|Tower Bridge at Sunset|
Monday, December 19, 2011
Country Cousin in London: Part I
Last evening in London on my first trip to the city. It’s freezing outside, though my room is quite toasty. I am exhausted and looking forward to returning home. And also hoping that I return here again with some more leisure on my hand.
And you do need leisure to explore London. I am here for a business trip. The whole week was extremely busy with nary a moment to spare. Thankfully, the work went more smoothly than we expected and therefore, the weekend was mine.
I had first thought, quite naively as it turned out, that in two days, I would be able to cover all the London staples like Buckingham’s, Tower of London, Madame Tussaud’s, Natural History Museum, Westminster etc. But boy, was I wrong!
The primary reason for this is that in London you have to walk quite a lot. Apart from the fact that I am not used to walking quite so much, the unfamiliar boots and the heavy coat that I had to wear to keep the cold away made it all the more difficult to walk around. It took me six hours to cover the entire Tower yesterday and four hours to go through National Gallery, Trafalgar Square and parts of Oxford Circus. And at the end of these hours, even though I have a little more time to kill, I don’t have the stamina to do it.
Anyway, let me start at the start. We landed on Tuesday morning and within an hour of reaching the hotel, we were off for a meeting. The rest of the week went in really late night and early morning working, peppered with presentations to clients and meetings. Though in between this all, my boss – a London veteran – and some of my other colleagues took the time and trouble to explain to me how to move about in the city and how should I plan my exploration.
London is large and well connected through tube and buses. There are cabs but these are quite expensive. My colleagues generally book them in advance when needed. Even the tube is quite costly if you buy a ticket everytime you take it. So, you buy Oyster cards. My boss showed me the ropes the first day and I felt so much like the gawky, awkward country cousin. it was the same when we visited the client’s office, which was this really beautiful, sophisticated, grand and awesome building in the Temple area. This client has its own security and protocol system and it can be quite overwhelming if you are visiting them for the first time. Country cousin, that was me!
Friday night after the final presentation was over, we went out for dinner and a late night movie. Sherlock Holmes and the Game of Shadows it was. A highly stylized Holmes, essayed by Robert Downey Jr. and Watson by Jude Law, this Guy Ritchie movie was interesting but I found it a little surreal. In my head, Holmes has always been more cerebral rather than this really well trained action hero.
Saturday morning, I set out on my own. It was drizzling and the wind felt like some vengeful witch with a broom wanting to eat me alive. I went down to Tower Hill and spent the day gawking at the beautiful sight of the Tower Bridge stretching across Thames, listening to Yeoman’s tour of the Tower and gawking at all the echoes of all those centuries of History. It is a painful place, where traitors – either real or imagined – were imprisoned, executed or murdered. The Tower is also home to the Crown jewels – they are majestic but I could not help but recall how a lot of their glory is at the expense of nations like ours.
Yet, my favourite part of the day was at sunset, when with really aching feet, I walked down to the pier, where you can take a boat trip. The royal blue and stone grandeur of the bridge silhouetted against a sky turning a pale crimson that bled out into the blue, as Thames undulated underneath, as if smilingly saying, “So much water under the bridge. Yet here you are!”