Monday, July 27, 2009

London Weekend Getaways


(P.S. This post is specially for all those friends of mine who love to hate London and the UK!!)

Inspite of what most people like to say, there are quite a number of nice places to visit in and around London, enough to keep you busy for years at least. Given how small the country is, thats not too bad would say?!! And there is the entire gamut of options, beaches, mountains (small ones for sure), islands, castles, history, architecture, rural English life (I love it always),English culture (whatever there is, that is!!), nice drives, adventure sports, party places, actually a lot of change to get away from mundane city life....

Anyways here are a couple of places I visited over the last few years.. All day trips, too short and always with the intention of visiting again, but that never happens, does it :)?

BRIGHTON

Brighton is a beach town to the south side of London, about 1-2 hours by train or bus. There are regular buses and trains from London, so quite easy to reach.
It apparently used to be where the elite in old England used to relax and have balls and party during the summer, but somehow I did not find the place as regal as I expected it to be (at least that's how it sounded in all the novels!)!

The Brighton beach is a rocky beach, and the water is warm enough to swim only sometimes of the year.

The riverside road is a good walk though. Then there is the Brighton pier on the sea, which has some joy rides, jugglers, games rooms etc. There is this one ride on the pier, where you are in a car, and the car turns only just before the end of the pier! Quite an experience, as you get the feeling you are about to fall into the water



Then there is the Brighton palace, which actually is built in the Arabian style! Its just next to the beach.

There is also an aquarium if you want to spend time there. Otherwise, don't think that much to do here, I actually did some mast shopping in Brighton though, its cheaper than London for sure:). Rest was just walking around a bit. All these beach towns in the UK are actually quite similar. You see the same thing everywhere, and while during the day is full of activity, the town gets all empty very soon in the evening, and then feels completely dead!

BRISTOL

Aha, now that was one interesting trip! Bristol is to the West of London, again a 2-3 hour bus journey if I remember correctly.
Its like any other English town I guess, only difference for me was that we landed up there, on a Friday night with a gang of about 7-8 friends, and that too on St. Patricks Day! I can vouch for one thing, being a University town, the people there really party! and there are hajaar places for that too!

Well, don't remember too much of what we did there actually, other than party crazily the whole night till 5 am!!

There were a couple of places we went too, all of them were full of people in green, partying and making a LOT of noise. Most of the places we went to were all near the waterways, next to the sea.
Not sure if much to do in the city otherwise, there is this one bridge which people go to have a look.

And a Concorde kept as an exhibition. Its actually surprising, how one of the most unimpressive of towns turned out to be the best party time I ever had in UK!

BATH & STONEHENGE

These two places are done by people together mostly, as Stonehenge is on the way to Bath itself. Stonehenge is about 1-2 hours drive from London. The drive is good, bright green meadows, interspersed by small houses and lot of sheep. And in the middle of nowhere, from far away, you will see this Wonder of the World: A group of stones just standing on a hill-top, in what seems to be a random manner, but when you go close, you can see the pattern in the randomness.

The stones in each of the circles are of different varieties brought from across the oceans (they are not available in UK), and arranged in 3-4 concentric circles.

They would have been on the same height but as of now, some are broken and some are fallen. The use of this structure is not known to anyone, except a lot of guesses. You can actually go near the stones, but you are not allowed to touch them. Also, you can get the audio guide to give you more details about the structure.

Am not sure if most people would like this place or not, but I did. Actually went there thrice! Its a very different kind of monument (if you can call it that), something have never seen elsewhere.

Its location is also quite picturesque, a look at the view around is enough to make me happy. So not sure if you would like it or not, at least I loved it. If you like such kind of historical places, only then you should go there!

Bath however is a different ballgame altogether. I actually love this old Victorian type of town. Given that London has become so cosmopolitan now, its this town where you actually get a glimpse of the world that Jane Austen has written about and we've read for ages. Is a town, where I wanted to stay at least once, but never got a chance to!

In Bath, you can visit the Roman Baths, which exist from 2000 years ago.

They are hot springs, which are still active and were built by the Romans in the BCs when they overran the country. Its been renovated now, with Roman statues all around, and the undergrounds remains of old temples etc. Worth a visit. There are some other baths also still functional nearby, where people go even now for medicinal purposes.

The Bath cathedral is also just next to the Royal Baths. Its a huge cathedral and similar to most of the other cathedrals you would see in England. There are street artists there quite often, showing off their arts.

The Bath market is interesting too to walk around, and generally walking around in the town is fun too. There is a museum also, showing British costumes over the ages, but we did not see it. The Royal crescent is also quite impressive.

Otherwise you can just roam around in the city, and take in the old English royal air.
Would recommend this place to everyone who goes to UK, its a completely different experience!

BOURNEMOUTH

Bournemouth is a couple of hours away from London, another of those relaxing beach places near London. Its another of those south England beach towns, and similar to Brighton.

We went there, ate dinner, walked around, saw a movie and came back. Saw a marathon happening on the beach though, with people running in costumes! That was a different sight. Otherwise, its just similar to all the other beach towns in the south of London, to have a good relaxing weekend, walking on the beach, swimming and generally exploring the town.

ISLE OF WIGHT

The first thing you need to know, is that there are many ways to reach Isle of Wight from London, so please plan to go there by the most efficient route! saves a lot of time:)

Take a train from London to Portsmouth and a ferry from there to Isle of Wight. If I remember correctly, the same ticket works for the ferry and the train.

Also remember before you go there,

that all the tourists you would find in the island are 50 or more years old, and enjoying their old life! It actually shocks you the first time you see this, only old people around you. There is a beach there, where you would find tons of old people, hotels are full of them, and that's about it. We went there on a weekend, had a lazy time there, and did nothing. Frankly, that's all I remember of this trip, nothing more. There are a couple of places to visit, castles, beaches etc, maybe you can catch those. Else just enjoy a lazy weekend like the rest of UK is doing there:)

LEEDS CASTLE

Dunno why this castle is sooo famous, but anyways went there to tickmark before leaving UK:).

Its a small castle, with a long history of having passed through interesting hands over the years, and the castle is one of the still preserved ones. Its in the middle of a small lake and with gardens all around. Apparently there are some black swans there, which we did not see. The grounds around are beautiful though, well groomed, with a small zoo with exotic animals and birds kept there. When the weather is good, they even have bird shows there! Going there isn't the easiest though, for one, its NOT located in the town of Leeds (as most people would think!). You need to take a train and then a shuttle from the station to the castle. Its about 2-3 hours from London.

OXFORD and CAMBRIDGE

Oxford and Cambridge are the two famous university towns of UK.

They are awesome to walk through, the atmosphere is completely different. Both have multiple colleges, libraries etc which can be visited.

Cambridge has the river flowing through the town where you can punt in the raft which Cambridge students would be glad to oblige. The whole atmosphere of the place is so calm and slow, of the days as a strudent when having enough time wasn't as rare, as it is now.. These places remind you of days long past.

WALES:ST DAVID AND SWANSEA

Wales is awesome! Sad though, I din get to travel there too much.

We drove from Bath to Swansea,

on a summer weekend and it turned out all the hotels were booked! There is a row of hotels on the beachfront there, amazing location and lots of options too (still always a good idea to book early!). There is a light house where you can drive to. And a pier with the same rides etc. Beautiful.. Calm..Serene..

There on, we drove till St David, which is the end of Wales.

There is a very old church there, here is the photo.On the way. there was a lot of camping sites, as well as adventure sports possible (which as always I wanted to go back to and never did!).

WINDSOR

Windsor is famous for the Windsor castle and is about an hour or so from London.

This is the castle where the Queen and her family still reside (other than the Buckingham Palace). You can see some of the treasures collected over the years by the Royal family, as well as the royal rooms. If lucky you can also spot the Queen having tea in the gardens.

And being photographed next to the Red soldiers is a must-do too! You can also visit the Ascot race course as well as the famous Eton school here. Very small English town life again:)

YORK

A town, very similar to Bath in one way, that it was English for one! Another town I just loved! The York cathedral is huge, and one of the most famous ones of UK.

The cathedral has actually been built thrice in history, starting from the Roman times.

It still retains three separate levels underground, showing the three different periods of its history.

The York market is fun.

Walking in the narrow streets of the market, selling all kinds of stuff and not just branded shops on both sides.

You can even walk on the wall surrounding the city, which gives a view of how it would have been earlier. The York museum is good too, I loved this the most, a view of how the Victorian street must have looked like ages ago!

OTHERS

There are a couple more of places I visited or heard of which I would like to share with you.
- Dover on the south coast, for the cliffs (the view as shown in some movies is spectacular)
- You can actually hire a houseboat and travel along the waterways of UK, staying on the boat itself and exploring the country interiors.
- Cotswald is the village county, near London and supposed to be the best way to experience the rural English life
- Liverpool has the old port, which was the lifeline of the city,

as well as the birthplace of the Beatles. You can check out the Beatles museum. Liverpool is also the Cultural Capital of the world for 2009.
- A trip to Birmingham and Leicester to see the Indianised parts in UK:)


In all these places, it would be advisable to stay at the bed and breakfasts. They have very good homely service, and the rooms are generally very well kept also. Its a good way to interact with the locals too, except all the owners are old Englishmen and women! Also, you should definitely eat the English breakfast at these places: scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes, bakes beans, hash brown and half tomato. Yumm!

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