An Eye On London

From a Venetian neighbourhood to a Roman temple, Sudipto De discovers a few not-so-known sites in the UK capital just as the city gears up to host the ICC Cricket World Cup.

Standing atop the London Eye, I breathe in the cool air as I look around, taking in a bird’s-eye view of the legendary city. This trip is a recce for all the destinations I plan to visit during the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 (to be held from May 30 till July 14), returning to England, the birthplace of the gentleman’s game, after 20 long
years. I start my trip with a few of the usual suspects; a flying round through Buckingham Palace to see the Royal Guards before heading off to the ornately-decorated Westminster Abbey and finally ending at the Tower of London along with London Bridge.

But this isn’t what I have come to London for. I have come to explore London off the tourist map. So, my first stop
is the stretch of public artworks starting from the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to the 02 Arena in Greenwich. With quite a few stunning pieces by modern masters, including A Bullet from a Shooting Star by Alex Chinneck, which features an upside down electricity pole perched precariously on one of its edges, and the Quantum Cloud by Antony Gormley that combines quantum physics and contemporary art, my walk is peppered with colorful vistas from another world.

But this is not all of the art that you see on the streets of London. The city’s global soul has made it a hotbed for some of the most creative artworks from around the world. The streets around Shoreditch and Mackney in East London are awash with colours and images of all kinds, out of which the animated figures of Frenchman Thierry Noir stand out. Said to have been the first to have used art to express feelings on the Berlin Wall, Noir’s works in London feature his iconic cartoon-like figures.

From the vibrant present, I time travel into the city’s past, that is said to date back to the era of the Romans, at the London Mithraeum. I have always loved London for its almost mythical association with its history and nowhere is it more pronounced than at the Mithraeum, which is a temple said to have been built by a sect of Romans.
Today, it is a cultural space which tells the story of the sect and its links with the region through artifacts that archaeologists have discovered at the site, which is located on one of London’s lost rivers, the Walbrook.

A local guide says that around 2,000 years ago when Londinium was founded by the Romans, this river marked the limits of their first settlement. In the 3rd century AD, nearly 200 years after the founding of London, a Roman Londoner built a temple dedicated to God Mithras next to the river. Today, audio guides retell the fascinating story of how this temple was constructed.

The next destination on my list is discovered by fluke, as I go hunting for a watering hole. The Attendant, where a Victorian-era lavatory has been converted into a café, with a stunning wrought iron fence, serves delectable cakes
and pastries along with single estate coffee. Sip cold brew amongst the ornate cisterns or click a photograph or two against the urinals. Tea drinkers can head to Twinning’s Café at the Strand, which has been bringing in tea since 1706 for the British Royal family.

On my previous trips, I have enjoyed Thames’ cruises on various kinds of boats but this time, I opt for a kayak ride that takes me around Little Venice! If you are surprised, so was I when I had first heard of this quaint
neighbourhood around the junction of the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal and the Regent’s Canal. With Venetian buildings lining the water, the picturesque locality is a pleasure to discover.

No trip to London can be complete without a visit to its markets. The Greenwich market located within the eponymous UNESCO Heritage Site is my favourite spot to sample authentic dishes from the city. Not only does it offer the classic fish and chips, but also spicy Jamaican curry, chocolaty churros and chicken tikka, which I dig into while
heading to the Thames, which is literally a five-minute-walk away.

Reconnaissance of offbeat London over, next I head to the Oval, the hallowed grounds of cricket, the iconic stadium where India will face defending champion Australia on June 9. A tour through the stadium has me marvelling at the exquisitely curated greens, which can be viewed from the panoramic commentary box. My next destination is the
sacred temple of cricket, the Lord’s cricket ground. I head to the Players Dressing Room, where the honours board (which holds names of all the centurions and five wicket holders) and the balcony (where former captain of the Indian cricket team Sourav Ganguly had twirled his shirt after India chased down a record total), both hold fond memories for any Indian, especially a Bengali!

As dusk descends and I walk away from the Lord’s, I can almost hear the cheers of fans as they rejoice a good game of cricket! London, this summer, is definitely going to be an exciting place to be in.

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