MIND THE GAP

Mind the Gap-2

The UK economy is the 5h largest in the world in terms of nominal GDP. USA is at # 1, China at # 2, India at # 9 and Pakistan at # 42. The UK is also one of the most advanced countries in the world in terms of technology, science and infrastructure, among other areas. Yet, as you travel on the underground train network, popularly known as the Tube, you are constantly reminded by a recording played on most stations, and inside

the trains, to ‘mind the gap between the train and

the station.’

This recording is being played for 47 years. But when one hears it now, one cannot help but wonder why with all the technology available, this ‘gap’ cannot be closed! One can only assume there is a perfectly valid ‘scientific’ explanation for this, but still ….

I put it down to it being a typical British quirk, among many others, which make the British the British. For instance, why is Leicester (as in the city or as in the Square in central London), pronounced Lester, but not spelled as Lester? Other examples abound.

Saw this person standing in the middle of Leicester Square with his sign. Example of freedom of speech? Or an example of someone just living on security because it is available and he is too lazy to work?

Saw this person standing in the middle of Leicester Square with his sign.
Example of freedom of speech? Or an example of someone just living on security because it is available and he is too lazy to work?

LONDON – 1

London has been a major settlement for 2,000 years, since its founding by the Romans, who named it Londinium. Population about 21 million (including suburbia). It is a leading world city in architecture, arts & culture, commerce, education, entertainment, fashion, finance, gastronomy, healthcare, media, professional services, research and development, sports and tourism.

“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in

London all that life can afford.”
Samuel Johnson, 1777. English poet, essayist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer.

So if Johnson could say that about the London of 1777, I would dare to say this about London today: ‘If a person gets tired of London, or finds it uninteresting, then surely that person has to be a mental retard of no mean quantum.’ Proof points?

London is possibly the most multi-cultural and multi-ethnic city on the planet. Some 300 languages are spoken in the city. Among its countless highlights are 4 World Heritage Sites, 43 universities (yes, in London alone, and not the whole of UK!), more than 200 museums, over 110,000 hotel rooms, 8 Royal Parks, world-class sporting infrastructure, and over 40 theatres that put up a stage play every night. Most plays run into several weeks, months and even years. The Mousetrap, a murder mystery play by Agatha Christie has been performing in the West End (‘downtown’ London) continuously for 63 years! It is the longest running show of any kind in the modern world.

There are also over 12,000 acres of parks, woodland and green spaces in and immediately around London. For my Karachi based readers perspective, consider that the entire DHA Karachi, all 8 Phases, is about 8,850 acres.

By one ranking in 2014, London was the # 1 city in the world in terms of tourist arrivals, with Heathrow airport being the second busiest in the world in terms of international passengers’ traffic.

Public transportation in London is remarkable. Over ground, a bus network with over 6,800 buses operating on 700 routes and carrying 1.8 billion passengers per year.

Underground, the Tube is the world’s first underground railway, becoming operational 150 years ago, and today with over 800 trains, 270 stations, 402 kilometers of track crisscrossing the city and carrying 1.2 billion passengers per year! I can’t think of any other city in the world with a better public transport system, with the buses and the Tube supplemented by light rail, public ferry on the River, London taxis, private cabs and the very rapidly growing Uber taxis.

LONDON – 2

Think that’s enough introduction to this great city!

Not going to get into a list of tourist places you ‘must’ see. But first timers to London are strongly recommended to take a guided city tour soon after arrival to cover at least the major attractions – Buckingham Palace, Tower of London and the Crown Jewels, Big Ben and Houses of Parliament, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square and so on.

Here I want to share with you my quick list of Top 10 experiences you must have, which the average tourist generally misses out on.

10. Take a ferry ride on the Thames

Sightseeing boat on the Thames, under London Bridge.

Sightseeing boat on the Thames, under London Bridge.

Great way to see the sights of London in a very different way. You can even take a ferry down the Thames from Westminster all the way to Kew Gardens, combining two experiences in one trip.

09. Windsor Castle
A visit to London cannot be complete without experiencing some royal history. You can take a guided tour of the State Rooms in Buckingham Palace, and/or

take a trip to Windsor Castle, the Royal residence just outside London in county Berkshire, builf some thousand years ago! Lovely grounds and buildings, replete with Royal trappings.

08. Take a class
What is your pleasure, hobby or interest? Cooking? Ballroom dancing? Salsa? Yoga? Creative writing? Whatever it is, you can be sure there are schools and institutions offering classes in it; of duration of a few hours to several days. Depends on how much time you have and how much you want to spend. But it will definitely be money well spent! For the level of instruction and the facilities are of very high standard.

07. Go for a walk in the park

Chestnut Oak - one of the oldest trees in Kew Gardens. Took this photo especially when a couple was passing in front of it, so that its huge size can be appreciated.

Chestnut Oak – one of the oldest trees in Kew Gardens. Took this photo especially when a couple was passing in front of it, so that its huge size can be appreciated.

London parks are exhilarating, even if you are not a true Nature buff and you are spoilt for choice. If you are in Central London the main choices are Regent’s Park, Hyde Park, St. James Park and Green Park. A little outside Central London, you have Primrose Hill, Richmond Park, Hampstead Heath and still others. All these parks are wonders of nature and if you really want to indulge, then go over to Kew Botanical Gardens.

06. Check out Camden Lock & Little Venice
“Camden Lock, part of the historic Camden Market, is the creative and cultural heart of London. Featuring some of London’s finest designers, artists and independent sellers, as well as a delicious selection of the best food venders in town, Camden Lock is a favourite spot for locals and tourists, and deservedly so.” http://www.camdenlockmarket.com/

While you can take the Tube to Camden Town or Chalk Farm from anywhere in London, an interesting way to get there is by boat from Little Venice, which lies just north of Paddington and one of London’s secrets not known to tourists in general. Little Venice is a picturesque pool of water where the Grand Union and Regent’s Canals meet, and is home to a number of waterside cafes, pubs and eateries. From here you can take a boat trip downstream, past the charming regency streets of Madia Vale and on to Regent’s Park and Camden.

Little Venice

Little Venice


05. Gastronomic experience
Name practically any cuisine under the Sun, from Polynesian to Creole, with everything else in between, and London will have outlets offering it, ranging from street stalls and chic bistros to fine dining and Michelin star restaurants, booking of a table in some being required to be made months in advance!

If you are a foodie, London’s gastronomic variety and delights will have you moving from one grand eating experience to another, without the same flavour being repeated twice during your stay.

Lobster bisque is my personal #1 favourite soup. This one I relished at a Covent Garden restaurant called Loch Frye

Lobster bisque is my personal #1 favourite soup. This one I relished at A Covent Garden restaurant called Loch Frye

04. Indulge in the South Bank
This is where the young and hip of London hang out!

The South Bank is an entertainment, commercial and urban parkland district, alongside River Thames. Attractions include the Southbank Center comprising the Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Hayward Gallery. Also here are the Royal National Theatre, an IMAX cinema, the London Aquarium, London Dungeon, The London Film Museum and the Coca-Cola London Eye.

Huge choice of street food and trendy bistros. Les Iguanas, a Mexican-Brazilian bar and restaurant is a must go venue, both for the excellent food and the vibrant ambience.

03. ‘Minimum Museums’ exploration

Victoria & Albert Museum, main entrance

Victoria & Albert Museum, main entrance

There is a museum in London for everything under the Sun – from archaeology to horology, law enforcement to music, magic to wax, represented by the well-known Madame Tussaud’s. Not to mention some museums for what can only be called fetishes and the bizarre!

The mother of all London museums is of course the Brtish Museum, established 1763 and with some 8 million exhibits! To top it all, entry is free! Like to many other museums and art galleries.

The British Museum is a must visit for anyone with even pretentions of being a literate person. Other must visit museums include the Victoria & Albert and the Natural History Museum.

02.Experience the art & culture scene

This magnificent oil on canvas by Flemish Master, Peter Paul Rubens painted about 1609, and representing the betrayal of Samson by Delilah, is a masterpiece painting of the Baroque style, emphasizing movement, colour and sensitivity. See it in the National Gallery.

This magnificent oil on canvas by Flemish Master, Peter Paul Rubens painted about 1609, and representing the betrayal of Samson by Delilah, is a masterpiece painting of the Baroque style, emphasizing movement, colour and sensitivity. See it in the National Gallery.

London offers a unique opportunity to relish paintings by practically every single well-known (and not the so well known too) artist of the world for the past 700 years or so. Whatever is your own art preference – renaissance, baroque, impressionist, post-impressionist, realism, surreal, abstract, cubist, modern, pop art, calligraphy, or whatever else, you can be sure there is a London gallery or museum housing several masterpieces of that genre.

 About 5 feet tall sculpture of Pandora (with her box) by John Gibson  in 1860, at the V&A Museum. The term we often use today about opening or not opening Pandora’s Box, comes from Greek mythology

About 5 feet tall sculpture of Pandora (with her box) by John Gibson in 1860, at the V&A Museum. The term we often use today about opening or not opening Pandora’s Box, comes from Greek mythology

Each gallery or museum requires at least half a day. Forget time, forget everything. Revel in the visual treat that fine art by grand masters offers.

If art is not your scene at all, go for a classical music concert at Royal Albert Hall or Royal Festival Hall, or for jazz at an iconic club like Ronnie Scott’s, or any other genre of music you are into, for everything is on offer somewhere in London!

Musicians dressed in period costumes performing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons  in the magnificent Royal Albert Hall

Musicians dressed in period costumes performing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in the magnificent Royal Albert Hall

01. See a play in the West End
There can be few finer entertainment options for an evening than seeing a stage play. Throughout the year, you have a choice of at least 40 stage plays of various genre – comedy, mystery, drama, history, musicals, tragedy, etc, etc. Then there is a large alternate theatre outside West End. Check out current listings on the Net and book online in advance, for many plays can be sold out weeks in advance. And if you are in London between this September and November, you can see Nicole Kidman live on stage in a play called Photograph 51.

The set of an excellent production of famous novel To Kill a Mocking  Bird, at the impressive Barbican Theatre

The set of an excellent production of famous novel To Kill a Mocking Bird, at the impressive Barbican Theatre

If you are young, love to have new experiences and expand your mind, London offers you an opportunity which perhaps no other city in the world does in quite the same way.

A timeless scene of England – Sunday cricket in the ‘village’ green. This Match photographed just outside Kew Gardens

A timeless scene of England – Sunday cricket in the ‘village’ green. This Match photographed just outside Kew Gardens

One Response to MIND THE GAP

  1. hunaid says:

    After reading your blog on London, I was reminded why I have not visited London but once almost 27 years ago. When I was there, I wished that I could live there forever.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

16 − ten =