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I had a lot of touristy things planned for the day. The first was going to be a walking tour. One of the best advice I got from researching before traveling was figuring what tours to take. One recommendation was the SANDEMANs free walking tours. They have multiple tours across many countries. They work on the tipping model, you pay the guide what you think the tour was worth to you. Which, is an amazing idea, because so many times you get bored or think the tour wasn’t worth it, but usually it’s already paid for. So I started the day with a 3 hour walking tour of Edinburgh.

I thought it might be nice to write about some snippets from the tour and show you Edinburgh the way I saw it, through its interesting stories. One of the funniest things I heard and it became a constant thread throughout my travels in Ireland and Scotland was that the Scottish people are lazy in naming things, so they name things as they are. If there is a dock, it’s called Dock road, if there is a museum, it’s called a Museum road. I guess, you get the drift.

The meeting point was right in the middle of one of the venues for the Fringe Festival, known as the Royal Mile (*Fun Fact – The Royal Mile is actually more than a mile by 107 yards. It starts at the Castle entrance to the gates of Holyrood Palace.) Having reached on time, as usual, I got to experience a little acapella from some talented youngsters on the Royal Mile.

 

Place 1: St. Giles Cathedral

After we got our History On with an overview of Scottish history, we walked to St. Giles Cathedral. *Fun fact – St. Giles is called a Cathedral but it actually isn’t one as there is no Bishop. One of the unique things about the Cathedral though is besides it. This is where Protestant Reformer John Knox is buried. It’s on now seen as parking spot no 23. It was earlier a cemetery but now it’s part of the Scottish Parliament.

Place 2: Statue of David Hume

People touch the toe of the 9ft statue of the philosopher David Hume for good luck & knowledge. *Fun Fact – The irony is that he was a defender of rationality and didn’t believe in superstition and people now touch his toe for luck. You’ll also notice in the picture, the paint on his toe is worn out.

An interesting bit of information was that Edinburgh gave itself the title ‘Athens of the North’ because throughout the 1700s the architecture of ancient Rome had been the inspiration for designing buildings. On some buildings you will even see a Sphinx. One can see this type of architecture at Calton Hill, where there are columns.

Place 3: The Writers Museum
The next stop was tucked away in a quiet close off the Royal Mile also  Lady Stair’s House, the home of the Writers’ Museum. What I found interesting were the quotations of famous local writers in the courtyard. The museum features great Scottish writers – Robert Burns, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. Stories about these authors is what intrigued me more about this place.
The other unique bit of trivia was about the tartan trend. Sir Walter Scott had invited the King of England for a visit to Edinburgh. In his novels, Scott wrote a lot about Highland culture. It is said, that the King expected to see people dressed in tartans when he visited, as that was what he had read. In real life, the locals never wore it. So apparently,  Scott had to work with a theatrical designer to re-create the tartan trend and have people wear it for the King’s visit. He is known to have single-handedly revived what is known as Scottish culture today, bringing back tartans and kilts.

Robert Louis Stevenson is credited for having written Jekyll and Hyde. It is said to have been inspired from a notorious locksmith by the name of Deacon Brodie who installed locks and then went and stole from those same places. He became so good at it, that he got a staff after a while. By day he used to meet & greet with high society and by night he used to gamble. His double life was the said to be the inspiration for the book. And like my guide said, you know you’re famous if you’ve got a pub named in your honor, so there stands a Deacon Brodie’s Tavern at Lawn Market where he was hung.

One thing I have to give to the Scottish is the kind of laws they came up with. One of which was called the Nastiness Act. This act also led to the expression ‘Shit Face Drunk’. Let me explain. The act was instated in order to clean the unsanitary city of Edinburgh. In the early 1700s Edinburgh was overcrowded with families sharing single rooms. Toilets at that time were simply a bucket filled up during the day and thrown out through the windows onto the streets at specific times. The term ‘Gardyloo’ was used when this was done, to warn people walking below to move away. All waste went to the Nor Loch (now Princess Park). The expression ‘Shit face drunk’ came to be when people got so drunk that they took time after hearing the bellows and looked up while someone was throwing out their ‘garbage’ (read: shit/waste). Pretty funny I’d say.

Place 4: Maggie Dickson’s pub

Another infamous person with a pub named after her in Grassmarket is Maggie Dickson. Long story short, Maggie Dickson was hung for concealing a pregnancy. She was discovered when a stillborn baby was found besides the river bank. Maggie was hung and pronounced dead, but strange sounds were heard from her coffin after she had been taken away in a carriage, she was still alive. The law saw this as God’s will and she was allowed to live. She is also considered an inspiration for Nearly Headless Nick from Harry Potter.

Another interesting tit bit about the law is that there were 3 verdicts. Guilty, Not Guilty and Not Proven. Not Proven meant that “we know you’re guilty, but we can’t prove it.” This City truly has a lot of fun trivia and history, and you get to learn all of this while walking. I couldn’t think of a better way to learn.

Place 5: Greyfriars Kirk

The last spot on the tour was a cemetery. It wasn’t grave at all. It was actually fun. The last story was the “aww moment” of the tour, where we were introduced to Bobby. In 1850 a man called John Gray was employed as a night watchman and a Skye Terrier called Bobby accompanied him everywhere. When he died in 1858, John was buried in Greyfriars Kirky. Bobby touched the hearts of the locals, when he refused to leave his masters grave. His fame spread, people made sure he was safe, well fed and looked after. For fourteen years the dog kept watch over the grave before he passed. He was the only dog that was allowed to be buried in that cemetery because of his loyalty to his master and how much the people loved him. Till date people come and leave sticks at his grave. He is fondly known as Greyfriars Bobby. There is even a statue in his honor called Greyfriars Bobby Memorial.

It was such a lovely end to a wonderful three hour tour. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. At least the parts I enjoyed. This was just half the day, the rest of the day I did a Harry Potter Trail. More on that, in the next post.

To be contd…

For all the Harry Potter fans out there, this is a must do. Firstly, it’s free, yes you read that right. Though same donation/tipping rules apply, secondly it’s so much more fun when you can live the trivia then read it. So if you are in Edinburgh, and a Harry Potter fan, the Potter Trail should be on your to-do list.

In order to not take the whole fun out of the experience for you, in case you actually go there, I thought that we could play a game. I’ll ask some questions and place the answers in some form of trivia somewhere else, but I won’t tell you what belongs to which. Think of it somewhat like ‘Match the Following’ things we did as kids. Interested? Then read on.

My tour guide was named Jody. She reminded me of Madam Hooch, her salt & pepper hair cut short in a pixie cut and of course, the black robe. Not to the miss the wand she was carrying. It was amusing that she was wearing shorts and a t-shirt with a cape, but according to her, it was one of the hottest days Edinburgh had seen. (I wore my jacket throughout). She was such an amiable person with a good sense of humour and was a delight. She escorted our group of around 50 people to the first location. The tour started with Jody sorting some people with her hat into houses and giving them wands.

 

The Potter Trail begins now…

Rowling like all muggles had a day job in the government. She had the idea for the book while being stuck in a train from London to Manchester. But she would not start working on the manuscript till 5 years later, when she moved back to Edinburgh with her kids. Her children studied in a school in Edinburgh. She modeled the houses in Harry Potter from this  school’s four houses. The schools’ house names are ‎Castle, Greyfriars, Lauriston and Raeburn.

What is the name of this school? Can you also guess which house was Gryffindor?

Rowling took inspiration for the names in the book from multiple places. Two very well known ones are from a cemetery called Greyfriars Kirkyard which can be found next to the George Heriot’s School. You see a plaque at the cemetery of an author called McGonagall. But unlike Rowling this person is regarded as the worst ever author. He was paid to be a part of a circus act where he would orate his poems and people ridiculed him by throwing things at him, depending on how bad the poems were.

An relatively unknown fact is that when Harry Potter was being made into a film, Rowling asked that Maggie Smith be the first person to be asked to do the part of Minerva McGonagall. She had seen Maggie Smith in a 1969 drama film The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie where Smith was in the title role as an unrestrained teacher at a girls’ school in 1930s Edinburgh. Rowling felt that McGonagall was Jean Brodie in a wizard hat and the rest as they say, is history.

In the graveyard the second name that Rowling used was changed to fit into an anagram used often in the films. The middle name of this character changes in different languages. In the French version it was Elvis.

Which is this famous character that is being referred to above?

Another stop on the tour is an area called Potters street. Harry Potter didn’t get his name from this area but from Rowling’s two closest friends while growing up. Their last names were Potter. This area is the inspiration for one of the scene’s in the movie.

See the picture on the right, does it remind you of any scene?

 

There are two cafe’s which Rowling wrote the first few Harry Potter’s in. After which she became a little too famous to sit out in cafes, as people recognized her easily. There was even one reporter who followed her around and kept asking for interviews without calling first. One cafe is owned by Rowling’s brother in law, where she wrote the first two novels, while the other is now the more popularly known landmark where she wrote novels 3 & 4. One calls itself the “birthplace” of Harry Potter, while the other says its the “true birthplace” of Harry Potter.

Can you name the two Cafe’s? Hint: One is a form of cutlery while the other is an animal species.

There are two versions to the story of why Rowling worked in cafe’s while writing the book, which do you think is True?

True or False.

1. Rowling worked in cafe’s because she didn’t have central heating in her flat and it was cheaper to sit in a cafe’ ordering coffees in the cold winter, than to be at home.

2. Rowling had a small child who used to cry a lot. The child stopped crying when there was background noise. She went to cafe’s because it kept the child quiet and gave her a space to write.

Which one out of the following characters is written from a person Rowling encountered in real life?

a) Rita Skeeter              b) Nearly Headless Nick                c) Professor Minerva McGonagall

While walking around on the tour, the group kept answering questions asked by Jody. We kept getting points for our house, I was in Raeburn, Harry Potter’s original house name of course, while Lauriston or the Slytherin’s did pretty well too. After we crossed the area where Dementors got a hold of Dudley, we moved along to an amazing street. Rowling is known to have sent the people at Warner Bros, drawings or sketches of places within the city she envisioned to be places that she had written about. This street was something she sketched.

On this street there is a shop called the Diagon House, which sells a lot of Harry Potter merchandise. The street it is located on, is said to be the inspiration for a famous street used in Harry Potter. It’s even where Ginny got a hold of Thomas Riddell’s diary. This winding road also has a joke shop which is supposed to have inspired Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes.

 

 

 

Muggles call it Victoria Street, what would wizarding folks call it?

 

Even though she worked in Cafe’s like Spoon and Elephant House in the beginning, she wrote the last parts of the series at the Balmore Hotel. She even signed  a marble bust in room 522 when she finished the book. The hotel kept that bust and now you can go see it, if you dole out the extremely exorbitant room rate.

In the end I’ll leave you with a wonderful story our lovely guide told us. This is not a “fake story” but a real one (according to our guide at least). Before the launch of her sixth book (Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince) in 2005, Rowling held a children’s story writing competition in Edinburgh. The winners didn’t know what they were going to get. So the top 100 stories that Rowling liked and their young authors turned up on the said day not knowing what was going to happen. They were first brought through Diagon Alley, on the same carriages as we see in the film, to the Edinburgh castle. The castle’s big hall was actually turned into the Harry Potter hall with a full dinner laid out and it even had real owls there. The kids were ecstatic and to add to that at the stroke of midnight Rowling came out from a secret passage behind a portrait and read out the first few chapters of the next book that had not yet been published.

Wouldn’t you have liked to be there? I know I would have.

To be contd…

My hostel had an amazing environment. The cafe had a great vibe, good food and I enjoyed their coffee. So the start of the day was usually from there. Having had a basic breakfast, I headed out on a rainy morning.

#hostel #mornings #breakfast #sopretty #lovethevibe

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#hostel #mornings #empty #lovely #vibe #pretty

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I started the day off with a dose of comedy as part of the Fringe Festival. Or at least what I thought would be good comedy. It was a show titled ‘2 Religions 1 Comedy Show’ by two men Henry  and Joe. They talked about their differences and backgrounds with Henry growing up as a Jew and Joe a Hindu whose family had migrated from India. Honestly, I wasn’t impressed, the jokes on India were so sad and being the only Indian in the audience, I realised they were more for effect than being good representations. Needless to say, I left. The one good thing about the place, was the venue. It looked so pretty in the rain outside.

#rainyday #walkingabout #fringefestival #edinburgh #travel

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I decided to walk around and go to a place called the Elephant House. It’s supposed to be the place where J.K. Rowling sat and wrote Harry Potter, though there is a debate over which is the original coffee house where she sat and wrote. (That’s in another Potter Post.) This place was quaint, didn’t have WiFi as they encouraged people to talk to each other and seemed to always be packed. What this place is oddly famous for is its restroom. Yes, you read that right. People go there because the loo’s walls are lined with graffiti by Potter fans and the establishment let’s it be that way. So I did what I love to do, left a note in the loo. With a long queue to actually sit, I took my take away coffee, and was out the door.

#postitmagic #read #payitforward #thingsido #travel #potterlove

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#potterlove #edinburgh #placesigo #travel #graffiti #loo #read

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My hostel was near Grassmarket where there was always something going on. Some days there were musicians, other days there were magicians and one day I even saw a small group having a headphone party. It was always a fun place to cross. Since I had an interest in the Book Festival, I attended a brilliant creative writing workshop for the rest of the afternoon and then did a walk about near Edinburgh castle.

#tbt #grassmarket #edinburgh #street #musicians #bands #livemusic #walking

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In the evening I went back to the Spiegeltent, where another very interesting performance by the Science Fiction cabaret awaited as part of the Unbound series. It was something I had never seen before, and I loved it. I felt like I was watching a version of Chicago live.

It felt like it was a theme, the first half of these shows were brilliant, the second half was lack luster music wise. Maybe it wasn’t to my taste. As I decided to leave, I met a wonderful sister-brother pair from Mumbai. We got talking and hit it off and decided to chill together. It ended up being so serendipitous that you meet someone from the same city you stay in, in a country so far away and they were there for one night. We had a great time chilling at bar 1 and then bar 2, where we met an American father-son duo. The father had brought his 32 year old son to Scotland on his birthday, to discover his Scottish roots. So, we had some drinks with them as well. I mentioned loving Karaoke and then was made to sing a song for the birthday boy, I managed possibly 4 lines. I love such eventful unplanned evenings. The Americans had a flight, the other Indians had a train and I had a hostel bed to get to, so we called it a night. One thing I knew, I won’t be getting up early the next morning.

To be contd…

 

The day I got to Edinburgh, was according to people here the first day they had good weather in a while. It was sunny. Over the course of the next few days I will come to realise that Scots talk about the weather with a lot of humor, like someone said we either have “July or Winter” weather. They do seem to have a sense of humor about it, which is nice.

So I landed up at my hostel after a bit of a walk. The hostel has a great strategic position in Old Town. Edinburgh is divided into Old Town and New town as one might have guessed. This is my first time staying in a hostel, so I was vary and had booked myself into a 4 bed women’s dorm. (You can read more on my post about tips for traveling solo for the firs time. Watch out for that one.)

The streets were really crowded, because it is festival season in the city. Every year in the month of August, Edinburgh hosts a massive cultural festival which has multiple genres ranging from a book festival, comedy shows, theatre, music, international artists and the military tattoo* among other things. There are things going on all day long, you would be spoilt for choice. The best thing if you’re coming for the fest, and if you’re like me and don’t like collecting gazillion flyers passed around by people all around the city and littering, you can download the Fringe app. It has been very useful, especially since it let’s you know via GPS the nearest venue to you or it can sort through according to time of event. The one thing that it may not give you is all the events, in the sense that there are multiple parties organising things, so for some you need to be aware of their website.

*Military tattoo. … The term comes from the early 17th century Dutch phrase doe den tap toe (“turn off the tap”), a signal sounded by drummers or trumpeters to instruct innkeepers near military garrisons to stop serving beer and for soldiers to return to their barracks.

The book festival has its own website, as does the international fest, there is also the hub and the one most would like to know about – Free Fringe. Yes, a lot of things in the fringe festival are free. They do however work on tips, so be prepared to give out something at the end of any performance. It is not necessary, you can be one of those people who just leaves, it is ‘free’ after all, but since the organizers of the event apparently don’t get paid and all the money they earn are through tips, it’s good to give something.

The first day was just to get the lay of the land. It’s not such a confusing city, its interconnected pretty well actually. But with the fringe, you can sometimes get lost, with the hoards of people possibly covering the entrance you got in and out from. As there are many levels in the city and winding roads, there are always short cuts you can figure out. Since I came here with the particular interest in the book fest, I decided to go there first.

My hostel was in Cowgate (ironic, I think), and you need to cross Grassmarket, then the stables and come to Princes street to get to Charlotte square. The reason I wrote that down is that, I already feel like I am in another era, considering these names. One comes to understand something about the Scots, they were never into naming things in a fancy manner, they just named things as they were. Pretty lazy, some would say. I reached Charlotte square which is at a T junction on George street, it was pretty crowded. I reached at 3pm and each day at 3pm there is a story telling session by different authors. This was in a famous tent called the Speigeltent which has been around since 1985. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon setting and the light inside the tent was magical.

#afternoon #scenes #bookfest #edinburgh #read #placesigo

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Having got my dose of book therapy, I walked around for a bit, figuring out the city and seeing if I could catch a show or two. I did catch two. The venue was a place called the Laughing Horse at the Hanover Tap pub on Hanover Street. The first was a Pakistani comedian, who did a show for literally 7 of us who showed up. It wasn’t so bad honestly, but I had no idea that free meant tips, so with no lesser change than a 10 pound note, I gave that and felt it wasn’t really worth that, but she kind of made me sit in the front row, talked to me one on one constantly because she kept talking about arranged marriages and the like, similarities that both India Pakistan share, so the Indian in me, couldn’t just bow my head low and leave, I did give her a generous tip considering the rest of the people had left 2 or 5£. Right after though was stand up comedy where there were 5 comedians over the span of an hour. The first was the best, the rest kept getting weirder and weirder. This one, I did not pay for. Thankfully it was a packed house and I was in the last row. In my head, I had paid one lady for 2 shows.

After the show, I went back to the book fair for a series that I would follow the rest of the week called Unbound. It’s pretty cool because it intersperses readings with different musical forms each night. The theme is different and so are the kind of musical influences for the night. And yes, it’s free. You do though have to line up before the event. And as an advice, if you are keen to attend anything specifically attempt going at least 15 min before entry.

The evening light was beautiful. And like always, I left a post it to the city while walking.

#walkingabout #edinburgh #evening #streets #thingsisee #placesigo #travel

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#travelnotes #walkingabout #edinburgh #thingsido #postitmagic #doors #lanes

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I was back at the Speigeltent and it looked completely different from the afternoon. I hadn’t even noticed the tent part i.e. above me, in the afternoon, the afternoon light streaming in was enough to hold my attention at the time, but sitting there in the evening, the aura was so spectacular, I could feel something amazing will happen here. And I was not disappointed. The theme, wasn’t my favourite, the was and I quote from their website ” A night of unsettling stories and music – when the thrills become terrifying, dark, brooding shadows grow and our dreams become nightmares.” Honestly, the story telling was pretty interesting, I didn’t think it would be. There were two Argentinian writers, Mariana Enriquez, (author of the gothic Things We Lost in The Fire) and Samanta Schweblin, (her book Fever Dream is a haunting tale of broken souls). After the first reading, the musician Rachel Newton came up. You just had to smile when you looked at her. She seemed like such a kind soul, had an amazing laughter and it almost seemed like she kept talking to herself. Somehow every time I hear a woman speaking in a Scottish accent for me, I am reminded of the animated film Brave. Rachel Newton revitalizes traditional Scottish folk tales and I lived every moment of listening to her. It was eerie, chilling and soul filling all at the same time. I downloaded her album from iTunes immediately. The second reading was good too, but the music or whatever it was that followed was not to my taste and I left.

Now, maybe this is the Indian in me, but I think since I am a solo traveller and I was heading out in the dark, I decided to take the longer route which was through the main roads while coming back to my hostel at around 10.45pm. There are buses and Ubers running, but since it was my first day, I didn’t want to take a chance. Though the route I had taken while coming to the event was much shorter, but it was through a tunnel. And as you can guess, I wasn’t sure it was safe, so I didn’t take that route. For 11pm there were enough people on the road, due to the fringe festival, so it was actually alright. Got back to the hostel, safe & sound.

Though I have to mention, at the end of the night, while walking back, I did manage to see the fireworks from the street, these were part of the tattoo festival. So I guess, in a way I got lucky.

#fireworks #edinburgh #atnight #tattoofestival

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The rest for the next post.

To be contd…

The real solo trip begins now. I woke up really early and headed to the station to catch my train for Edinburgh. I had chosen the station carefully, because I knew that I would probably not go there specially. It was none other than the famous King’s Cross station, mentioned often in the Harry Potter books. And obviously I did visit Platform  9 3/4. The good thing is that I didn’t go there with any expectation, which was a good idea. It’s just a cart half rammed into a wall, but it’s still so cute when you see it. The sad part is when you’re alone and have to wait for another stranger to come along and ask them to take a picture. You really can’t be your silly self and pretend like you literally ran and got smacked in your face when you hit a wall. So for now, I got a very nice smiling, holding a cart, all princess like photo. Though I have to say, I really thought a stuffed owl inside the cage would have been a nice touch, but that’s just me.

#harrypotter #love #platform9¾ #hadtoseethis #travel #thingsisee #london

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One thing I must mention is the beauty of the mornings. I am not a morning person, but sometimes the sky just looks at you and smiles in the morning. With the right track in your ear, the right shadows, the right light, the structures in London or any place really, look exquisite. The station didn’t disappoint. The clouds hovering above, the reflections in the window panes. I stood and watched for a bit. There are these moments that you need to just stop, stand and look up and smile. That one is a must. You have to smile.

#kingscross #travel #london #early #mornings #throwback

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Like always, I got to the station well in time. I went in got my tickets and ate once again from a Pret A Manager store. The one thing which is consistent in London for me, has been this store. It’s a great place which is budget friendly if you want a sandwich, coffee and maybe a little cookie to help you through the day. I was told that the food on the train can be expensive, so it was better to carry your own. I think everyone was told that, because once we were off, everyone took out something or the other and started munching.

The train station, you never imagine something to be so beautiful unless you witness it through your own eyes. The King’s Cross Station has to be one of the prettiest stations I have ever seen. I have seen that UK seems to have a thing with clocks. They remind you of the era long gone by. The amalgamation of the old and the new is so seamless. You look up and you see these arches, you look to the left and you see a Starbucks. It’s wonderful really.

#kingscross #beautiful #architecture #thingsisee #london #travel

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*Another tip – Try and book in advance. In UK you can usually book up to 3 months in advance. If you buy the ticket on the day of travel of day before they can be three times the cost. I booked my ticket for 55£, while on the day of travel, out of curiosity I checked, it was at 95£ for standard class. I didn’t bother checking first class. Though first class gives you access to food, drinks and wi-fi – so if that’s your thing, go ahead. In standard class you get 15 minutes free wi-fi after which it is a paid service.

On the train it is advisable if you have large luggage to put it at the designated spot marked as soon as you get on. The smaller carry on luggage can be placed on top of your seat. I did see some people put larger luggage on top of their seats, but the people below were clearly uncomfortable knowing there is half a suitcase with its wheels dangling in the air overhead. My advice would be to refrain from doing that, it is frowned upon.

In the four hour journey, I spent my time checking what to do in Edinburgh. I had also finished the book I was reading, the previous night. So I thought, I would do something I have been wanting to do for a while. It’s part of the #payitforward concept. I have this thing I used to do a while ago. I used to go around Mumbai in public transport writing post its daily. So for this trip, I carried my post its along, so I can try and do the same thing. So I wrote a post it note and left it in the book marked to whoever finds it. I hope someone finds the book and enjoys it.

After a quick nap, I arrived in Edinburgh to a bright sunny day. I got off the Waverly Station. Now, if you are the kind of person who would like to do city tours and would be using a lot of public transport, I would advise you to pick up daily or 3 day passes bus passes depending on the time you have in Edinburgh and book your tours at the station shop.

Since I had direction from my hostel on how to get to them, I followed those, till I got lost because GPS doesn’t understand the steps in the city. The thing to do here is to find the nearest shop name and try and get directions from that instead of waiting for the GPS to figure where you are through your location. I did manage to reach my hostel climbing 50 odd steps only to find I could have just walked up a slightly hilly road with a suitcase which has wheels as opposed to carrying it. Out of breath, confused because my GPS was hanging, I managed to figure out where I had to go and got there in 30 minutes from the station when it should have taken me half the time. Thankfully my check in time was 1:00pm and I reached at 12:50. Well done. Like always, I was before time.

The rest of the day, to follow.

To be contd…

Since I was going to leave for Edinburgh in another day, I decided to not make my last day in London hectic. So my friend and I decided to go to Camden market for lunch and a bit of a walk around. We headed to the market around 10.30 in the morning. We first went to Primrose Hill, it had such a beautiful view of London. We crossed a beautiful bridge while walking to it. It was a bright Monday, otherwise Primrose Hill on a day like that would be full of people that you wouldn’t even get space to put your mat on the ground.

 

 

 

 

We then walked around that area. It’s such a beautiful area with row houses, wide roads and there is also a beautiful old church. After which we went down alongside a canal. Sometimes you can be transported somewhere else, even while you are in one place. That’s the feeling I got when I was walking towards Camden. I really felt like Donkey from Shrek, asking my friend, are we there yet?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I knew it was the market, as soon as we entered it. There were food stalls everywhere from every country possible, Korean Burritos, popular local Fish & Chips, Pizzas, Hot Dogs, you name it. There were enough places to make sure your sweet tooth wasn’t disappointed as well. I am getting used to this street market concept here. This is one of those markets which is popular with students as the gift shops offer really good deals for 1 pound, which you won’t get in other places. Camden market is a massive area, it is joined through narrow alleys and has an old world charm.

Like the other markets it has melange of shops from vintage clothing, vinyl, old books, art, knick knacks, souvenirs etc. The interesting thing about Camden market is that it is known to have been a hub for Punk rockers in the past, but over the years it evolved to what it is today. A part of it retains the old world charm, while some of it has been renovated to entice what I think is the ‘hipster crowd’. The good thing to know is the market is open 364 days a year. It only closes on one day of the year and that’s Christmas Day.

It depends on what you’re looking for, but chances are you will find it in Camden. It was a fun walk, looking at all the eclectic wares, souvenir shops, food stalls and all the people dressed in various hues and colors. Having had a massive hot dog, we decided to head back after spending almost five hours out that day.

#camdenmarket #london #graffiti #everywhere #lookup #travel

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It’s a place one should come when they visit London, I highly recommend it.

To be contd…

So, I am getting the hang of the London tube system. It’s not that complicated as people make it sound. Once you understand the basics of the main lines, its as easy as the Delhi Metro, if you think, the Delhi metro is easy that is.

Today, I had to meet a friend (A) in Covent Garden. I decided to get there early. As soon as you walk out of Covent Garden station, there is a buzz in the air. Covent Garden is a district of Westminster, in Greater London. It reminded me a little of Trafalgar square, though condensed in size and more maze like. Once again I was met with street musicians, artists, magic shows and the like. There is always enough for people to stop and see while they walk around. It had too many shops to count. It ranged from high end to street fair. It is also the theatre area, so a lot of people were around for that.

Jubilee market #travel #thingsisee #london #structures #buildings

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There were some lovely shops within Covent Garden, especially in an area called Apple Market. I have noticed beautiful artwork in many of these street shops in London, some are obviously more touristy being images of London in black and white, with a hint of red of the buses or the telephone booths, while some are pop art, commercial work and some from popular culture like films, TV shows, musicians etc.

#shops #streetfair #london #thingsisee #travel

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#art #applemarket #coventgardenbazaar #london #travel #thingsisee

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It was a really hot day. A good one actually come to think of it. I met my friend and we walked around the area for a bit before heading for dinner. Hailing from London, she had some interesting things to tell. For instance, as we passed the Savoy Hotel, she told me that it was the only road in London where they have to drive on the opposite side of the road. This was because in the olden days, horse drawn carriages entered from the right and it was easier to open doors especially for women who sat at the back. To know in detail, read Guardian‘s article on the same.

We then passed by the famous King’s College, where we also saw a plaque on the wall which struck me being Indian as it was about an Astrologer. There are multiple plaques of interest all over London. The colors of the plaques reflect the type of commemoration (blue for people; red for events in the city’s social history; black for buildings of architectural or historic interest; green for other subjects). The Green Plaque Scheme draws attention to particular buildings in Westminster associated with people of renown who have made lasting contributions to society.

We crossed the famous Somerset House while walking and then went to a local pub where my friend had the Indian ale. I am not a beer person, but I find the beer on tap culture here fascinating. The types of beer are mind boggling, and the taps that they come out of look so great. Since my conversion from Old Monk to Gin (easier to access in these parts of the world.), I ended up having the Portobello Gin which is a little citrusy. The pub’s name was The George, but what caught my eye was the restaurant it had on the first floor, so had to take a picture of that. It was called Pig & Goose. Brits have the strangest names for things. Though I am one to say, I still laugh at the stupid names of restaurants, especially the misspelt ones in India.

Meeting friends. #bars #london #placesigo #travel #lovelyplace #oldworld

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We chatted for a bit and then headed for Sushi. The one thing I am always ready to have. Sushi dinner was amazing. It was at a restaurant called Eat Tokyo, and I think I did eat, half of Tokyo. It might seem odd to mention, but this restaurant had those fancy Japanese Panasonic electronic toilets. I think I stayed in the loo for 5 minutes more just to see what all it could do. Anyway, even though I think I had way too much, it was a perfect evening. The company, the food, the mini history tour. It’s great to meet friends when you travel. I do love traveling alone, but meetings like these are always something to look forward to.

Thanks @ammly24 for an amazing evening!! See u soon! #sushi #love #dinner #london

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While walking out towards the station, I saw this taxi which had ride with pride written on it. I took one last picture for the night, we reached the station and went our separate ways. Thus coming to an end, Day 5 of London.

#thingsisee #walkingabout #london #pride #evenings #friends #dinner

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To be contd…

I got out today with my friend & host to meet her friend in her part of town i.e. Brixton. It wasn’t initially on my agenda, but it turned out to be a great place and in a away I think I ended up seeing a little bit of London on each side.

My friend and I started the day with visiting the local farmers market. At around 10-10.30am it was a bit sparse. The food smelled amazing. I got myself a brownie while she had a bacon sandwich. It was great to see different people from the community come together and do this. Also something interesting to note was, the police in the neighborhood come and help repair bikes for locals, it’s their way of interacting with the community, what a wonderful idea.

#aboutyesterday #localfarmersmarket #london #thingsisee #travel #community

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My friend is really fond of gardening, so we went to a local gardening store. I can imagine being fond of gardening in this part of the world, where things are so pretty, accessible, there is knowledge on the subject and you have the time to invest. Back in India, people have started to do a little bit of organic farming, mostly in their homes. But it isn’t so well established like it is here. You really have to go out of your way to get things done in India, or you call the maali but it’s still a different level of interest here. We spent some time in that garden shop. Some corners of which were really nice. We then took the oldest Overground (tube) to Brixton.

#withfriend #plantshopping #thingsido #london #travel #thingsisee

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It was a great clear day and having company made it even better. There are some friends who you make in life, where no matter how far you go, how long you haven’t spoken and how much distance there seems to have come between you, you always end up right where it started when you are together. K (not writing her name) but K and I have had that friendship through our time in college. She’s always been supportive, amazingly honest, outspoken and partially bossy throughout her friendship. All of this I truly admire and cherish.

We made our way to Brixton and met L (name undisclosed) at the station. I was super thirsty on the tube, and as luck would have it, there was some promotional drink being given to people exiting and entering the station. So that was nice. We started walking towards Brixton market. Since we had got there around 2.30, both K & I were pretty hungry. We decided to eat some Mexican food, with a side of Margaritas.

#margarita #travel #food #london #lovelyplace #saturday

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The market itself was amazing. It seemed like a maze and each side had a different color. Lots of vintage shops, curio shops, organic food shops and food from different cuisines was spread all around. One of the things I like about London is how people bring their dogs out. They have their extremely well behaved dogs on leashes and take them along in Tubes and in markets wherever they go.

#Brixton #aday #travel #london #placesigo #thingsisee

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So K, L & I sat down to eat our Tacos & Burritos with a Margarita each. It was a lovely outdoor sitting. I hadn’t seen L in ages, but I had such a great time with her. We then walked towards a place called Pop Brixton. It had this festive air to it, there were colorful bunting all around, light bulbs hung criss crossing each other, one could have a quick bite from lots of food stalls or get a drink like a beer or some cocktails from the multiple bar stalls. All in all, its a wonderful place to spend a Saturday afternoon and not to mention it was the 90s R&B Hip Hop music scene that day. Always nice to know the lyrics to songs, and remember those you heard when you were younger.

Trivia: Pop Brixton is a temporary project that has turned disused land into a creative space for local, independent businesses. One can discover South London’s most exciting start-ups working in food, retail, design and social enterprise.

#popbrixton #superfun #greatvibe #saturdays #travel #withfriends #london #placesigo

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After having a really good time chatting & drinking, the three of us decided to wander around a bit more. Street markets seem to have always had a place in London’s history, each market reflecting the character of its neighbourhood. Having been to the Portobello street market yesterday, this one had a very different vibe to it. I’d like to say it was more buzzing, young and had a more local flavour to it.

We then walked our way to the Ritzy Cinema. It was situated at a junction and had an open area outside. The sunset from there was beautiful and the building itself was charming. One of south London’s oldest picture palaces (it originally opened in 1911), today the Ritzy though restored still has a little of that old world grandeur. Also to add, its name Ritzy is a pet name of mine. Many friends have called me that over the years, so I had to love that place. We had the liveliest of conversations there and we didn’t even realise when it was over five hours that we had already spent with each other.

#reflections #sunset #travel #thingsisee #london #reddoors #brixton #namesakeplace

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#ritzycinema #southlondon #london #placesigo #travel #thingsisee

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We finally decided to have a small dinner before we all left our separate ways and ended up at an Ethiopian restaurant. The food was alright honestly, it felt like a massive Appam placed flat down on a thaali and in the center was a chicken pieces in a thick chicken gravy. It was interesting, but not something I would probably have again. On the opposite side of this restaurant was a restaurant called Calcutta. Seems like India is never too far away.

#streets #brixton #restaurantlane #walkingaround #thingsisee #travel #london

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We then said our goodbye and walked towards our respective tube stations. I was pretty tired by the end of it. It was a Saturday well spent. Tomorrow is a Sunday, let’s see what it has in store for me.

to be contd…

Day 2 of the bus tour.

Considering I took a 24 hour ticket and had started the previous bus day at 2pm, I had aimed to reach Hyde Park Station to take the blue route today. I managed to get there, but having had a long night, I got there late and only had about an hour or so in the bus.

I got to Hyde Park station and instead of just crossing the road to the other side to get the bus, I walked aimlessly till I wasn’t sure where the bus would come. A helpful stranger told me where to go. I reached just in time. These buses have a 20min waiting period for the next one to come, so it could have been a longish wait. I got on and immediately noticed some differences. There was no tour guide on this bus, it was mainly automated where you could hear everything through headphones. It wasn’t bad, but then you realise the difference between a human and a machine. Every time she finished one area, there was this elevator music in between which was not appealing at all. Ten minutes into the ride, the bus had to break for 10 minutes. So while sitting there, I sat and listened to my music playlist and went through a walking tour guide book, given to me by my friend.

The Blue Line is also called the Royal Borough tour and goes through places like Kensington Palace, Harrods, Victoria & Albert Museum and Albert Hall. I wasn’t particularly sure about this route, but then I thought, I wouldn’t ideally walk around this area, but would still like to see it so the bus was a good option for that. Once we reached the Museum, I got off, only to remember I didn’t like museums that much. I went in for a bit, saw a little, took one amazing picture and walked right back out.

#thingsisee #shadows #light #london #travel #windows #beingtouristy

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I decided to take a local bus from here and go to Piccadilly Circus further on to Leicester Square. It was a nice bus ride. I crossed Harrods, but didn’t really want to go in, so I remained seated on the bus. I got off at Piccadilly and did the touristy thing, I went to the M&M’s store and the Lego Store for a total of 10 minutes (both combined). I mean it was interesting, but not my cup of tea. I walked further down in search of China Town, as I wanted sushi for lunch. Somehow I managed to pass it and ended up going through some quaint streets to come back to it. I had sushi in a place called Misato. I have to say, the sushi came in record time i.e. 3 minutes. It was pretty good. I guess I am used to slightly thicker maki (which usually means the rice size is bigger) but this was pretty good. I got greedy and ate some dumplings too, which were awesome.

#Chinatown #sushi #lunch #food #travel #London #yum

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I’m amazed at all the street performers that are there. It’s humbling to see people do something they love, in front of an unassuming and pretty tough crowd, put your hat out at the end of the show and hope for the best. It’s not something I could do, but I have to give the guy credit where its due. I ended up seeing a bit of a magic show. It was definitely more entertaining than the street dance stuff I had seen earlier. Having had a gluttonous meal, I decided to walk it to Hyde Park. It was a bit of a walk, around 25 minutes. But as the weather gods were kind, it wasn’t so bad even in the afternoon.

Hyde park is lovely. I walked in, saw some kids feeding what only looked like giant squirrels to me, but they were really friendly. One even came to me while I was filming it, but seeing I had nothing, just went off. I walked further ahead towards the Serpentine (river) and got myself an Americano from their cafe. It was a perfect day to sit in the park. I took off my shoes, put on my headphones, took out my book and sipped my coffee while resting my back on a tree. Those forty five minutes were pure bliss, till it got windy and cold. London never ceases to amaze me. One moment its hot like hell, the other, its windy and everyone is taking out their jackets. People from all walks of life were at Hyde Park. Two girls in corporate wear sitting with a picnic of hummus, crackers and olives. A middle eastern family with four kids playing football with their dad. People walking different breeds of dogs. Policemen on horses making sure everything is running smoothly. This place had a rhythm to it. I lazed undisturbed, reminded of early days when one really didn’t have a care in the world and you could sit under a tree and read for hours.

My friend had recommended Portobello from Hyde Park. So after the 45 min break, I took a bus from Knightsbridge. To those who don’t know Portobello, it’s in Notting Hill. If you don’t know or have never heard of Notting Hill, you are missing an epic movie. The bus ride was smooth. The temperature though bothers me. It is windy and a minute later you are on a bus where you just want to take off all your layers. Its pretty confusing and annoying at times.

I reached Portobello market. This market is apparently the world’s largest antiques market with over 1,000 dealers selling every kind of antique and collectibles. Hailing from India, most of the jewellery stuff just looked like things I would see in the North East, Ladakh or even Goa’s fleas markets. It was still pretty colorful and interesting as a place. I got there in the evening, so most people had begun to pack up. One of the things that intrigued me about the market in terms of what was being sold was olives. This man had an insane variety of olives, which looked so fresh, I couldn’t resist and bought some.

I wish I had stayed longer here. I think this place would have been wonderful in the day. Though one of the reasons I would come back is because I found a place called The Distillery, which has a Ginstitute Experience. They give you a history lesson in Gin, make you test a LOT of different types of gin and finally finish off by helping you create your very own blend! At the end you not only get a bottle of their unique gin but one you create to your own liking. I think it sounds like a plan. Since this takes about 2-3 hours and its usually booked in advance, I couldn’t manage it today but it remains on my to-do list.

An experience I plan to have soon! #thedistillery #gin #portobello #london #travel

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#colorful #portobello #street #market #travel #thingsisee #london #walkingabout

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I walked around for a bit in the market, admiring the buildings, the color, the shops and landed up at Earl of Lonsdale, an apparently popular pub in the area. It did have a fantastic beer garden, but I still had a nice gin & tonic and read my book for a bit, before finally heading home. It was such a pleasant evening, which made it all the more fun.

#portobello #nottinghill #travel #london #placesigo #chilling #walkingaround

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While walking back to the tube, I remained enamored by the architecture of the place. The beautiful colorful doors, the bright flowers, cobbled pavements. It felt like a different place in time. I was reminded of the film as I passed many a house and wondered which one could have been the one they filmed in. But with my battery running low at 10% I didn’t manage to google it. I even saw a pretty quirky sign where construction was taking place. Cheeky, actually.

#cheeky #building #signs #travel #London #nottinghill #lookup #thingsisee

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The day ended with a long walk to the station, admiring Notting Hill, knowing I will see it soon.

To be contd…

This ended up being a fantastic, though pretty tiring day. I will be doing this in two parts, considering I plan to take the bus on both days, otherwise this post will seem like I’m going on & on.

I got dressed fairly early today and went to a nearby Cafe for some coffee & breakfast. The avocado toast was lovely. Oddly it had a piece of tofu on top, which literally tasted like tava fried paneer. But it tasted good, so that’s that. I sat happily munching my toast, intermittently reading my book  and observing people. Different people from all walks of life walked in. Mothers with their kids in prams, office goers sharply dressed taking their coffees to go, two women sitting opposite each other where one was giving an interview and last but my most favourite this dog. He stopped in and literally peered into his shop, as his owners read the menu listed on the outside window. It literally looked like a poster I could frame.

#breakfast #coffee #avocadoontoast #travel #cafe #lookingout #london

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French bulldog outside a coffee shop #adorable dogs #thingsisee #travel #london

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This was my first day out, solo exploring a city, any city for that matter. With the help of my friend, I understood the maze that is the tube. Apparently it’s very common, but I was surprised to see a Rottweiler in the tube, with its owner of course, but it was amazing to see the dog merrily standing in between people with its tongue out. I got off at the stop, and the first thing I noticed were the red telephone booths. I think the red is so attractive and it makes so much sense. For a city, which is mostly grey, I think they add color to it. It’s like an art work in black & white, but with that one element of red, which strikes your eye. Imagine in the older days, the only way to get in touch with someone was through these telephone booths. On a long working day, walking home under gloomy grey skies, the telephone booth red reminded you of someone to call, someone who could take you away from the world that you lived in. There’s something romantic about it.

I walked onto Trafalgar square. A busy place with streets artists, Yoda’s floating in air holding on to a stick, artists drawing graffiti with chalk on the pavement and musicians singing their heart out for your love, and of course all the change that is pretty useless in your pockets. I headed to the Bus tour. Though my parents said you can enjoy the city by taking a 3 day pass and getting on and off as you please, I wanted to know the history of the place, the quirks as they may be of the people, the monarchy, the buildings. I’m not one to be touristy, but this made sense to me. I took the Original Tour (Hop On Hop Off) bus. Having paid the ticket, I literally hopped on and went straight up. I was lucky that it was sunny today, otherwise I can’t imagine what one would do on a rainy day on these things.

Highlights of the tour (for me)

I took the Yellow Route which showcases the key sights and top attractions of London including the Tower of London, Trafalgar Square, Westminister, London Eye, The Shard, Tower Bridge and Leicester Square. Don’t worry, I am not going to give anyone a history lesson, but there were some interesting tit-bits the guide mentioned so I thought I would highlight those for you.

So, the Big Ben, apparently if the Big Ben were to strike 13 times the four lions of the famous statue at Trafalgar Square would come to life. I found out, that Big Ben is undergoing renovation, so for three years, all anyone is going to see is scaffolding. A lot of Central seems to have that as of now. Major renovation in progress it seems.

#bigben #london #thingsisee #beingtouristy #dayone #trip #uk #travel

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Interesting trivia, you can visit the famous Ritz Hotel (also namesake 🙂 ) by paying 50 pounds. It does get you unlimited tea refills and you can have as many cucumber sandwiches! I have to say my tour guide was pretty funny. One of the things he said was about Oxford street. It apparently has 51 shoe shops (all women scream in disbelief…) and for the gentlemen he said, there is sadly only 1 pub.

King Charles II was very fond of Green Park and used it to entertain visitors. Like my guide said, “He was extremely energetic and was a busy man.” The story is with the picture below.

You might think the British flag is called the Union Jack, right? But that is only when it’s on water. On land, it is simply called the Union Flag. The bus ride was filled with little trivia like this. I think anyone would have enjoyed a bald Irish guide with a sense of humor on a sunny-windy day, atop a tour bus. Did you know, the London telephone booth was made so tall so that an English gentlemen didn’t have to remove their top hat when they entered. How thoughtful. And finally, the champion for women power in me, loved this tit-bit about the Waterloo bridge. It was built by an 85% female workforce, as the husbands were away at war and is also known as the Ladies Bridge.

Part 1 of my bus tour was over here. I then proceeded to go climb a structure called The Monument to the Great Fire of London. It was built to commemorate the Great Fire of London and to celebrate the rebuilding of the City. It has a cantilevered stone staircase of 311 steps leading to a viewing platform. It was a fun climb, though I must admit, I may have been too quick for my own good. With only 6% battery left, I went atop the Monument, which had a wonderful view of London and came back down only to receive a certificate from the management. It was funny, because I somehow remembered climbing Shankaracharya in Kashmir and if someone were to give certificates when people came down, everyone would laugh!

One has to admit, the London Eye does catch your ‘Eye’. (*Get the pun?) Anyway, while the bus goes around from one bridge to another, you get some amazing shots of the London Eye. I for one wouldn’t go on top something that moves so slowly and the ride lasts 30min. In lieu of that I went on the Monument. But again, everyone has different choices. After the Monument I headed towards the Embankment to get a look at the London Bridge, and when I got there, it was ok… it hadn’t fallen down. *By now, if you have not understood my sense of humor, then … umm I have nothing left to say to you, you may now switch screens.

It was a lovely walk across the Embankment to the Tower Bridge (the older bridge). Once I got there, I had no intention of going to the Tower Hill so I went towards the pier and hopped on a small cruise liner. When you do the Original tour, they give you one ride across the Thames. So this was my way of getting back to Westminister without taking the road. It was a bit of a wait to get on to the cruise but it was still a fun experience.

#thingsisee #travel #walkingaround #london #towerbridgelondon #beingtouristy

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After this I met up with friends and went to Aldgate to a pub which serves over 300 types of gin. A recent gin convert, I was more than happy to see what it was about. It’s name ‘The Oliver Conquest’. I tried two types of gins there and I must say, I loved it. I especially liked their glasses. But more than that the ambience and the company was a wonderful way to end a pretty eventful day.

#gin #bars #friends #london #travel #placesigo #theoliverconquestpub

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Hope you enjoyed seeing London through my eyes for half the bus tour. The rest to follow in the next post.

to be contd…