Discovering Roman Britain

I was introduced to Roman Britain quite unexpectedly on a cold, windy day in October 2008 in London. I had been in London for about 3 weeks then and was already head over heels in love with this beautiful city. Each day was a new day of exploration and between settling into a new city and classes at the university, there was always something wonderful to discover and delight over.

That afternoon, I took a path leading off from Tower Bridge Tube station, a path that led me past a hotel and then, quite suddenly into a walled dead-end. I was about to turn back, when I saw an information board there and walked over to read it. Good thing I did that as this turned out to be the most interesting dead-end !

Part of the original wall surrounding the Roman city of Londinium or London

Part of the original wall surrounding the Roman city of Londinium or London

The information board announced that this was no ordinary wall, but a slice of London’s history. Built by the Romans in 190–220 AD, this wall used to run around the city of Londinium, the Roman name for London. About 9 ft thick at the base and about 20 ft. in height, it was one of the most important and expensive developments in the city at that time. (By medieval times, the height of the wall was increased and though it is not evident in the photograph, the colour of the mortar distinguishes the two sections of the wall.)

My first reaction was, “Wow! So Asterix and Obelix wasn’t an exaggeration; the Romans were really here. Dear old Julius Caesar was really here !” For the rest of the day, I walked around in a kind of daze as the Roman fever took hold. It was a fever that refused to go away and one that I had great pleasure in indulging when I visited erstwhile Roman cities in the UK and explored a part of history that I thought only existed in comic books ! :-)

So join me on my journey of discovering Roman Britain through visits to Camulodunum (present day Colchester), Aquae Sulis (present day Bath), and Verulamium (present day St. Albans) in England. (Strangely, the wall remained my only encounter with Roman Britain in London.) It was a journey that left me breathless, awestruck, and delighted in turn, but always richer in having gained knowledge of something new, and of having discovered a whole new world.

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A special boat ride

Today morning, I woke up with an overwhelming desire to go on a boat ride. I don’t know why, but there was this yearning to be on water and allow for its soothing motion and rhythm to take over. But today was also a Wednesday, a weekday and a working day. It didn’t feel right to give in to the temptation to take leave from work and go to the Gateway of India for the nearest boat ride I could take.

Instead, I went to work. But thoughts of the boat ride kept intruding between editing documents and meetings, and during lunch and and coffee breaks. Well, if only thoughts were boat rides, I would have gone on a real one … So, I did the next best thing — photograph therapy.

Once I reached home, I raided my digital photo library to look at all the trips that I have taken on water. One of the trips stood out for sheer novelty and beauty — a boat trip on the River Thames from Richmond (in Southwest London) to Hampton Court in July 2009. The novelty lay in the fact that this the first time I got the opportunity to observe how boats navigated river locks. This boat ride was part of an explorer day organised by London Walks to first explore Richmond, then take a boat trip along the Thames to Hampton Court Palace, for the second part of that day’s activities. It is a journey that took about an hour-and-a-half through a very picturesque route and in typical English weather It — sunny, cloudy, and rainy at the same time.

Come on, join me, as I take that boat ride from Richmond to Hampton Court once again with some photographs and a video. :-)

The Thames riverfront at Richmond

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Blue, green, yellow, red and white…

Recently, Anu Shankar of A Wandering Mind tagged me in the Capture the Colour contest organised by TravelSupermarket.com. The contest brief is, well, quite brief and simple:

… to publish a blog post with a photo that captures the following 5 colours – Blue, Green, Yellow, White and Red.

Hmmm… till about 4 years back I didn’t even give colours a second thought or glance. I took it for granted as growing up in India, they were always around me. But a year’s stay in London showed me how much colours mattered to me, and changed my very perception and understanding of colours.

I arrived in London at the onset of winter and its (in)famous winter weather. But the grey and damp weather didn’t bother me; neither did the sunless days affect me. But a monochromatic London of black and grey coats, hats, scarves, gloves and boots drove me crazy. That’s when I started noticing colours in the world around me, rather than only on people. Colourful shop fronts, buildings, pub exteriors, cars, tube stations, a stained glass window … took on a whole new meaning. I learnt to look at, appreciate and enjoy colours in a very different way.

It had to convince myself to participate in the contest as I don’t really consider myself as a photographer. But the idea of digging into my digital photo library was tempting and I had a great time choosing 5 of them—one for each contest colour. So presenting my blue, green, yellow, red and white photographs as well as my take on each of them. Continue reading

The Docklands Light Railway and the London Docklands

The London Docklands is the name given to some areas of eastern and south-eastern London. Till the middle of the 20th century, the Docklands was where the various docks and dockyards used to be. Though the docks were originally built and managed by a number of private companies (for example, East India, West India, etc.), it was not till 1909 that it all came under the management of the Port of London Authority.

Redeveloped London Docklands near Canary Wharf. For those used to seeing a predominantly Georgian London, this view of the city can come as a bit of a surprise !

Today, the area is a mix of the commercial and the residential, and old housing estates and newer steel and glass structures as a result of massive efforts at redevelopment of an area that used to be predominantly labour class. The introduction of the Docklands Light Railway or DLR in 1987 fulled the development of an area that did not have good transport connectivity. The Docklands area has always been a trade hub for centuries; today, it is a hub of a different kind—the central business district of London is located here.

Tower Gateway DLR Station

The DLR is a fully automated light metro or light rail system to exclusively serve the Docklands area of London. It is quite distinct from the London Underground, and is also part of Transport for London. During my year’s stay in London in 2008–2009, I remained ignorant of the DLR largely because the Tube Bus took care of most of my travel requirements and I rarely travelled to the Docklands area.

Then one day, while returning to Central London from a day trip to Greenwich, the DLR turned out to be the most convenient mode of travel, and to use a clichéd term, travel was never the same again. It is a trip that I still remember, as a very different London emerged through that journey, very distinct from the Victorian and Georgian London that I had come to associate London with and love.

Such was my fascination for the DLR, that on one rainy and cloudy day, I spent a few hours travelling by the DLR, getting off at stations that caught my fancy and exploring the Docklands area on foot. I saw a very different London that day. A quieter London, steel and glass apartments, residences converted from warehouses, an airport by the river, colourful buildings, and so much more.

Presenting a sampling from that lovely day of a very different London courtesy the DLR journey that I took in July 2009 ! :-)

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The London Underground

I lived in London for a year (2008–2009) and though walking was my preferred mode of getting around the city, it wasn’t always possible to walk to my destination. So that’s where the Tube or the London Underground came in as the fastest, though not necessarily the cheapest, mode of travel. Travelling by the Tube made me re-look at perceiving public transport as only a means to get from point A to point B. It showed me that it could also be a place to showcase art, make a design statement, and a place that reflected the ethos/culture of the area it serviced.

Transport for London is the company overlooks the public transport in London through the Tube, buses, the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), trams, trains, etc. Though I used all these modes at some point during my stay in London, I loved the Tube and the DLR the most. I loved it so much that I photographed the unique aspects of the various tube stations I passed through, its various lines and routes, escalator and tube etiquette, etc. I never tired of admiring the little and big things that made each station unique and special. Even today, the Tube remains eminently gush-worthy. :-)

About 2-3 weeks back, BBC Entertainment channel in India started airing a programme on the London Underground. This programme, which airs every Saturday at 9.00 pm, looks at “London’s 140 year-old Underground system” and “what it’s like to run the world’s most complex train network”. In other words, it is a behind-the-scenes look at the people who run and manage the Tube.

Bond Street Station

Not surprisingly, this has become my favourite television programme and has inspired me to write this blog post today. But this post is not about the efficiency or a behind-the- scenes look of the Tube; it is simply a post on the beautiful tube stations of the London Underground — the ones that caught my eye with their unique design, art or architectural element.

So are you ready for some station hopping?

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When paintings came to life… A visit to Constable Country

Every place that I have travelled to has been memorable for different reasons. Some of the places have had a mythological significance attached to them, others have had historical reasons and still others have been memorable for literary reasons. Each of these visits have been memorable as they saw my imagination of the written word I had read or the oral narratives heard about these places come alive. Then there have been places that have made an impact on me visually through photographs, paintings and movies. And again, seeing them come to life when I visited some of the places has been memorable. But none have been as memorable as a visit to Constable Country, the place that inspired one of the greatest painters of English landscapes—John Constable.

John Constable (1776-1837) was born in East Bergholt in the Suffolk region of England. He was brought up in the countryside and his deep love for the local landscape led him to record its beauty, its light, its atmosphere, its colours and its textures in his paintings. Though Constable’s genius is acknowledged throughout the world today, in his own lifetime he struggled for recognition as landscape painting was considered unfashionable. He was more acclaimed in France and sold more paintings there than in England, whose rural landscape he loved so much. Indeed, he had this to say to a friend:

I should paint my own places best, painting is but another word for feeling.

He received recognition in England only about 8 years before his death and the countryside that he made so famous through his paintings came to be known as Constable Country.  Every stile, every tree, the fields, the river Stour, the watermills, the cornfields… found an expression in his paintings.

The Hay Wain (1821) by John Constable

I saw a John Constable painting for the first time on the cover of a book on the life and times of the artist. The painting was a detail from The Hay Wain (see picture on the left), which is considered to be Constable’s masterpiece. What attracted me to painting was the detail and the different textures visible in spite of the scaled down size of the painting in the book. I bought the book, read it from cover to cover, feasted on the paintings and added Constable Country to the list of places I wanted to visit. This was in 1994 and I had to wait for 15 years for that wish to realise.

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