London’s South Bank

26 11 2010
Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, South Bank, River Thames, London

The Houses of Parliament, as seen from the South Bank

The first instinct of many tourists staying in central London hotels is often to head straight for the city’s Underground network when setting out to explore the capital. But while the colourful tangle of ‘tube’ lines and exotic station names (Swiss Cottage, Elephant and Castle, Seven Sisters) is undoubtedly a good way of getting around, it’s easy to forget just how much of the city can also be seen on foot.

Of the many great walks in and around central London, perhaps one of the best, in terms of the sheer number of sights that can be seen in one go, is the South Bank trail.

The South Bank of the River Thames was historically outside the boundaries of the City of London, which meant that lots of activities that were heavily-regulated within the city walls – gambling, drinking, theatre-going and fun-fairs, to name but a few – flourished here. Today the South Bank retains something of that air of artistry and merriment, with some of the biggest and best theatres, cinemas, music venues and art galleries in the country clustered together along the river front.

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McLeod Ganj

16 08 2009

 

Prayer wheels at the Tsug Lakhang Temple

Prayer wheels at the Tsug Lakhang Temple

It was getting on for quarter past two, but at the bus stand in McLeod Ganj everything had ground to a halt. A dozen or so local travellers stood around the ticket office, waiting patiently for it to re-open. We joined them, doing our best to find the back of the queue then, realising that there was no queue, slotting ourselves into the crowd as best we could.

The ticket office was closed. No sign had been put up and no blinds had been drawn, but still, there was no doubt about it: the ticket office was definitely closed. On a hard wooden table behind the counter, in full view of the waiting customers, lay the sleeping figure of the ticket wallah. His features were strangely peaceful, the only sign of movement being the occasional twitch of his moustache. Although well over fifty, his hair was bright henna red, in stark contrast to the muted greys and browns of his tiny workplace.             

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Three Days in Delhi

8 08 2009

 

Jama Masjid

Jama Masjid

Day One

“In India, everything is difficult,” says Rosie, who’s been here before. I have to admit that at first I don’t believe her. After all, I’ve survived Bangkok and I’ve survived Hanoi: how much more ‘difficult’ could Delhi be? 

By the time we leave the airport at 6 AM it’s already warm. At our taxi driver’s request, we wind down all the windows in his little car as he pulls away into the early morning traffic. As we enter Delhi the roads gradually become narrower and more chaotic. With a little honk here and a little honk there, we weave our way among rickshaws, bicycles, pedestrians, scavenging cows and tatty-looking dogs, sometimes with just an inch or two of clearance. 

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The Angkor Temples and Battambang

21 07 2009
Bayon Temple, Angkor Thom

Bayon Temple, Angkor Thom

How many pigs can you get on the back of a motorcycle? The answer, it seems, is three. At least, that’s the largest number of porkers that we saw being given a spin around the back roads of Cambodia. Recently slaughtered and stacked neatly behind the driver, their legs swayed loosely each time the vehicle went around a corner, giving the alarming impression that at any moment they might come wriggling and squealing back to life.

And it’s not just pigs either. The Cambodians, perhaps even more than the Vietnamese, love their motorbikes and use them to transport everything from sacks of rice to huge bunches of bananas to families of five. As we bussed, boated and cycled our way around the country we could only shake our heads in wonder each time one of these two-wheeled loads went past, and keep our fingers crossed that it wouldn’t tip over at the next corner. (It never did.)
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Phnom Penh

11 07 2009

Now who would live in a house like this? The King of bloomin' Cambodia, that's who.

Now who would live in a house like this? The King of mother-lovin' Cambodia, that's who.

One of the first things that we see in Phnom Penh, as we wander along the banks of the Tonlé Sap River, is a young boy catching sparrows. With a snare attached to a long fishing pole he stalks them through the scrubby undergrowth, just a stone’s throw from the Royal Palace. Plucking them deftly one-by-one from the ground, he imprisons them in a cage with dozens of fellow feathered friends.

At first I assume that this must be for food. There’s not much meat on a sparrow, but there do seem to be plenty of desperately poor people in Phnom Penh. But then I start to have doubts: surely that fishing pole could be put to better use in the wide, muddy river that runs through the heart of the capital?

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Hué to Ho Chi Minh City

7 07 2009

The walls of the citadel in Hué

The walls of the citadel in Hué

 

In Hoi An we ate ‘white roses’ – tiny shrimp fried in thin rice paper parcels. In Saigon we had spring rolls, greasy and spicy and still-hot from the pan. In Hué a speciality was bahn xio – shrimp, beansprouts and shredded pork wrapped in a crispy, crèpe-like pancake, while in Hanoi, we ate pho bo – a spicy soup of beef and noodles – almost every day, while steering well clear of Dog Meat Alley.

Vietnamese food is like that. As you travel from town to town you find that each place has its own repertoire of signature dishes, all made with ingredients fresh from the local market.

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Hanoi

18 06 2009

Hanoi traffic

Hanoi traffic

Over the last three weeks, Rosie and I have spent a lot of time in Vietnamese places beginning with the letter ‘h': Halong Bay, Hué, Hoi An, Ho Chi Minh City. But for us, Vietnam began with The Big H – the capital city Hanoi, where we landed on 28th May.

The first thing we had to learn in Hanoi, as a matter of some urgency, was how to cross the road. ‘Mirror, signal, position, manoeuvre'; that’s what I remember from my driving lessons all those years ago. Well, in Vietnam – and in Hanoi in particular – things are slightly different. The advice given to motorists here seems to be something like: ‘honk, honk, honk, manoeuvre, then honk again, just to be on the safe side’.

There’s roughly one scooter per person in Hanoi, and at rush hour (and at other times of day for that matter) the traffic rattles along in a seemingly never-ending, chaotic stream, with scant regard for pedestrian crossings, traffic lights or any of the other niceties of Western motoring.

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