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Sunday, 29 April 2018

221b Baker Street

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Sherlock Holmes Museum,London

London. The most convenient city in the world from a touristic point. On landing at Heathrow on our first visit, we were least jittered. Having read and heard about its oldest tube system and its iconic red double-decker buses, we were confident enough to smartly saunter to the Airport Tube station from where we bought Oyster Cards valid on all public transport systems including motorboats on river Thames. Remarkably all Oyster vending machines at all metro stations are manned efficiently to help the passengers get the right cards. London underground opened in January 1863. The first train ran between Paddington and Farringdon. The first colour coded line was Metropolitan (magenta), followed by Circle and Hammersmith & City Lines (yellow and pink) in 1864.  The lines were electrified in 1890. Prior to that, the trains were of gas-lit wooden carriages hauled by steam locomotives. During World War II, when Germany resorted to carpet bombing, most of the tube stations were used as air-raid shelters. History apart, the comfort of travelling by tube to Wembley Central where our hotel was located became more and more pronounced. At Wembley Central, we asked the young guy manning the Oyster machine about the distance of our hotel. He showed us the way and wittily quipped “for us, it takes around five minutes to reach, but a young and energetic couple like you it should not take more than two minutes.” I longed to travel by the red iconic double-decker bus while in London, knowing that it would take longer routes and thus more time. Double deckers are not unfamiliar to me as I rode such buses in Calcutta as well as in Bombay. Unfortunately, the double-deckers disappeared from Calcutta roads almost twenty years back. A very few of them can still be seen on Bombay roads in the Fort area and near the Flora Fountain. But in Calcutta, not even vestiges of such glory remain. In London, the fleet stands out. Cherry red, immaculate and glistening. Keeps one guessing about their age? On the first outing, we took a bus to Madame Tussaud on Marylebone Road. On each such successive occasion like boarding a bus to Piccadilly, Trafalgar Square, etc we behaved like gleeful kids clambering up to the upper deck and occupying the front two seats. That however paid as we could enjoy an excellent view of the city. Like peering down the main thoroughfare at Piccadilly Circus as the bus inched forward through the snarl of traffic down below. When we reached Madame Tussaud waxworks museum (1835) we were disappointed by the horrendous queues for tickets and entry. Though the security guy was helpful, even offering us to get the tickets on our behalf, my wife decided to back out. We walked a few steps, turned towards Baker Street, and Voila! 221B Baker Street on the opposite pavement at the other end. This is the famous lodging house where the world-famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes lived with his equally intrepid assistant Dr. Watson. According to Sherlock’s creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle they lived here from 1881 to 1904. This famous address was mentioned in Conan Doyle’s “A Study in Scarlet” published in 1887. 

"We met next day as he had arranged, and inspected the rooms at No. 221B, Baker Street, of which he had spoken at our meeting. They consisted of a couple of comfortable bed-rooms and a single large airy sitting-room, cheerfully furnished, and illuminated by two broad windows."

There was a long queue for this museum also, but more streamlined and unlike Madam Tussaud. Such is the fame of this legendary detective that I could find visitors from different parts of the world like Japan, Korea, and the USA patiently waiting to see the house of a fictional detective. Before I take you around this unique museum I would like to briefly introduce you to a man who not only created Holmes, but also this house at 221b Baker Street. I have grown up idolizing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a prolific and powerful writer, and a great storyteller. Not only Holmes, his stories like Prof Challenger’s ( on whom our legendary film director Satyajit Ray modelled his Prof Shanku), Brigadier Gerard’s Adventure(set in Napoleonic times), a fantasy novel on Prof Challenger like The Lost World were also very popular. He started writing when he was a medical student at the University of Edinburgh. After completing his MD he had started practicing in a small consulting room at 2 Upper Wimpole Street (formerly 2 Devonshire Place) in London. As a medical practitioner, he was unsuccessful. In his autobiography, he mentioned that during long waits for his clients he took to writing fiction. Initially, he struggled to find a publisher. But once his first book ‘A Study in Scarlet’ got published, there was no looking back. He modelled Sherlock Holmes on his teacher Dr. Joseph Bell, who inculcated observation, logic, deduction, and inference on medical and surgical practices. Dr. John Watson was modelled on his colleague Dr. James Watson.

 Reconstruction inside the Baker Street lodging house built in 1815 has been carried out meticulously. This world-renowned address has been made to look real like the famous tenant himself. The man who ushered us into the museum and the pretty maids assisting the visitors were all dressed in attire used during the Victorian era in London. There are ‘seventeen steps’ to the sitting room on the first floor. As we entered the study we were greeted by the whiff of tobacco which Holmes used in his pipe. We were taken back in time while peering out of the large windows overlooking Baker Street. The late eighteenth century, when horse-drawn Hansom cabs used to pull up on gas-lit Baker Street, on cold and murky wintry nights. A wicker armchair beside the fireplace in which Holmes used to sit, smoke his pipe while trying to solve a case, play his violin, meet his visitors and also break into his famous line “Elementary my dear Watson….” while trying to explain his ‘brilliant’ observation to  Dr. Watson. Holmes’s technique of identifying actions at the crime scene, identifying criminals through footprints, cigarette ashes or cigarette butts and many more traces of different kinds could well be considered as the forerunner of modern forensic sciences. For his immense knowledge and skill, he could command the respect of being the world’s first Consulting Detective. “My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people don’t know”- “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle”.  Adjoining the study and on its rear side was Holmes's bedroom. In the study and his bedroom, there are many personal items of Holmes, scattered as he would have left them, like his wooden pipe, his slippers, his notebook, his deerstalker cap, magnifying glass, chemistry kits, disguises, Holmes’s violin, a stick belonging to Dr. Mortimore of the Hound of the Baskervilles, a club used to kill Col Barclay in the Crooked Man, many other artifacts appearing in the stories. The study room has a Victorian aura, with a copy of Times from that period, desk stacked with books, traditional wallpaper; gaslights like lamps, ink bottles, and decorative items. On the second floor was Dr. Watson’s bedroom, overlooking an open yard at the rear of the room. Apart from his personal effects and his revolver, Dr. Watson’s room has a handwritten diary with a page pertaining to the case of The Hound of the Baskervilles. Mrs. Hudson, the landlady and personal housekeeper of Holmes as she prepared meals and did all household chores, used to occupy the room in the front on the second floor. In a letter to Watson (displayed in the museum), Holmes was all praise for breakfasts prepared by Mrs. Hudson. The third floor has wax models on display – life-sized waxworks of Sherlock Holmes based on his appearance as described by his creator, his arch-nemesis  Prof Moriarty with whom Holmes fell to his literary death down Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland in ‘The Final Problem’ (the first mention of Prof Moriarty was in my favourite story 'The Valley of Fear', but Holmes met him only in 'The Final Problem'), some sinister looking characters and macabre figures sculpted right from descriptions in the stories. A narrow stairway leading to the attic had old trunks and torn suitcases stacked underneath. They belong to the actual lodgers of 221b Baker Street who stayed there during the Victorian era. The uniqueness of this museum is that everything, except the portraits which are hung on the walls, is kept open and scattered in a fashion to exude an atmosphere that existed in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. The fact is we were carried away, taken back in time to the romanticism of the Victorian London, enjoying every moment and waiting for Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to enter the study and greet the guests. The museum, indeed, is a befitting tribute to the world’s greatest fictional Consulting Detective Sherlock Holmes. The journey through the museum was mesmerizing, especially for a fan like me who adored the deductive techniques of Holmes for solving a crime. 

Next, we had plans for Westminster, Buckingham Palace, and Trafalgar Square. Little did I realize  while walking back towards Marylebone Road that on the pavement opposite to 221b Baker Street, there was a building where two of my most favourite British authors resided – Arnold Bennett and H.G. Wells (both about the same time as Conan Doyle and his famous creation  Sherlock Holmes)
Statue of Sherlock Holmes on Marylebone Road

221b Baker Street

Baker Street Station

Baker Street Underground station

Madame Tussaud

Madame Tussaud London

Typewriter,ink bottles, magnifying glass used by Holmes and Dr Watson

The seventeen steps leading to Holmes's study on the first floor

Fireplace,paintings,a bust of Napoleon,a small model of the Hound of Baskervilles, and other decorative items at the Baker street sitting room

Sherlock Holmes's bedroom adjoining his study

Another view of Holmes's sitting room with bookshelf,guest's seat,decorative items,and other artefacts.The walls are covered with wallpapers

A letter from Sherlock Holmes to Dr Watson

Diary of Dr Watson and the displayed page pertains to The Hound of the Baskervilles

Old Books and diaries

Original copies of The Valley of Fear and His Last Bow

Washroom for the residents of 221b Baker Street
Old suitcases of actual guests who  stayed at the lodging house in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century.These are kept underneath the stairway leading to the attic.

Life size wax model of Sherlock Holmes

Wax model of a lady shooting down a man (reconstructed from one of the case studies of Sherlock Holmes)

Wax model of a murdered man 

H.G.Wells lived in Chiltern Court Building on Baker Street

Arnold Bennett also lived in Chiltern Court Building on Baker Street

A night scene in London


Wembley Central


St.Margaret's Church,Westminster Abbey with Big Ben at the backdrop

Buckingham Palace

Near Buckingham Palace

Trafalgar Square

Big Ben

Tower Bridge

Tower of London

Trafalgar Square

A view from top of double decker of the Picadilly Circus
Photo Credit:    Arundhati Sengupta

How to reach 221b Baker Street ?London's transport system is iconic. The city boasts of the oldest and one of the most efficient tube network in the world. Baker Street Tube Station is located at the junction of four underground lines: 1) Bakerloo Line (Brown); 2) Circle Line (Yellow ); 3) Hammersmith & City Line (Pink);4) Metropolitan Line (Magenta). Anyone staying along these routes can take a direct train to Baker Street. Like in our case, we took train from Wembley Central tube which is also located on Bakerloo Line.From the station one has to walk a few meters towards Regent Park to arrive at 221b Baker Street. For more information about travel in London one can visit their site at journey planner.

Monday, 9 April 2018


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Cruising to Amsterdam ---- (Part 1)

Long time back I had travelled to Bangladesh by road. On the last phase of the journey, the bus moved on to a huge barge to be ferried across the mighty sea like river Padma for the final road to Dhaka. I recall the moment exhilaratingly exciting as that trip was my first brush with sailing. I could not rid my mind of the thrill of sailing, and finally the opportunity came when we planned our journey from England to Europe. We booked a luxury cruise with Stena Lines from Harwich port in England to Hook of Holland in Netherlands. Harwich is a seventeenth century maritime town in Essex. Greater Anglia rail runs around three dozen trains daily from Liverpool Street station in London, with journey time to Harwich of about two hours. We left for Harwich after lunch at my wife’s aunt’s house in Belmont, a tranquil little suburb south of London.  Belmont station is very close from their house, but it is a lonely, cute little station away from the main line. For more options, we were seen off at Sutton station by my wife’s uncle. We got down at Blackfriars station and from there took an underground Circle Line to Liverpool street station. There were two changeovers for the train to Harwich - Colchester and Manning tree.Manningtree is a small changeover station for Harwich. For convenience of Harwich passengers, a smaller train waits at platform 1. Passengers simply have to take a lift to crossover. The train to Harwich was virtually empty save a few local residents and a fewer tourists. The local residents were mostly family members and acquaintances travelling to their home town, and scattered in groups in the carriages. They were all clamorous, chatting, talking and laughing aloud, very similar to train journeys in India. And a very pleasant break from the scenes encountered in neighboring London and its suburbs.  We had tickets upto Harwich Town, but when we asked a co-passenger with the hotel address they asked us to get down at Dovercourt station which is between Harwich International and Harwich Town. We had to simply walk down to our hotel.  The Bottle Kiln is a Wetherspoon hotel cum pub. A very comfortable 4 star hotel with a lively pub at the ground floor. The pub offers real ales, a range of craft beers and food items, and remains open till late in the night. We had booked the hotel for one night so that we could report for the cruise next morning. We spent the evening strolling on the beautiful promenade along the Harwich beach, from where we could also view the old Lighthouse. The beach is a couple of minutes walk from our hotel. Next morning we hired a cab to take us to Harwich International Dockyard. It is like an airport where we had to go through the immigration formalities, and finally taken in a bus for boarding the cruise ship. As I stepped down from the bus at the car deck, I was awestruck like any first timer. The fact is I never knew how a luxury liner looks like. Like a multistoried hotel there are thirteen decks. Decks 9 to 11 are facilities and passenger decks. We took a lift to Deck 9, where like any village boy I gaped at the restaurants, bars, coffee bar, duty free Stena shopping centre, the Stena Plus lounge and other facilities. It was a great fun roaming around on glitzy Deck 9, stopping to have a sumptuous lunch in one of the restaurants and then finally basking for a while on the sun deck with beer before retiring for relaxing in our cabin. Our cabin was on Deck 10- like any star hotel room on land. Besides comfortable beds, en suite, a table fridge stuffed with wines, beers, and electric kettle for tea or coffee, cheese, ham, bread, biscuits, a TV and more to make sailing a luxurious lifetime experience. Lying on the bed one can have a lovely view of the North Sea through large round glass window in the cabin. While inside one has a feeling that the ship is stationery. We experienced the movement when we walked out to the sun deck. The sun deck is equipped with a bar and an enclosed football ground.There was a group of school children who were enjoying a game of football, and it was a great fun watching the ball strike the enclosure net and bounce back. The ship was moving at around its specified 20 knots, which if converted to land speed comes around 40 to 45 miles per hour. It was delightful to watch the long chain of white froth as the giant liner lurched forward. Sailing to Hook of Holland (Hoek Van Holland) takes roughly seven hours. At Hook of Holland the bus stop is located right outside the exit gate. As our booking was upto Amsterdam, the bus connected us to Schiedam Central rail station, where we boarded a train to Amsterdam Central. And after a couple of hours, we were at Amsterdam. I have been here once before, and I liked the vibrant nature of the metropolis. Outside the station is a sprawling jazzy square with canals, tram stops, metro station, an old building with dome like structure and a large clock dominating the place with its beautiful appearance. While my wife waited outside the metro entrance, I crossed the tram lines to purchase 48 hours GVB tickets which can be used for endless rides in trams, buses, metros, ferries in Amsterdam. We took the Line 51 metro and got off at Kronenburg. It is an overground station on Amstelveen line, where right across was our hotel ibis. There are many places of interest in Amsterdam but we chose to restrict our visits to houses of some notable residents of the city, like Rembrandt and Anne Frank (more in the next part). An interesting fact about this tiny Kronenburg station, from where we commuted to the city centre, is that both metro and tram operates from the same station, same platform. As trams are also high speed there, we opted for trams so that way we could see the city properly. Tram no.5 runs from Kronenburg to Amsterdam Central, which is located in the heart of the city centre.  There we took a ride in Amsterdam’s canals.And as we sailed history unfolded. The canal district is under UNESCO World Heritage site, as the canal network is as old as the 17th century buildings lining up on either side of the canals.Also known as Grachtenyondel in Dutch,the district crossed 400 years in 2013. The most remarkable were the three buildings named Dancing Houses, tall and tilted historical structures resembling a dancing posture. All these canal houses(Grachtenhuizen) are located at Damrak.After a day's outing, I remember embroiled in a funny tiff with the tram driver of tram no.5 while boarding the tram at Central. In order to check whether the tram goes to Kronenburg, I went upto the driver and asked him. ‘Koenenburrr!–No’ was the reply in heavy accent. When I insisted that I had come by the same tram no., the driver growled at me saying that he has been driving since last 40 years and never heard about the place. A lady boarding the tram came to our rescue and finally we boarded that tram and got down at KronenburgBut there is no denying of the fact that the city's public transport system, including tram service, is excellent. Riding a tram through the heart of the city unfolds a vista of a vibrant and colourful Amsterdam. The Dam square, the sixteenth and seventeenth century buildings of typical Dutch architecture housing offices, hotels, restaurants, pubs, the world famous red light district offering voyeuristic views through glass windows(the only place on earth where shows are legal),numerous bridges criss crossing the canals - all deftly and beautifully integrated to give the city a unique character and charm.

View of canal from a bridge at Amsterdam

Promenade at Harwich Town

Harwich International Dockyard Terminal

Inside Stena Lines Cabin

Stena Lines Cabin

View of North Sea from Stena Lines Deck

A Football game on Stena Lines Cruise Ship

A Pub in Stena Lines

A Pub in Stena Lines

Sun Deck on Stena Lines

Kronenburg metro and tram station at Amsterdam South



View of  the old city of Amsterdam from boat 

Amsterdam Canal

Historical Magere Brug (Skinny Bridge- a draw bridge over the river Amstel from where the name Amsterdam was derived), which opens to let ships and boats to pass through. A local legend says that the wooden bridge was constructed at the behest of two skinny sisters who lived on either side of the river and wanted to visit each other.The original bridge was so narrow that it was difficult for two persons to cross each other. It was widened in 1870.

Amsterdam Canal

View of Dancing House from Amsterdam Canal

17th century Dancing House

Canal district at Amserdam

Waiting for Tram at Amsterdam

Canal and Bridge


A close view of one of the old buildings lining the canal  (built in 1695) and now housing a cafe at the ground level.The age of this house is almost same as the age of my city Calcutta which was founded by Job Charnock of Britain in 1690.
Old houses lining up on the waterway of Amsterdam

Boat ride on Amsterdam Canal

Pic Courtesy : Arundhati Sengupta

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