It was not that Europe was not inviting enough for us. The fact was every other year saw us visiting our sons in the US and it was not possible to squeeze in another pleasure trip due to various constraints. So when it happened this year, we were more than excited. Though we have traveled extensively in the US, everything used to be taken care of by our sons. All we had to do was sit back, accompany them and enjoy - we had got used to this sort of pampering. Also we are no longer young and so planning a trip to Europe by ourselves was not happening. We had heard rave reviews about Kesari Travels and decided to choose their 'Best of Europe' tour of 14 days, spanning ten countries and 24 major cities. We chose the tour starting in the end of April 2015 as we felt May would bestow relatively warm days along with winter attractions. We booked our tickets, collected the complimentary 'roll-ons' and documents.
We went through the formalities smoothly for our British visa, then our Schengen visa as per instructions from Kesari Travels, got Euros for our shopping, and we were all set. We didn't have to procure warm clothes as we already had them. Many of our new-found friends told us that they had to spend a sizable amount on sweaters / jackets / woollen caps and gloves, not to mention thermal wear and shoes.Usually I always love to carry home-made snacks to enjoy during our trips . This time we were specifically told by several friends that Kesari tours offers us delicious snack packs which will last longer than the entire tour. So I spent the next few days browsing to study the weather as well as the details about the places on our list of visit and also preparing 'Musical Tombola' tickets which I am fond of conducting at get-togethers. We had a list of the participants of our tour but we had not got in touch with any of them. We were surprised to find that the majority were ladies; also most of us were senior citizens. The group also included three children and two youngsters and two couples who were in their mid forties. We were a group of 35.
Day 1 - Off to London
We reached Mumbai International airport, waited for the representative of Kesari Travels to collect our 'goody bag' of snack -packs, electric kettle, cap, poncho and pouch, got introduced to our tour manager Mr. Sushant Kharat and went through the formalities of Check-in, Customs, Immigration, and Security Check and boarded the flight even as we exchanged smiles with the other group members. How did we identify one another? Oh the 'Kesari' roll-ons acted as our 'I-Cards'! As we disembarked in Zurich on our way to London, we exchanged hellos with them. Another couple of hours on the plane and we found ourselves at noon in London which cheerfully welcomed us with an unusual 'sunny' smile.
Our luggage was loaded in one bus and we boarded another which took us to an Indian restaurant at Hounslow, Bath for lunch. After a yummy Indian meal, we drove to Hotel Leonardo, very close to Heathrow airport and checked in. As we didn't have any program for the evening, we freshened up, relaxed and unpacked.
Day 2 - London Delights
The early-birds that we are, we stuck to our schedule, woke up at 5.30 am, made invigorating morning cuppa coffee with the coffee pouches and the electric kettle provided by Kesari. Our policy - have it, use it! Not everyone from our group had the time or inclination to make the effort. After a rejuvenating shower, we joined our friends for the lavish European breakfast at the hotel - I gorged on croissants, cereals, hash browns, fruits and juice.
London City Orientation Tour
We then boarded our bus for the City Orientation tour. Our tour manager Sushant Kharat enlightened us with interesting tidbits about London. We were soon joined by our local guide Mellissa. As we listened to her, we were constantly shifting our eyes and craning our necks to get glimpses of landmarks on either side of the road. Not to forget our enthu for capturing them on our camera.
We excitedly looked at the lavish stores fleeting past us - Burberry, Harrods (of Diana's boyfriend fame), Mc Laren dealer, Fortnum & Mason and Ritz Hotel (Charlie Chaplin's favorite; here afternoon tea with a lavish spread costs 50 pounds).........
We were also enlightened about the cycles sponsored by Barclays for public convenience - you can hire a bicycle for a meagre sum - of course it is free for the first 30 minutes. You can guess the modus operandi of a smart Alec!
We reached the famed Piccadilly Circus - also termed Little Times Square.
Then we saw Her Majesty's Theatre, Somerset House (which serves as open air theatre in summer and skating rink in winter), Methodist Central Hall, Trafalgar Square, ....
Nelson's Column, Egyptian Sphinx, Hyde Park ....
Tower of London
We went to Tower of London with great excitement to see the royal jewels and of course the historical Kohinoor diamond which was originally 'ours'! We ladies went 'ooh' and 'aah' by the blinding razzle-dazzle of the crown jewels ... - here photography is prohibited. Our tour manager sent us once again to have a second longing look at the 'Kohinoor' lest any one should complain about missing it!
We made a round of the the Tower where political prisoners and others had been confined as also the traitor's gate ......
As we came out, we clicked the famous landmarks looming majestically at a distance - Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, the Thames river, Shaltz (the tallest building in West Europe made of glass), Millennium Bridge, Putney Bridge, London Bridge .....
We had a good look of the grand Buckingham Palace - from the outside.
We then went for Indian lunch at Red Heron. Then we got more details about the expensive Chelsea area and Victoria & Albert Museum as we proceeded to London Eye.
London Eye also known as the 'Millennium Wheel' is second only to the one in Las Vegas. This has 32 capsules, each with a capacity of 32 persons for a ride lasting 32 minutes. We went clickety click with our cameras while taking in the royal splendour of London - Big Ben, Westminster Abbey ..... - as we got a fabulous birds'eye view from the London Eye - its movement was so slow that we could not even discern it! We felt 'paisa vasool' for the London leg ..... till we were in Madam Tussauds.
Madam Tussauds Wax Museum
I had always had a hankering to visit this place and had made sure this was in the tour's agenda. I had had the opportunity of visiting Madam Tussauds in Las Vegas but I was sadly disappointed as I was mostly unfamiliar with the personalities lined up there - mostly American sports-persons and stars. How I loved to be here in the midst of so many legends; my better half was tired out clicking my pics (I didn't pose with every one of them, still ...) and he proceeded ahead. So I had to resort to selfies.... and be obliged to friends - a case of 'I'll click you, you click me' which works.
Whether it was the British Royal family or politicians / stars / writers / scientists of the West, they looked life-like.
Only our Indian luminaries were a let-down - be it Big B, Ash or even Indira Gandhi! Ooh that was some elite company! After that we enjoyed the fabulous 4 D show 'Super Heroes'. When all of us felt fagged out, we were treated to a cup of hot coffee which revived our spirits.
We returned to the hotel at 7.30, freshened up and relished a sumptuous Indian dinner at the hotel with continental desserts.
Every night we would be briefed about the timetable for the next day's program. Accordingly we'd set our alarm for the morning. Of course we'd get wake-up calls too! But as we were early birds, we'd be up before 5.30 every morning. But the next day had to dawn super early for our group - wake-up call would be at 4! We had to take the Eurostar train to Paris.