Christmas Weekend – Part 1 – London & Stonehenge

It was like walking into the set of the TV show “Walking Dead”. London Central was like a ghost town on Christmas morning. We didn’t see anyone in our hotel lobby. The street outside our hotel was empty and most shops (including Starbucks, McDonalds) were closed on Christmas Day. Even the subway and public bus were closed. Litters and dried leaves flying around. Traffic lights were blinking purposelessly. It was so different from the usual London I knew.

We were staving for food. I had only a tiny pack of peanuts in my pocket and I rationed the portion evenly amongst us. Like hungry zombies, we walked for an hour along Thames River, hoping to find some food. When we saw a passerby with a cup of hot coffee in his hand, we were thrilled! Food, I yelled! You can imagine how “desperate” we were. Nope, we didn’t rob him. We figured his route and it led us to a cafe near Tower Bridge. There, we had our mini Christmas Lunch! And we filled ourselves with so much food! It was the most satisfying lunch I had! I guess it was the fear of not able to find food made us appreciate that meal.

With our stomachs filled, we brought Tracy and Harshad to conquer the standard list of landmarks– Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, London Bridge, Tower Bridge, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Regent Street, Oxford Street, Hyde Park and the list goes on. There, we saw many other tourists and cafés super-packed with hungry crowd. Finally, there was some Christmas atmosphere in the city.

Later that evening, we repeated our food-hunting ritual. Along the way, we were so bored that we attempted our own “ghost photography”. We walked for a very long distant before we found a decent Italian pizza joint. But the staff told us that the restaurant was closing. At 6pm, that was early! The owner explained she sold out everything. I figured why. Darn, we walked on and found a small steakhouse along Regent Street. It was packed with people. Thank goodness, they had enough food and seats for us. We had our little Christmas Dinner there. The food wasn’t delicious at all but it filled our empty stomachs. We were so tired due to the endless walking and food hunting. We decided to head back to our hotel after the dinner for our Christmas gift-exchanges. That brighten up my boy’s gloomy and tired face!

The next day, we took a morning tour to visit the mystical Stonehenge. It was a 2-hour bus ride from London Central to the Stonehenge. Along the way, we saw hundreds of Boxing Day shoppers (mostly Asians) queuing outside branded stores. What a big contrast from Christmas Day. The streets were filled with so many people! Many of them had queued the night before. Tired, restless, aggressive and hungry looking, these zombie-like shoppers were waiting for the big hunt. There was no jolliness in their expression. It was a good idea that we left the city.

Finally, we arrived in the middle of nowhere. It looked like a farm, I thought. To some, Stonehenge is nothing but a pile of well-stacked stones in an uncanny formation. For me, it is getting a tick in my “places-I-must-visit-before-I-die” checklist. I have seen the Stonehenge many times in TV documentaries and photo books, I am just curious to see them in real life. The story of Stonehenge is just so intriguing and well written that it continues to draw millions to its site every year. Not bad for a broken down solar temple.

I was a little worried when I saw busloads of tourists alighting at the Stonehenge Visitor Center. I was concerned about the quality of my photo shoots. I hate the feelings of not able to capture the Stonehenge in full view. These crowds are going to block and pollute my shoot, I thought.

Thankfully, the Stonehenge Visitor Center set up a 360-circumference-barrier to keep onlookers from going too close and blocking the ancient structures. The position of this barrier was very well spaced and placed so that every one can take a good photo of the entire Stonehenge without anyone blocking the camera’s view. That is very thoughtful. However, it also means we cannot walk inside the Stonehenge. I guess with crowds like this, this is a better option for everyone. It is more of a “sight” than an experience.

It was surprisingly sunny yesterday and I was lucky to capture the Stonehenge under a clear blue sky setting. It was picture perfect for me. And most importantly, I was far far away from the Boxing Day craze.

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