emotionally-charged audiences move towards your bus can make you break into a Virar-local sweat, even though nobody in London will ever ask for a fourth, or even third seat.
London has prepared for the influx of tourists with some really good travel take-aways. We found special souvenirs such as miniature crystal London Eyes, iPhone covers with the London bridge and Big Ben, mugs in the shape of the iconic London bus and telephone booths. Must-buys are classic miniature scooters and underwear with the Union Jack design.
Our eight-year old’s favourite souvenir was an elongated penny—a custom coin dispensed from a machine which imprints the name and place of your adventure on a flattened penny. They’re perfect, portable, inexpensive (a penny for elongating and a pound as payment) and unique. For me, they were a smart idea to make an eight-year old’s vacation scrap book, truly “rich”.
London for Kids
Legoland in Windsor borough is where you can see incredible life-sized windmills, castles and famous buildings made up of 35 million Lego bricks. The park opens at 9.40 am, and closes as early as 6 pm and you can buy discounted tickets online.
The Legoland map was as efficient as Harry Potter’s Marauder’s map. It informed us about which rides the children could access (depending on height restrictions) and the timings of the 4D show at the Imagination theatre.
Legoland is designed for children from 3 to 12 years old, so the kids loved it unconditionally. However, parents may find (as we did) the 45 minute wait for almost all rides, most annoying. However, The Dragon Roller Coaster, Jolly Rocker, Pirate Falls, and the Wave Surfer were totally worth it. Don’t save the best for last like we did—we missed the 4D show (6 PM) as it was entirely sold out to a corporate group.
Woburn Safari Park was enchanting to say the least, and an eye-pleasing, drive-through adventure, where we could make as many repeat circuits as we had the time for. Part of the estates of the Duke of Bedford, Bedfordshire, Woburn Safari Park is easily accessible from Hayes, (close to Heathrow). Packed in a comfortable SUV, we drove through large animal exhibits, with highly aromatic picnic food (lemon rice wrapped in butter paper).
The park lets animals roam free, while we, the expected-to-behave-well visitors drove noiselessly through their domain. Placards held up by witty life guards sufficiently warned us of the consequences of using the horn (stampede) or feeding the lion (you really don’t want an overexcited, giant feline at your SUV door).
Some of the animals at Woburn were unpronounceable such as the Eland, Scimitar Horned Oryx, Addax, Ankole and Gemsbok, while others were of the more ordinary species such as Giraffe, Rhinoceros, Zebra, African Wild Ass, Elephant, Bactrian Camel, Bison, Bongo, Lions, Tigers, Wolves, Black Bear, Drills and Barbary Apes. The Park also has a sizeable leisure area featuring petting zones, a gift shop, a family restaurant where peacocks do the catwalk, while judging the way you hold your coffee cup.
London For Walkers
Green Park, Piccadilly and Regent Street
All the calories London fed us, were shed walking in Green Park or in Piccadilly. Surrounded by fashionable London revellers, I hopped once every ten steps, with the hope of making a dent in the devastatingly good-looking concrete. Often, we ran into a set of intense smokers, who relentlessly stubbed butts, and re-lit their addictions. We also encountered sporty locals (wearing bare essentials), cheerfully celebrating London spring like they were seeing it for the first time. The rain, while unpredictable, was light and friendly—fit for all Prada-wearing devils who leave behind umbrellas that don’t match their coats. Central London’s electric night life was at our doorstep, and we found everything we needed for our shopping (including Hamleys) in nearby Piccadilly and Regent Street. Hamleys put quite a dent in our collection of Traveller’s Cheques, as Srini and our older kid were sold on the rather corny sales-line, “If you buy this toy, you will be one of the first 25 families in the world to own it!” Aarrgh!
Leicester Square was quite a hit with the kids because of Haagen-dazs, and the four-storied M&Ms fun mall. I avoided most of the outrageous shopping at Oxford by converting the MRP of what I fancied into (the suddenly falling) Rupee. I ignored most souvenir shops too, (except the attractive one adjacent to Lilly Whites at Piccadilly Circus) which we left only when three of us—Srini, our eight-year old and I, got tired of pushing the four-year old’s stroller.
London For Music And Arts Lovers
No trip to London is complete without an eye-dabbed, tear-soaked, emotionally stirring West End musical. We savoured the unforgettable tunes of two thriving live musicals, Shrek and the timeless, Phantom of the Opera. The kids loved the former and Srini and I loved the latter.
A chance to be at West End is always an honour, but only if you get tickets before they are sold out. Fortunately, we didn’t need to run Leicester Square asking for the remaining ‘restricted-view’ seats.
A Wodehouse Walk
The amount of British literature I’ve read, always made me think I knew London. But I realised that my knowledge was a bit dated—by about a century. I dreamt of Sherlock Holmes and horse carriages rattling along cobble-stone streets on foggy evenings. Srini, a fan of Bertie and Jeeves, imagined a more modern London, where men dressed in suits and ties, toodled along to one of the many gentlemen’s clubs on Dover Street. It was into this world that we took a walk with Norman Murphy.
Colonel (retd.) Norman Murphy, an old British gentleman, a hat on his head, a pipe in his mouth and an umbrella on his arm, led a group of seven literature buffs from former British colonies into the heart of Mayfair for a Wodehouse Walk. Norman, a walking, talking Encyclopaedia of Wodehouse and London, spoke in precise historic detail about every old building in Covent Garden. His research had revealed that most people, locations and events in Wodehouse’s novels were based on fact. So we got to see the three clubs that inspired the fictional Drones Club.
London For Water Lovers
The amphibians in London not only transform into princes, they also take on the avatar of an idiosyncratic amphibious vehicle. The Duck, a half boat, half truck, travels on the road and miraculously, on water too! Originally called the DUKW, it was invented during the early days of World War II, to tack the problem of unloading cargo and men from ships in places where dock facilities had been destroyed.
Commencing its journey at the London Eye, our Duck waddled (it wasn’t exactly a racing car) past the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and 10 Downing Street (the Prime Minister’s home), Trafalgar Square, The Ritz and Buckingham Palace before a dramatic splashdown into the Thames.
I skipped a heart-beat worrying about the buoyancy of the heavy iron vehicle and the adequacy of the lifejackets, à la Titanic. As assured by the very funny tour guide, we were all way above the required drowning level, all through the promised 30 minutes.
Lock and Weir Cruises
We got to really ‘soak in’ London on the last leg of our trip at the Lock and Weir boat cruises. Locks are fixed chambers built on rivers and used to vary the water level so boats can manage the fall or rise of water. Built near islands which are in dramatically beautiful, remote locations, some have exotic resorts you can stay in.
We went on a do-it-yourself, half-day cruise down the waterways of the Thames. We started at Datchet, and sailed through picturesque towns such as Royal Windsor and the village of Bray, and turned back at Maidenhead.
Each of the locks and weirs (dams) is manned by a cheerful lock keeper, and Srini and I were thrilled when we were allowed to operate a lock and returned, in one piece, to claim our accident deposit of £150.
All in all, London provides an extremely adventurous, fun-filled vacation. There is more than enough activity for couples, singles, families and of course, fans of the Olympics.