London was never on my “to-travel” list but when my Boss told me in September that I have to travel to London to attend the LinkedIn Talent Connect EMEA Conference in November, it got me really surprised (as it wasn’t planned) & excited! United Kingdom was going to be the 3rd new country of 2014 Travel Tales after Kenya & Jordan. And the opportunity to visit some landmarks which I had read a lot about and to meet a friend whom I know since 2003 but had never met were strong enough reasons for this excited state of mind.
I started the exhaustive UK Visa Application by filling the “longest possible” online form at the Immigration website, collated all the required documents and received the Visa within 3 working days after my application. Talk about excellent customer satisfaction!
And then the itinerary process started about how to spend my 5 days in London. I contacted 2 of my friends there to set my plans – Mayank (my Mouthshut friend since 2003) & Nicholas (my Recruitment Vendor friend since 2014). Both of them were instrumental in getting my itinerary firmed up. Special thanks to Mayank for letting me know about the ATP World Tour Finals Event dates which coincided with my London Trip dates. I booked my tickets online using the Viagogo Website & then started praying to get a Federer, Nadal or Djokovic Match within my schedule but my destiny had something else in store. Read on to know more.
I also booked the Lord’s Cricket Ground, London Eye and Madame Tussauds Museum Tours as part of my plan. Having grown up watching Cricket matches played at the legendary Lord’s it was always a wish to visit it someday and watch a match there. Could not watch any match as none was scheduled during my trip but the tour was a very satisfying experience indeed. As a kid I had read and seen a lot about the MT Museum & was always fascinated with all the wax figures there so the fact that I was going to visit it soon got me quite excited!
London is known for its Tube transport Network and I was supposed to use it a lot so I also ordered a London Oyster’s Card which can be used on all Tube Trains and Buses; I had booked it online but sadly it didn’t arrive till the day I left so when I came back I had to send it back to get the refund. It wasn’t a major issue as I bought a new card at the Heathrow Airport London Underground counter.
The 5 days were really hectic, lots of fun and even though I didn’t get much opportunity or time to explore London in its entirety I tried my best to give it my all and had tonnes of fun.
After all the preparations, bookings and in the midst of manic workload at office my first London sojourn began!
Day 1 ||| Tuesday 11th November 2014 ||| Kuwait to Heathrow, London through British Airways
I landed in London at 12:30 PM via a British Airways direct flight from Kuwait. The Scenery down below was beautiful & barren! I also spotted some snow clad mountains. And London as expected welcomed me with a lots of clouds and some rains! The Immigration process was quite quick & seamless. I picked up my luggage, bought a bottle of wine for Mayank from a Duty Free Shop and bought a London Tube Oysters Visitor Card from the TFL (Transport for London) Airport counter & took my first Tube journey on the Piccadilly line; it was off-peak hours so both the station & the train were quite empty. I changed to the Jubilee and then the DLR Line to reach the Prince Regent Station which was at a walking distance from my Hotel – The Premier Inn. And perfect London weather welcomed me – Overcast Skies, light drizzle and a bit of chill. I was loving the weather and had a good walk to the Hotel before checking in. The almost 2 hours long journey passed in a jiffy.
The plan for this day was quite tight; I just put my luggage in the room, changed & then left for the O2 Arena for the ATP WTF event. The scenes there were very festive with lots & lots of people all over the place and first agenda was plain & simple – Food! I had booked my table at the Las Iguanas Latin restaurant at O2 & I had pre-researched about the menu on their website so knew what I had to order.
This was going to be a momentous meal of my life as I was just about to taste the Argentine Drink named “Mate” – Che Guevara’s favourite drink. This was one of the most momentous drinks of my life! Yerba mate is a plant whose stimulating properties yield a beverage that is as much of a staple in Argentine society as tea is in England. Che favored this drink throughout his life, even after he had taken up residence in revolutionary Cuba. I had read a lot about mate & seen lots of pics of Che sipping Mate & always wanted to try it myself. Never knew would get this opportunity in London. Another wish complete.
I also ordered 2 other Latino dishes – Classic Champinones – Thick-sliced mushrooms in a creamy smoked chilli sauce, served with warmed soft wheat tortillas & my first pork Sausage experience. Pollo con Chorizo – Chicken thigh, smoked pork & garlic chorizo with cannellini beans & cayenne, slowly braised in tomatoes & red peppers served with spring onion & garlic rice, soured cream & fine green beans. The food was very filling, delicious and VFM as well. Plus the resto had a very special buzz too coupled with superb service by the staff. I had a wonderful time indeed.
After this hearty meal I headed towards the main arena for my first Live Tennis experience! Saw a long queue & saw many people lined up to get their pics clicked with the event trophy for the Singles Champion. Got my photograph clicked & got 2 hard copies as well.
Even though the place was swamped with people but there was no chaos or people getting crazy! I got into the court area got to my seat in no time. The Arena was bathed in blue and looked mighty impressive!
The first match I was going to watch was a Round Robin Doubles Match between the seventh seeds Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo (in Yellow) who defeated the sixth seeds Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez (in Blue), the 2012 champions, 7-6(5), 7-6(12) in one hour and 56 minutes and qualified for the Semi Finals! They lost in the Finals against the top-ranked Bryan Brothers. It was a very well-fought match with many awesome net points & the crowd had a great time.
And then the big match of the evening! Andy Murray v Milos Raonic…Murray won the match 6-3, 7-5. It was another well-fought match but Raonic didn’t play as per his potential & was quite erratic with his serves. Obviously Murray had 100% crowd support & he is the local hero so each point was vociferously cheered by the housefull crowd.
I clicked some real cool burst shots of the Raonic Serve and they came out really good too.
Even though I badly wanted to watch a Federer, Nadal (he withdrew as he was to get operated for appendicitis) or a Djokovic match and prayed hard for it but my luck didn’t strike gold this time. I was extremely disappointed when the match schedule came out but then it was always supposed to be a lottery so I could not complain much. My first live tennis experience would always remain ultra-special as it came at one of the biggest ATP events of the year. And I had booked really awesome (and expensive) tickets so I got to watch the action from very close.
The match got over at 11 PM and I had a late dinner at the newly opened Five Guys Restaurant as a lot of other restos had closed down so as expected it was absolutely full & had a long queue.
I headed out towards the Tube station to the last train of the night, reached the hotel and crashed. The next 2 days were dedicated to the LinkedIn Conference – the main agenda of my London trip.
Day 2 ||| Wednesday 12th November 2014 ||| LinkedIn Talent Connect EMEA Conference at the Excel Centre
I woke up quite early that day before heading to have a hearty breakfast at the Hotel resto where I was so awesomely greeted by Toni who had such infectious energy & that is what all the guests needed on a weekday morning to get a jump start. The breakfast was quite extensive and I had my tummy full to the brim. I went back to my room, got ready & then walked towards the Excel Centre for the conference.
The place was buzzing with HR Professionals & recruiters from all over the EMEA Region; I registered myself and went to the main hall for the introduction & welcome session. The first talk was about LinkedIn’s latest initiatives and vision for the future hosted by Wade Burgess, VP Talent Solutions, LinkedIn & Ariel Eckstein, Managing Director, LinkedIn EMEA.
The second session & overwhelmingly the best session was hosted by L’Oreal Paris : Beauty, Madeleines, Inspiration, The White and the Wheat: Scaling Talent Eco-Systems convened by Zvi Goldfarb, The Head of the Talent Acquisition Digital Lab, L’Oréal & Frédérique Scavennec, VP Global Talent Acquisition at L’Oréal Group, L’Oréal. It was quite an informative & engaging session with lots of interesting real life information about what the group is managing their Talent Acquisition process globally. The most special part was the French Accents which I was witnessing live for the first time after watching so many French movies.
The day was filled with lots of other interesting & informative sessions including the day-ending session hosted by Dave ‘Google’ Hazlehurst, Director & Partner, Ph.Creative about Art & Science of Digital Connections which was a damn amazing talk about one of the most relevant recruiting tools in the current time. I met lots of fellow recruiters from so many different countries & enjoyed the lovely Lunch & coffee sessions. The sessions ended at 7 PM which was followed by a welcome reception with drinks and canapés. I filled my tummy with all those awesomely delicious canapés before heading to my Hotel and crashing. Surprisingly (and shockingly to me) I skipped dinner that night as I just could not gather myself to go out of my room.
Day 3 ||| Thursday 13th November 2014 ||| LinkedIn Talent Connect EMEA Conference at the Excel Centre & Lindfield Gardens to meet Shruti Didi
Another long day is the offing and luckily the conference was supposed to start at 10:15 so I woke up late, had a leisurely breakfast, and enjoyed my smoke & coffee in the chilly-rainy weather before walking towards the venue.
Another day full of very interesting sessions where I got to so much about how big & small organizations are heading in the field of Talent Acquisition. Met some more interesting recruiters & learnt a lot from our conversations. I met fellow recruiters from Poland, Czech Republic, Sweden, Luxembourg, Germany, France, Italy and many other countries.
My favourite session was “Candidate Experience: Be the Team They Remember” hosted by Derek Bambrick F.I.R.P, International Talent Acquisition Partner, Hertz International, Jeremy Tipper, Managing Partner, Talent Collective, Matthew Jeffery, Head of Global Talent Acquisition Strategy & Innovation, SAP and Jill Duthie, Head of Direct Sourcing, RBS. I had managed the Candidate experience Team in my last organization UnitedHealth group and it was a lot of fun to listen about a stream about which I have passionately worked in the past.
I went for a walk in the Lunch Break to explore the areas around the venue & beautiful weather made it a fun experience. Standing by the Thames riverside was a peaceful & calming experience indeed. During the course of the day I made a plan to visit my Bhabhi’s (Sister in Law) Cousin Sister who lives in London after the conference got over at 7 PM.
There was an after-event Party scheduled as well which I decided to skip. Attending this conference was a superb experience indeed which gave me an opportunity to meet so many people & also to visit London for the first time. Big thanks to my organization for giving me this opportunity and to LinkedIn for arranging it so well – no hiccups throughout the 2 days, none whatsoever. Superb is the word! There was a competition where you had to tweet using the hashtag #TalentConnect and each person who tweeted got a Portable Mobile charger; I won two of them and they would come in very hands during our travels. The food was damn delicious as well! No wonder I was more than satisfied.
The dinner was an extensive spread of British & World Cuisine! I had Pies, Fish and Chips, Burritos, Nachos and lots of fresh juices. Always wanted to have authentic Pies & Fish and Chips and my wish was granted without spending a penny. Lucky me! After enjoying this awesome dinner I took the Tube to go to Lindfield Gardens which was a long journey of Tube, Bus & Walking.
Met Shruti Didi, her kids and also got an opportunity to meet her Mother who had landed in London the same day. She had prepared a lovely Indian dinner for me and amidst the food & the never-ending talks I forgot to click any pics with them.
I reached my Hotel all exhausted after a long day at Midnight and once again the same result – I crashed!
Day 4 ||| Friday 14th November 2014 ||| A special day in London
I woke up late that day (if you consider 7:30 AM as late), checked out of my room, had another sumptuous breakfast and headed towards the first agenda item of the day – The London Eye. My stay at premier Inn was a wonderful one – another good choice I made thanks to the Trip Advisor reviews. Even though the Hotel was very close to the London City Airport & a Tube Line I had a peaceful & trouble free sleep for all the 3 nights. And it was true to their tag line – “a great night’s sleep is guaranteed”. The Breakfast was very filling with lots of choices and Toni’s beaming smiles started my days on a perfect note.
A rainy morning greeted when I stepped out of the hotel and I loved my walk to the Tube Station with an umbrella over my head. Believe it or not I bought an umbrella for the first time in my life & it came in very handy during this trip. I had miscalculated the opening time of The London Eye and reached at 9 AM wherein the opening time was 10 AM so I stood right opposite the gate saving myself from the rain. I met a Polish lady and a Senegalese man who were also standing with me & had come to begin their training at The London Eye as Customer Service Representatives. We talked a lot about our lives in general for the 1 hour we waited for the gates to open. The gates opened as planned at 10 AM & after getting my tickets (I had made my booking online beforehand itself) I went for the 10 minutes 4D show about the history of this London Landmark which was quite an informative & entertaining show and me being the only participant in the small theatre.
I went in the short queue to finally hop on in the Passenger capsule which could hold 25 people & then the ride began. Slowly but surely we reached the highest point to get the best possible views of the Palace of Westminster & the Big Ben. It was constantly raining so we could not get a clear view especially with all those rain drops on the capsule exterior but still the experience was a decent one.
The next POA was to visiting the Madame Tussauds museum; took another rainy walk to reach the station and get to the museum. There was a long queue, I got through after a 20 minutes wait. This was another dream come true for me! Since childhood had read & saw about all those wax statues and finally I was to view them all! The first section was the Bollywood section and by far the worst statues! No one looked real & the facial expressions on the statues were so pathetically fake. It was a bad start indeed.
But then it kept getting better and the statues got real. Unbelievably real infact. There were many sections; Party, Film, Sport, Royals, Culture, Music, World Leaders, Behind the Scenes at Madame Tussauds, Spirit of London Ride & Marvel Super Heroes. All of them were really superb and I had a wonderful time clicking pics and taking a look at all those wonderfully designed statues.
My favourite statue for obvious reasons was that of Sachin Tendulkar. Was so cool looking at that statue. And the 2nd favourite was that of the father of our nation Mahatma Gandhi. I got only 2 pics clicked with the wax figures, and these were the two.
The last and probably the most awesome experience at MT was the 4D Movie Experience; a short movie starring all the Marvel Superheroes with water splashing, seats vibrating and what not. Loved it to bits.
And it was time for the next & another highly awaited POA of the day! A visit to the Mecca of Cricket — The Lord’s Cricket Ground. The weather was thankfully clear & sunny and after another short train journey & another walk I reached Lord’s and straight went into the 2 hours long Guided Tour. Which was a spectacular lesson in the History of this legendary Cricket Ground.
Our guide was absolutely awesome & all of us (there were 8 people in this tour) were given lots of information about the ground, its history, some hidden facts and also about what makes it so special. I asked a lot of questions and had a lot of private conversations with our guide about my queries. He shared so much special information which was so cool to know. About the rules governing the MCC Membership, the players’ memories and about the history of this ground.
It was so special walking through parts of the Ground which I have seen growing up watching all those special Cricket matches. The most special bit was when we visited the Visitor’s dressing room and listening to the special stories. And my most favourite moment came when I sat at the part of the couch which was Sachin Tendulkar’s exclusive seating spot! That feeling is hard to describe! And standing on that famous Lord’s balcony where Kapil Dev proudly showed off our 1983 World Cup trophy and Saurav Ganguly removed his shirt and danced like a mad man in the famous 2002 Natwest Series win! The stories of the cult Honours Board were also very interesting to hear. Sadly Sachin would never be listed there.
We also visited the famous Media Centre & the view from there was magical indeed. The only sad part was that it wasn’t allowed to click pics in any of the covered areas and maybe that’s why this tour is a real special one as you have to attend it personally to witness the magic. You just can’t see some pics and feel happy about it. But yeah we could click pics when we were outside the enclosed areas and I duly obliged!
I shopped for Lord’s Memorabilia at the official store and got some special stuff as 2014 is the two hundredth year of the Lord’s Cricket Ground. Perfect timing indeed.
After this super special visit I had a hearty lunch at the famous Lord’s tavern and for a change a vegetarian meal. I had the Mighty Vegetarian Burger – Grilled Portobello mushrooms, piquilla pepper, goat’s cheese & ketchup tartar relish. It was very filling and much needed as I was starving (as always).
The sightseeing was over and it was the time to meet with friends. A new one and a really old one.
I took the Tube and went to the famous Oxford Street to meet Nicholas Devarajan whom I started interacting just some months back but built a special bond so I had to definitely meet him when I was there in London. We met outside H&M during a very busy & crowded Friday evening with tonnes of hustle & bustle of the Christmas shopping crowd amidst the beautifully decorated streets.
While walking to the street I found a row of Huge Bins marked for Recycling products and was mighty impressed. Hope something of sort starts in India too.
Nicholas then took me to a Primark Store where I shopped stuff for Abhay; they had such awesome collection. Thousand times better than what we get here in Kuwait. I tried my best to control myself and not to go overboard with shopping! Ended up buying some really awesome stuff for Abhay. Big thanks to Nicholas for taking me there.
We then took a long & slow walk from the Oxford Street to the Leicester Square and also went to the China Town which was quite a different setting for me. The Roasted Ducks were the special exhibits.
During our walk I spotted a Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. restaurant which I didn’t know was there in London (it had recently opened there) so I was sure where I was going to have my pre-dinner meal. Forrest Gump is one of my favourite movies of all time and it was my wish to visit this restaurant one day. And the fact it came as a surprise made it even more special. The place has some really cool interiors with tonnes of Movie Posters, Artifacts and Quotes featured throughout. We ordered a big portion of Shrimp (what else) and had a real good time there coupled with brilliant service.
We finished this walk on a high and then took the Tube back to our hotel together from where I had to pick up my stuff and then head towards Mayank’s place in Hounslow West via a long Tube journey.
Nicholas was with me all the way through and got down only 3 stops before my final destination for the day. Huge thanks to him for being such a sport, spending time with me and being my guide for the day. Hope we can meet again in the future and have a good time again.
Meeting Mayank was another special moment for the both of us. We know each other since 2003 through Mouthshut.com where we used to write our reviews. Since then we have been in touch through first Orkut, then GTalk and Facebook but never got an opportunity to meet in all these 11 years.
He came to the Tube Station from where we walked to his home where I met his Daughter Tanvi & Wife Shikha, had a wonderful dinner and talked & talked & talked till 2 in the night before we finally were dead exhausted and decided to call it a night.
This was by far the most special day of the trip. Visiting the MT Museum, seeing the Big Ben & the Westminster Palace, Visiting Lord’s Cricket Ground, having lunch at the Lord’s Tavern, meeting a new friend Nicholas, having a meal at the Bubba Gump restaurant and meeting Mayank for the first time. So many special moments in one single day. No wonder I slept within seconds of hitting the bed.
Day 5 ||| Saturday 15th November 2014 ||| Visiting Southall and Flight back to Kuwait
We all woke up late; it was the weekend for Mayank so even he lazed around for late. Had a leisurely breakfast and I decided to head towards Southall which is a large suburban district of west London has one of the largest concentrations of South Asian people outside of the Indian sub-continent and is especially known for its concentration of Punjabis. I have grown up hearing its references in so many Punjabi songs. And I always wanted to visit this fun place as part of my London Trip.
A very surprising part was that Mayank hasn’t visited Southall in his 5 years at London whereas there is a direct bus from very close to his home. He still “plans” to visit it someday though.
I took a bus journey through residential neighbourhoods & had a good time observing people & the places passing me by. The first POA was to visit Sri Guru Singh Gurudwara which is supposedly the largest Gurudwara outside of Asia. And it was huge indeed. I spent some time in the main sanctorum and had a Langar too which was so damn amazing. The peace I experience in a Gurudwara is unparalleled. I have very special memories of visiting the Dubai Gurudwara in our February 2013 trip too. I am planned to visit The Golden temple in Amritsar in February 2015 with my family for the 6th time and I just can’t wait!
After this spiritual and gastronomical visit I took a long walk to the Southall Broadway (yes, that’s the official name) through the hustle & bustle and the light drizzle through this walk! I was loving this experience. Had Roadside Tea and then enjoyed a Paan experience too! This just felt like India! Punjabi & Bollywood music roaring through the streets, women haggling for Salwar Suits, Hot jalebi being fried; it was just like I was roaming in Lajpat Nagar!
After this highly enjoyable & quite a long walk the next PoA was quite straight & simple. I had spotted a board at Himani Sweets displaying “Amritsari Naan available” so that was the place I had to be in! I had a fantastic meal followed by a single dose of Gulaab Jamun! It was drizzling outside and then this meal, you can imagine my sheer pleasure!
I visited the Gurudwara once more before leaving just to have one last feel! And then I took a bus to reach Mayank’s place. Had Tea & Pasta (lovely combo) before packing my stuff and leaving for the Airport.
I bid goodbyes to the Kedias and thanked them for their lovely hospitality with a hope of meeting them again in the future. The goodbye Pasta and hot tea were superb too! Mayank went with me to the Tube Station from where I took the last train journey of the trip to reach Heathrow.
I surrendered my Oysters Card to get the remaining money and the security deposit back, cleared the Immigration & Security Check; for the first time experienced a man less Immigration process which 3was supercool, shopped for some more UK Memorabilia, exchanged my GBPs for Euros and boarder the flight back to Kuwait.
I slept through the entire flight as I had to go straight to office after landing. I reached Kuwait on-time at 6:30 AM safe & sound and as they say “London Returned”!
This was a completely unexpected trip and a really pleasant one too! Special memories of so many experiences and meeting friends & family, the lovely chilled London weather, walking in the rains, having all those lovely food and experience of a new country! In 5 days I had maximum share of fun!
And this year has been really awesome in terms of Travel; 3 countries across 3 different continents – Kenya in Africa, Jordan in Asia and United Kingdom in Europe! Plus 2 India trips too. It couldn’t have been any better! Thanks to God for a lovely 2014 Travel year!
Hope 2015 is as good if not better for us! There are some real awesome trips lined up for the next year and hope they come out as they are planned!
So till the time we meet again…
Cheers to life…
Till then ride safe and have safe sex…
Hasta la Victoria Siempre…