Saturday, December 03, 2016

Family Vacation in the U.K., October 2016, Day 4: Oxford, and arrival in London

Our family had a memorable day today. We saw so much, and all this without actually staying overnight at any place. We arrived in our Insignia at the Enterprise office in Oxford around half past nine. I had already negotiated an arrangement to leave our luggage with the Enterprise office here and then explore Oxford on foot. The team gladly took possession of the car, which we had planned to deliver here. We left our luggage with them, which they very kindly agreed to. After this, we made our way on foot to explore this little but important educational centre on foot. Our sojourn took us to various college and university campuses in Oxford. The most interesting of the lot was the Trinity College and the Christ Church College. At the Trinity, we also visited the cathedral inside. We also visited the Bridge of Sighs, and did a full tour of the Oxford Castle Unlocked;  we ended our trip with a bit of punting on the Oxford River just past the Magdalen College. 

What we could not see were the famous Ashmolean museum and a few other museums that this city has. What we did observe, however, was that Oxford is a tight little city that is highly bicycle-friendly (we would learn later that Cambridge, another educational place in the U.K. is even MORE bicycle-friendly, but for that, wait for the installments to come). 

The Oxford covered market was where we had our lunch and browsed for different kinds of things. While the three of us had pasta, Nishrin had a sandwich to tide over hunger. 

What follow are some interesting pictures we took in Oxford.

The presenter at the Oxford Castle Unlocked

Hannah on the detention board

Inas, ditto

A prison cell

Trinity College

Trinity College grounds

The College cathedral

Entrance to the Oxford Covered market

Hannah under the Bridge of Sighs

Punting A

Punting B

Punting C

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Family Vacation in the U.K., October 2016, Day 3: Roman Baths and Stonehenge

The day began with a hearty breakfast at the hotel where we were staying. Sanjoy was there to take our order and to chat with us, and his staff members served us very enthusiastically. We ordered some special stuff that he recommended, steering clear of pork - which none of us eats - and also partook of the food that was already served on the side table - such as cornflakes, fruit, etc.

Our first stop today was the Roman Baths. What can I say about this wonderful place? Bath already had the hot water springs. Evidently, they were known to the Romans while England was part of their empire. Successive emperors and kings of that era came to visit the Baths, and over time, a complete township developed here. The Baths have their own story, their lore, and the attached museum, hundreds of artifacts, some regal, others, commonplace, that are witness to the Roman era of this region. We learned that the excavation of the Baths is an ongoing project, and more stuff keeps getting discovered.

The most interesting places here were the topside balcony with statues of the different emperors that either visited the baths or were remembered and glorified, the actual baths on the lower level, the pump room where the water was pumped mechanically into the baths, the private bathing areas for the rich and royal. the museum with most artifacts backed by interactive stories, and the large wishing well, with thousand of coins people have thrown into it, hoping that their prayers would be answered.

Here are some pictorial memories of our visit. You can see that the pictures depict the upper balcony, the baths themselves, and various artifacts from the museum.

From the baths, we progressed to a unique village that has been called the "prettiest village in England". This is the Castle Combe village (click HERE for their website). Located in Wiltshire, at the southern end of the Cotswolds area of England, this small heritage village is indeed very beautiful.

The following lines sum up its beauty:

And Castle Combe presents this charming scene,
of hill, woods and meadows cloth'd in green.
Here grand terrestrial scenes, almost celestial nice,
makes Castle Combe, sweet vale, an earthy Paradise.
                                                                   Edward Dowling (19th Century)

The village is known for its Parish church that dates back to the 13th Century, the remnants of an old Roman fort that was later converted into a castle (hence the first part of the name), its history of being a hub of the woollen clothes industry in the 19th century, its thick-walled houses with split-stone tiled roofs, and its association with many movies, the most important one of them being Doctor Doolittle, shot here in the early sixties. (I remember seeing this movie as a school child in the New Imperial cinema behind my school - the cinema was later replaced by the Sterling cinema, now multiplex, that stands at the very same spot.) A few memories from this place:

The location of Dr Doolittle's house for the eponymic movie

The Parish Church and graveyard

I take advantage of the sexy car that has stopped here
 We had home-made ice cream at a small shop here and acquainted ourselves with some locals as well as other visitors. Leaving this place around lunchtime, we then drove to Stonehenge. This would be our last visit for the day, as it would take over 3 hours to drive there and to visit it.

Stonehenge (see THIS LINK for the official website) is a prehistoric Neolithic group of monoliths erected for an unknown purpose, and is the most visited historical structure in England outside of royal palaces and castles. In fact, as per my knowledge, it is the single most important structure of historical, architectural and scientific nature anywhere int he U.K. Here are a few pictures we took of this amazing site. We did take the full tickets that include the free bus ride to and from the site from and to the visitor centre and parking lot.

The Stonehenge comprises blue stones (sarsen stones, transported here from Wales) cut into large columns that are sunk deep into the ground and arranged in the shape of two, rather large, partly destroyed circles. The entire site is actually a burial ground over 5500 years before now. Researchers feel that the stones are arranged in a particular way - with some stones set atop a pair of stone columns like a support of some kind.

We had originally planned to finish the Stonehenge visit by half past four in the evening and then drive to the Jurassic Coast, but we ran out of time. Hence we drove back to Bath to our hotel. For dinner, Hannah and I went out to get dinner to eat in our hotel room. We got back Indian food that wasn't too spicy and we had it in our room. We went to sleep a little after 11:00 p.m.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Family vacation in the UK, October 2016: Day 2: Drive to Bath, and overnight

We finally set off on the morning of the 1st of October 2016. The way we would go is to drive to Bath in my Insignia car. I had purchased a Garmin Satnav device, and had already tested this device a couple of weeks ago when I had test-rented and driven a car on a weekend. Also, I had used it on the previous evening when I brought my family in from Manchester airport. Well, to be honest, yesterday hadn't been very smooth. I had missed one particular turn just 4 miles short of the airport, and had then had to go through many diversions before reaching the airport. 

In any case, now I had my daughter Hannah with me. She sat in the passenger seat today, and would do so for most of the next 17-odd days we drove to different locations inside the U.K. Being a driver, she had already made an international driving permit, and she would share the driving with me as well. It is a real help to have someone share your driving task; she did that, and also helped me with the navigation. We would, as we did today, first set our destination on the Satnav, then begin our drive. 

Today's drive would take us via Preston, and then down south till we reached Bath. Now, Bath is a city in south-west England, and is located in Somerset. It is well-known for its Georgian architecture and its natural hot springs. The springs were used by the Romans over two millennia ago for their supposed recuperative and healing properties, and today, the Roman Baths are the no. 1 tourist attraction in Bath. This city is also known for its university and for its unique honey-coloured stone buildings. We will talk about them presently. 

Our journey of over 225 miles took all of 5 hours, as we stopped periodically for rest, food and filling petrol. The highway rest points are called by their location or by their sponsor. Most such points will have some or the other chain restaurants, toilets, some gaming kiosks and a few other facilities that vary from place to place. Above all, they all have petrol pumps where one may fill petrol and also get their vehicles quickly checked. The rest locations are all impeccably clean, and there is a general hubbub that tells you very clearly that they mean business. Rates of all items that are sold there are higher than what they are elsewhere, i.e. outside highway rest points. For example, while a Cappuccino at the usual Costa outlet may be £ 2.25, here, it will be above £ 2.75 for a Primo (the smallest size).

Nishrin was struggling with the food choices, it was easy to see. On the other hand, Inas and Hannah were adjusting well as they have grown up in modern times with McDonalds and Domino's. It was easy to see that Nish wasn't really enjoying the coffee, but as she was enjoying the British tea even less, she kept having coffee today, as well as on the rest of the vacation. We would generally order just one cup of coffee between us. That kept the price down too. 

By early evening, we pulled into the hotel we would be staying at, the Aquae Sulis hotel. Its owner, Sanjoy Ghosh, gave us a warm welcome and took us to our room, located on the top floor. It was an attic room with two large double beds, and most of the necessities we would need to stay here in Bath. The hotel itself is a charming place, located a few miles away from the Roman Baths. We quickly checked our luggage in, and then proceeded to return to the reception desk to seek directions on the way to the baths. Pragmatically, it was suggested to us to take a cab, as the areas around the Roman Baths are no-parking zones. 

We arrived at the baths around half past four, but entry had already been stopped for the day. We took a few photos, and then began our walk around the town. Eventually, we saw the Circus, and the Royal Crescent this evening. From there, we then went to a place across the railway tracks to get dinner from an Indian restaurant, and we had this back in our hotel. 

Overall, we were impressed with the way Bath is laid out. The two places we visited, the Circus (I was told that Delhi's Connaught Place had this place as an inspiration to design after) and the Royal Crescent, were remarkably beautiful. Here are some pictorial memories of our first evening in Bath.

Outside the Roman Baths complex
Bath Abbey

An interesting sculpture

Lighting a candle 

The Circus

The Royal Crescent

From the Abbey interior

Another view of the Circus

As happy as we can get

Outside the Bath Abbey - singular

Outside the Bath Abbey - couple

One more coloured glass window inside the Bath Abbey