November 3, 2023
Ibn Battuta, the famous Maghrebi traveller, explorer and scholar sure got it right when he observed, “Traveling – it leaves you speechless, and then turns you into a storyteller.” It all began on October 15th, when the day we had all been fervently waiting for had finally arrived! A vivacious and motley bunch of Lourdites, conglomerated at the Mangaluru International Airport, all set to embark upon an unforgettable journey to the United Kingdom! In all, there were 31 in our contingent - twenty-eight students ranging from 8th graders to 12th graders, our meticulous and energetic vice principal ma’am, our ebullient and affectionate Principal and Mr Preetham, our friend, guide and philosopher. I feel that our team, which was very close knit, proved the adage ‘Sharing adventures means enjoying those 100% more’.
All our parents had come to the airport to bid us bon voyage! We were all given an orange tag to identify our suitcases right before we checked in our luggage and went through security. Oh! How time flies when excitement is in the air, in no time, it was time to board our flight to Bengaluru, which for most of us felt like just a 5 minute flight!
We had a substantial layover in the Kempegowda International Airport which some of us used to take a power-nap and play cards, while others roamed around exploring what the airport had to offer. Later, we freshened up, had breakfast and proceeded to Terminal 2 for our first three hour, international flight to Muscat, Oman. After a brief layover there, we boarded the WY 282 Boeing 737 to the iconic London Heathrow Airport! All of us were delighted to savour the exquisite food and entertainment on the flight and didn’t notice the 8 hours fly by, pun intended!
We landed in LHR at around 7 p.m. GMT. I will never forget the first moments in London. All of us realised that the saying ‘first impressions are the best impressions and they leave lasting impressions’ was a universal truth! It would be no exaggeration to say that we felt that we had stepped into a whole new world- in fact, the azure blue skies with low flung clouds, the temperate weather, the green pastures and the rolling hills created a postcard panorama. Soon we were treated to a lovely buffet dinner after which we checked in to the Mercure Hotel in Heathrow and relaxed.
The next morning, all of us were full of zest to kick start our first official day in London! We started with a prayer submitting our day in the Almighty’s benevolent hands before hopping onto our amazing Mercedes Coach. We were blessed with an awesome guide with a yellow umbrella, who took us around the Kensington Park which not only houses the Albert Memorial but is a part of the well-known Hyde Park. This is where we ran into the British guards taking their horses on a morning canter. We then went to the legendary Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, where we were delighted to pose with various realistic wax figures of celebrities. Next, we were taken on the ‘Spirit of London’ ride and also ogled at a mesmerising 4D show in the Marvel Universe! After a scrumptious Indian lunch at ‘Poppadom’, we walked to Tavistock square. We then were taken on a ride through the city and got down at Trafalgar Square. We then walked towards the Houses of Parliament, where we saw the celebrated landmark the ‘Big Ben’. We then visited Westminster Abbey, walked around St James’ Park and ended our first day with a ride on the London Eye, which truly left an indelible mark in our memories. Here I must make a mention of the lovely well-kept roads of London. A real contrast to our roads here in Mangaluru. The only jams we came across were the variety of jams on our breakfast tables! We didn’t witness even a single traffic jam!
The many cricket buffs amongst us were enthralled to know that our second day in London was to begin with a visit to the veritable Mecca of Cricket, the Lord’s Cricket Ground. We spent our entire morning in the verdant ground, steeped in history, viewing the pristine turf from the farthest balcony on the pavilion. After lunch, we went on a refreshing cruise ride on the river Thames which gave us a first-hand experience of the chilly October winds of England. Before pausing for some shopping at Oxford Street, we visited the famous British Museum which boasts of a plethora of rare exhibits. We ended the day with dinner at the Pizza Express!
Our third day in England began with a 90 minute drive to Stonehenge, which is not only a British Cultural Heritage site but also has the distinction of being one of the sites on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. After spending some time at Stonehenge viewing and learning about the evolution of prehistoric monuments, we moved to Somerset, where we visited the Roman bath and also had a quick lunch before we made our way to the splendid Windsor Castle. We ended our day walking around and relishing the serene ambience at Windsor.
We were forewarned that the fourth day had some serious travelling in store for us. We went on a 5 hour drive from London to Manchester which was peppered with several stops including Oxford, where we were provided with a guided tour of the city. We visited some of the Colleges there and learnt quite a lot about the history of Oxford University. We resumed our road trip after lunch and paused to take in the place of one and only Bard of Avon, the inimitable Shakespeare at Stratford-upon-Avon on our way. We later checked into the Holiday Inn Express, Manchester, after a lovely dinner at Sai Spice ending our rather tiring day.
Our 5th day began with a culinary adventure with our first experience of the much vaunted English breakfast in our hotel. The tantalising spread included mouth-watering Cumberland sausages, succulent bacon, crispy hash browns, flaky croissants, scrambled eggs, moist blueberry muffins, yogurt and fresh fruit juice. But the highlight of the breakfast was without doubt the DIY coffee station which easily attracted the most number of Lourdites! We then enjoyed a pleasant road trip, a 45 minute drive to Liverpool, the birthplace of the popular rock group the Beatles. Our affable guide, Denise, showed us the ‘Three Graces of Liverpool’, one of which has 2 birds, one male, looking inland and one female, looking towards the sea. We also had the opportunity to see the ‘Wall of Fame’. Most of our day was spent in touring the city on our coach. We had a lovely international buffet for lunch, returned to Manchester and ended our day with a bang - a visit to the immensely popular Manchester United Football Club!
The sixth day mainly entailed journeying back to London and indulging in some shopping. We made a quick shop-stop at the Bullring Mall, Birmingham, where some of us picked up gifts and souvenirs for our loved ones. Further into the drive, we went to Bicester Village, where we window-shopped many designer brand outlets and bought some Swiss Chocolates. We had a light dinner at a 'Welcome Break' service station before checking back into the Mercure Hotel, Heathrow, London, our home for the night.
As the days rolled on, though the initial excitement still persisted, one could say that a smattering of fatigue and homesickness had slowly started making its presence felt. The final day could be called a bittersweet one. We were fortunate to get the opportunity of witnessing the traditional guard change ceremony at the Buckingham palace. A memorable spectacle wherein we saw the guards, in their impressive uniforms marching smartly from their barracks to their positions in and around the palace. The last leg of our eventful tour seemed to move very quickly. After having our last lunch in London at 'Lahori', we went to the LHR airport, checked in our luggage and did some duty free shopping until it was time to board our flight to Oman. After a short lay over at Oman, we boarded our flight to Bengaluru where our tour was destined to end in an anti-climax of sorts. We were informed, to our utter dismay, that our domestic flight to Mangaluru was delayed by almost 2 hrs. It was nearly midnight when we finally reached our home sweet home, namma Kudla! And there we were welcomed by our parents and dear ones who were anxiously awaiting our arrival. As I look back and reminisce the beautiful study tour to the United Kingdom, I would like to thank my beloved alma mater for affording its students the marvellous opportunity to gain valuable exposure and learn new things in the most fun way! There is no doubt in my mind that the sweet memories we had made together would continue to be a treasure that each of us would cherish all through our lives!