London Diary – Henley Regatta

Jun 29, 2016

Henley Regatta is one of top events in the scheme of rowing competition, held annually at the picturesque village Henley on Thames. This year it runs from Wed to Sat this week when teams from the world, including many teams from US, Harvard, Yale, Columbia to name a few, row against each other. It is an exciting sport all right. But it is the social aspect of it that makes it a very English experience.

As it was demonstrated by the daylong program yesterday, which was the first day of event, the Brits surely knows how to live the high life. Watching from one of the river front boxes at Phillis Court, a private club right at the end of the race, guests were treated to noshes and continuous flow of spirits, coffee, tea and Danish pastries for breakfast, champagne and bar snack not long after, Pimm’s (one of those things with a firm British mark on it) heralding lunch, 3 course lunch served in a separate dining room with plenty of wine, then more tea, coffee or champagne continued in the river front box.

There was watching of the sport of course, but it seemed that for most guests, of our group anyway, there was more social going on, along with the people watching. The hats were fabulous and you might have guessed that there is a strict dress code for the club, skirts only for ladies and they have to be just sitting on the knees or below, not an inch higher or you’d be turned out. Gentlemen have to wear suits or blazers/sport jackets with chinos and ties/cravats. All was part of the fascinating experience.

Only thing I would have like to change was the weather, it was so cold few could stay out for long, not what you would hope for a summer day, is it. Anna from Rusia who has lived in England for more than 16 years said there is no summer in England, that one weekend in May was probably all the summer we’d get for the year. If she was correct then English summer had finished before it even started. In any case, it is not going to stop the fun is it.

P.S. I tried Pimm’s first time yesterday, it is a delightful sweet and fruity drink. It is made by mixing Pimm’s into lemonade and flavored and garnished with fruits. Although Pims’s is heavy at 25%, the mixed drink tasted however very light and I figured there can’t be too much Pimm’s in it right. But I was warned. The English likes their Pimm’s, one said, it is more likely there is more Pimm’s in there than it tastes.

 

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London Diary –Spring into Summer! (2)

Yippee hooray the sun came out, and the sky was a concert of blue patches and myriad of white puffs. I could hear children running and shouting on the soccer field. That was in the early morning. Things changed a bit later in the day.

But no matter. Spurred by the success of yesterday, I was eager for more lovely spring outing exploring London.

Walk London Spring into Summer continues with day 2. We are doing Twin Peak of Capital Ring, a section of Capital Ring between Greenford and Harrow on the Hill. After lunch at Black Horse, a pub by the Paddington Canal near Greenford station, we met up with the group which was about 60 people this time, twice as big as yesterday. Our guide were Marlene and David, who are both small in size and appeared to be septuagenarian. Marlene was the lead and goodness gracious, she was strong and as sprightly as can be, setting a brisk pace the entire way. Long walk and two steep climbs later, she was as fresh as when we first started, and we actually finished almost 30 minutes earlier, 4.5 miles in 2.5 hours.

We started at the head of the line but it proved to be difficult to stop to take photos and enjoy the moment and still keep up with the place in the line. I decided to forget about that. What good it is if you can’t stop and enjoy it along the way :o) The whole thing was a bit too hurry to my taste but we managed. After this however, I need a whole week to rest up :o) On the other hand it was worthy every bit of the effort.

In fact, I think today’s route surpasses yesterday’s, we saw delightful green space, interesting locales, and reached hill tops with stunning views.

Leaving Greenford Tube station, we took up Greenford Road by McDonald at Westway shopping center, and quickly entered a nature preserve, where we were surrounded by verdant green, butter cups, cow parsleys and lots of hawthorns.

In a little while, we found ourselves by the canal. We followed Padding Canal for about 20 minutes before changing direction and starting the climb up to Horsenden Hill, which is the highest point in Ealing. The path to the hill top was lovely with profusion of cow parsley lining and enlivening the way. The view of west London once atop the hill was absolutely rewarding and refreshing. You can also see the spire of a church north west of the hill. That spire in the distance is Harrow on the Hill, our next stop.

Harrow on the Hill seemed far from Horsenden Hill, and it was. First, we went through a tract of woods, which is so dense, deeply green and jungle like that it seems out of character, not what I expected to see in London. Once out of the woods, we were back to town and civilization.

After a bathroom break at Sudbury Hill Tube station, we zigzagged our way through residential neighborhoods, passing rows after rows of terrace houses, a small number of which had gardens in the front. I like the brick houses here, they are on average characteristic and handsome, but I’d much prefer them to be detached houses, single family home set in a decent size yard, with nice lawn and garden, which of course is a handful minority in a crowded city like London.

It had been an upward climb for about an hour by now and I started to feel the weight on my body and the reluctance of my legs, then the scene turned interesting. Elegant houses and eventually, the beautiful buildings of Harrow School loom ahead. A boy’s boarding school founded in the 16th century, Harrow School is one of most expensive private schools in UK at more than £12000 per term. Its impressive list of alumni include Lord Byron and Winston Churchill.

On top of the hill, a few steps from Harrow School is the grand church of St Mary and its soaring spire, which we saw from Horsenden Hill. Next to a stone tablet with inscription of Byron’s written words is a look out with stunning view of west London. Walk London Spring into Summer ended with a pretty high note.

 

London Diary –Spring into Summer! (1)

May 21, 2016

London is as wonderful as the rest of the country in cultivating and keeping up its network of foot paths. Moreover, Transport for London sponsors free guided walks three weekends a year, Winter Wander in January, Spring into Summer in May and Autumn Amble in October. See the following link for details and sign up: http://www.walklondon.org.uk/

Having missed Winter Wander in Jan due to a bad cold, I was very happy when the invitation for Spring into Summer came, which falls on this very weekend. The number and variety of walks available are impressive and all seem interesting to me. At the end I settled on a couple of them, High Barnett to Cockfoster for Saturday and Twin Peaks of the Capital Ring for Sunday.

The weather had been sunny most of the week, but it had to turn cloudy this morning, typical London weather for you. Despite that and the sprinkle during the walk, it turned out a great experience.

High Barnett to Cockfoster are two areas far north of London and took 90 and 60 minutes for us to travel to and from respectively. Once the Tube is out of central London, it is out of the underground tunnels and as it gets even further out, you can see large parking lots attached to the stops, the park and ride system for long distance commuters.

Looking for lunch before the walk, we ended up at Red Lion, a pub on High Street of High Barnett. Interestingly, it serves buffet. There is a Carvery where a chef serves by slicing off the roast of your choice, which can be any combination of pork, beef, gammon (ham) and turkey. Next to Carvery station are side dishes, gravy and sauces that you help yourselves to. On top of all that, there is the Yorkshire Pudding which the chef simply calls “Yorkshire” and serves you one only if you want it. Side dishes are stuffing, peas, green bean, red cabbage, carrots, mash potatoes, fried/roasted potatoes and roasted squash.

After some waffling, I decide to try. I chose beef and gammon, which were surprisingly good. Green beans and red cabbage were average but I loved the roasted squash. All those packed in this traditional, hearty English meal and came with a surprisingly low price tag of about £6.50. For another £1.50, you can switch up to a “King” size, I guess you get more meat with that. Interestingly many there were elderly customers. Among the younger customers, a few got their plates piled up quite high.

After lunch, we met up with a group of about 30 walkers at High Barnett Tube station, our guide Paul, and his wife cum assistant of the walk, Jeanette, who was from the French Alps. With a brief introduction, Paul commenced the “walk and talk”. It was a nice route to walk and Paul’s “talk” made it more interesting.

A quick walk through a residential area, we arrived at the first stop, one of those wooden gates that locals call kissing gate. It marks the entering of a natural area, and Paul took advantage of the opportunity to make a friendly banter, aiming at the young couple who were newly engaged, a white women and a black man.

It took a little climb to reach the hill top of Hadley Manor Field, once there though, you get a nice view. The field is also known as the field where Battle of Barnett took place. Across the field is Haley Green. After passing another kissing gate, this time, existing the natural area, we arrived at Monken Hadley, which is a pretty Georgian village with connection to Anthony Trollope and David Livingston, and home to many footballers.

Have you seen the movie Lady in the Van? I saw it on one of my long international flights. Guess what/who I ran into? Sitting on curb of the street between Alms House and village church was this interesting, albeit peculiar, van, across the street from it was a large elegant house in its high brick wall and wrought iron gate. Interesting van and interesting spot for it to park.

Hadley Common is on the outskirt of the village, at the end there is a little stone bridge and a vast fishing pond hidden in the wood. The walk ended shortly after that and near Cockfoster Road and Trent Park.

It was a great time exploring this part of London. Paul set a good pace and Jeanette was in the back making sure no one was left behind. Along the way, there was verdant green around, lots pretty little wild flowers and a variety of flowering trees bursting with colors, abundant of Hawthorns and Horse Chestnut trees in particular, plus a few California Lilac, Gorse, and many others that I could not name.

At the end of the walk was The Cock Inn, a nice pub where we took a nice break, hot tea with sticky toffee pudding for me, beer and sweet potato fried for my hubby. Happy ending to a great walk.

 

London Diary – Boat Race on Thames and Pub Crawl

Mar 19, 2016

Rowing is a popular sport in UK and I, will get to have a proper experience on this very day.

Thames is the setting for multiple boat races during the year, taking place today is Head of the River Race. Is it the precursor, or warm up, for the legendary Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race that is to take place exactly a week from today? In any case, HRR starts at University Boat Race Stone at Mortlake and finishes at Putney Bridge. Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race will run the same course, but in reverse order.

We easily found a spot on Putney Bridge. Thames, wide and broad at this stretch, is picturesque. Near the north end of the bridge, there are All Saint’s Church, Fulham Park, Fulham Palace and Bishop Park; south end of the bridge, there are St Mary’s Church and Putney High Street.

Along with a small crowd, we watched excitedly from the bridge as the first group raced to the finish line. First team came in with a lead, then second, and third… It was thin at first and then it became a steady stream that continued on with no sign of stopping. The river became a busy hub of coming and going. One boat after another raced to the finish line and those that had crossed the finish line would turn around and row on along the south bank, at ease this time. Interestingly, most of the steerer were women and all crew members seemed as young as late teens or early twenties.

We walked off the bridge to stroll along the south bank where we met the rest of the onlookers, a much bigger crowd. Some brought their picnic; some watched from the balconies of various rowing clubs. Some crews stopped and off-loaded at the docks located right there, others rowed past.

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While River Walk on the south of the river continued on, we stopped at Hammersmith Bridge. Back on the Fullham/Hammersmith side of the river, it was time for the pub crawl. Set amidst the residential area between Hammersmith Bridge and Chiswick Pier, there are some interesting riverfront pubs. Near the bridge, you’ll find Blue Anchor and Rutland Arm right next to each other; further down the road westwards, Black Lion, The Dove and Old Ship. Here is a website with further details, http://www.timeout.com/london/restaurants/where-to-watch-the-boat-race. It is expected these pubs and the river front will be packed for Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race.

London Diary – An Evening Soiree at the Soane

 

Mar 18, 2016

I am a fan of Jane Eyre, which is a gripping book in every aspect. I admire CB’s literary and artistic talent but most mesmerizing is the indomitable spirit and tenacious moral intensity that she portrays in her heroine Jane Eyre.

I join Charlotte Bronte Society in the nick of time and it has opened doors to opportunities. 2016 is Charlotte Bronte’s 200th birthday and there will be a range of celebratory events taking place. First and foremost, I’ve been reading her biography by Clare Harman. It is a fascinating book, telling the storied lives of Charlotte and her family. I’ve gained not only understanding but also tremendous respect for the genius trio that is the Bronte Sisters. I am so happy to be living in London at the right time and thus able to participate in the celebration.

This evening I attended a special evening exhibit at Sir John Soane’s Museum, “Charlotte Bronte At The Soane – Marking The Bicentenary of Charlotte Bronte’s Birth”, hence commencing the activity of celebration for me. The candle lit evening soiree was atmospheric, delightful in the company of kindred spirit, and champagne, wine and gin, to boot. One of the items on display is one of Charlotte’s dresses which measures to a person who is no more than 5 feet tall, of 23 inch waistline and 29 inch bosom. Minute she might be in person, in spirit, talent and the legacy she’s left behind, she is larger than life.

I am also a Jane Austen fan and I paid my pilgrimage to her in 2014 by visiting multiple destinations related to her life. At this moment, I find myself pondering over the juxtaposition of these two icons of the literary world. While I equally admire Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte, I do get different experience reading their books. Jane Austen inspires in a subtle, witty, humorous and delightful fashion, Charlotte Bronte, stirring one to the core and yet intensely uplifting at the same time.

Highlight of CB related events this year would be a visit to Haworth in Yorkshire, my pilgrimage to Charlotte Bronte cum Jane Eyre. I can’t wait.

London Diary – London Celebrates St Patrick’s Day!

Mar 13, 2016

Once again, Trafalgar Square became the center stage as London celebrates St Patrick’s Day. It couldn’t have been a better day, sunny, bright and warmest it had been for a while.

The parade started at noon, following a route from Piccadilly to Whitehall; concert and other activities staged at Trafalgar Square kicked off as well in the same time. The area was bubbling with seas of people and lots of green. The square was fenced up and there were check-points for incoming crowds; it was jelled to almost a standstill at certain spots, like the bars and the society booths. Interestingly, the food area set on the outskirt of the premise was not difficult to get through at all.

The celebration was from noon to 6pm. After a lunch of pull pork sandwich and beef stew to go down with Guinness, we left the busy scene to take a stroll along Thames until we reached MI6.

 

 

London Diary – Magic Lantern and Orchid Festival!

Feb 27 and 28, 2016

Another weekend full of wonderful experience!

Chiswick House

Lantern Festival has come to London the first time this winter, and it has led to the discovery of Chiswick House and Garden. The garden is impressively expansive. There had been multiple buildings on the estate during its interesting history, the one still standing is a Palladian 18th century villa built by Lord Burlington. The interior is a number of rich, elegant, gilded rooms, and door surrounds and pilasters reminiscent of temples, and a collection of stunning paintings, including a set of beautiful paintings of the house and garden, which clearly reflects its glorious past.

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Magic Lantern Festival

Magic Lantern Festival is held at Chiswick House in the evenings. It was sold out on Saturday and we had to try again on Sunday but we booked online in advance on the second attempt. A large number of lanterns are arranged through out the immense garden and along a certain path that visitors follow. The lanterns come in all sizes, shapes and variety, to name a few, pandas, giraffes, mighty dragon, Chinese Zodiac, Temple of Heaven, and a Cinderella scene. They are colorful, and so bright, the garden was ablaze in the dark. It was a spectacular!

Kew Garden

Feb. has been the chilliest this winter, in the meantime, there has been more sunshine. But somehow it’s fallen into this pattern, while mostly sunny during the week, it would become disappointingly cloudy on the weekend, and more likely to rain/drizzle, to boot. As a result I had put off my plan to visit Kew Garden since I learnt of the Orchid Festival, for at least 4 weekends. Finally, this past Sunday, I made it to Kew Garden.

The garden is immense and although still winter, it has enough evergreen to maintain a fresh look, in the meantime, daffodils and a few other flowers have begun to bloom, it was looking very lovely. We had a delightful time strolling through roughly half of it in 4 hours’ time.

Kew Garden is one of the Royal Parks, Queen Charlotte had a cottage in the garden. I couldn’t help but imagine the days when the park was reserved for the use of only one family, the royal family. Some highlights in the park are a beautiful Japanese garden and its stunning pagoda, a lily pond, a lake, ancient giant red woods and a palm house. Most amazing is Prince Wales Conservatory where the Orchid Festival is housed. In addition to a tremendous amount of orchids, there is a large variety of cactuses and other exotic flowers, it was marvelously beautiful.