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