The Notting Hill Carnival

I spent the long weekend camped at my friend’s place in Notting Hill enjoying a weekend of amazing music, food and company. If you weren’t at The Notting Hill Carnival this bank holiday weekend you really REALLY missed out! It truly was unbelievable to see so many people come together to celebrate. Notting Hill is usually a fun area to hang out in but this weekend it really did come alive! All ages and races, tourists and locals alike revealed in the Caribbean spirit.

Truth be told, I don’t even know where to begin describing the festivities over the two days. Day one, which is considered the ‘Children’s Day’ was more relaxed, but that’s not to say it wasn’t exhilarating. There were dozens of sound stages around the area, each playing mixes of Hip-Hop, Reggae, Electronic and everything else. If you didn’t like the music at one spot, it was easy as walking 5 minutes down the road and encountering 3 others. If you come next year I recommend checking out the spots on All Saint’s Road and Talbot Road.

But let’s not forget the food! Authentic Jamaican Jerk Chicken, Roast Corn and Fried Plantains – a meal fit for a road side king : ) Speaking from experience, I’d say go to the stalls on Powis Square – the food was good and the lines not too long.

Day 2 was definitely more lively than the first, and everything that implies. Be prepared for larger crowds and getting everywhere taking a lot longer. But the energy of the people and the majesty of the parade definitely make it worthwhile. Though the latter didn’t start till 12-ish, it ran for hours and full of life and vivid colors. It is an absolute must see! For fellow photographers, I highly recommend catching them at on Westbourne Grove, down towards Colville Road. This area is slightly more open and the parade pauses there at points, making for a great viewing experience. And I definitely recommend getting into the area before 1, because it gets pretty crazy and public transportation can take forever!

I hope you like the shots. And I look forward to this brilliant weekend again. Hope to see you there too : )

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 ; )

Portobello Street Market

DISCLAIMER: I do not own the copyright in this song – neither its lyrical nor musical content. All copyright in the work and relevant performers’ rights accrue to the appropriate individuals, who shall be duly credited upon making themselves known to the author of this blog.

I want Mau!

Most people tend to go home, put their feet up and maybe get some rest after taking a 8 1/2 hour flight, but not me! The second I landed in London, having just returned from a short visit back home to Delhi, I rushed over to Notting Hill Gate to my friend Leslie’s place for a home cooked meal prepared by the talented Mr. C2.

After dinner, exhausted and running on fumes, I dragged myself along with the others to this place on Portobello Road called Mau Mau Bar. Right away I have to say, I loved the vibe in this place. It had a genuine bohemian/one love/hippie atmosphere, which I have to say is rare in this city. The place was full of an eclectic mix of colorful characters – from full-on P.I.M.P.S (right down to the hats and fur coats), to friendly Rastafarians (massive dreadlocks and all) and even a few “It doesn’t matter how old I am because I’m still 18 where it counts” hippies. And then there were the 8 of us who were standing right in front of band, swaying to the beats for hours.

Mau Mau has live music most days of the week, but Sunday was really something special. It was a Jam Night and basically anyone and everyone was encouraged to come up and sing with the resident Reggae (and I dare say, by their musical style, Jazz) collective “The Hard Way”, who had some great self-composed numbers of their own. Over the course of the evening we were treated to some soulful numbers, amazing bass solos and funky reggae beats. Tired or not, I couldn’t help but get on my feet.

Last, but not least, another thing about this place that I genuinely thought was awesome was their cover charge – where other places might enforce a 5-10 Pound cover in order to ensure a profit, or maybe demand a one-drink minimum, Mau Mau Bar asks each of its patrons to bring along a can of food as a cover, which they distribute to the homeless of the city. Of course, they won’t refuse you entry if you forget to bring one along, but it is an amazing idea, and just adds to the atmosphere that the proprietors have cultivated.

I’m almost wary of sharing this experience, because the last thing I would want to happen to a special place like this would be for it to be over run by the uber-touristy crowd or by people who just like the idea of being bohemian. There used to be places with a similar vibe in my home city of Delhi as well, and over the last couple of months before I left I noticed that they became flooded with people who just seemed to want to go there because it was “the place to go”. For those who frequent such places, its hard to see them lose their character or have their flavor drowned out my noisy inconsiderate masses. But, if you genuinely enjoy a relaxed and chill out atmosphere and some nice reggae music, I recommend you check this place out. I doubt you will be disappointed.