Within Reach

I was in London and had the whole day to myself. I’d already done the touristy spots with my friends the previous day and they’d gone back to Dxb early that morning. I decided to stay back for a week to explore more of the country.

I opened my Lonely Planet and looked up The Monument.

I was somehow fascinated by it and wanted to check out the place. After following the directions written on the book and the Tube map , (which was a lot of fun, l love maps!)  I got there and started on my way up. Only, I hadn’t anticipated the steps getting narrower and narrower on the way to the top or me suddenly getting a case of acrophobia, not to mention claustrophobia!

On the verge of panic, I ended up just sitting there for a while, trying to get my bearings and figure out what the hell to do, while a few people passed me by on their way up and down.

I was too scared to climb any higher, and when I looked down and saw the steps winding down to the curious red circle at the bottom, I felt like I’d never be able to move again!

After several deep breaths to calm myself, I decided to push on and get to the end of it, and surprisingly, reached the top after about only 20 more steps! And to think I’d almost planned on turning back, having reached so close to the top!

Once I reached the top, I felt exhilarated! I had done it! I took a lot of pictures, and chatted animatedly with everyone else up there about how crazy the climb was and all. Climbing down was easier, cos I was still psyched from the climb up! They even gave me a certificate at the end of it for having climbed to the top!

Life is like that sometimes, isn’t it? You end up struggling for a while to get someplace and you work at it so long and so hard that you tire yourself out. And then, sometimes, you feel so dejected and get so fed up that you give up.

But maybe, it’s better to keep trying. Maybe, you’re only just 20 steps away.

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Ye Olde English!

As a child, I used to read a lot of  Enid Blytons and CS Lewis books. And I feel this is what got me fascinated with travel in the first place. I’d read books where the kids would go “have a picnic in the woods” (Dubai doesn’t have woods! ) with babbling brooks and streams with cold water that leave you gasping for breath and all, and I used to imagine what it’d be like to go for a picnic like that. Somewhere where the trees are so thick that the sunlight has to filter through the leaves, where the grass is soft and there are squirrels running around foraging for acorns and stuff.

Agatha Christie too, left me with a highly romantic impression of old British life, with their afternoon teas with scones and crumpets and seed cake! Mmm!  One of my favourite books is 84 Charing Cross, and that is non-fiction and even it painted me some lovely pictures of the UK in my head.

So, when I finally made my trip to the UK, there were a lot of ideas I’d already had in my mind about the place,  and though I tried to not expect all that, I couldn’t very well not think about it.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t disappointed! It was everything I’d imagined it to be, and more! And though I was expecting at least one racist remark, having heard how bad things were over there, I didn’t have even one bad encounter! The people were friendly and chatty. I’d stopped at this one cafe for breakfast, and the  proprietor was so welcoming, talking to me about the weather first (but of course!) and then Dubai, travel etc.  Quite nice!

I had ordered the full English breakfast there and I can tell you now, it is way too much food for a human being to have at one sitting! I have a healthy appetite, but could not even put a dent on what was put on my plate – thick slices of bacon, effing huge sausages, eggs (scrambled), one juicy tomato grilled to perfection, velvety button mushrooms with fried onions, thick crusty slices of bread with butter and different types of jams.  Oh, and coffee.*groaaaan*

I went there in December, and though it was bitterly cold, I had an amazing time! I didn’t have “sensible shoes” in the beginning, but one cold wet night in Oxford Street, I walked into a store with toes that were on the verge of falling off from frostbite, ditched my soggy sneakers and bought a pair of boots made of soft leather that were comfortable, stylish, practical for walking and unfortunately, too expensive! But at least I still have my toes! :o)

The thing about the UK is, everywhere you go, though you find modern life around you with shopping malls and cars etc, you also find that the shops and buildings are centuries old and are renovated to fit into modern life, because of which it manages to retain an old-world charm.

I used my Lonely Planet as a guide, but also just went about places randomly, getting into libraries and thumbing through books, then walking to the nearest cafe for a quick cup of coffee before  wandering off again. I tried everything English in the week I was there, from Cornish pasties to Cottage pies, hot-dogs from the street vendors  to toad-in-the-hole from pubs and of course, the famous fish n chips (which was horrible at the place we went to in London, but I had some really good ones at Cambridge later on).  I had the Sunday roast on Sunday (:P) and tea and crumpets for, well, tea! Except I cheated and had coffee instead (What?! I’m a coffee-person!).  While in Cambridge, I checked out the “second smallest city” in the country – Ely.  I was amused by the title, and when I asked which was the smallest, my cousin looked at me like with an oh!?  expression and could offer no details.

Greenwich was quaint and romantic, with pubs with names like The King’s Arms  and streets and houses that looked so much like the Britain in my head that it made cars looked completely incongruous in the setting! I’d not have been surprised to find stagecoaches and inns with stables for horses to rest in between journeys!

It’s exhilarating to see so much of what you’d imagined  and have it all come alive before you!Cambridge, London, Wales… I took in as much of it all as I could in the short time I was there.

If you’re like me, the UK will make you feel like you’re revisiting an old memory. You’ll look around for the familiar, and though you’ve only read about them in books, you’ll find it there, unchanged and perpetual, just like a fairy-tale!