A weekend in Gdansk – a photo tour

I was going through some old travel photo albums from my student years in Stockholm and came across the Gdansk weekend trip photos. So, I thought of sharing them this weekend, as a photo tour.

Given that the cruise lines going past Stockholm used to attract me, I used to watch out for cruise deals and finally came across one, that was too good to miss. So, during the Easter break of 2002, a friend and I decided to go for a weekend cruise to Gdansk. The cruise package was ideal for the budget traveler as it included accommodation in a large, en-suite cabin for the entire weekend on half-board basis so we did not have to find other accommodation while exploring the city.

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Gdansk old city was the highlight of our trip. We took the tram from the port to the old city area each morning and walked about. On our first day, we made our way over to ulika Duliga. The main street was a lovely street with an old fountain in the middle and interesting building architecture lining both sides of the street.

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While walking around, we came across another lovely street, which looked more of a quiet back street when compared to the flamboyant main street. ul Mariacka was crammed with hand carts selling art crafts and jewellery.

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As I had wanted to visit Oliwa cathedral, we took the bus to the cathedral rebuilt in 16th century, after it had been burnt to the ground during the 1577 rebellion of the city of Gdansk. Adjacent to the cathedral was a lovely park area, which we enjoyed wandering around.

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A third highlight of our weekend trip was the visit to another coastal city, Sopot, named for its springs, thought to be beneficial to one’s health. After Gdansk, Sopot seemed a much more relaxed place and people seemed more friendlier and prone to ask about us. I enjoyed the fresh sea breeze while walking along the pier.

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While I had enjoyed my visit, I really had no plans to revisit until I saw Eff it… I’m on holiday’s recent pictures of Gdansk. Vlad’s beautiful photos made me think that I should revisit the city to see the lovely changes that have occurred over the last 15 years.

[Linking this post to Weekend Travel Inspiration and The Weekly Postcard]

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Photo tour of a morning walk around Oxford

Last December, during my visit to England, my best friend and I decided to celebrate her daughter’s birthday by taking her on a weekend trip to Blenheim palace. To maximize our time at the palace, we decided to leave London on friday evening and spend the night in Oxford, before traveling onto Woodstock early the next morning. Though we hardly had much time to explore the city, we did manage to go on a couple of walks on saturday morning. The skies were cloudy that day and it felt like it was going to rain any minute so the city looked quite gloomy. However, I am glad my friend’s daughter did not seem put off by the weather, and the walk seemed to reinforce her fascination with Oxford university, where she wants to study when she eventually finishes secondary school in a few years.

This post is a photo tour of some of the highlights we passed by during our walk.

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Ashmolean museum

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The Martyrs’ memorial and St. Giles

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The church of St Mary Magdalen

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Faculty of History

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The back of Oxford Castle

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Nuffield College

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Start of Broad Street

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Anna’s hand carved wooden spoons stall at the corner of Broad street

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Arts and Crafts market

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Radcliffe Camera

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Old Bodleian library quadrangle

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Another view of the Bodleian library

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Radcliffe square

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Hertford bridge, also referred to as the bridge of sighs

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Weston library

What was the highlight of your visit to Oxford? What would you like to explore on your first/ next visit to the city?

[Linking this post to The Weekly Postcard, Weekend Travel Inspiration and City Tripping #72]

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A photo tour of Glastonbury Abbey

Glastonbury Abbey was founded in the 7th century and expanded by St. Dunstan, the Abbot of Glastonbury in the 10th century and by 1086, it was the richest monastery in England. Of special interest is the legend connecting the site of the abbey to the burial place of King Arthur as well as Joseph of Arimathea. As I had been fascinated by the legend, my sister decided to make a stop at the abbey on our way back from Wells.

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According to the exhibition at the abbey museum, there was an old church made of mud and wood on the site, the origin of which is not clear but there are various legends surrounding it. However, the fire of 1184 destroyed any traces of this old church and the Lady chapel was consecrated on its site in 1186.

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When the medieval St. Joseph’s crypt was constructed under the Lady chapel, it became a popular destination for pilgrims. The crypt was rededicated in 2015 by the Bishop of Bath and Wells.

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On the side of Lady chapel is a marker of a grave. While there are many stories connected to this grave, a popular story that is mentioned on the abbey’s website is that monks needing to raise funds to rebuild the abbey after the fire, dug up this grave in 1191 searching for the bones of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere.

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They were then re-buried in a black marble tomb in the then newly constructed abbey church in 1278.

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The ruins of the Great church, though not having survived to the extent of Lady chapel, are also quite majestic.

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The best preserved section of the abbey is the Abbot’s kitchen, which was built in the 1300s, and was used to provide meals for the abbot and his guests.

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Facing the kitchen was the ruins of the refectory, marked as the monastic ruins on the abbey map.

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The abbey grounds cover 36 acres of parkland. I was not up to walking around the entire parkland but I did stop and pause by some lovely benches to rest and observe the ruins.

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Another site of interest to the visitor to Glastonbury would be the Glastonbury Tor. Having walked a lot that day, my sister was concerned that I would find it too much to climb and with the clouds opening up as I finished my visit to the abbey, we decided to turn away with a brief glimpse of the Tor, from a distance.

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Disclaimer: The Bath Tourism Office kindly gave me a complimentary media pass to Bath and regional attractions, during my November 2016 visit to south west England, for the purpose of this post. This pass allowed me free entry to Glastonbury Abbey. All opinions are my own and I only recommend experiences I have enjoyed.

[Linked this post to The Weekly Postcard and Weekend Travel Inspiration]

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En-route to Udaipur and the City Palace

The last city that we visited on this trip was Udaipur, or the lake city. The best part of this leg of the trip was the scenic drive from Jodhpur to Udaipur, through forested areas. We stopped at a durry weaver’s cottage to observe the weaving and decided to buy a small hand-woven carpet, though we had not planned to buy one or even heard of durry weaving before visiting that cottage.

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We then stopped at a small restaurant for a light lunch of chappathis and Marwari vadi. We drove past breathtaking hills, past natural reserves, at one time the adivasi (indigenous people) settlement area. Our driver recommended us visiting a 15th century Jain temple in Ranakpur, even though it was not part of our itinerary. We agreed and found our first visit to a Jain temple fascinating. The religion is based on the three principles of non-violence, non-absolutism and non-possessiveness and has an emphasis on vegetarianism. There were some people walking about the temple, with pieces of white cloth tied over their mouth. I thought it was to maintain silence but I read that it was to prevent the killing of insects or other micro organisms unknowingly, while breathing. Yes, this religion is a tough one to practice because one needs to even watch carefully where they walk so they don’t harm an ant.

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There were numerous picturesque villages along the way, which fired one’s imagination and I wish we had spent more time in some of those villages. At one point, our driver stopped the car and said, ‘old way of irrigation. you take picture’. I observed a bullock team walking around in circles, turning a wheel which in turn drew water out of a well.

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By the time we reached Hotel Rajdharshan in Udaipur, it was evening and we decided that we would prefer to go on a boat ride on Lake Pichola that evening and go on the guided tour the next day. The boat bookings was however full that evening so we ended up exploring the bazaar area around our hotel.

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The next morning, we drove to the City Palace. We entered through the Sun door and came across a board hung at the entrance with the names of the different rulers of Udaipur and their reigning period. A line had been drawn under the name of the Maharana who had been responsible for building the palace. Maharana Udai Singh II is credited with beginning the construction of the palace in the 16th century and the expansion was continued over the centuries, through his successors.

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The city palace is considered the second biggest palace in India, after Mysore Palace.

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After the city palace tour, we visited Sahelion Ki Bari, an early 18th century summer garden for the royal women and had been built so that they would have a relaxing place away from the court.

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It was soon time to check out of our hotel and take the flight to Delhi, for a final evening in the city at our own leisure.

This Golden Triangle trip, which gave my mother and I a first glimpse of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, still remains my best travel memory.

[Linking this post to Weekend Travel Inspiration]

A morning in Fatehpur Sikri

As we went along the road to Fatehpur Sikri from Agra, our driver, Dev, pointed out the motorbikes passing us on either side. Most had women carrying a large bag on the rear seat. He said that the women were going to their parents’ home for the Bhai Dooj festival. This festival was celebrated in north India following Diwali and it was a festival where a married sister visited her brother on this day and gave him her blessings and gifts. There is an interesting folk story  about the origins of this festival. We asked Dev whether he and his sister were not celebrating the festival. He shrugged and replied, “here, people celebrate. now in modern cities, people don’t care.”

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Till we reached Jaipur later that evening, we continued seeing brightly clad women on foot, motorbikes, mini-vans carrying bags and going with either their husband and/or children.

We reached the ghost city of Fatehpur Sikri and our local guide was waiting for us at the entrance. We removed our shoes at the entrance as we were entering the mosque area, open to all public. This public area was teeming with people, both the local residents selling goods in tents set up around the courtyard as well as visiting tourists and pilgrims.

The guide told us that a very famous Sufi saint called Salim Chishti was said to have lived here in the 16th century. Emperor Akbar worried that he had no heir to the throne after several years of marriage, and hearing of the powers of the saint to grant wishes, visited him and sought his blessings. He had vowed that if he were granted his wish for a son, he would build his second capital in the area. His Hindu wife bore him a son, and one of the names he was given was Salim after the saint but was more commonly known by his other name, Jahangir. Akbar kept his promise and built the city of Fatehpur Sikri. He also had the tomb for the saint built in the mosque complex. The royal family lived for a few years in the city but abandoned it soon as water turned out to be a major problem, having to be transported all the way from Agra.

The tomb of Salim Chishti is now a famous pilgrimage point for people, irrespective of their faith. The guide said that Akbar had been personally involved in planning the tomb architecture and layout..

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Pilgrims and visitors to the tomb generally place a cloth offering over the cenotaph, sprinkle rose petals and tie threads for three wishes on the lattice windows overlooking the tomb.

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We got the cloth and bag of rose petals along with three red and yellow threads each and walked into the inner chamber. After placing our cloth over the cenotaph, the person who was taking care of the tomb said that we could place any donation, we felt like contributing for the mosque, near the cloth and it would be used for the welfare of the children of the area.

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We then walked over to the lattice windows and tied our red and yellow threads. Our guide had mentioned earlier that we should not speak about the wishes we made until they were fulfilled. I can’t even remember now what wishes I made to know whether they were fulfilled or not.

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We walked out of the inner chamber and walked around the outer chamber. The guide pointed us to a half-door on the side of the tomb. He said that in the past, women had not been allowed to enter through the same front door as men as they were considered inferior to men. Women were allowed to visit the tomb of this saint but to differentiate their status, they had to come in through the side door. The purposefully built door ensured that the women had to bend to enter which ensured a humble poise. They were also only allowed to sit in the outer chamber and not allowed to enter the inner chamber during Akbar’s time. For all his secular views and broad mindedness on unity and equality, Akbar did not treat women in an equal and non-discriminatory manner.

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We walked out into the courtyard and took a short walk around. Adjoining the mosque and the sufi saint’s tomb was the palace complex. Akbar’s palace was interesting. There were three main houses within the palace: one for each of his three main wives – his Hindu wife, Christian wife and Muslim wife. One of Akbar’s policy in unifying India was to marry a princess of different states so that he would have that particular region’s allegiance. His three main recognized wives were privileged enough to have their own quarters as opposed to the mass harem quarters. His Hindu wife, who played an important role in Emperor Akbar’s life and politics, had her living quarters built in traditional Hindu architecture with places for lamps, worship and a traditional vegetarian kitchen etc. The Christian wife’s quarters had a chapel and lots of paintings. Each house though had some mark of all the religions to demonstrate that all religions was accepted, while giving special recognition to each wife’s particular religion.

A huge courtyard adjoining the harem was where the King entertained and was entertained or had important discussions regarding state issues. The legendary musician, Tansen, considered one of the nine jewels of Emperor Akbar’s court performed for the Emperor here, while his wives watched from their specially designed windows in their respective part of the harem. The platform where Tansen performed was surrounded by water, and was said to have been filled with jasmine and surrounded by lighted lamps during his performance.

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Legend has it that fellow musicians jealous of his skill and favour that he had found in Emperor Akbar’s court tried to oust him by asking the Emperor to make him sing the Deepak Raga, which if properly sung was thought to cause all things to burn, including the singer. Tansen is said to have sung it after asking another singer to sing the raga that evoked rains simultaneously.

Across the musician’s court, the Panch Mahal or the five storey place was built for the Emperor’s pleasure where he could enjoy the moonlight and evening air. The Panchmahal opened onto a huge ludo board carved on the floor.

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Across this game board square was located the secret chamber. The chamber, where Akbar gathered his top ministers for secret, urgent consultations on state emergencies. He would sit in the middle and his ministers in each of the corners built around the center like a wheel. I can’t imagine how the consultation could have been secretive, if they had to shout out to each other across the respective corners they sat in.

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There was also a hall for private audience known as the Diwan-i-Khas, especially where representatives of different religious faiths met with the Emperor to discuss their concerns.

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This section led into the more public area, the hall of public audience and the courtyard where the public waited to meet the Emperor and state their grievances and where public hearings were held. The guide mentioned that an elephant was usually kept waiting at these hearings as the worst offenders were sentenced to trampling by an elephant.

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As we walked out of the public hearing area and towards our car, children selling knick knacks surrounded us. I always feel sad when I come across kids selling stuff at tourist sites. While I did not want to encourage child labour, we were unable to resist the plea of the kids so ended up buying a few things, hoping that the money would go towards their food.

What is the most interesting local festival that you have come across in your travels? How do you react when coming across child vendors at tourist sites?

[I am linking this post to Faraway Files #6 and Weekend Travel Inspiration]

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A canal cruise in Amsterdam

What would you do if you had a couple of hours in Amsterdam? I once found myself in this city, for a few hours, on my way to visit friends in Rotterdam. I chose to visit the Van Gogh museum and then take a canal cruise.

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Amsterdam central station

Not only do I love going on boats and never miss an opportunity to go on a boat trip in most places I visit, I simply had to take a canal cruise within the 17th century canal ring area, a site under the UNESCO heritage list. This post is a photo tour of things that caught my eye during the cruise.

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Hope you enjoyed the photo journey of my canal cruise in Amsterdam! The next time I visit Amsterdam, I would love to stay a few days in a houseboat.

So, what would you do if you had a couple of hours in Amsterdam?

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Travel Notes & Beyond

Special Six: London Surprises

Walks around London’s numerous historic streets and avenues, visits to interesting museums and palaces, cruises on the Thames, picnics in the numerous, lovely parks are must-try experiences in London. Often though, it is the unplanned or unexpected experiences that become the most memorable. So here are some of my favourites of the pleasant, diverse surprises that London welcomed me with. Perhaps you might want to try out one or more of them?

  • Clipper Round The World Race:

My friend liked the restaurants at St. Katherine docks and suggested we go to the Turkish restaurant Kilikyas for lunch during the last weekend of August 2015. We noticed that there was a huge crowd, loud music and a carnival spirit outside the restaurant. Since it was the first time I was going there, I initially assumed that perhaps this was a vibrant spot in London which celebrated each weekend. It was when the drum beats started and announcements were made that I realized that some special event was going on. So once we finished lunch, we decided to go and have a look and realized that it was a race, the launch of the clipper round the world race. We managed to find a little spot where we were able to view the dock area from where the clippers left one by one.

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It was so much fun cheering the boats as they left for the 8 leg, 14 race, 11 month journey of over 40,000 nautical miles around the world. Apparently, the race does not require team members to be experienced sailors. The selected teams undergo a four level training in the UK or Australia.

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Our favourite was Team Britain’s beautiful clipper, with its 54 member crew, participating in different legs of the race and sponsored by the UK government’s ‘GREAT Britain’ campaign since 2013.

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Photo credit: Bindu Nanu

We then walked over the tower bridge to see the parade of the sails as the twelve clippers waited for the Tower bridge to open. Qingdao sponsored by the Chinese city of Qingdao, which is the longest serving team sponsor and host port since 2005/06, led the parade.

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The race of the Americas from Panama to USA, race 11, was completed last week and the teams arrived in New York with Team ClipperTelemed+  winning this race. The website has a page for viewing where the clippers are in the ongoing race as well as a table with the team positions for the overall race. Currently, Team LMAX Exchange is in the overall lead and Team Britain in the third.

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Race 12 from New York to Londonderry will start on June 20th. The final race, race 14, is expected to finish at St. Katherine’s docks in London on July 30th when the teams sail in from Den Helder, The Netherlands. So, if you are in London that saturday, do visit St. Katherine docks, enjoy a meal at one of the numerous restaurants there and welcome the returning clippers.

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Photo credit: Bindu Nanu

Don’t you find the clipper race exciting? If you want to participate, you can actually do so by sending in your application to join a team in the 2017/18 or 2018/19 clipper races.

  • London School of Economics (LSE) Public Talks

Universities do have a tradition of hosting public talks but while at LSE, I found that the LSE calendar for public lectures was packed each term. I found it amazing that so many interesting leaders and influencers from around the world were invited to give a talk almost each evening. The lectures are free and usually on a first come, first served basis, so generally there are long queues. For some talks, registration and collecting the free tickets prior to the day of talk is required.

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So, why not check the public events page of a universit(y)ies specializing in your areas of interest and go for one of the lectures? I liked the LSE public events the best and I am somewhat biased here.

  • Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club

Inspired by the New York jazz scene, Ronnie Scott and his friend Pete King, both tenor saxophonists, opened up the jazz club in 1959. The club moved to its present location on Frith street in 1965. Jazz legends Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Stan Getz, Wes Montgomery and many more have played here and contemporary ones continue to drop by. The jazz club was recommended to me as the best place in London for some great, live jazz music by one of the baristas, at my favourite coffee shop in London, who is a part-time jazz musician.

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Photo credit: Kat Arney@ Kat Arney

I went there twice to try out both the jazz bar and club. The main club venue downstairs hosts ticketed jazz events and it is a special experience where you can enjoy some wonderful, live jazz music while dining on some delicious food. Upstairs @Ronnie’s is a bar where live jazz music is played every evening. While the doors to the bar opens at 6pm, and you can enter free till 7pm after which there is a small cover charge, live music only begins at 9pm. Upstairs bar is a place which you can go to regularly with friends or on your own.

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Photo credit: Chelsea@ Chelseas40before40

  • Taiko Drumming

This activity will definitely not be something you think of when considering a London experience. However, given the multicultural essence of the city, it was fitting that I was able to try it out while in London. My friend and I had gone to Festival Asia at Tobacco dock in Docklands. While there, we tried out a mini taiko drumming workshop by Mark Alcock. Mark taught us to play a short, original composition as a group. Not only did I find it so much fun to try out the drums, I found it such a wonderful team-building/ de-stressing activity that I contacted Mark at Taiko Meantime, and organized a workshop for a group of friends at university to celebrate the end of exams. Taiko Meantime conducts regular classes as well as special workshops, at their premises or at a location of your choice, if you are in a large group. So, do contact them if you want a taste of Japan, in London, through some Taiko drumming.

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Photo credit: Riddhi Shah

  • Pottery café

I came across the pottery café when I was searching for a special fun activity to enjoy with my friend and her daughter – something that both adults and children could participate in. The café offers group sessions, where you are given instructions, before you paint the pottery using child safe, water based, non-toxic paints. There is a studio fee of £5.99 per person, for the use of the materials, plus the cost of the hand-made pottery that you have selected to paint on. The cafe also serves hot and cold beverages, as well as some cakes and cookies, to enjoy while painting. I booked us a session at the Fulham cafe branch one weekend. Once you finish painting, you hand it in so that the painted pottery can be sent to their workshop to be finished in the kiln. You will receive a collection receipt and you can collect the finished pottery, normally a week later.

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Photo credit: Bindu Nanu

  • Crown Court Church of Scotland:

This church has been active in London since King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England in 1603. The church has been at its present site in Covent garden from 1719, though the present building was built in 1909. I came across an online article mentioning the Crown court church of Scotland in Covent Garden as the place to celebrate St. Andrew’s day in London. I looked up St. Andrew’s day and found that it was the day of the patron saint of Scotland, Greece and a few other countries. From the what’s on calendar on the church website, I also found the Rambling and Social Club entry mentioning a St. Andrew’s night party on November 29th and that all were welcome.

Since it was indicated that all were welcome to the party, a small group of friends and I decided to drop by the church that evening. What we came across was not quite what we had expected, something in the lines of a church service for St. Andrew’s day, and neither were we what the endearing group of elderly church members expected. Though surprised, they warmly welcomed us to join in for the tea and shared a little background about the church history as well as gave us a quick tour of the church chapel upstairs. We were also invited to join in for their future monthly club gatherings, especially for the Burns night celebrations. I was touched by their warm hospitality and wanted to make them something for one of their monthly gatherings as I noticed that each person had brought some homemade food to the tea party. So, I made a Sri Lankan semolina sweet dish and revisited the group for the club’s christmas party at the church in December. It was a lovely tea party with a trivia quiz at the end.

I found the experience delightful, not only because it was unexpected, but because it provided the space for meaningful interaction. I also received suggestions of places to visit in Scotland.

The church is definitely worth a visit, when you are in London, and as the Rambling and Social Club page mentions, all are welcome to attend the activities mentioned in their calendar.

Which of these surprises would you want to try out, during your next visit to London? What is one of your favourite travel surprises?

[I am linking this post to Wanderful WednesdayThe Weekly PostcardCity Tripping #36, and Weekend Travel Inspiration]

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