The real foreign stamp!!
No matter how many Visas we have on our passport, it is not quite enough until we get the UK Visa!! British have ruled us for almost 100years & even after being an independent nation, it doesn’t quite deter us from being awestruck with England. To top it all the legitimate tour to foreign land is validated only with a mandatory tick to LONDON!!
2013 was literally the grand travel year: April- Sikkim, Jun-Thailand & August- England. After submission of innumerable documents & proof of our return with no intention to settle there & ability to spend enough in their economy, we finally got the Visa. I flew to my much awaited maiden England tour with mommy dearest. Mom has her Aunt & first cousins settled there for almost 5 decades & she is their favourite niece, thus our staying arrangements were well taken care of.
Tip 1: Make sure to get all the valid financial, personal documents in place along with sponsorship letter & sponsor details for UK Visa. Summers is their peak season thus, the Visa takes time than usual time period mentioned.
Due to constrained leaves my stay was shorter to Maa’s 4 month break & thus my vacation was tightly packed with to do bucket list along with meeting family. We arrived at Manchester, with my Mama & cousins anxiously waiting for us at the airport & driving us down to their pretty home at Ormskirk- Lancashire. The evening was well spent, gorging yummy keema matar with piping hot rotis. The next day was basically for relaxing & going around with kids enthusiastically taking us through their daily chores- School, Dance Classes, Piano Classes, Cricket practice session etc. We also didn’t miss out on picking some great personal care products & confectioneries at good prices from Tesco & ASDA.
Tip 2: Carry light woolens & umbrellas, even though it’s nice & sunny, the weather can get really unpredictable at times. Also wear extremely comfortable shoes, since you have to be mostly on foot.
With twinkling eyes, gazing out of the window with glee, I literally pinched myself as we reached London, after driving down for nearly 6hours next morning. We were staying at Premier Inn-Kensington (Earl’s Court) Hotel & after unwinding ourselves, we left straight to meet our family friends staying at St Wood’s Road. That road straight headed to Lord’s Cricket Ground on the other end & of course we didn’t miss out the opportunity to visit the Mecca of Cricket & get ourselves clicked.
Tip 3: Travelling on London roads by car gets extremely exhausting with huge traffic, thus best way to explore the city is by famous London Tube. The Oyster Card– travel pass is easily available at stations & the balance money can be redeemed once it’s used.
Our next stop was Oxford Street, where I could literally spend the entire day shopping. My major one stop shop was of course Primark, with some souvenir shopping at stalls, apart from gazing through the entire maze of best stores that the world has to offer. We are Indians & no matter how delectable foreign cuisine tastes, there is always longing for desi food & London doesn’t fail to stand upto it’s reputation of global city. There are more than enough Indian restaurants in vicinity of any place you choose to stay, we dined at Masala Zone on Oxford Street.
The best way to explore the major attractions of the city is grabbing a ticket for Hop On-Hop Off bus. The tour started with a visit to Madame Tussauds, as we posed away to glory with famous Wax Statues, did some time travel into England’s history & also walked through horror dungeon. We didn’t stop clicking while we went around Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly, Trafalgar Square, St Pauls Cathedral, Tower of London, London Eye, Imperial War Museum, Lambeth Palace, Houses of Parliament and Westminster Cathedral. The perfect ending was the Thames River cruise with mild showers & ample memories stored in our cameras.
Tip 4: Purchase London Hop On-Hop Off bus ticket with London Tour+ Madame Tussauds Admission & Thames River cruise. It is more cost effective rather than doing all of it separately. Also start with Madame Tussauds, then cover the rest of attractions & end with the cruise (you can also take next day).
My favourite London hangout zone was Covent Garden bustling with food joints, cafes & podium for world’s largest number of street artists performing to an exuberant crowd. The city offers a myriad options to party, eat, shop or just to laze around basking in the sunshine at most beautiful parks that the world has to offer.
We were staying at my granny’s grand mansion at Ormskirk spread across 4.5acres sprawling with greenery. She grows her own veggies & fruits with a beautiful greenhouse & also has her little farm with ducks & hens to satisfy any egg cravings. She proudly claims, “Every green living thing you see around has been planted & nurtured by me over many years.” She shares her home with 2 dogs & 2 cats who are the real royals of her home.
We drove to Southport for a day, hardly 30mins drive to a seaside town ideal for small getaway & picnic. Southport Pier is one of the primary tourist point on the beach, with trams & fun rides for families. We strolled around the botanic garden & grabbed some coffee & cookies at Wesley Street before driving back in the evening.
Being in England for substantial time, we could manage few days to tour Scotland, thus Mom & I decided to go to Edinburgh. Train travel is quintessential way to tour Europe, it takes you to a magical & romantic journey through lush green meadows & picturesque countryside (basically Yash Raj foreign film location). After approx 4 hours of travel we reached Waverly Station, which itself is extremely charming, located between the medieval Old Town and the 18th century New Town.
Waverly Station is situated at the heart of the city, with plenty modes of travel available. Our hotel was Premier Inn at Leith Waterfront, which was fortunately on the Hop On-Hop Off bus route. Grabbing a bus pass, we checked into the hotel & got back to exploring the city on the tour bus. Edinburgh skyline offered a spectacular view of rustic buildings, castles donning medieval & classic architecture in contrast to the contemporary UK cities.
Tip 5: Hop on-Hop off buses starting point is Waverly Station itself, grab a 48hours ticket inclusive of entry to Edinburgh Castle, Palace of Holyroodhouse, and the Royal Yacht Britannia, to explore the city at ease. The longest route covers Royal Yatch Britannia next to the docks, where we were staying.
The film set primarily changed from Yash Raj movies to Harry Potter movies, with majestic castles, plenty of charming medieval relics & a view to die for with green hills, hint of the blue sea, the silhouettes of the buildings and the red cliffs. It is a city that calls you to explore it by foot – narrow streets, passageways, stairs and hidden church yards on every step will pull you away from the main streets. The tour bus covers all the major tourist attractions Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh Castle, Princess Street Gardens, Scott Monument, Royal Yacht Britannia, Arthur’s Seat etc.
Tip 6: Princess Street offers varied cuisines to satisfy your taste buds & is also apt for all your souvenir & shortbread buys.
Back at Ormskirk, I went for the inevitable shopping spree at Concourse Shopping Centre & flea market at Town Centre. We drove down to Liverpool at my Masi’s place, who left her flourishing law career to start her own restaurant venture- Mowgli Street Food!! (Yeah you read it right the celeb chef!! I am her niece.) Well some flaunting to my celeb connections in UK who has owns this majestic villa & hosts Paul McCartney, courtesy her equally famous classical guitarist husband Katona Twins.
It was a perfectly planned surprise birthday party for me at her place, with the yummiest chocolate cake & plethora of exquisite cuisine laid on the table. That was my last eve in UK, indulging in merrymaking, gulping down fine spirits & framing some of the most precious memories. As I bid adieu, I knew somewhere deep in my heart that I will come back here again to build many more precious memories.