A Roadtrip from London to Wales

It is the Easter weekend when we land in London. The cheerful holiday crowds are everywhere and we become part of the global festive spirit in this cultural hot-pot.

Art installation at Trafalgar Square – bright blue cockerel symbolising regeneration

We had made the decision to go on a Road trip with friends spontaneously without much planning, but it is now the highlight of our holiday in UK. We are three couples along with 2 other friends and kid, and all happen to be in UK at the same time. Any vacation with a large group usually gets complicated because everyone’s idea a holiday is different, but we are all old friends and all share the same thirst for adventure, exploration, and enjoy each others company a lot too.

Peugeot 3000

I hire a self-drive car the for the first time and it is surprisingly convenient and cheap in London. We drive to our friends house for a night stopover where all of us are assembling first. My wife is a nervous wreck behind the wheels of the unfamiliar car, compounded by the fact that we are driving at night on a busy highway. Unfortunately she is the only one with a valid driving license in UK. My condition is best summerized by the joke which goes – the priest is complaining to God about why is he sending him to hell, and sending a bus driver to heaven, and the God replies – because the bus driver did more to get people to remember God. Soon she is feeling more confident and both of us are breathing easier.

Our vehicle of choice is the Peugeot 3000, a crossover/ SUV, automatic with a fully retractable sunroof, loaded with more electronics than I can figure out. We have the 1000 Km roundtrip ahead of us into the great unknown.

Roadtrip from London to Wales

I concede that the great unknown dosent mean the same as it once used to. We arnt really going where no man has gone before, but it is all about the spirit of discovery when going to a new place – trying a new cuisine, discovering that little eatery that surprises you and which no tour book told you about, or walking through a part of the world that is so different than where you came from. Just stepping out of the door you wlak into a world where everything is different than what you are used to – the language, the landscape, the currency you use, the traffic rules, the way people look, the way they are expected to behave but you are still the same person. All those simple acts that you take for granted daily become tasks that you need to think about. There are subways to be figured out, GPS navigation to be used, weather to be anticipated, strangers to interact with to get by, all the while not getting lost in all of it and remembering to have a good time. It is the giant immersive adventure of trying to navigate through an alien world.

We head out of London in the morning and make a short stopover was at Oxford – the university town.  There is youthful energy as one would expect, but there is also the old world charm. Oxford is the oldest university in the English speaking world. The university has crafted men like Oscar Wilde, Rupert Murdoch, Margaret Thatcher, Stephen Hawking, Bill Clinton, Sir Tim Berners-Lee… and some notable Indians as well – Indira Gandhi,  Manmohan Singh, Soha Ali Khan (Yeah you read that right).

Oxford University – not easy to carry the tag of being #2. The Alum has many remarkable names including that of Soha Ali Khan… enough said.

We arrive at our destination, Cynwyd, a quite little village amidst rolling hills and farms. It has a small Postoffice that stocks up all the needs of the grocery in the village. The cottage where we are staying is an old, well lived in house and we have been handed the keys to manage it.

Our Cottage in Cynwyd

Our Cottage in Cynwyd

It is cold and evening temperature is around 2 C, but the cottage is nice and cozy. We stay a few days here and settle into a routine of day trips in nearby towns, walks into the hills, eating out and spending evenings in the common living room enjoying music, chats and board games sitting around the that warm fireplace. I could live this life for a long time.

The cottage in Wales

Walking through the pretty countryside I realise that the landscape is all fenced up and everything is private land. You can see, but you cant touch. An even greater tragedy behind this pretty landscape is that all of the wilderness of this landscape has been defanged and tamed and is merely reduced to being the grazing ground of sheeps. The bald green landscape now starts  looking like a violation of nature itself. Even with such a low population they have wrecked so much damage, if they had the population pressure like India this landscape would have been totally destroyed with such a level of abuse and consumption.

Wales Countryside – Nature tamed and defanged

Few days of idyllic living, we start on out journey back Via Bath, and a day stopover at Bristol. Bristol has been voted as the best city in UK to live in. It is a charming city with a great design aesthetic in all public spaces and architecture. The marketplace looks welcoming and charming with its beautifully designed shop fronts.

Bristol

We are back in the Bustle of Londoan now. An old Scot is sitting next to us at a Patisserie picks up a conversation by talking about the loneliness in London. He is probably in late 60s, wears a sweater and trouser, has clear honest eyes and a ready smile. Tells us to come to Edinburgh which is a much better place but to come in August, and to book it in advance. Tells this to me four times in the conversation. He is trying to crack a joke at every possible instance, and then asks if I think humor is important to life. Finishes his tea, says his byes and walks off.

London – with all its cliches

London is so beautiful and filled with so much abundance, but but everyone seems stresssed and in a great rush to get somewhere. Faces seem withdrawn with the façade of social mannerisms, that quick fake smile and the going back to that dull almost lifeless face.

London – Too busy to pause for even a Rabbit

This is a highly process oriented place, everything works, everything is reduced to a process, and People are no more than cogs in the wheel… highly replaceable. Maybe it is this insecurity, or maybe it is the lack of any larger purpose that the British once had which is nothing more than to survive another day. Someone explains it to me that because everyone is paid wages by the hour, everything is about efficiency here. There is no time to pause.

London – looking for hope

We are staying at harrow with a friend of ours, and pass by the famous Harrow school for boys. I am told that the annual fee is £80,000. Looking at the school I start to get the same nervousness in my stomach that I got as a kid when I walked into a new schools – and I changed schools some 6 times, so I know this feeling intimately. I see young boys walking around dressed in like mini-adults, being indoctrinated into a class hierarchy that will be quite irrelevant by the time they get into their youth. The school looks impressive with its huge the sports fields, its golf course and the massive school building. But not sure if this is the right path for kids. If only the kids knew what they are losing – the joy of childhood and an opportunity to discover who they really are, rather than then being moulded by their parents and societal fantasies.

The right answer, at Covent Gardens

We book tickets for Lion king the musical. The puppets and the animal costumes and representations are imaginative. The stage moves and transforms itself to form mountains and valleys  and forests right in front if out eyes. The scenes of a stampeded leave you gasping at the artistic and technical wizardry. Story moves tightly and beautifully. This show has happened twice a day, everyday since 1999, and is done with the same freshness. The performers bodies are fit and shapely, maybe from the daily workouts on the play. We walk out of it thoroughly entertained… this is art at its finest.

The life in Mumbai had fully has claimed me back since the trip, and has partially dissolved the memories of that happy holiday. But travelling changes you. A bit of that global perspective becomes a part of you because of these travels. Just makes your bigger…

The Roadmap

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