A Kewl Day Out at the Royal Botanic Gardens

There is nothing so peaceful and relaxing as escaping to the beautiful serenity of nature of a warm sunny day. So a few days my friend and I, having the day off, went to the Kew Gardens to do just that. Well technically I’m not working right now so they’re all off days ; p

Walking around all afternoon we had the most amazing time exploring the various Greenhouse enclosures and the vast grounds. Though we were hard pressed to cover the entire area, we saw some beautiful canopy from the Tree Top Walkway and enjoyed soothing breezes through the Bamboo gardens. Though there are paths for the quick explorers, if you go “off-road”, as we took to doing, you can find some really beautiful and secluded spots to just stop, sit and enjoy the unbelievably fresh and clean air. I’m not kidding! Even though London is a fairly clean city, especially compared to some cities back in India, the air out at Kew is in a whole other league. I felt healthier just walking around ; p And some true hilarity ensued when we tried to leave and kept getting ourselves hopelessly lost.

I highly recommend you grab a few friends, pack a small picnic and set out to explore it for yourself. I just can’t believe that you’d be disappointed. Who knows, you might even make some new friends there ; ) And you would be horticulturists, be sure to drop by the Garden Shop on the way out.

Go here to plan your day out – Kew Gardens

Evergreen

From open windows
Sights seen of life and beauty
Of radiant sun

Life giving mother
Spread like an ocean of green
‘Twixt a plane of grey

Her ample bosom
Teeming with love and laughter
Families, lovers

Yet I feel a chill
Messenger of season’s change
The ebbing of life

Greying skies above
The leaves in suicide plunge
Falling epithets

But hold, dark visions!
For now is not yet the time
We yet live and smile

Youth not yet abates
And sweet smells of spring yet flow
And I breathe them in

So for now I sit
At open window and gaze
At nature’s bounty

And I think that I
Shall be sad some other day
Today, life is good

Spanish Escape

I just had the most wonderful long weekend in beautiful Madrid – What a great last hurrah before I fly back home to India in 2 days!

The pretence of the actual trip was to attend a one day conference on Intellectual Property organised by the Universidad Autonoma Madrid and Queen Mary University of London, which was great because it meant most of my fellow IP-ers were there in Madrid with me. We went to represent QM and have discussions around the challenges to Intellectual Property in the European Union – we got 3 days full of good food, wine and beautiful architecture in the bargain.

Despite the fact that it’s not a particularly big city, Madrid really does have a lot to see and do! I dare say that even with 2-3 days full of walking around (and lots of clicking with my D80) I still left with many things I missed out on. Well I suppose one should always leave oneself with an excuse to come back : )

My favourite part, hands down, was the first day when we took a super long walk through and around Parque de el Retiro, particularly because that was the one day where we got uninterrupted sun. The beautiful weather just made walking around the beautiful green surroundings all the more wonderful. By the end of the day, though my feet were worn and my legs heavy, my soul was rejuvenated and my heart light. The pace of life in Madrid seems so much more relaxed and spirited than London. If you visit I recommend you definitely go by the Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace) – the name is a bit deceptive (it’s basically looks a large solarium) – but the surroundings are beautiful. There is large pond out front with a tall fountain, many critters and crawlers to look out for and even a small grotto some of you couples may want to sneak into ; ) and you can end your tour of the park with a visit to the Rose Garden, which has dozens of different species of roses (as well as other flowers I believe) and sit awhile just taking in the exquisite aromas. We also stumbled into the Palacio de Valazquez which is used by the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia to host exhibitions. During our visit they were hosting  an exhibition of conceptual art by Cildo Meireles. I must say, I really did not get most of his work. Though some pieces did have intriguing designs and thought-provoking themes, most seemed rather mundane or banal, but therein lies the beauty of art I suppose – let each see in it what he will.

For dinner on the second day we made out way to the Taberna les Lucio in the area known as La Latina. This definitely seems to one of the better areas to come to find a nice place to eat or have a night out. It was unbelievably packed and we had to wait some 35 minutes by the bar before we managed a place, but it was totally worth it. The food was light yet very rich and fulfilling and when we split the bill it wasn’t nearly as dear as I feared. I can see why Sean Connery, Sigourney Weaver and Bruce Springsteen all came to eat here.

Another place you absolutely must see while you’re there is Plaza Mayor. It is a magnificent late square framed internally by cafes where you can sit in the sun and enjoy some refreshing sangria and tapas. I recommend Cafeteria Christina – the staff was super friendly and he sangria was amazing! Or if you prefer you can pop nearby to the Market de San Miguel where there are dozens of food stalls that serve authentic local cuisine as well ones where you can pick up some ham or cheese for the road. It’s quite tight considering how popular it is and there isn’t really space to sit, so I recommend a quick bite and walk through rather than an extended chill session.

Finally, if you’re an art lover you should definitely pop down to the Museu Nacional de Prado. It is located near the Banco de Espana (Bank of Spain) and is one of the largest museums in Europe. And indeed it is massive! We roamed the halls for a full two hours and I we barely covered the rooms dedicated to some 2-3 artists! There are discounted entries for students under the age if 25, but if you feel like you don’t want to spend too much time in there anyway you can go for free from 6-8 pm. Like I mentioned, I am not super into art, and I am definitely not educated in the field, so I let my friends lead the way throughout. The artists they seemed to be particularly drawn to, and who the Museum seemed to have dedicated several rooms to was Francisco Goya. He definitely was quite diverse, but I think I was drawn to his “Black Paintings” the most. This series of works had some very dark and evocative themes – each painting seemed to portray feelings of dread, fear and rage. I’m not sure what happened in his life to summon this phase of his contribution to the art world, but it definitely led to some powerful images being put to canvas.

The one other artist I suggest you check out if you’re there is El Greco though my friend found his works to be lacking diversity, I found them to be quite inspiring, in fact when I walked into the room and saw the first piece I actually said “WOW” out loud. The work was titled “The Adoration of the Shephards” and indeed was aptly titled. His use if vivid colors within a pool of darkness built a beautiful contrast and there seemed to be almost a divine light from the baby Jesus in the middle of the painting, I genuinely thought at first that it was a result of the museum’s lighting!

All in all I am quite sad to have left Madrid so soon – there was so much to do and it is far less expensive than many other European cities. I could have quite easily stayed another few days, but sadly real life was calling. Some of my friend have commented that Barcelona is nicer – a question I look forward to settling for myself later his year when I take my 3 week trip around Europe with my best friend, till then let it be my favourite city in Spain : )

Sunny Sunday Stroll

What better way to spend a beautiful day like today than walking around London basking in the sun! So that’s what my friend and I decided to do. We began our journey at the Soho Flea Market where we briefly enjoyed a performance by duo Lilygreen and Maguire (who were quite wonderful) before getting some tasty milkshakes at Ed’s Diner. From there we meandered about Trafalgar Square, walked up to Buckingham Palace (which is a lot smaller than I remember!) and then walked through beautiful Green Park. I managed to get some nice shots so I thought I’d share them before I lie down for a nice lazy sunday siesta : )

10 Ways to Enjoy London – No Money Down!

No one can argue with the fact that London is an expensive city – between rent, provisions, getting around and a couple of pints a week, it hard to find room in the budget for some fun. Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely a bit easier if you’re a student. With an NUS Card, or even just your college ID, you have access to discounts at the Cinema, your local Grocery Store, Tourist attractions and many other places. But that will only get you so far won’t it? But have no fear, my dear, there are ways to circumvent a lack of cask flow. If you do your research and plan right, you can have a fun or culture filled day, without spending a penny. Here’s 10 ways to help you start:

1. Visit a Museum/Gallery: London has several wonderful museums. From the expansive Museum of Natural History (that’s one of my favorites – I spent the entire day there once – They even have an animatronic T-Rex!) to the National Gallery or the Tate Modern. You can get your fill of History, Technology or Art, just for the cost of bus/tube fare. Here’s Time Out magazine’s list of museums you can visit for free – Museums in London. But remember to check ahead, there may be admission for particular exhibits/attractions.

2. Check out a TV Show taping: I went for a taping once for a BBC Show. It was quite a great experience. It’s amazing to see just how they film an ensemble comedy (and how many times you have to laugh at the same joke ; p). But you might be more inclined to check out a News Show or maybe a Quiz? Who knows, if they have audience participation you may even get your 15 minutes of fame. Apply now and go watch TV being made at the BBC – BBC Tapings

3. Take A Walking Tour: There are several exciting walking tours you can take in London. You can get entails on any hostel site or on Time Out. Most of them cost a few quid though. However, Sandemans New Europe does FREE tours of London every day. That’s right, it’s absolutely free. You’re welcome to tip your guide at the end, but that’s on you. You can book the tour for any number of people, so whether you’re on your own, with a few friends, or taking the entire extended family (that’s a lot of people if you’re Indian like me ; p), it’s all good! Book Now

4. Check out the Street Markets: There are some fantastic street markets to check out in the city. While they all tend to have the standard tourist goods, like Bobby Hats, Sunglasses or Fedoras, they also have their own uniqueness. For example, the Portobello Road Market is rather known for having quant antique shops and even stalls where people sell some really cool old stuff. Camden Town is another well-known market, the down side of course is that it’s a perfect tourist trap. Still, it has some nice cafes and stalls that are worth checking out, even if you don;t buy any of that rubbish. If you’re a foodie you should definitely check out Borough Market. It has a reputation as one of the best food markets in the city and you can find choice local and international produce.

5. Catch a free Concert: There are many venues throughout the city where you can sit and enjoy an evening of music with your mates. If you’re into rock I would suggest one of the many pubs in Camden Town, where there are regularly local bands playing in the evenings and entry is usually free before 10-11 PM. If you’d like to enjoy something a bit more classical head over to The National Theatre where they regularly have free events open to the general public, first come first served of course. Another option is for you to check out the Royal College of Music. All of their events, unless stated otherwise, are free.

6. A Free Comedy Gig: There are dozens of comedy clubs in the capital (Alliteration. Love it!) that host free nights. They feature regular local comics as well as new comers and fresh faces. So check out Angel Comedy in Camden Walk, which features the best of the open mic circuit as well as a professional headliner. Or check out the various free shows offered by The Comedy Bin.

7. Visit A Park: If you find yourself experiencing a beautiful sunny day (they’re rare, but they do happen), you might want to get out and take in the green. So why not visit one of the exquisite, and for the most part, massive parks in and around London. They are beautifully maintained, with mini-attractions like play areas, statues and carved shrubs and some even have some wildlife. You may have to rent a car or take a bus to some of them, but a day out of the city might be just what the doctor ordered, because trust me, if there’s sun, Londoners will flock to the Parks to get some much-needed Vitamin D. Here’s Time Out’s helpful list of London’s Major Parks.

8. Star Gaze: Head on over to the Astronomy Centre, located in the Royal Observatory to see the history of the universe in 4 minutes or touch 4.5 billion year old meteorite (yes you can actually touch it!). The Astronomy Centre and galleries are open daily from 10 to 5 and admission is free.

9. Watch A Movie: There are quiet a few organizations that organize free film screenings on a regular basis/hand out free tickets to screenings in the city. You just have to do your homework and be quick, and a little bit lucky. The Radio Station LBC 97.3 FM hands out tickets for monthly screenings by its LBC Film Club. In the past they’ve done popular titles such as The Hangover, Frost/Nixon and RocknRolla. So check back regularly. Or sign up to Free Movies UK to get the chance to attend preview screenings of new movies at your local cinema.

10. Explore: Last but not least, just get off your butt and walk around. There are so many beautiful and breathtaking sights to see in London. Some might have an admission cost to see the inside, but they are beautiful to look at even if you don’t go in. Go see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace; see St. Paul’s Cathedral; walk along the river Thames; go visit Shakespeare’s Globe. There’s literally no end to the things you can see.

Well I hope this small, but nowhere close to exhaustive, list of things helps some of you branch out and load up on some fun, without putting any additional drain on your purse strings. I hope you’ll buy me a pint one day with the additional beer money ; )