Monday, October 16, 2006

A Holiday in Great Britain

Notes: 1. This part of the diary has been written after the event, ie our holidaying in Britain from September 12 to October 5 2006. I started writing on Octber 16, 2006. There are some more photos posted in my new blog
2. We took a large number of photographs on a digital camera. The two above are only samples. The top on is of Rupu and I in the grounds of Urquihert Castle on the Lock Ness in Scotland. The second one was shot in front of the Buckingham Palace at the Trafalgar Square in London.

September 12, 2006 1PM (India Time) ..........Leave Delhi by Virgin Atlatic Airlnes
September 12, 2006 6 PM (UK Time) ............Arrive at Heathrow London
September 12 2006 10PM .............................Arrive at 59, Rodeheath, Luton
September 13 2006 ......................................Whole day relax at home
September 14 2006 11 AM - 12 midnight.......Visiting London by Train
September 15 2006 ......................................Whole day relax at home in Luton
September 16 2006 11 AM- 10pm.................Cambridge in rented car
September 17 2006 11AM - 11pm .................Bath and Stonehenge (by rented car)
September 18 2006 11 am .............................Travel to Nottingham with Ernie Appleton
September 19 2006 9am ...............................Travel to Durham
September 20 2006 ......................................Whole day Durham and New Castle
September 21 2006 3PM ...............................Travel back from Durham and reach Luton
September 22 2006 10Am ............................Drive to Colchester and Flatford by car
September 23 2006 11 AM ............................Drive down to London
September 24 2006 .......................................Played host at Lunch in Luton
September 25 2006 .......................................Relaxed in Luton; visit Luton citycentre
September 26 2006 11 AM ............................Visiting London
September 27 2006 .......................................Resting in Luton Home
September 28 2006 12noon - 3Pm .................In Luton City centre
September 28 2006 8PM ...............................Travel to Edinburgh by air
September 29- October 1 2006 ................Touring Scotland (Edinburgh, Inverness and the Lakes)
October 2 2006 ............................................Relax in Luton
October 3 2006 ............................................Visiting London once more
October 4 2006 .............................................Luton city ventre for shopping
October 5 2006 10PM ...................................Boarded Virgin Atlantic Flight from Heathrow
October 6 2006 11 AM (India Time) ..............Back in Delhi

Rupu and I had a hectic holiday in England from September 12th till October 6th. Our primary objective was to spend time with Bulbuli and Sambit at Luton, and at the same time visit a few friends from the past and also go some sight seeing to places in UK where we did not set foot during our previus stay in England. I think we met these objectives to a great extent. My Britsish driving license, which I had acquired in 1978 and which is valid till the year 2015, came handy. On two weekends, we rented cars, three days at a time, and I had a good time driving around Britain to visit Cambridge, Bath, Stonehenge, Colchester, Constable Country, London and so forth. The month of September and the first week of October was to a great extent pleasant. They said that this was the warmest September month in UK in 50 years! It was in fact a bit too warm for comfort. We had carried a lot of warm clothing in our bags, and most of it remained there. Even in Scotland where Sambit and Bulbuli took us for a long weekend between September 28 and October 1, the weather was not much colder. On the whole, however, we had a great time, and it was good fun.

Bulbuli received us at the Heathrow Terminal 3 on Tuesday the September 12 at around 8PM. We had however landed at 6; our Virgin Atlantic Flight from Delhi was on time. Two or three more flights had arrived around the same time. There were about 500 passengers to pass through the immigration control, and less than half of the 40 counters were operating. As a result, we had about two hour to stand in the queue, without any sitting arrangement. Children were crying, old men and women (some must be 80, much older than us) suffered badly. Only those with British, EU or US passports were allowed to pass quickly, whereas almost all the non European passengers were interrogated, some for ten or more minutes. In these days of terrosm and the like, I understand one has to accept some inconvenience, but I could not fathom why more counters were on put to action. Was there a veil impression to be passed on, we prefer Europeans and predominantly white people to visit Britain? Maybe, I am a bit over sensitive, but on that evening the treatment meeted out was not very pleasant, especially when you are visiting a country as tourists.

Anyway, Bulbuli had a taxi hired for us (which charged for an hour or more of extra waiting time). We reached Luton at around 10 PM that night. The flat in Luton was small but comphy, a well appointed two bedroom accommodation. Bulbuli and Sambit graciously gave up the main bedroom for us, while they slept for the next 20 days or so in the living room where they had a spacious Futon sofa-cum bed. Both Bulbuli and Sambit are used to a busy scedule, Bulbuli catches a train to London by 8 in the morning, and Sambit reports to his Hospital by quarter to nine. Rupu and I spent the first day (Wednesday the 13th) relaxing in the flat.

Visiting London- the first day

The next day, Rupu and I ventured out for the first time to go to London. We went to the nearest Rail Station at Leagrave, bought a day ticket to London and back each (which cost a total of 29 pounds) and boarded the 10-59 train of the First Connect Rail Company. In Britain the rail company (the good old British Rail) had been privatised by the Thatcher regime in the eighties, and the result I think has been steep rise in rail fares with little improvement in services (except those that happened due to technological upgradation). We reached the King's Cross at 11-45, and immediate took an underground train (by the Piccadilly Line) to Pimlico, the nearest station for visiting the Tate Gallery, now known as Tate Britain. There is a second Tate Gallery these days, called Tate Modern, which is situated on the other side of the Thames, and one has to cross the river by the new Millenium Bridge at the Black friers. We visited Tate Modern too, but on another day.

We spent more than two hours in the Tate Britain, savouring the paintings by French, Italian, Dutch and British Masters, Renoir, Velasqueze, Da Vinchi, Turner and all. I do admit that I am not a connoisseur of art, but I do enjoy viewing them immensely and wonder about the depth of vision and the sensittivity of the artists. At around 2-30 in the afternoon we came out of the Tate and took another metro ride to the Westminster Bridge. As we came out of the station, there in front of us was London with its full glory, the Big Ben and the Parliament House on one side, and the river Thames on the other, with the huge London Eye or the Millenium Wheel looming large on the opposite bank. We spent a few minutes on the riverside road , taking a few snaps in our digital camera (which had been presented to me by Bulbuli last year when she visited us in Delhi). By now we were quite hungry, so we bought a couple of sandwitches from the shop nearby, and ate them sitting on the portico wall in the Parliament Street. Thereafter we walked on the Whitehall towards the Trafalgar Square. There in the centre stands the Nelson's Column, on one side is the Buckingham Palace gate, and on another side is the National Gallery. It is a remarkable place, the large square was quite full of people, mostly tourists like us, but mainly from Europe and America, definitely cosmploitan - like a meeting place for the people of the world. We also went into the National Gallery and spent an hour or so there.

By this time, it was past six thirty in the evening. We must have walked miles , and we were tired. Bulbuli had arranged to meet us at the Licester Square, about half a mile from the Trafalgar Square. So we went there, waited for her for some time, and Bulbuli arrived. She looked tired too, after a hard day's work in the office, which is very near the Blackfriers Station. We went into a cafe at the Licester Square and had potato chips,burgers and coffee. Then around seven came Sambit, all the way from Luton. Sambit had purchased tickets for a play in the West End, the Mousetrap at the St Martin's Theatre, which was quite nearby. The play has been running there for 45 years, and still the house was nearly full. It was very enjoyable, though at some point in the middle I must have dozed off for a few minutes, so exhasted were we after a full day of galavanting. In Delhi (and in India in general) we do not walk much, and here in London it was a bit too much work on the first day, especially since I dont think we had got over the jet lag fully by then. The play ended at around ten thirty, and it was nearly twelve in the night when we returned to Luton by train from King's Cross.

The next day, understandably, Rupu and I simply stayed put in the Luton Flat, mostly watching TV. The day after was a Saturday. Sambit rented a car (a Nissan Micra sedan) for the weekend and we all set out for Cambridge at around 11 AM. My British License from the student days were still valid ( issued in 1978, and valid till 2015 when I would be 70), so I was the sole driver. Interestingly, Bulbuli appeared in the Theory Test for the driving license in the morning, and naturally passed with flying colours. Sambit had passed the practical tests only a week before, and was still awaiting to receive the license (which he got only the day after we left for India, and promptly purchased a second hand Mercedise A 1 car the day after). I was hoping to drive in England , and my wishes came true.

Even though Sambit did not have a car of his own when we were in Britain, he had already purchased, very thoughtfully, a GPS technology based portable automobile route tracking device called TOM TOM. This was fixed on the vehicles that we rented. It had a video screen and voice warning ststem. With Tom Tom , one does not need to have to depend on road maps while driving. All one has to do, is to enter data on where you are and where you want to go, any where in UK (or in Europe), and Tom Tom would put on the screen the shortest route, and guide you throughout the journey. Later, of course, the device is being utilised in the car that Sambit has bought.

Cambridge Visit

Rupu and I had spent a delightful one and half years in Cambridge in the early eighties. We had a bagful of memories, mostly happy, and a few that caused disappointments. As we reached the residence of Val and Liz in Oxford Road of Cambridge, I was feeling a bit nostalgic. The two ladies took great care of us, and showed around Cambridge- the colleges (Queens, Kings, Trinity, Magdalene) and the city centre. Liz is doing PhD in Education and History and is attached to Magdalene College. We also came to know that she is also an acredited guide of the Cabridge city. So we were in for a treat, going round the colleges and being told about the history and the special stories linked with them. I do not remember whether we had such a tour of Cambridge when we were here. In the evening we had a sumputuous dinner at a local Indian Restaurant, a treat by Val and Liz. We returned to Luton quite late in the night.

Visiting Bath , the City where the Romans lived

Next day (Sunday) we drove down to Bath. the ancient English City near Wales. On the way we had a bad traffic jam, so had to brake our journey at a roadside motel for lunch, and as a result reached Bath fairly late in the afternoon. We parked our car at a multi level car park, and rest of our Bath visit was on foot. The city centre was actually vehicle free, like many other cities in UK, and had the Cathedral and the Roman Bath apart from large buildings of Victorian (or was it Edwardian?) architecture. The Roman Bath is quite a delightful place, with a bigish tank and hot water springs, that has been in operation for two thosand years, from the time when Romans came and settled here. It has ruins of the Roman era, but kept in a museum style. Entry tickets to Roman bath were quite expensive. We also visited the Jane Austin Museum, apparently set up in the house where she lived and wrote some her novels. Tickets there were also quite pricy. However, both Rupu and Bulbuli are avid admirers of Jane Austin, so it was quite an enjoyable visit.

By the time we left Bath it was past five. The sweet voice on Tom Tom advised us that the distance to Stonehenge from Cambridge was only about forty miles, and we should easily reach there by six, before it became dark. However, nither we nor Tom Tom had taken the Sunday evening trafic ( all returning after a weekend travel) into account, and soon we were caugt in a jam or more accurately a long queue of slow moving vehicles. This meant we arrived at Stonehenge after seven in the evening, when it was pretty dark. The place is in the middle of a moor, with no sign of any village around. By the time we were there, the gates to the Stonhenge ground was closed; but one could see the curious gemetric arrangement of huge stone blocks in the fading lights of the evening. These were brought to this place by men thosands of years ago. It was an eerie sight; unfortunately the photographs that I wanted to capture in our digital camera did not come out, as it was too dark. We spent about half an hour there, out of our car, and on the narrow footpath beside the highway with speeding vehicles. We were not the only one, though. There were a few other late latffis, including a group of some twenty students who had come sightseeing from Germany.

Trip to Nottingham, Durham and New Castle-on-Tyne

The next day was a Monday. By nine, as usual both Bulbuli and Sambit, left for work. Ernie Appleton came to our Luton home at around eleven and soon Rupu and I were on our way to Nottingham with him. Ernie drove a Merc A1 sedan, and the drive on the Motorway M1 took us nearly three hours to reach Nottingham. We met Xi Qui (pronounced something lime si-shi), Ernie's Chinese wife. Xi Qui was a faculty member in the Nottingham University's Management School and live there in a quaint little duplex house, that has a small garden at the back. She is a very intense person, and quite knowledgeable; she spoke about her research interest - on 'colonisation of mind' , a concept aparently first coined by Ashis Nandy, a JNU professor. Xi Qui laid out a fairly heavy working lunch, and we spent a few hours in the living roomof Xi Qui's flat at Nottingham, simply talking. In the evening Ernie and Xi Qiu took us out to dinner at an authentic Chinese Restaurant. Afterwards we went to a Motel on the M1, where Rupu and I spent the night.

We had our breakfast in the restaurant in the Motorway Restaurant, and precisely at nine in the morning Ernie arrived to drive us iut to Durham. It took us four hours to reach Ernie's residence in Durham, an ancient town with a river, a 1000 year old cathedral, a university, a castle and a prison. The Cathedral was one of the oldest ones in Europe, and largest. Ernie's house was on a narrow hilly road, and one could see the cathedral and the castle from his bedroom. The University was also very ancient, apparently established even before the Oxford and Cambridge universitie. The Castle and the nearby residential houses have become part of the University. As we walked around the university, the river bank and the city centre, we saw how the ancient architecture merged beutifully with modern buildings (the shops, the theatres, the malls). The forest cover in and around the city and the river added to the charming environment. They have recently built a new cricket stadium, which is known to be the highest Test Match arena in the world. A new luxury hotel has come up in the Lumley Castle, notorious for its resident ghosts. We had coffee in the dungeon coffee shop in that hotel, where Rupu got locked inside the toilet for a few minutes and thought that she had a virtual encounter with the resident spooks.

We spent two nights in Ernie's house in Durham. While on the first evening we had dinner at a downtown restaurant, on the second evening Rupu cooked in Ernie's kitchen fish curry, dal, mixed vegetable and biriyani in the Indian style. Though the numer of Indian restaurants in England have proliferated in the the last twenty years (in fact, curry is now recognised as the most sought after food in UK), Ernie told Rupu after the dinner that it was the best Indian food he had had for years.

On the second day Ernie took us to Gateshead, a new industry township on the banks of the river Tyne, opposite New Castle. This was wherethe office of his incubatee company (Durham Pipelines Technology Limited, or DPT in short) is located. He was an entreprenerial type, ever since I know him from my student days in Salford in the sixties and seventies. His spirit remained with him throughout his career, as a professor in Cambridge and later in Durham. Now that he has formally retired from Durham University Mechanical Engineering Department, he keeps himself very busy in his own Company, that he started a few years ago with some of his research students and friends. Though he continues his academic profession as guides for a few PhD stdents, his primary focus is clearly with his Company, which is doing pretty well. He introduced us to his partners and other colleagues.
Later we went to the riverside - the new millenium bridge on the Tyne. On the Gateshead side, where only ten years ago there were the old port, a new industrial township has grown, primarily consisting of new high tech and knowledge first generation companies. Near the bridge, a brand new Art Gallery have come up, on the model of Tate Modern of London; also a new architecturally extravagant opera house. We visited the Art Gallery and I was a bit stumped my the modernity/abstratness of most of the exhibits, just like I was in Tate Modern where we went later. Next we crossed the bridge and went upto the city centre of Newcastle, which seemed to have done quite well in mingling modernity with tradition.
Ernie drove us back to Luton on Thursday. It was a fairly long drive from Durham, nearly for four hours. It was extremely nice of him to look after us for the four days, during which he had to take leave from his busy scedule. He remains a dear and close friend, for nearly forty years. So is Val, his estranged wife, who along with her present partner Liz had been to India twice in the last six years (last time was last year, to participate in the wedding celebrations of Bulbuli) and was very hospitable earlier when we had visited Cambridge.
Visiting Relatives in London
We rented a car again on the next day for the weekend, and by around 11 AM we were off to London. Sambit was on duty for the weekend, so Bulbuli, Rupu and I went on this trip. There was quite a traffic jam on the Motorway M1 again (they are building additional lanes), so we were quite late arriving in London. The TOM TOM was a great help, and we reached Hounslow, where Sona ( Rupu's cousin sister Kajaldi's daughter) lives, at about 2-30 pm. Her husband Santanu was in Brussels, but their two children were really dears. They came back from school at around three thirty. Meanwhile we had lunch with Sona, who had cooked a hefty meal of Papda and Chingri fish in Bengali style. It was delicious. Now a days, one gets almost all the Indian food items in the London markets; not like when we were students forty years ago.
At around 5 that afternoon, we started for Croydon to visit Dola (my cousin Chandanda's Daughter) and her family. Somehow inspite of TOM TOM's help, we failed to get on the motorway, and as a result we had to travel through the London, and it was peak traffic time. It took us more than two hours to cover aproximately thirty miles. Dola's husband Bublu works with WIPRO, he is in charge of their London office, which is mainly engaged in Client facing before getting a BPO job which normaly gets executed in India. They have two daughters, one seventeen and the other fifteen years old. We spent some two hours with the family, and I must say, they made a lot of fuss over us. It was very noisy, sometime cacophonic, but one felt really close and welcome. Dola insisted that we have dinner, and we had chicken biriyani, purchased from a nearby Bangladeshi restaurant. By the time we returned to Luton, it was past eleven.