17
Jul
10

Malaga, Spain

[Not many are aware that Spain was once ruled by the Arabs. During the medieval ages, much of the Iberian peninsula – consisting of Spain and Portugal, were under Islamic rule. The Moors – Arabs from North Africa, had crossed the Mediterranean and invaded the region, which they fondly called Al-Andalus. It wasn’t until 700 years later, that they were driven out by the Catholics from the north. Today, the legacy of Spain’s Moorish past can still be felt in the southen region of Andalucia and especially in its principle city – Malaga ]

Its not always that a journey grabs a cherished place in one’s volatile memory…..and when it does, it has generally got more to do with the people one has met, than the places he/she has visited. In the case of my recent trip to Malaga, it was a bit of both 🙂

Located in the Spanish region of Andalucia along the warm mediterranean coast, Malaga is a popular tourist destination, characterised by its fascinating history and blessed with sun-kissed beaches. The region, otherwise known as the ‘Costa del Sol’ [‘Coast of the sun’] is Spain’s answer to France’s ‘Cote d’Azur’ [‘The blue coast’ or the French Riviera]. Though the Ferraris, Lamborghinis, the glitz and the glamour that make the French counterpart a playground of the rich and the famous are conspicuously missing here, the gap is more than made up by Malaga’s rich cultural heritage, which is only accentuated by the down-to-earth and friendly nature of its people.

A plane approaching Malaga airport

From Malaga, Spain

It was my second visit to Spain and the moment I landed at Malaga’s massive airport, it was evident that the Spaniards like to build their transport hubs a lot larger than what might be required by the volumes of traffic invovled. The terminal was massive and was lavished with vast empty spaces. Madrid’s Barajas Airport had been similar too, and so were the underground stations of the capital’s metro network.

History:

The Moors from North Africa, had invaded much of Spain and Portugal in the early 700s. So powerful and glorious were their reign that for over 700 years, they remained undefeated and the region flourished in trade, wealth, art and culture. It was only in the late 1400s that the Catholics from the north of Spain led by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella succeeded in reconquering Al-Andalus and re-establishing Christian rule. [Incidentally, Ferdinand and Isabella were the maternal grand-parents of England’s Queen Mary I, better known to us by her namesake cocktail – Bloody Mary]

Today we see Spain as a staunchly Catholic country, with hardly any traces of its Islamic past. Much of this was the result of the Spanish Inquisition, carefully laid out after the Moors were defeated. Mosques were converted into churches and most muslims and jews were expelled from the country, whilst many others were forcefully converted into Christianity.

Nevertheless, the legacy of the Arabs has still managed to percolate into the art, culture, language [the Spanish language has over 4000 words of Arabic origin] and architecture of modern Spain,and nowhere is this legacy more evident than in the region of Andalucia. Andalucia, located just across the Mediterranean from North Africa, was understandably, among the first places to be invaded by the Arabs and Malaga, thanks to its strategic location and ancient harbour, was one of its main cities.

As I took the bus (Line 19) from the airport to Malaga city-centre, I couldn’t help notice the similarities that the place seemed to share with Arabia…… and as someone who was born and brought-up in the middle-east, the resemblances were too striking. Not only was the terrain and vegetation too dry for European standards, but the weather was scorchingly hot and the people seemed to look a lot like Arabs too, albeit in skimpier clothes 🙂

Streets of Malaga

From Malaga, Spain

The vast stretches of apartment blocks lining the streets could easily be mistaken for older parts of Dubai and the architecture of the ancient Arab fortresses and the cathedrals (that were converted from old Moorish mosques), could very well have blended into the skyline of Islamic Cairo ! The imposing twin fortresses of Alcazaba and Gibralfaro, that were once strongholds of the Arab rulers of the region, stand perched on a hill overlooking Malaga and thus ensures that this significant element of Spain’s past cannot be missed from any nook or corner of the city. Add to that the plethora of Shawarma stalls and restaurants specialising in Moorish food, and you may be forgiven for thinking you are in the middle-east !

The Malaga by Bike tour:

Cycling through the narrow alleys

From Malaga, Spain

Over the past few years, I have realised that the best way to explore a city is by doing a bike-tour. Not only is it faster and more fun than other means, but it also allows access into narrow alleys and streets, that may be hidden otherwise. Which is why the first thing I did on arriving in Malaga was to take the ‘Malaga by bike’ tour. The tour cost me 23 Euros and on that day, consisted of just 5 of us – an American couple […who I later came to learn, were serving in the US Army based in Germany !], a pair of Canadian-French girls and me.

Our guide explaining about the Malaga Cathedral

From Malaga, Spain

Our guide – a loquacious New Zealander filled us in on all the history, trivia and anecdotes about Malaga and led us as we pedalled through narrow cobblestoned lanes and old historic squares, dodging through pedestrians and occassionally stopping for photographs. We passed by the house where Malaga’s most famous son – Pablo Picasso was born, rode along ancient cathedrals, the botanical gardens and the harbour, skirted around the massive Plaze de Torros (Bull ring) – where bull fights still take place, and finally stopped at a beach shack on the Malaguetta beach for some chilled beers. The tour lasted around 4 hours and was brilliant fun !

Riding through the Malaguetta beach

From Malaga, Spain

Malaga Cathedral:

The Malaga Cathedral

From Malaga, Spain

Like most other churches in the city, the Malaga Cathedral was built over a former Moorish mosque and thus,  incorporated some of its distinctive styles. The Cathedral is one of the largest structures in Malaga and its imposing spires can be seen from most parts of the city centre. The vicinity of the cathedral was quite crowded – teeming with tourists and locals. But when I took a 4 Euro ticket and stepped inside, it was a completely different picture. The interiors were grand and elaborately decorated ….yet, maintained a remarkably serene ambience.

Entrance to the cathedral

From Malaga, Spain

Close by, was the Picasso museum. But not being a fan of modern art, I gave it a miss.

Picasso's statue outside the house where he was born

From Malaga, Spain

The Melting Pot hostel:

A log on Malaga wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention the Melting Pot hostel. What was special about the hostel was its friendly ambience and its amazing location, being right at the beach. The open terrace offered a fantastic location to relax and socialise….not to mention the barbecue and bar in the evening 🙂

I was suprised to see my name on the board as I arrived at the hostel

From Malaga, Spain

I got to meet and hang-out with some interesting people at the hostel, and all of them seemed to be doing quite exciting things in life. Most were backpackers who had travelled around the world, and many had even visited India. One of the persons I met was here to practise kite-boarding, another to work in a horse-farm….some were here on weekend breaks, and another had just completed a 10-month course in art. They all came from various parts of the world – Britain, USA, Canada, Spain, Germany etc. and the advantage for them was that with their passports, they could travel to most parts of the world without visas and stay as long as they want …and do any job that they like….Even the New Zealander guide from the from bike tour was telling me that he had completed a univerisity degree in Computer Engineering, but decided to travel around the world, ending up in Spain and is now working as a tour guide for a living ! Ah, how I wish I could do something as exciting as that !

In the evening, after having a barbecue dinner and enjoying a few chilled beers at the open-terrace, some of us headed out to into the city to check out the party scene. Must admit, the city centre had completely transformed from what it was during the day, and the whole place seemed to be revelling in one huge party. Clearly, the hours of siesta does seem to help the Spanish, as the streets are absolutely alive even at 2 in the morning !

Alcazaba and Gibralfaro:

Overlooking the city from a pair of twin hills, are the Alcazaba and the Gibralfaro – the two most prominent reminders of Malaga’s Moorish past.

The Alcazaba

From Malaga, Spain

The best times to visit these two monuments are Sunday afternoons, as after 2pm, entrance is free 🙂 I visited them late on Sunday evening as I figured that the arduous climb up would be a lot easier without the scorching Mediterranean sun frying over my head. Also, the castle offers stunning panoramic views of the city and the sea, which could only be embellished by the image of the sun going down over the horizon.

Inside the Alcazaba

From Malaga, Spain

The 11th Century Alcazaba is the lower one among the two monuments and hence, is easier to access. It also happens to be more ornate and decorated than the Gibralfaro, which is mainly because it was a fortified palace, where as the latter was purely a castle. Like most castles and fortresses I have seen in Europe, the Alcazaba too had been built on the site of former Roman fort…and right next to the entrance were the ruins of a 2nd-century Roman amphitheatre.

The Roman amphitheatre outside the Alcazaba

From Malaga, Spain

Incidentally, the Arabs had conveniently used stones and materials from the amphitheatre to construct the Alcazaba.

Inside the Alcazaba

From Malaga, Spain

The Alcazaba was an epitome of Moorish architecture and I spent about half an hour exploring its winding courtyards and arched corridors. On the south side, the Alcazaba presented wonderful views of the Malaga Port and the blue waters of the mediterranean beyond it….but I moved on knowing that the much higher Gibralfaro would offer something even more spectacular.

View from the Alcazaba

From Malaga, Spain

Though an internal passageway connects the Alcazaba and the Gibralfaro, the common public is forced to take the much longer set of stairs going up along the hill. The path can be very steep at times and the climb is without doubt – quite demanding. But if you are perseverant and get yourself up there, the unbeatable views will ensure that the effort is not regretted.

The viewing platform

From Malaga, Spain

Shortly before arriving at the summit, is a viewing platform, facing towards the Mediterranean.

The viewing platform

From Malaga, Spain

It is said that on a clear day, the coast of Africa can be seen from up here….which doesn’t seem implausible, considering that Morocco is not too far across.

The Plaza de Torros (Bull-ring)

From Malaga, Spain

Further up, the castle itself offers splendid 360 degree views of the city. Incidentally, during the siege of Malaga in 1487 by Ferdinand and Isabella, the Moors had holed themselves up in this castle, but were ultimately forced to surrender when they ran out of food and supplies.

Gibralfaro castle

From Malaga, Spain

08
Jul
10

Aldgate, London

[For over three centuries, one company defined the fortunes, the miseries and the destinies of millions of people around the world ! Through a combination of raw ambition, exploration, ruthless diplomacy and technology……coupled with greed, deceit and military conquests, this company established itself as one of the largest, the most profitable and the most influential enterprises that the world has ever seen, or will ever see. This company was the East India Company and its headquarters once stood at Leadenhall Street in Aldgate, London]

Aldgate today is located within the central financial district of London, referred to as simply ‘the City’. However, centuries ago this area had marked the eastern-most entry-point into London and a gateway, from which Aldgate gets its name, stood here along the ancient Roman city walls. Since the past couple of centuries, ‘the City’ has been one of the leading centres of commerce and finance in the world, with millions of pounds worth of transactions passing through its square mile area every day. Aldgate has been at the forefront of this action and some of the leading Insurance Corporations of the world are located here. But what distinguishes Aldgate is perhaps its undeniable role in shaping the history and destiny of not just London or Britain, but of lands far and wide. For it was here that the East India Company was headquartered and from where, for over two centuries, much of its global ventures were governed.

The East India Company:

Contrary to popular belief, the East India Company was not owned or governed by the English/British government, but was a private enterprise subscribed by a few thousand shareholders in London and governed by 24 elected Directors. It was established in the year 1600, when a group of London merchants was granted a Royal Charter by Queen Elizabeth I, providing them with complete monopoly over trade with the far east. Over the next centuries, the Company went on to grow beyond every shareholder’s wildest dreams. It maintained its own armed forces, merchant fleet and factories, and enjoyed adminstrative and legislative powers in the colonies that it controlled. It was not until after the First War of Indian Independence in 1857, that the British government took control of the Company, and Queen Victoria, then Queen of Great Britain, assumed the title of ‘Empress of India’.

Needless to say, in its aggressive quest for profits and power, the company had employed many grossly unethical means. Ultimately, the impact it had on the world was unprecedented. The company dominated world trade for a few centuries and was instrumental in introducing new products and lifestyles into the society and establishing new mega-cities – from Calcutta, Mumbai and Chennai to Singapore and Hong Kong. The legacies left behind by the company – its legal and administrative codes, language, educational systems, transport infrastructure etc. continue to be used to this day in the erstwhile colonies.

Interestingly, earlier this year, there were reports in the media that the East India Company has been acquired by an Indian businessman. According to the reports, Mumbai-born Sanjiv Mehta bought the company from the 30 or 40 people who had still owned it…… and has now opened his flagship ‘East India Company’ store – trading in fine foods and luxury goods, in London’s upmarket Mayfair area.  No doubt the Company’s journey has come full-circle, but the way I see it, what Mr.Mehta claims to be an act of redemption is perhaps, more of a calculated business gimmick.

For one, the company had been dissolved following the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, and had completely ceased to exist since 1874, when the East India Stock Dividend Redemption Act was passed in the British Parliament. So what Mr.Mehta bought was perhaps the rights to the name and the Coat of Arms of the erstwhile East India Company. It makes perfect business sense, as the name automatically comes with a 400 year-old history and a brand that can be recognised across the globe, thanks to the fact that much of the world was once controlled by the former company.

Until the original East India Company was dissolved, its impressive headquarters – the East India House had stood  at Leadenhall Street in Aldgate. Early illustrations of the building show how imposing and magnificent a structure it used to be.

East India House in the early 1800's (courtesy: Wikimedia)

But unlike the headquarters of the Company’s early rival – the Dutch East India Company, which still stand in Amsterdam […and I had the fortune of visiting two years ago as part of the New Amsterdam Walking Tour], the East India House survived for just over  a decade after the Company was dissovled, and was demolished in 1869 – the same year Gandhi was born. Today, the exact site is occupied by the Lloyd’s Building – home to Lloyd’s of London, one of the leading Insurance societies in the world.  Interestingly, some of the paintings, artefacts and furniture from the East India House now sit in the India House – the seat of the Indian High Commission in London.

Lloyd’s building:

The main factor that attracted me to Aldgate and the Lloyd’s building was that it where the East India Company’s headquarters used to stand. Nevertheless, the Lloyd’s building is an attraction in its own right, thanks to its bizarre ‘Inside-Out’ architecture, which makes it unlike any other in Britain. I had heard a lot about this peculiar design and wanted to check it out myself……and it didn’t disappoint. Turns out that the Lloyd’s building is perhaps the ‘Superman’ of all buildings ! Not that it was built using stones from Krypton, but like Superman, who wears his underpants over his tights, this building has all its internal essentials – namely water pipes, electrical power conduits, cables, elevators, air-conditioning ducts….all exposed on the outside 🙂 Frankly, I must admit that it does not make the prettiest of sights !

The 'Inside-Out' architecture

Lloyd’s of London itself has an interesting history behind it. The society had its origins in 1688, in a coffe-shop run by Edward Lloyd’s in London. This coffee-shop was frequented by sailors and ship-owners, who used the location to discuss insurance deals among themselves, in order to spread their risks. The society grew exponentially in the next century, insuring ships involved in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Today it is one of the leading insurance societies in the world.

Aldgate also houses the offices of the Lloyd’s Register – the  reputed maritime classification society, which like Lloyd’s of London, had its origins in Edward Lloyd’s coffee-shop. Edward used to help the sailors exchange information by passing around a sheet of paper containing all the shipping-related news he had heard. Today, the Lloyd’s Register is the most respected source for shipping information and maritime classification in the world !

30 St.Mary’s Axe (the Gherkin) –

Situated just a stone’s throw away [depending on how strong your arms are ;)] from the Lloyd’s building is 30, St.Mary’s Axe, otherwise known as ‘the Gherkin’, due to its peculiar shape. [St Mary’s Axe is the name of the street and 30 is the building number] Completed just 7 years ago in 2003, this building is already among the most recognisable landmarks in London’s skyline. It is one of the most prestigious office addresses in London’s financial district and has even featured in many Hollywood and Bollywood movies.

30 St.Mary's Axe - The Gherkin

As I walked along the narrow streets and arrived at the base of the building, my initial thought was that up-close, it was not as larger-than-life as it had seemed otherwise [But then, I had felt the same about the Great Pyramid at Giza as well]. Standing at the circular base of the Gherkin and looking up, one cannot fully appreciate the shape of the structure as its apex is hidden from view. As with any masterpiece, one has to step-back a few feet [or in the case of the Gherkin, a few 100 metres] to fully admire the beauty of its design.

Close-up of the Gherkin

The Gherkin stands on the site where the former Baltic Exchange building used to be located. In 1992, an IRA bomb ripped the building apart, and the area was left undeveloped until the Gherkin took its place.

24
Jun
10

Caen, France

[The opening sequence of Steven Spielberg’s Oscar winning movie – ‘Saving Private Ryan’ presents one of the most unforgettable and accurate depictions of D-Day ! Though the second World War stretched from 1939 until 1945, no other day in the six years of fighting had perhaps been as decisive and crucial as this day – the 6th of June, 1944. Today, one of the main reasons why tourists come to Normandy is to visit the D-Day landing beaches and its associated museums. Stretching across the English Channel coast, the five beaches code-named Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah, were the sites where on D-Day, over 150,000 allied troops launched a simultaneous surprise invasion of Normandy, in a bid to free France (and subsequently, the rest of Europe) from the clutches of the Nazi Germans. The invasion had marked the beginning of the end of World War II ….and succeeded in driving the first nail into Hitler’s coffin !]

It was Day 3 of my visit to Normandy and I took an early morning train from Rouen to the city of Caen. Since I had just a little over half a day available in the city before catching a train back to Paris, I had to devise a clear plan of how I would spend it…… and that involved visiting Sword Beach and the 11th century Chateau Ducal (Duke’s castle) built by William the Conqueror himself. Sword Beach was one of the five D-Day landing beaches and I had chosen it mainly because it was the closest from Caen [located 15 km north of the city in the sea-side town of Ouistreham], and also, this was where the British troops had landed. [The Americans had landed on Omaha and Utah beaches, the Canadians on Juno and the British on Sword and Gold beaches]

Sword Beach on D-Day (Image courtesy Wikipedia.org)

Right outside the Caen train station was the Gare Routiere (the bus station) and I went in and bought a return ticket to Ouistreham from the lady at the counter. Must admit, all the people I encountered in Normandy have been very friendly and helpful, and with their broken English and my even more shattered French, we’ve been able to get along quite well. I had to catch the Line 1 service to Ouistreham and the bus arrived exactly as per the timetable that I had downloaded before setting off to France. It was a 30-minute ride to the sea-side town of Ouistreham and for the first time in my three days in Normandy, the weather was sunny and warm.

Ouistreham:

Sea-facing villas at Ouistreham

From Normandy, France

Ouistreham today is the port for Caen and is also a popular sea-side resort dotted with beautiful villas. Many of these villas were occupied by German officers during the years of Nazi occupation in the early 1940’s. Sword beach was a short walk from the bus stop and my first thoughts on seeing it was on how wide and long it was. The clear white sands stretched on for a few kilometres and the sea was several hundreds metres away from the beginning of the beach. Unlike other beaches I had seen in Normandy, at places like ‘Le Havre’, this one was not a pebble beach and looking at the conditions, it was clearly evident on why the allies may have chosen this place for their amphibious landing on D-day.

Sword beach today

From Normandy, France

There was hardly anyone at the beach that morning, except for a few people walking their dogs, but the lady at the Tourist Office near the beach told me that there were major memorial activities planned for the following week – during the anniversary of D-Day. I collected a shell from the beach as a souvenir and visited the D-Day memorial that stood nearby.

D-Day memorial at Sword Beach

From Normandy, France

A museum dedicated to the British No.4 Commando division who had landed on Sword beach, was just across the road, but I skipped it in favour of the Musee du Mur de l’Atlantique (Atlantic Wall museum), which is housed in an old Nazi bunker.

The bunker is actually a large 5-storeyed tower offering vantage views of the beach and it had taken the British 3 full days since D-day to storm in and take the 50+ Nazi soldiers holed up inside as prisoners. But 66 years later, all I had to do was to buy a 7 Euro ticket to get inside.

The Atlantic Wall Museum - in the old Nazi bunker

From Normandy, France

Outside the building were kept a few tanks and gun batteries used in the war, and amongst them, was an actual D-Day landing vessel. Incidentally, this was the very same vessel that was later used for filming the opening scene of ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and had held in it, amongst others, Tom Hanks himself !

An actual landing vessel used on D-Day and later in the filming of 'Saving Private Ryan'

From Normandy, France

As I stepped inside the building, I was greeted by a large TV screen playing the movie […yea, you guessed right] ‘Saving Private Ryan’, albeit a French dubbing. The interiors of the bunker have been restored to what it may have looked like under Nazi possession.

Effigy of a Nazi officer inside the weapons room of the bunker

From Normandy, France

After grabbing a sandwich from a beach stall, I caught a bus back into Caen and headed for the next destination in my agenda.

Chateau Ducal:

Caen Castle

From Normandy, France

Right in the centre of the city, stands the Chateau Ducal or Duke’s Castle. Built by William the Conqueror in 1060, the castle had been in use throughout the middle ages and was also used as military barracks as late as during World War II.

In 1066, six years after building this castle, William, then the Duke of Normandy, had crossed the English Channel and invaded England, setting up a powerful new ruling establishment in the hitherto Anglo-Saxon country. It was the last time England was ever forcefully conquered by a foreign power and even the current queen – Elizabeth II can trace a direct line of ancestry to William the Conqueror ! William built many new castles around England, including the Tower of London [….whose White Tower is so named after the special stones from Caen that were used to build it]. The conquest earned William the title of The Conqueror, which may have very well justified the effort, ‘cos until then he had been referred to as William the Bastard, thanks to his illegitimate birth 😉

The castle complex was massive and interestingly, entrance was free. The lawns around and inside the castle seemed to be a nice hangout for French students, who were seen lazing around and enjoying the sun. And Caen being a college town, there were plenty of them around.

18
Jun
10

Rouen, France

[I was barely a kid when I first learnt about ‘Joan of Arc’ at school. This young French peasant girl who claimed to hear voices from heaven and led virtually impossible military victories against the English during the Hundred Years War, is perhaps one of the most glorified heroines in history. As captivating as her tales of victory, is the tragedy of her demise, when at the age of 19, she was captured and sold to the English, who tried her for heresy and had her burnt at the stake ! It was in a market square in the city of Rouen, in Normandy, France that she was burnt alive on the 30th of May 1431. Which is why, exactly 579 years later, when I got a chance to visit France, I chose Rouen and decided to follow her trail and explore the places that defined the last few months of her illustrious life.]

Situated on the banks of the Seine, Rouen today is a beautiful and serene city that still preserves its medieval charm. But looking back into the past, the city has had a very tumultous history. During the middle ages, the city had changed hands between the French and the English multiple times. Besides, as recently as in World War II, Rouen had suffered heavy bombardment by the Allies during the ‘Battle of Normandy’. Nevertheless, the bit of Rouen’s history that attracted me to the city was obviously its association with Joan of Arc – the ‘Maid of Orleans’.

On the 29th of May, I took the noon train from Gare St.Lazare in Paris, and 1.5 hours later, after traversing alongside the lush banks of the Seine, arrived at Rouen Rive Droit station. It wasn’t until I heard the public announcements at the station that I came to realize that as with most French words, ‘Rouen’ is not pronounced as it would appear like in English, but involves a very nasal-sound towards the tail-end……which begs the question – Don’t the French ever catch common cold at all ? Wonder how they manage to speak then.

Not surprisingly, the very road leading out from the station was called Rue Jeanne d’Arc …Jeanne d’Arc being French for Joan of Arc. But that wasn’t the end of it – over the next few hours, I came across Jeanne d’Arc restaurants, Jeanne d’Arc tobacco shops, Jeanne d’Arc bakeries, Jeanne d’Arc pharmacies….and it was clearly evident on how much the Rouennais capitalised on her legend !

Tour Jeanne d’Arc:

Tour Jeanne d'Arc

From Normandy, France

My first stop in Rouen was the ‘Tour Jeanne d’Arc’ (‘Joan of Arc Tower’). Situated just about 5 minutes away from the train station, the tower is all that remains of the 13th century Chateau Bouvreuil (Bouvreuil castle), where Joan of Arc was held captive by the English. The castle itself had been destroyed many years ago, but the Tower has survived the sands of time. It was here in this tower that Joan was threatened with torture during her trials.

Entrance to the tower cost just 1.50 euros, and as I bought my ticket, the guy at the counter asked me in his broken English, as to where I was from. When I replied ‘India’, he seemed surprised […I guess not many desis visit Rouen, and even if they do, hardly any may end up in the Joan of Arc tower, of all places.] But then, as the guy started raving about Vishwanathan Anand, it suddenly was my turn to be surprised ! [From Cairo to Vienna, I’ve come across foreigners talking about ShahRukh Khan, but this was the first time someone had mentioned an Indian chess-master ! Quite a welcome change, indeed 🙂 ]

The steps leading up the tower were narrow and steep and each floor had interesting exhibits showcasing the life and times of Joan of Arc….including copies of her actual trial documents. As such, the tower was a perfect starting point for me, and it presented an intriguing picture into what Joan’s days in captivity may have been like.

Notre Dame de Rouen:

Notre Dame de Rouen

From Normandy, France

Rouen Cathedral, otherwise known as ‘Notre Dame de Rouen’ (‘Our Lady of Rouen’) is the most defining feature of Rouen’s historic skyline. This 12th century Gothic structure is so massive and tall that its spires can be seen from around the city. As my hotel was situated just a few lanes across, I ended up walking past the cathedral on several occassions, and each time, I couldn’t help being awestruck by the enormity of the structure and the intricacy of its architecture.

Inside the Notre Dame

From Normandy, France

The interiors of the Cathedral were no less magnificent and the sense of space inside was colossal ! As such, the Notre Dame does not really have much to do with Joan of Arc, but then, what interested me about it was its association with the 12th Century English king – Richard the Lionheart. It is here in this cathedral that Richard’s heart [ ..the so-called ‘Lionheart’ itself] is buried, and an effigy of him marks the spot !

Effigy of Richard the Lionheart

From Normandy, France

Best known for his fierce military campaigns during the Holy Crusades, Richard the Lionheart had achieved far more and gone much further than any other Western Crusader before him. Richard and his equally powerful Arab counterpart – Saladin, were perhaps the Federer and Nadal of the 12th Century, but in spite of their bitter rivalry, had remarkable respect for each other. Though Richard’s ultimate goal of capturing Jerusalem for the Christians fell short outside the walls of the holy city, such was the terror he inflicted that it is said that even today, traditional Arabs scare their kids using his name !

Richard the Lionheart had died in France, but not in the manner shown in the recent ‘Robin Hood’ movie 😛 As per his wishes, his heart was buried in this Rouen Cathedral, whereas the rest of his body lay interred at other locations in Normandy. Four years ago, I had had the fortune of visiting Saladin’s massive fortress in Cairo, and it was great to now visit the tomb of his arch-rival.

Gros Horloge:

Gros Horloge

From Normandy, France

The Gros Horloge or the ‘Big Clock’ is a 16th century astronomical clock situated a stone’s throw away from the Notre Dame. For 6.50 euros, one can get inside the structure to see the ancient gears and mechanisms that still drive the clock, and also climb up to the top of the adjoining bell tower to enjoy a panoramic view of city, including one of the best views of the Notre Dame.

View of Rouen from the top of the Gros Horloge

From Normandy, France

The Gros Horloge is located in the middle of an intricate network of colourful pedestrian shopping streets, and the place was teeming with people.

Straight ahead on the same street, in the direction away from the Notre Dame is the ‘Place du Vieux Marche’ – the most important destination in Rouen, as far as I’m concerned !

Place du Vieux Marche:

The ‘Place du Vieux Marche’ or ‘Old Market Square’ is an ancient public square in the heart of Rouen. On the 30th of May 1431, a high wooden stake stood in the middle of this square, and the Rounnais public watched as a 19-year old Joan of Arc was burnt alive in it. The English, not wanting to leave any relics behind, threw her ashes and remains into the Seine, from the nearby ‘Boieldieu Bridge’.

Joan of Arc church and the Place du Vieux Marche

From Normandy, France

Today, a small market does exist on the square, however, much of the area is occupied by the modern ‘Eglise Saint Jeanne d’Arc’ (St.Joan of Arc church). The peculiar shape of the church symbolises the pyres in which Joan was burnt. The square itself is surrounded by beautiful old timber buildings and it appeared as though nothing much had changed there since Joan of Arc’s times. As I walked into the square on the evening of the 29th, I set out straight to find the place where Joan of Arc was burnt. That wasn’t quite hard as a board marks the exact spot, which today lies amidst a circular bed of flowers.

The exact spot where Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake

From Normandy, France

After paying a quick visit to the adjacent ‘Eglise Saint Jeanne d’Arc’, I checked out the Joan of Arc museum, which stood just across. Many pubs and cafes line the periphery of the square, and they presented me with the opportunity to taste some authentic French wine, in the evening 🙂 The area is also dotted with pretty, old timber houses, which is one of the main factors that gives Rouen its medieval charm.

Old timber houses

From Normandy, France

I did make it a point to return to the square at 9am the next day – the 30th of May…as it marked the exact anniversary of Joan’s death.

Abbatiale St-Ouen:

The ‘Abbatiale St-Ouen’ or ‘Abbey St.Ouen’ is a 14th century church in Rouen, not too far from the Note-Dame de Rouen. Its Gothic architecture, though not as grand as its more illustrious neighbour, is quite impressive, nevertheless. It was here in the Abbatiale St-Ouen that many of the sessions of Joan’s trials for heresy were held and it was also here that her sentence was read out to her, a week before she was killed. She had been forced to sign an abjuration, but a few days later, when she resumed wearing men’s clothing, the abjuration was revoked and ultimately led to her being burnt at the stake.

[Though quite acceptable by today’s standards, cross-dressing was considered to be a grave sin in the middle ages, tantamount to heresy ! Thank heavens that of all the archaic laws and practices, this one didn’t survive into the modern age :)]

As I approached the abbey, I came to realize that the structure was not as well maintained as one would imagine. Evidently, it didn’t enjoy as much patronage as the Notre Dame. The gardens surrounding the abbey were littered and one of the more secluded porticos on the northern side had a couple of tramps sleeping in them. Shocking !

Abbatiale St-Ouen in the background of the Napoleon statue

From Normandy, France

Nevertheless, the grandeur of the building is simply amazing. As I entered through the thick wooden doors into the main hall, I was instantly struck by the sheer size of its interiors. The elaborately decorated pillars and the pointed arches on top of them seemed to stretch atleast a few storeys into the sky. Churches were tradionally built big, so as to make the visitor feel small in front of God, and this abbey did its job well. But as with most cathedrals in Europe, though it was a Sunday, there were more tourists there and hardly any worshippers.

27
May
10

Brighton

[On the south coast of England, facing the Atlantic ocean, lies the vibrant and colourful seaside town of Brighton. Known for its vast stretch of pebble beaches adorned with Victorian piers, the town is a favourite with holiday-makers…especially from London, thanks to its proximity with the capital. On a warm and sunny summer day, tens of thousands of sun-worshippers flock onto Brighton’s beaches and promenades, occupying almost every inch of space available. However, as one might imagine, its not quite the same when subjected to some typical British weather patterns – of gloomy skies, rain and chilly winds. Incidentally, it was on one of these somber days that I arrived in town… but then, I had backup plans in mind :)]
 
It was the first long weekend of May and I took the train from London Victoria station to Brighton. In under an hour, and after passing remarkably close underneath an Easyjet aircraft taking-off at Gatwick Airport, I disembarked at Brighton. As feared, the BBC weather forecasts had been right, and the showers kept pouring incessantly. A quick stroll around town gave me a clear picture of the situation – the sky was heavily overcast and the beaches and promenades were almost deserted. Not letting myself feel disheartened, I quickly set off finding my way towards the one place that had originally attracted me to Brighton – the Royal Pavilion !

The Royal Pavilion

What is special about the Royal Pavilion is that it is unlike any other palace in Britain, or Europe for that matter! As you walk through the gardens and approach the marvellous structure, you may be forgiven to think that you have arrived in India……because the architecture of the building – with its elaborate domes, minarets and arches, is distinctively Indian, with medieval Mughal influences. But the moment you buy yourself a ticket [costing £9.50] and step inside, that perception changes, as you would feel transported into an extravagant Chinese palace,  replete with elaborate oriental decor. [Unfortunately, I couldn’t click any pictures, as with most palaces in Britain, photography was not permitted inside]

Indian exteriors and Chinese interiors !!! So who on earth owned this place ?

Well, despite its indisputably Asian design, the palace belonged to an authentic English prince. It was built in the early 1800’s, during the height of the British Raj, by prince George IV, who later went on to become King George IV of Great Britain. George IV was a committed playboy and the Royal Pavilion reflects his outlandish tastes. He had used the Royal Pavilion as his pleasure palace, where lavish banquets and balls were regularly held. Incidentally, his niece Victoria, who later went on to become Queen Victoria, didn’t share similar tastes and sold the palace in 1850 to the town of Brighton, who still happens to own the place.

As it continued to rain outside, I picked up an audio-guide and set out exploring the palace……leisurely studying its elegant corridors, banquet halls, kitchens, music rooms and bedrooms.

Interestingly, the Royal Pavilion’s Indian connection does not end with its external architecture alone, but in fact, is a lot more significant than that. During World War 1, faced with massive shortages of manpower, the British had recruited hoardes of Indian soldiers to fight for them on the Western Front. Many thousands of Indians died fighting in the trenches of Belgium and France, and several others were seriously wounded. Incidentally, the injured Indian soldiers were brought here to Brighton for treatment; and between 1914 and 1916, the Royal Pavilion served as a military hospital for them. The elegant banquet hall, music room and the Dome had all been converted into wards, and separate kitchens were created to cater to Hindu, Sikh and Muslim tastes/beliefs.

Situated in the first floor of the Royal Pavilion, was an exhibition dedicated to this period, displaying iconic photographs and video footage from the time, in addition to personal possessions and weapons left behind by the Indian soldiers. Looking at those black and white pictures, it was hard to imagine what may have been going through the minds of these men, lying wounded 4000 miles away from home and family, in an age predating internet and cheap air travel !

Some succumbed to their injuries whilst here at the Royal Pavilion, and amongst those who survived, most returned back to their hometowns in India, where as some went on to settle in Brighton, adding to the cosmopolitan nature of its population. The Indians soldiers had been very well treated and cared for at Brighton, and as a token of gratitude, the India Gate was gifted to the Royal Pavilion by the people of India, and unveiled by the Maharaja of Patiala in 1921.

By evening, there was some respite from the rain, and after checking-in to the ‘Journeys Brighton Hostel’ [which at just £11 for a bunker bed and included breakfast, turned out to be great value for money], I walked across to the seaside. Like many other beaches that I have come across in Britain, Brighton beach was a pebble beach and there was hardly a speck of sand to be seen. The Palace Pier – a major landmark in Brighton, was a world in itself with eateries, bars, arcade centres and amusement rides all along its length.

As I walked by the Journeys hostel towards the town centre, I came across a very interesting traditional pub that goes by the name of ‘The King and Queen’ ! Its old timber structure and historical feel was an obvious attraction for me, and I spent the evening in there. The building itself, I came to learn, was established in the late 1700’s and the walls inside were adorned with potraits of ancient English kings and queens. Lovely ! The pub seemed to be a major sporting venue, with its two large projection screens and many smaller flat screens, all beaming football action from around the world.

Later in the night, I stopped for dinner at a vegetarian Indian restaurant called ‘Planet India’. Vegetarian Indian food is not really my kind of thing when eating out, but then, that happened to be the only place near my hostel that was still open and the food wasn’t bad either.

The next day, I visited the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, adjacent to the Royal Pavilion, and following that, went around exploring the Lanes – which was a maze of old, narrow, picturesque, shopping lanes running through the town centre. The place was lined with restaurants and pubs, and I stopped by at a traditional pub to grab some lunch, before heading back to London.

30
Dec
09

Statue of Boudicca, London

[Long before the British went on to establish one of the largest empires that mankind had ever seen, Britain, or Britannia as it was called then, had itself been a colony of the Roman Empire – the greatest super-power of its time ! Successive legions of Romans had crossed the English Channel and forayed deep into the heart of Britain, subduing its people and laying the foundations to many of its important cities. However, around the year 61 AD, one lady, fuelled by the thirst for revenge, had set out to stop the Romans in their tracks and wipe every single one of them off the face of Britannia …..and she very nearly succeeded !]

Along the Thames and at the corner of Westminster Bridge in London, stands an impressive bronze sculpture featuring one of the fiercest and most iconic queens Britain had ever seen. Charging ahead in her chariot with her arms up in the air and her eyes filled with rage, she cuts an imposing figure over the two young daughters she has in tow. Known to the world as Boudicca, she was the warrior queen of the Iceni tribe, who nearly 2000 years ago, had dared to stand up to the might of the Roman conquerors. Such was the terror that she had unleashed upon them that for centuries to come, they were tormented by the fear of her rage and the bitter curse that she had hurled at them with her dying breaths!

Sadly though, not many people today know who she was or what she had done….and her sculpture, located right under the shadow of London’s most recognisable landmark – the Big Ben, is often overlooked by tourists and passers-by. Nevertheless, I believe that she holds one of the most prominent places in the turbulent and bloody history of London. In fact, her legacy lies buried deep below the surface of the city….for, the last time she rode into London nearly two millennia ago, she had brutally massacred the entire ruling Roman population and razed the city to the ground! It is said that even to this day, when builders dig deep foundations in old parts of the city, they encounter a thick layer of reddish ash – a result of Boudicca’s burning!

The assault:

As early as in the year 55 BC, the Romans had started venturing into Britannia. Julius Caesar himself had led two expeditions into the island, however, though he came and he saw, he hadn’t quite conquered it [….which by the way, was not what he claimed at the Roman senate]. The actual invasion took place only in 43 AD, when four legions loyal to Emperor Claudius marched into Britannia and took control of the mystical land and its many Celtic tribes.

One of those tribes was the Iceni, who lived around the area of what is now Norfolk, in eastern England. Their ruler, King Prasutagus had managed to secure his autonomy by forming an alliance with the Romans. As a result, whilst most of southern England came under direct Roman rule, Prasutagus was allowed to keep his kingdom. However, under Roman tradition, it was customary for such client kings to bequeath their lands to Rome upon their deaths. But in 61 AD, when Prasutagus died, his will left just half of his kingdom to Rome, while the other half went to his wife Boudicca and their two young daughters.

Understandably, the Romans weren’t pleased. Furthermore, according to their laws, succession could happen only through male heirs and Prasutagus had none. Under this pretext, the Romans charged in and annexed the whole Iceni kingdom, capturing the royal family in the process. To add insult to injury, they had Boudicca flogged in public, while her young daughters were brutally raped!

Little did the Romans know that these dastardly acts would soon nearly bring about their annihilation !!!

The Revenge:

Boudicca’s rage knew no bounds and her heart longed for revenge. She refused to subject herself or her kingdom to the tyranny of Rome and instead, vowed to hunt down and slaughter every single Roman she could lay her hands on. With the help of her loyal subjects and support from some of the neighbouring tribes, Queen Boudicca put together a formidable Iceni army.

When the Roman Governor – Paulinus was away leading a campaign in North Wales, Boudicca seized the opportunity and led her army into the very capital of Roman Britain – the city of Camulodunum (modern-day Colchester). The city was poorly defended, and Boudicca’s assault on it was bloody and relentless. Not a soul was spared and after two days of bitter bloodbath, the last Roman defenders holed up in the temple to the former emperor Claudius, were brought down.

Given the circumstances, there was just one thing that the Romans could do – send in their most powerful weapon – the elite Ninth Legion (Legio IX Hispana)! These were the guys who had an almost immaculate track-record of victories right from the shores of Iberia (Spain) to the eastern extremes of Macedonia. They were considered to be the meanest, strongest and most disciplined fighting machine of the time….and Julius Caesar himself, had once been their commander!

But when they met up with Boudicca’s warriors, they were outnumbered and outflanked. The Roman infantry was completely routed and only a small section of the legion managed to escape. Boudicca was merciless in her quest and didn’t stop until the entire city of Camulodunum was burnt to the ground!

Next up was Londinium (London) – the new town that the Romans had established on the banks of the river Thames. Upon hearing the news of Boudicca’s pounding on Camulodunum, Governor Paulinus rushed back to Londinium, reaching there well before Boudicca. However, sensing his inability to defend the town against the imminent Iceni attack, he abandoned it and fled north, evacuating many of its residents. When Boudicca arrived at Londinium, she was met with little or no resistance. But that didn’t stop her from having all of the town’s residents slaughtered, in the most brutal and inhumane ways possible! Londinium too, was razed to the ground and the burning clay and mud left such a thick layer of red ash that it can apparently be traced to this day!

With Colchester and London wiped off the Roman map, Boudicca charged into the town of Verulamium(modern-day St.Albans) and subjected it to exactly the same sort of treatment. Roman estimates quote that between the three towns, some 70,000 people were brutally killed!

The downfall:

As meteoric and sensational as Boudicca’s success, was her ultimate demise. Having destroyed Colchester, London and St.Albans, Boudicca headed north along the Roman road now known as Watling Street, to finish off the job that she had set out for. Somewhere in the midlands, the Iceni army met up with the regrouped Roman army. Roman accounts […..though they may have been heavily skewed] suggest that the Romans had just 10,000 soldiers to face Boudicca’s supposed 200,000. However, the Romans knew that battles are won not merely by sheer numbers and that they had to their advantage some very crucial factors that Boudicca’s army didn’t – discipline, sophisticated weapons and military training !

Making full use of these strengths, the Romans very tactically positioned themselves in a narrow valley flanked by woods on both sides. This meant that in spite of the huge numbers that Boudicca had, she could only feed in as many Iceni warriors at a time, as the Romans could comfortably take on. This proved disastrous to the Iceni and after a bloody and violent battle, they suffered a debilitating defeat. It is said that as many as 80000 Britons perished, as against 400 Romans […. history is always written by the victors, so one can never be too sure]! Boudicca herself committed suicide by taking poison, and the location of her grave is still a subject of conspiracy theories.

Boudicca’s life was a unique conflation of power, tragedy, revenge, glory and defeat……in short – perfect Hollywood blockbuster material! Its not surprising then, that she has been portrayed many times over the course of modern cinema and television. In fact, there is a big-budget movie about her, coming up in 2010 and I honestly, can’t wait to watch it!

26
Oct
09

Greenwich Hill, London

[Setting off to write about London has always been a tough task….not merely because the essence of the city is too hard to describe in words, but for the simple dilemma of deciding where to begin ! The city is so vast and immense that there’s something for everyone ….Which is why perhaps, it is a good idea to start from square one, or rather in the case of London, from longitude 0.0000 :)]

Anyone who has ever used a watch or a clock would probably have heard of the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). However, not many know that it represents the mean solar time at a particular point on a small but historic hillock in Greenwich, London. Greenwich Hill as it is called, is situated in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Maritime Greenwich, around 6 miles downstream from Central London along the river Thames. Pronounced as ‘Grenich’ [yea, the English have strange ways of gobbling certain consonants in the middle of words], Greenwich had traditionally been a maritime town just outside of London. However, over the centuries, London has expanded far beyond its original city walls and today Greenwich lies within Zone 2 of the city. Steeped in history and blessed with some stunning architectural marvels, Greenwich is a world away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre.

Greenwich Hill:
Nestled amidst the massive green expanses of Greenwich is Greenwich Hill. Once home to the medieval Greenwich Castle [where it is said King Henry VIII lodged his mistresses, while he stayed at the nearby Palace of Placentia] , the hillock has been home to the Royal Observatory since 1675, when King Charles II commissioned it. Astronomers used the Royal Observatory as a reference for their calculations and Greenwich’s mariners used it as the basis of navigational measurement. Out of this concept, arose the Greenwich Meridian, which later went on to become the Prime Meridian of the world, thus forging Greenwich’s association with time-keeping forever ! Today, unlike any other historic/tourist spot in London, Greenwich Hill’s claim to fame is its unique longitudinal co-ordinate – 0° 0′ 0″ E [Frankly, I’m not sure how 0 degrees can be treated as being East :O].

Greenwich Town:
Greenwich had started out as a small fishing village but over time, grew into an important sea-faring town from where ships sailed to all corners of the British Empire […which pretty much covered the whole world !]. During the Tudor era, the monarchy set up base here at the Palace of Placentia, and some of England’s most famous and notorious kings and queens were born here. More importantly, the Royals made impressive contributions to the skyline of Greenwich, including the Royal Observatory at Greenwich Hill.
Today, Greenwich is a buzzing and colourful district of London, dotted with restaurants and having a high concentration of pubs, some of which may very well have been in existence since the time they served medieval sailors few centuries ago. Greenwich market, which dates back from the 1700’s, is located in the heart of town.

Getting to Greenwich Hill:
One can get to Greenwich from Central London by road, rail or the river. I personally prefer taking the ferry on the way up and the Tube/DLR to get back:

1) Ferry – The ferry is hassle free and offers fantastic views of the city’s skyline as seen from the Thames. They start at the piers alongside the London Eye and passengers can also get on them further downstream near the Tower of London. The journey to Greenwich takes about 45 minutes and the ferry sails past landmarks such as the Westminster Parliament, Big Ben, London Eye, Cleopatra’s Needle, St.Paul’s Cathedral, Tower of London and Tower Bridge. There’s running commentary as well, to fill-in on all the gyan.

2) Tube + DLR – This is a much faster option. From central London, one has to take the Tube to Canary Wharf and switch over to the DLR towards Greenwich. The Tube journey, being underground, has nothing great to offer in terms of sights, however, the DLR is pretty interesting, as the train passes through and alongside some of most futuristic and gleaming sky-scrapers of Canary Wharf.

Disembark at Cutty Sark station, which is just before Greenwich station. [Do not be misled by the station names ….as I’ve been a couple of times, as the latter is much farther away from the main tourist attractions.]

From the boat pier or from Cutty Sark DLR station, follow the sign boards towards the Royal Observatory and in 5 – 10 minutes, you arrive at the gates to the massive Greenwich Park. Cut diagonally across the park and Greenwich hill appears right in front of you, with the Royal Observatory perched on top.

Royal Observatory:
The short climb up Greenwich hill to the Royal Observatory can appear daunting to the feeble. But take it slow, and once up there, the spectacular view that it offers makes up for the effort. The Royal Observatory stands on the foundations of the erstwhile Greenwich castle and today, is a museum housing a vast collection of astronomical and navigational devices, and various kinds of historic precision clocks. Like most museums in London, entrance is free, and the first thing that you notice as you enter the compound is a silver line marked on the ground – yes, the Greenwich Meridian !

Facts: For centuries, the Paris Meridian a.k.a the ‘Rose Line’ [popularized by ‘The Da Vinci Code’] had been considered the Prime Meridian of the world with the Greenwich Meridian merely being a formidable rival. But in 1884, the British earned an astounding victory over the French, when the International Meridian Conference in Washington DC, adopted the Greenwich Mean Line as the Prime Meridian. Understandably, the French weren’t too happy and abstained from accepting it officially until 27 years later in 1911.

The panorama:

One of the highlights of Greenwich Hill is the stunning panoramic view of Greenwich, the Thames and the city of London that it offers.

Here’s a description of some of the major landmarks that can be spotted from Greenwich Hill:

1) Greenwich Park – Surrounding the hill, is the massive expanse of green comprising Greenwich Park. The park had originally served as hunting grounds to the royals based at the adjacent Palace of Placentia, and even today is a Royal Park. However, her Majesty has been kind enough to open the park to the public, and on a sunny summer day, one would find the place dotted with scores of sun-bathing Londoners.

2) The Old Royal Naval College – One of the most striking views from the top of Greenwich hill is that of the magnificent, symmetrical lay-outs of the Old Royal Naval College. Up until 17th Century, this had been the location of the Palace of Placentia (Greenwich Palace) – a major Tudor Palace. King Henry VIII was born here, and so were his daughters Queen Mary I [a.k.a ‘Bloody Mary’] and Queen Elizabeth I [a.k.a the ‘Virgin Queen’].

[We love Henry VIII not for the fact that he married 6 times and had 2 of his queens beheaded, but for his flamboyant, scandalous and extravagant life-style, that perhaps redefined the term ‘living life King size’ ! If not for him and his offsprings, medieval English history may have been as boring as an account of growing grass ……Besides, the Church of England may not have existed, the Royal Navy may not have been created, a popular cocktail of vodka and tomoto juice may not have had a name, Cate Blanchet may not have won a Golden Globe and my favourite TV series – ‘The Tudors’ may not even have been made 😉 …….. Needless to say, his contributions to English religion, society and history have been legendary!]

After having played host to several key royal weddings, births, scandals and deaths, the Palace of Placentia finally fell into disrepair during the English Civil War. Later in 1694, it was demolished and the Greenwich Hospital built in its place. The ‘Queen’s House’ originally an adjunct to the Palace of Placentia remained, and the distinctive symmetrical design of Greenwich Hospital with the open avenue in the middle was formulated so that the river-side view of Queen’s House and Greenwich Hill would not be obstructed.

Greenwich Hospital had served as a residential home for injured sailors for nearly two centuries, until it got converted into the Royal Naval College. The college served as a training establishment to the Royal Navy until 1998, and today, houses the Greenwich University and the Trinity College of Music.

3) Canary Wharf – Beyond the Old Royal Naval College and across the Thames, are the massive sky-scrapers of Canary Wharf. This futuristic development represents the ultra-modern side of London and is home to some of the largest banking corporations in the world.

4) Greenwich Power Station – The gigantic chimneys of the hundred-year old Greenwich Power Station are a distinctive sight towards the right. Once coal-powered, the power station now runs on oil and gas. It is still in operation and serves as a back-up electricity source for the London Underground.

5) O2 Arena (formely the Milleninum Dome) – Further to the right, is the O2 Arena – one of the largest indoor arenas in Europe. It is a popular venue for concerts and sporting events. Michael Jackson’s well-publicized come-back tour was supposed to have taken place here.

6) London City Airport – Towards the extreme right is the London City Airport – the 5th major international airport of London [after Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton] and the one closest to the city.

7) City of London – To the far left, lies the endless expanse of the city of London ! The sky-scrapers of the city, including the oddly-shaped Gherkin (30 St Mary Axe), stand out in the horizon. On a clear day, one can see as far as the Tower Bridge and St.Paul’s Cathedral.




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