So I (or my groggy, tripping self) got to Stansted airport at 00.25 owing to my flight being at 08.30, and there being limited transportation options from my aunt’s place in Hanwell to the bus pick-up point at Gloucester Place. Some holiday this! Anyway, got there, found an empty row of check-in counters against whom other passengers like me were resting, so I decided to grab one for myself too. Slept on and off for about three hours when a security guard came and told everyone there to get up because it was time for staff to start coming in for duty. Great. Had to spend the remaining five hours roaming around aimlessly, sometimes in and around the check-in counters, others in each on the many cafes at the terminal. Finally got the check-in call around 8am, and completed all formalities in a short while.
Boarded the flight to Glasgow at 8.40, and as soon as the plane started moving out of the bay I realized that I left my 45GBP brand-new jacket, which I had bought the previous day, at the boarding gate! My only jacket for Scotland, waterproof to boot and brand-new on top of that! NOOO!!! But then neither am I Madhavan, nor was this a movie, so feigning a heart attack or other terrible ailments was beyond my sleep-deprived brain. And so I fell asleep. Landed at Glasgow after what seemed like many lifetimes of drifting in and out of consciousness. Despite my lost jacket (sniff, sniff) I managed to stay upbeat about things. I decided to pick-up the same jacket again from another outlet of the same store I had bought it from, in Glasgow. Took my rented car into Glasgow and realized I was hopelessly, terribly lost. No GPS, no map, no sense of direction. Stopping and asking for directions is not quite as simple as it is India, where you can afford to suddenly go left, stop by the roadside and check with anyone walking by. That lead to a torrid 3 hours before I finally somehow stumbled into George square in Glasgow (don’t ask how, I have no clue!), and involved another frantic two hours of trying to find out where I was, running back to the car to get another parking slip for 15 minutes, and repeating the whole thing after another 15 minutes. At this point you might wonder why i didn’t just get a slip for an hour or two right away. Oh, but I did try to, except the parking machine had ideas of its own and it decided to swallow my two 2 pound coins, but give me a single slip for 15 minutes (it’s 60p for 15 minutes of parking, so ideally I should’ve got a slip for 45 minutes). So I said thanks to the machine for shafting me, and went on with my sprints across different parts of the square till some kind soul told me exactly where my shop was (a mere 5 minutes away on foot, as I found out much to my chagrin and relief ). I finally managed to get my jacket after a good two hours of running around like a headless chicken. I thank the almighty that he gave my sleep-deprived brain enough sense to get hold of one really good map of Scotland while I was running around. That helped me get on my way towards Loch Lomond, which was to be my first stop of my Scottish sojourn.
Loch Lomond is about half an hour from Glasgow, and I was headed towards the Scottish Youth Hostel at Loch Lomond (17.75 GBP per night), which was up a small pathway off the A82. The hostel was formerly a castle, and gave me my first flavour of Scottish heritage. The interiors of the castle, oops… hostel, are made of carved wooden roofs and carpeted floors running from edge-to-edge with wooden walls on all sides. There are stained glass windows up the stairway, which lend the building a very old-world charm to the building, and you can’t help but be impressed when you first lay your eyes upon them. The views from the upper floors, where the rooms are, are fantastic, overlooking the Loch and the hills in the distance. The gardens around the hostel are very well maintained, and are a pleasure to behold. In fact, I spent my whole evening taking pictures of and from the garden, never venturing out of the boundaries of the hostel compound. This is going to be a great trip!
So I’m here in London for the time being. Last night was far longer than I imagined it would be. Although I had no reason to expect that I would’ve got out of Heathrow within an hour after the plane landed, I never quite thought it would take me more than two hours to get through immigration and collect my bags!!! I guess big hubs such as Heathrow always are crowded, despite being well staffed. Boy, was it a pain to stand in the immigration line for over an hour and a half only to get to the wrong baggage carousel (they’d taken off the markings for my flight by the time I got to the collection area because it had been more than 1.5 hours after the plane had landed!) It took a good three hours to get to the train station at Hanwell.
I planned to hire a cab from there to my aunt’s place, but nooo! No cabs available, so I start walking, keep walking, and walking, and walking for more than a kilometre (possibly more) with a 15 kg rucksack, and two 6 kg. bags, each in one hand. Up the street, over the crest, down the road and into the last street. Boy, was it a fun! Not.
Strangely though, it isn’t as cold here as I was expecting it to be. The temperature is hovering around 17 degrees C, which is far from cold. Thankfully I brought along this light jumper that worked perfectly last night, although in hindsight it would’ve been better left in the bag, what with all the physical exercise I was subjected to.
Had a good time trawling through Kensington High St. in the afternoon, followed by an extremely pleasant time in Holland Park. A single narrow path leads up into the park, with all kinds of people walking up and down; kids on tiny bicycles tearing down from one end to another and parents desperate to exercise (or at least display) some kind of control over them; young couples wandering aimlessly (ahem ahem!) from one bench to another; older people basking in the sunshine watching other people go by. The path eventually leads to a huge open grassy area where everyone seemed to be enjoying a beautiful autumn evening in the sun playing football with children, or with one another. Families were sitting around, talking and laughing while groups of girls and guys were sitting and talking about whatever topics interested them the most.
As I walked on the path leading up to the main park area, taking casual pictures of leaves and other inanimate objects, all bathing in the golden evening sun, the sound of somebody playing a song came to me, and it seemed to lift the mood of the place to another level altogether. I stood and listened, trying to recognize the song but hadn’t heard it before. Everyone who had previously been talking also stopped doing so, and listened to the notes that were being played out just a small distance away, their sound being carried into our ears by the cool evening breeze flowing through all the green, yellow and red leaves hanging from branches of all the trees that stood there with us. I decided to go check this out, for it was too good to pass on.
So I walked into the park area, and stood away from this bunch of guys who were sitting in the middle, one of who wielded a classical Ibanez. He seemed to be tweaking the strings, and that went on for a while. I kept standing a fair distance away, unsure whether he would play again. In the meantime I saw three small boys playing with their father. A kiddies bike belonging to one of them lay close to where I stood, and I bent down to take their photograph, hoping to trap some of that simple childhood fun in a frame. The youngest chap saw me sitting close to his bike and came running towards me claiming it! His brothers then joined him, and they stood there smiling at me. Before I had much of a chance to chat with them, they ran back to their father. Oh well, you get some and you lose some!
By this time guitar-boy (whose name is Lourenco) seemed to have finished tuning the guitar to his satisfaction, and was making the final tweaks before he started off with another song. I strode up to where he was sitting with his friends, greeted them all and told them I’d heard to the song played earlier and thought it was very good. I asked this guy’s permission to record whatever he was going to play, to which he readily agreed. With that I sat down with them, and one of they asked me more about what I was doing and I told them I was traveling around the UK and the US, trying to experience the life in these places, and the differences in the landscapes of their lands and their people. That seemed to pique their interest a fair bit, and Lourenco asked me if I had any particular song I wanted him to play to which I simply asked him to play anything he wished to. He began playing again, and a part of that song can be heard below. Once again, it just uplifted the spirit of the entire park when those notes started coming out of Lourenco’s fingers on the fretboard. The green grass; the sun bathing the entire field with golden light; people sitting and standing listening to Lourenco play and sing. It was the perfect concurrence of everything you could ask for on a Sunday.