Christmas in London

City sidewalks, busy sidewalks
Dressed in holiday style
In the air there’s a feeling
Of Christmas
Children laughing, people passing
Meeting smile after smile
And on every street corner you’ll hear

Silver bells
Silver bells
It’s Christmas time in the city
Ring-a-ling
Hear them ring
Soon it will be Christmas Day
!

This carol that I’ve known since a kid started to make sense when I walked through the beautifully lit streets of London.

If you’ve read my first blog post of 2019, you’d know my year started on a brilliant note. Landing a new job, making new friends, rekindling old friendships et al. But in the midst of all this I missed out on travelling to any new place. I was literally stuck in Hyderabad; part of the reason was just me being lazy. But my plans to visit London kept me excited.

Going to London was always a dream; but visiting this gorgeous city was not the only reason I was looking forward to. If you’ve been following me on Instagram, you’d know what else I was excited for. It was for ALTER BRIDGE. I have been a huge fan of the band; ever since it came into being – from a quartet called Creed to Alter Bridge. Remember the ‘My Sacrifice’ days? I somehow knew if I had to choose any band that I’d travel to watch live, it would have to be this one.

When Alter Bridge announced the release of Walk the Sky I saw their Instagram post and I happened to share which also had their walk the sky tour dates. So a friend of mine who lives in the US, asked me, Are you coming here? I saw that message and I thought for a bit, well going to the US would not be possible but I could go to London and that’s how the plan came into being. My friend Paul and I jumped on the idea and booked our tickets to the concert in a jiffy. It was all coming together – I was going to visit one of the beautiful cities in the words, watch one of my favorite bands live, and do it all around Christmas time. Although my friend happened to get married later last year and couldn’t accompany me. But my dear friend Dhanya aka creativegenious agreed to join me.

We flew Eitihad airways via Abu Dhabi. It was my first time ever boarding an Airbus A380 and it was massive. We did have an itinerary in place and had tickets to a couple of well-known attractions booked in advance. But heart of hearts we knew that London is one of those cities that demands you allow days at leisure in your itinerary to explore on your own and that’s exactly what we did.

For the first couple of days, we were utterly touristy and went to Madame Tussaud’s, The London Eye, Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge among others. The rest of the time we wanted to explore the city.

Christmas time in London is almost overwhelming. It was my first Christmas away from home. The Christmas markets are such a delight – bustling with tourists of course, with yummy food to hog on and a series of shops selling creative stuff. The energy is infectious.

Central London is a place that you can walk for hundreds of hours and still find new things to do. It just makes you want to embrace everything English.

We met a few friends over for lunch at Salisburry, a pub – short for public house (Did you know that?). We had the best pub lunch ever – Classic Fish and Chips and British Chicken & Woodland Mushroom Pie. Well, it took me a while to get the name right – check it out here SAWZ-bər-ee. I read this somewhere – If pubs in London had sexes, then the Salisbury would definitely be a lady. It’s so ornate and grand in Victorian style and has also been used to film a few movies. The place definitely has my heart; cos it happens to be the place I downed my first cider; a big deal for a teetotaler like me 🙂

We walked around Covent garden, touted to be a must visit for anyone who loves shopping. Through the craft stalls at Apple Market, all the countless street performers, plush stores, and eateries. There was also a Huda Beauty pop-up *Heart eyes*. Here’s an interesting site I found – Things to do in Covent Garden.

I seemed to be writing this not to the key, cos I can barely remember what we did on what date. But what I do remember is that the Alter Bridge concert was on the 21st. I was waiting for it since June, duh! The concert was happening at the iconic O2 – and we were staying right across it, on the other side of the River Thames. We took a cable car to get to the venue.
The O2 is H.U.G.E. The enormity of it will take your breath away. We walked a fair amount to reach the arena at which the concert was happening. We reached early and were lucky enough to save our spot up in the front.
The Raven Age, filled in for Seven Dust, who couldn’t make it to the UK tour. The Raven Age are a melodic metal core outfit from London and I quite liked their music. Then came Shine Down. Honestly, I wasn’t a fan of this band before this concert but I definitely I am one now. If a band is wondering how to put on a great show, they should look no further than Shinedown. The production, set-list, and overall performance were nearly impeccable. What showmanship by Brent smith. I loved their outfits too.

Of course Alter Bridge was everything I was hoping for and MORE. It was a day to remember; I legit teared up. They played all of my favorite songs – Wouldn’t you rather, Come to Life, Isolation, Blackbird. And of course a brilliant set of acoustic numbers – In loving Memory, Watch over you, and OPEN YOUR EYES. I have watched Myles Kennedy live with Slash and the Conspirators, but being an Alter Bridge fan – I just had to see him play with Alter Bridge. His voice is inimitable.

Needless to say, I also had the best Christmas eve ever. After much anticipation about attending the Midnight eucharist at St. Paul’s, because of the shut down of public transport, my friend Sunny made it happen by driving me to the cathedral. Before we could head to the service, we walked around Leicester Square and made our way to Chinatown. We had some brilliant food there that also involved me tasting duck for the first time; also thanks for my foodie friend.
Services at St. Paul’s cathedral are open for all; I had been researching that for quite a while. However, we decided to reach as early as 10:45 PM for the 11:30 PM service, and yet found ourselves standing a never ending queue. Each time we moved forward, we kept ourselves, “Did we make it?” And we DID! We were among the last few who made it, in fact. The cathedral in all its glory, was far beyond beautiful. I have no words to express its grandeur. Also, photography was restricted indoors, so sadly I couldn’t get any pictures of it. The midnight eucharist was something that I had been looking forward to; since I go to an anglican church here in Hyderabad too, it was great to experience it first hand in England. Christmas Day was equally special, spending time at a local church who were kind enough to have us over for a classic English lunch.

The rest of my stay just happened to fly by in a jiffy. We shopped a whole lot on boxing day. We covered all the major shopping avenues – Westfield Mall at Stratford, Harrods (bought a ton of make up from there – will probably post a video about it soon), Oxford street. We even happened to walk around Elizabeth street, Belgravia to check out all the pretty cake, jewellery, and clothing outlets.

But the best part of my trip, which was totally unplanned, was when my friend took me to the Ain’t Nothing but Blues Bar in Soho. Soho happens to be the buzzing entertainment district in central London. Walking into a blues bar and interacting with people from different places, who were only there to enjoy the good music, was something I had only dreamt of. But thanks to my friend who took me there. I mean thank God for people who have similar taste in music as me.

The market in Greenwhich, where we went to the next day, had this interesting vintage pop-up with the loveliest of blouses. We discovered a new place called Dark Sugars; I say new because my friend hadn’t been there earlier either. The Ghanaian chocolate shop uses cocoa beans straight from the owner’s West African homeland and combines them in a creamy hot chocolate with all sorts of fun, fiery and downright delicious flavors. I got home and looked them up and found this interesting story about how the eatery came into being – Dark Sugars. Camden market was another interesting spot, with quite a peculiar crowd (punks and bohemians). It was filled with sellers of art and off-beat fashion. It’s where I tried my first sushi dish too, thanks again to my foodie friend. Going to Camden was not on my itinerary but it was definitely worth it. Read more about it here – Camden Market.

On my last day there, we took the risk to drive to Cambridge and it was the best decision ever. We left for Cambridge around 9 AM and reached the university town by 10 AM. Started our day with a good Egg Benedict and walked around the quaint city. The best way to cover the town in a limited tune is by punting across The River Cam, and we did exactly that. Our punt chauffer was quite witty and kept us entertained with his humor mixed with some interesting history lessons.

There a lot of misconceptions that the sun never comes out in London, which is not entirely true. When the sun does come it, it’s glorious. And luckily we had our good days, while we were there. It can get a little bit gloomy, but keep your spirits high so they won’t be dampened by the weather.

There are a lot more stories I could write about, but I know for a fact I am still so in love with the city of London and I hope to visit it sometime soon again. For now, I’ll settle for a glimpse of this quaint city; with all its contrasting architecture and ever confusing weather.

Or probably just go there the next time another one of my favourite bands is playing, maybe Foo Fighters 😀

I am so grateful for Sharon akka and her lovely son Ranen who were our lovely hosts; they made the trip even better ❤️

Found this on YouTube 🙂

City of Joy

My first ever trip to the city of Kolkata was bound to be one tightly coupled with music, given that the city is known for its culture rich in cinema, art, and music. I have so many friends from the land of Bengalis but never got a chance to visit the place. 

Earlier this year, I was browsing through the lineup of NH7 Weekender, Pune and discovered that Joe Satriani was coming down. Instantly, I booked my passes; cos who would miss that? 

Just the next day, I learnt that Poets of the Fall and Switchfoot were gonna be headlining the NH7 Weekender at Shillong. Bamm! Now, I wanted to go for both the gigs. But I knew I could only make it to one of them (time and monetary constraints). Also, travelling to Shillong was going to be a tedious and expensive affair, so I convinced myself that it’s only going to be Pune this time around. 
Skip to a week later, it was announced that both the bands were going to be headlining the NH7 Weekender Xpress at Kolkata. And I thought to myself, wow, now there’s a chance cos travelling to Kolkata was no big a deal. I was excited beyond words.

I convinced my dear friend CreativeGenious to tag along with me. And the sweet human that she is, she readily agreed. She also ensured she listened to both the bands before she came for the gig. In her words, she absolutely loved the music and she later thanked me for introducing them to her. Yayy win! 

We took an early morning flight and landed in Kolkata around 9 am. We stayed at AltAir Hotel. It was a comfortable stay and was also pretty close to the concert venue. For lunch, we walked down to a quaint little Dhaba round the corner and savoured some yummy butter chicken. We got back to the Hotel and napped a bit. We later took a cab to the venue, Nicco Park, only to realise it was, in fact, walking distance from where we were staying.

An Alternative/Indie band named Tiny Fingers was on stage while we got there and their music was quite impressive. We walked through the crowds and made our way closer to the stage. Since this was the Express edition there was just one stage. The clock struck 8, the POETS banner came down and the crowd couldn’t handle their excitement. That was the start of two hours of non-stop music, as the Finnish Poets serenaded us with some of their best hits. Their trip to India was part of the #Ultraviolet Tour named after their latest album and they rendered some of their new EPs. Cradled in Love and Gravity were the most asked numbers. I got back to a lot of messages asking me if they played ‘Carnival of Rust’, and how could they not? It was their closing number. So Poets of the Fall – Check.

It was my birthday the next day, 4th of November. I was up until 12 am, cuzzz, so many calls y’all! Kidding. I answered a couple of calls from family and close friends and hit the bed. We decided to hop around the city the next day. So after our mandatory cup of chai, we took a cab and headed straight to Prinsep Ghat. Watching fleets of yellow Ambassador taxis sort of amused us. We later headed to Esplanade to do some window shopping and actual shopping if something interested us. We spotted some really lovely shantiniketan leather bags and picked up a bunch of them for ourselves and our friends. We then had our share of authentic bengali food (thali with rice and fish curry). The icing on the cake was the Chai in a Kulhad. It was undoubtedly one of the best chais I have ever had. By now you must know I am such a chai lover.

In the evening, we decided to walk to the concert venue. It was going to be Switchfoot tonight. I have been a fan of this band from times immemorial and what better gift to give yourself on your birthday.
Pentagram, one of the pioneers of Indian independent music (with Vishal Dadlani), was on stage belting some of their biggest hits. The crowd knew exactly what they were in for – A night dedicated to rock music and it couldn’t get any better. They knew their music and enjoyed it to the core. Lots of headbanging coupled with singing along, IN TUNE! Honestly, I haven’t seen this in Hyderabad.

Cut to Swichfoot – they hit the stage with one of my all-time favourite songs – STARS. I remember we used this song as a background track to one of our video productions back in 2009. Wow! 9 years later, I was watching them LIVE. And was it surreal or what? Their frontman Jon Foreman is such an artist. He absolutely has the nack of engaging with the crowd. He jumped into the crowd a couple of times and the young guns carried him through. Ah! The energy of the place was infectious. All of my favourite songs made it to the setlist that night. Of course it included ‘Dare you to Move’.

Outfits

I traveled in the most comfortable clothes to Kolkata – a flow-y tunic, tights, and sneakers. For the first day, I teamed a plaid shirt in olive green with high waist denim and ankle boots! The shirt has some intricate embroidery going on on the back, but I couldn’t get a picture of it. Will put it up on Instagram.
The next day, I wore this ever so lovely dress from Kharakapas. I chose to wear the same boots to add a little edge to the otherwise elegant piece of clothing.

Outfit Details:

That was my trip to Kolkata.

Love,
Rad All Day.

Ola Singapore

Throwing back to 2015 travels!

Wrote this after my trip to Singapore in 2015. Honestly, I was very skeptical about starting a blog. I always wondered if I was good enough. Would anyone read the stuff I write? Would anyone resonate with my experiences and words? Oh, the doubts were many.

But I finally took a leap of faith and started this blog and made it public. I started a blog in 2014  and it was called IdleMinds. I wrote this travel story on that blog. Sharing it here cos, why not?

Time’s got wings, yeah? Seems like we were exchanging new year wishes just a few weeks ago, but well it’s already April. I have mostly been working five days a week and whiling away time over the weekends like any other 20 somethings would do.

Exactly a month ago I was busy getting my stuff together, gearing up for a massive office party and of course my much awaited trip to Singapore. My first ever trip out of India.

The Journey

About four and a half hours after I boarded the flight from Hyderabad, the digital clock on my phone skipped two and a half hours ahead by itself. We were there – Singapore. The Sun was almost up, but since we were travelling East, I couldn’t really catch a glimpse of its enormous beauty. Also, a bed of clouds were hanging so low, while we were in flight still above them. I kept looking down, to spot some land, cos I had almost forgotten the water, the ocean. I could see something moving like tiny beetles. While I was still staring, I saw them, the massive waters, crowded with operational vessels. It was a beautiful sight indeed with numerous islands scattered here and there. In no time, we landed. Singapore. Gorgeous, is an understatement to describe the airport.

The Place

Terminal 2. My friend came to receive me at the Airport. We took a cab and headed to Clementi Ave 5. Zooming past tall buildings, like really tall ones, my friend narrated to me the Public Housing in Singapore model. More than 80% of the residential housing developments are publicly governed and developed. The housing estate that we were staying at was a self-sufficient one with access to daily needs and luxuries alike. A school, a 24/7 Supermarket, numerous hawker centers with amazing food, a basketball court that doubled as a late night chilling spot for many. At the back of my mind, I was thinking about India, mostly Hyderabad. My knowledge over housing policy in India is probably zilch. But, I gave my mind to it and the only thing I could think of was if ‘Right to Shelter’ was taken a tad bit more seriously, then any other fundamental right would seem like a luxury.

The South-East-Asian City State is an incredible blend of Western and Asian culture. The gleaming skyscrapers, Chinese shop-houses, Malay mosques, Hindu temples, numerous interesting architectural masterpieces, endless chains of plush shopping malls, Little India, those 24/7 food outs – with all of these Singapore is unbelievably attractive.  Also, it is a safe city, even petty theft is quite uncommon in this city-state. This city has been around only for fifty years, defying all odds it has manged to be the most outstanding cities in the world. Word!

Places to visit – Marina Bay Sands – the beautiful skyline of the Financial District overlooking the waters is enthralling. Orchard Road, this street is a home for numerous shopping malls that house luxury brands including Prada, Gucci Versace, and Zara. Clarke-Quay, a scenic riverside quay has a lot to offer from food, music, boat-ride et al.  It’s an ideal place to spend a cozy evening. Sentosa – an island resort with a sheltered beach, golf courses, multiple hotels and of course Universal Studios.

All in all, this so called ‘fine’ city where nothing usually goes wrong stands up for its reputation. Being a Hyderabadi, I was really mesmerized by the calm, serene and overly systematic way of life. But somewhere down the lane, I knew I would miss the chaos. However, it is safe to say that I have definitely left a piece of my heart back there.

Love,

Rad All Day.