Monthly Archives: December 2008

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London Day 3 – Day Excursion to Oxford (Harry Potter!) and New Year’s Eve Countdown

OMG, I can’t imagine that it was already the last day of 2008! The day dawned pretty much crisp and clear, and at the spur of the moment, I decided to make a day trip to Oxford, and visit the location where Harry Potter was shot.

On to Oxford! At the train station

The one-hour train ride from Paddington station was pretty uneventful. But I almost missed the damn train. Went to buy some sandwich, coffee and cookies for the ride, and in the end had to run on the platform to get on the train. The moment I sat down, the train started to move. Talk about being onboard at the nick of time.

I was very impressed by the train system in London. The train itself is very spacious and comfortable, with convenient announcements on stops. I would love to explore England one day by trains.

City of Oxford

After an hour ride on the super comfortable train, I arrived at Oxford. And man, it was cold! I was freezing to the bone, but I really enjoyed it. This is what winter should be like. Snow would have completed the picture perfectly!

Oxford is a city, and the county town of Oxfordshire, in South East England. The rivers Cherwell and Thames run through Oxford and meet south of the city centre. Oxford is home to the University of Oxford, the oldest university in the English-speaking world.

Buildings in Oxford reflect every English architectural period since the arrival of the Saxons, including the iconic, mid-18th century Radcliffe Camera, the hub of the city. Oxford is known as the “city of dreaming spires”, a term coined by poet Matthew Arnold in reference to the harmonious architecture of Oxford’s university buildings.

Christ Church, Oxford

And so after walking around Oxford city center for a bit, I found what I was looking for. Christ Church was the location of choice for some of Harry Potter movies. It is one of the largest constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England. As well as being a college, Christ Church is also the cathedral church of the diocese of Oxford, namely Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. The cathedral has a famous men and boys’ choir, and is one of the main choral foundations in Oxford.

Harry Potter at Christ Church!

After paying for an entrance ticket, I turned on my iPod to play Harry Potter soundtrack, and off I went to explore Christ Church!

Stairway Outside The Great Hall of Hogwarts

I followed the footsteps of the world’s favourite wizard. Many of the scenes in the Harry Potter feature films are shot in various locations of the College. As I walked around the cloisters and quadrangles it is easy to see why.

The Great Hall of Hogwarts

The Great Hall was replicated in the film studios to create Hogwart’s Hall. As Harry and the new first-years enter Hogwarts they are greeted by Professor McGonagall. This scene was shot on the 16th century staircase which leads up to the Great Hall. It was just as well they didn’t film this when the Hall was first built, since the wonderful vaulted roofing was only put up 150 years after the staircase.

Christ Church, Oxford

The cloisters in Christ Church were first built 1000 years ago. This ancient vintage made them the ideal setting for various scenes. It is here that Harry is shown the trophy his father won as a seeker in Quidditch.

Here’s a video I took in the Great Hall. In addition, I took a great many photos here at Christ Church, of which you can view on my Flickr set.

Outside Christ Church, Oxford

Leaving the compound of Oxford was quite an adventure in itself. The scenery was great, but since I had absolutely no idea where I was heading to, I was very worried that I wouldn’t be able to find my way back to the city centre. It did not help that the sky has started to take on the downcast look. After some half an hour of frantic walking, I managed to find the main road again. PHEW!

The Eagle and Child, Oxford

So off I went to find the “Eagle & Child” pub, recommended by Lonely Planet, to taste some authentic British pub grub. The building dates from the sixteenth century, and is popularly known as the “Bird & the Baby”. It has been a pub since 1650 – talk about being historical! As I walked through the main door, I found myself in a series of passage ways with varying height of ceiling, adorned by wooden tables and chairs of no particular designs… I was in a real British pub!

The Eagle and Child, Oxford

Happily I placed my order for (what else?) fish & chips and a pint of beer at the counter, and sat down to enjoy my meal. I noticed various interesting items decorating the pub – like the series of Tolkien’s LOTR books on the mantelpiece, and a canoe signed by some athletes hanging from the ceiling. This place was just oozing with character! There was an easy level of chatter among the early pub-dwellers – mainly university students and the odd professors.

But I couldn’t linger for too long since I need to get back to London before it’s dark, and I wanted to be a little early for my next destination…

London King's Cross Railway Station

King’s Cross! The train station was featured in the Harry Potter books, by J. K. Rowling, as the starting point of the Hogwarts Express. The train uses a secret platform 9¾ located by passing through the brick wall barrier between platforms 9 and 10. Unfortunately, platforms 9 and 10 are in a separate building from the main station; also, rather than being adjacent so that a barrier could be between them, they are separated by two intervening tracks. Rowling intended the location to be in the main part of the station, but misremembered the platform numbering.

The London Eye on New Year's Eve 2008, London

And soon I head down to River Thames, to make my way towards the London Eye. There was a huge celebration for New Year’s Eve at the London Eye area, along River Thames. Along with thousands of Londoners, I joined the madness for the countdown to 2009. Following the chimes of Big Ben at midnight, a spectacular ten-minute fireworks display was fired from the London Eye, organised by the Mayor of London and renowned pyrotechnician Christophe Berthonneau.

The crowd at the London Eye on New Year's Eve 2008, London

The crowd was total madness! I couldn’t get into the “real” party area, so a kind policeman told me to head off to an “unsecured” area which is near enough to all the actions at London Eye. And boy do the Londoners know how to party! Granted, things got a little too rowdy due to copious amount of alcohol, ladies in skimpy dress and guys too horny for their own good. I was totally on my own, an Asian in a sea of people. I was rather scared…. but when fireworks took over the sky, all my fears were forgotten!

The crowd at the London Eye on New Year's Eve 2008, London

The madness was in going home after the countdown. Human jammed for 3 hours for a mere 300m walk. I was literally sandwiched between people, and the crowd shuffled forward at snail pace. Though I managed to have some small talk with fellow party dwellers, including a group of teenagers who were very friendly and shared their travel stories with me.

That marked the end of my NYE celebration in London. Was it fun? Yes, definitely. Would I do it again? Hell NO. No way I am going to subject myself to that torture again. Once in a lifetime is more than enough!

London Day 2 – Chinatown, Les Miserables, Soho

The morning dawn on me again… yet another day in London! I was hard pressed deciding where to go. In the end I thought I will head out to Piccadilly Circus and formulate a plan later.

Chinatown in London

It was late morning by the time I reached the place, and my legs brought me to Chinatown. The city’s present Chinatown is in the Soho area, occupying the area in and around Gerrard Street. It contains a number of Chinese restaurants, bakeries, supermarkets, souvenir shops, and other Chinese-run businesses. There was only a couple of early shoppers (tourists, more like) walking around when I was there.

Went into a “eat all you can” vegetarian place… simply because their spread was so colourful and tantalising. The food tasted rather bland, but since I had it with a pint of beer, I didn’t really complain. At 7 pounds I think it was a worthwhile lunch.

I got restless again after the lengthy meal, so I decided to head to Theaterland and check out what is on offer. Because I was in London during one of the peak weeks in the year (the week around New Year), a few musicals stopped running, and most of the running ones ran out of tickets days beforehand.

But as I walked pass Queen’s Theater, I saw a notice that they were running an afternoon matinee show for Les Misérables. Quickly I dashed to the box office and enquired on ticket availability, and yes! They have some of the best seats available too. For 55 pounds, I got myself a nice spot at the Circle Seats.

Les Misérables @ Queen's Theatre

I have been arranging and performing the music from Les Misérables since my secondary school band days. Never in my wildest dream did I ever think that, one day, I will be able to watch the original cast performing the show on their homeground.

But I did. From the start of the show till the curtain fall three hours later, I couldn’t stop tearing. Of course, my two glasses of red wine (yumm, isn’t it just the most fabulous idea? To be able to enjoy some drinks in theaters. Singapore is just too sterile!) helped in getting my emotions all stirred up. The kind gentleman sitting to my right kept asking if I was okay. I sniffed and said, yes I am, I am just too moved being here, that’s all.

OMG. I can’t believe how drama I was.

Famous Four Season Duck at Chinatown

After the play ended, I met up with Liping, Huisi, Huili and Melvin for a “reunion” dinner at the famous Four Season Duck in Chinatown. I was there half and hour early, and there was already a waiting list! So I got a table first, and happily ordered something to munch on while waiting for the others. And in walk Liping with a HUGE bouquet of flowers – not for me – and followed by Huili and the rest.

It was a fun dinner time when we caught up with each others’ life. These were my band friends back from uni-days, and it was great to see them again after such a long time.

Drinking Session @ Soho London

Drinking Session @ Soho London

After dinner, we adjourned to some pub for drinks and continue to yak. Since all of them are working the next day, they headed home for an early night while I continued my adventure in Soho late into the night. What did I do? Just pub-hopping and stuff. I felt alive in the nightlife of London!

Click here for some pics on my day in London.

London Day 1 – Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, St. James’ Park, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square & Tower Bridge

Glorious Morning @ Maida Vale

Boy, what a glorious morning it was!

As I suspected, Maida Vale was gorgeous. It is a residential district in West London between St John’s Wood and Kilburn. It is part of City of Westminster. The area is mostly residential, and mainly affluent, consisting of many large Edwardian blocks of mansion flats. In Maida Hill in the south, the Paddington Basin, a junction of three canals with many houseboats, is known as Little Venice. I was Little Venice was not really worth a visit when compared to all other touristy galore London has to offer.

Liping is sooooo blessed to be staying in such a beautiful neighbourhood. I was officially jealous.

City of Westminster

In the crisp cold morning air, I marched my way to take a bus to Warwick Avenue tube station, heading towards the City of Westminster. From the tube where I alighted, I walked along the really scenic Thames River, where I can see the London Eye and many government-like buildings. The scenery was beautiful and calm, surprisingly free from morning traffic. I was all calm as I make my way to the various touristy spots clustered together at the other end of my route that morning.

Big Ben of London

My first stop – Big Ben! Big Ben is the nickname for the great bell of the clock at the north-eastern end of the Palace of Westminster in London. The nickname is often also used to refer to the clock and the clock tower. This is the world’s largest four-faced, chiming clock and the third largest free-standing clock tower in the world.

It was with a surge of happiness for the realisation that, yes, I am in London, to sink into me. The Big Ben was right in front of me! I bought a cup of coffee and a hot dog bun from a roadside vendor, and ate at the traffic light junction, right in front of the clock tower. Oblivious to the swelling crowd of tourists around me. LOL.

St. Margaret's Church

Following my trust Lonely Planet, I made my way to the next stop. The Anglican church of St. Margaret, Westminster is situated in the grounds of Westminster Abbey on Parliament Square, and is the parish church of the British Houses of Parliament in London. It is dedicated to Margaret of Antioch.

The entrance was free. The inside of the church was beautiful, but a polite notice stated that out of respect to others attending the church, photography was discouraged. So I didn’t take any photos in the building.

Westminster Abbey

In all fairness, the church paled in comparison to the nearby Westminster Abbey. This Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster is a large, mainly Gothic church. It is the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English, later British and later still (and currently) Monarchs of the Commonwealth Realms. It briefly held the status of a cathedral from 1546–1556, and is currently a Royal Peculiar.

You’ll need to get a ticket to enter the Abbey. I wouldn’t have mind paying, but the hordes of queeing tourists really put me off. And you can’t even take photos while inside. So all I did was to admire the Abbey from the outside, which was enough, actually. The place was so grand and amazing, it simply awed me to no end.

From the Abbey, I walked around the area trying to figure out my way to Piccadilly Circus, which, according to my map, is within walking distance, having to walk through St. James’ Park.

St. James's Park

With its royal, political and literary associations, St James’s Park is at the very heart of London and covers 23 hectares (58 acres). With a lake harbouring ducks, geese and pelicans. St James’s is also home to the Mall, the setting for many ceremonial parades and events of national celebration.

The park was alive with many species of birds (ducks, gees and swans), squirrels and trees. There were many visitors to the park, but everyone was respectful to the other living beings there. People were jogging, walking their dogs, sitting down chatting with a cup of coffee to warm their hands… so this is what London-living is like. Well, at least part of it.

St. James's Park

As I walk through the park, I noticed that many of my fellow park-visitors stared at me… and it got to the point I started to feel paranoid that something about my face was out of whack. A stray nose hair? A strange pimple? What? So I took this photo of myself to check, LOL. Nothing was amiss, but the pics did bring out the nice jacket I bought in Athens (ahem) and the trees in the background.

Hence I include the pic here. Hehe.

Queen Victoria Memorial

After passing the amazing park, I arrived at Queen Victoria Memorial… although at that point of time, I didn’t know the name of the place as it wasn’t clear from the guidebook, and there wasn’t any sign board around. I just noticed the many great status in gold and marble dotting around the place, and ornate gates surrounded the “square” like a military fortress. It was only until much later, when I checked online, that I found out the name of the place.

Buckingham Palace

My actual destination was the Buckingham Palace, the official London residence of the British monarch. Located in the City of Westminster, the palace is a setting for state occasions and royal entertaining, and a major tourist attraction. It has been a rallying point for the British people at times of national rejoicing and crisis.

One of the main attractions here was the changing of guards, which unfortunately already took place when I was there. But to be honest I wasn’t too fussed. The palace was not as grand as I thought it would be (I have seen better in Istanbul and Athens), so it was not with much regret that I made my way to my next destination.

The Guards Museum

It was a bit out of character for me to visit The Guards Museum, as I have absolutely zero interest in all things military. However, since I had some hour to kill before meeting up with James (an old friend of mine from Malaysia who was then working in London), I decided to pay a visit… only to discover it was closed for the day. In fact, they will remain closed throughout winter and will only open in February. The museum shop was open though, and I spent many amazing minutes here looking at the excellent figurines, toys and replicas on British soldiers throughout the years. It was truly awesome stuff.

Third Church of Christ Scientist

On the way to Piccadilly Circus to meet James, I passed by a couple of interesting sights, such as Green Park. One that really catches my attention was the Third Church of Christ Scientist. There was a building with their emblem on it, and the motto was “cleanse the leper… raise the dead… heal the sick”. I just think the motto was a bit strange. Don’t you think so?

The moment I stepped to Piccadilly Circus, the sense of euphoria and excitement infused me. The hordes of people thronging around, the many booths selling “best price” theater tickets, the familiar brand name shops… there was just something about this place that just made you want to sink your teeth into the juicy atmosphere.

At that very moment, I was so, so glad to have made the decision to visit London, even though it was only for a few days.

Anyway, soon I met up with James and his friend at Piccadilly Circus. It was good to see him again after so long. A pity that we didn’t take photos during the few hours we spent together. Had a few beer at a nearby pub to catch up and talking about many stuff, like how James is moving back to Malaysia, the economic situation in London, and whether it is possible (or even feasible) for me to consider life in London.

Trafalgar Square

And so James brought me to a few places. First stop was the famous Trafalgar Square, the very scene of the famous Trafalgar Square Freeze. Trafalgar Square is a square in central London, England. With its position in the heart of London, it is a tourist attraction; its trademark is Nelson’s Column which stands in the centre and the four lion statues that guard the column. Statues and sculptures are on display in the square, including a fourth plinth displaying changing pieces of contemporary art, and it is a site of political demonstrations.

The Norway Spruce (Christmas Tree) @ Trafalgar Square

In the middle of the square is a Norway Spruce (or sometimes a fir) is given by Norway’s capital Oslo and presented as London’s Christmas tree, as a token of gratitude for Britain’s support during World War II. As part of the tradition, the Lord Mayor of Westminster visits Oslo in the late autumn to take part in the felling of the tree, and the Mayor of Oslo then comes to London to light the tree at the Christmas ceremony.

Tower Bridge

We then took a bus to visit the Tower of London (which was closed to visitors by the time we arrived) and Tower Bridge. Tower Bridge is often mistakenly referred to as London Bridge, which is actually the next bridge upstream. Remember the nursery rhyme “London Bridge is Falling Down”? Well, this is not the bridge referred to in the song! Tower Bridge is a combined bascule and suspension bridge in London, England, over the River Thames. It has become an iconic symbol of London.

After that, we had dinner somewhere in Soho area (at a super cool restaurant where they serve fruit-flavored beer), and I went off alone to explore the place on my own. Theaterland, where there were so many musicals running I was in a daze trying to decide which one I wanted to watch. Covent Garden, where some of the hippest cafes and shops are located at, with live strolling performers playing all sorts of instruments, include a string quartet!

Soon it was way past midnight, and I had to figure out my way to the midnight bus back to Liping’s place. In no time I was under the warm duvet, and smiled to myself goofily for such a nice day spent.

I really, really like London!

Click here for photos taken during my first day in London.

Athens Day 5: Enroute to London

The dawn of my last morning in Athens came upon us. Our flight was scheduled to be in the noon, but knowing our luck with flights, we checked out from Athens Backpackers early in the morning.

Athens Backpackers, you’ll be missed!

We carried our large backpacks to the train station, and within the hour we arrived at Athens International Airport. The check-in was rather painless, and we have some time to while away, so Liping and I went around the shops. Like, finally we don’t have to rush through airports with a feeling of dread at the pit of our stomach.

Enroute to London on EasyJet!

I must say I was very impressed by Easy Jet. Despite being a budget airline, their service was flawless, the aircraft felt amazingly fresh, and the entire journey was over in a flash. I was really happy, and if I ever travel to and fro London, I will definitely choose them.

So we landed at Gatwick airport. I was holding my breathe as I stepped out of the airplane. I am finally in London! Was half expecting problems at the immigration, but like Liping said, they will always ask you the standard questions, so as long as I have answers for them, I will be fine.

Zapped through the immigration, and off we went to find the Tube… but even Liping got really confused. It took us a good 30 minutes before we figured out where the Tube was. LOL.

The journey to Liping’s place took longer than expected. For one, my Oyster card (courtesy of Liping) didn’t work well, so I was stuck at the turnstile for longer than expected. The Tube was crowded, and by the time we reach Warwick Avenue station, it was already dark.

And it was freezing cold. I loved it. Did I ever mention how much I love being in cold countries? LOL.

London bus service was amazing too. I mean, they actually announced the upcoming stops, so that people like me who has no idea which stop was where, it was incredibly useful. I wondered why Singapore didn’t use the same thing, and Liping said, “That’s because, by the time they repeated the upcoming stops in four languages, the bus would have passed the said stop”

LOL. That’s very true. The four language thing in Singapore MRT could be a bit over the board sometimes.

Dinner @ Maida Vale

Liping stays in a Zone 2 area in London called Maida Vale. I read about the place before – no, not from some guidebook – but on Shopaholic! You see, Becky and her boyfriend/husband (depends on which book you are reading) stays in Maida Vale. I have little idea how the place looked like when I arrived because everything was dark, but I had a feeling it will be gorgeous in the morning.

So Liping and I walked… actually, no, we ran because it was so cold, from her place to a nearby pub (a pub! in a residential area!) for dinner. I was eager to try out the multitude varieties of British beer, and the famous fish & chips. The former was impressive – I mean, look at the selection! You’ll die of liver malfunction before you can finish tasting them all – and the latter was not as expected. The barter tasted bland, though the fish was fresh.

I half contemplated leaving the house to go out that night, but figured that it might be too much to be so adventurous in a strange land at that time of the night. So I rested my tired body to get ready for the big London adventure the next day!

It’s London babyyyy!

Hey guys,

I have arrived in London, having spent the last nine days in Greece. The weather here has been all wet and gloomy, making the exploration of Santorini and Athens less fun than it should be. Nevertheless I had loads of fun getting to know and hanging out with fellow backpackers here in Athens. We spent Christmas Day and Boxing Day together. It was awesome.

More pictures when I am back in Singapore. And right now, it is time to explore London!

Happy 2009, everyone :)

Sunset at the town of Fira at Santorini, Greece.

Athens Day 4: National Archaeological Museum of Greece & Last Night in Athens

So the morning dawned upon us again. Still raining (as usual) but after a quick breakfast, we rushed out of the backpackers to catch a cab to the bus station. Our bus for Delphi will leave at 10.30 a.m. and it was already 10.00 a.m.

It was just our luck that we boarded a cab whose driver wasn’t too fluent with English, and he had no idea which bus station we wanted to go too. After some acute miming and pointing at my guide, he seemed to understand and we were on our way.

As we passed more and more unfamiliar buildings and routes, the sense of dread seemed to build within us. Liping and I looked at each other questioningly – could we be on our way to the wrong bus station?

Ten minutes later, our fear was confirmed. After running around the strange bus station looking for a non-existent bus, we approached the information counter and was told crudely that the bus station we were supposed to be at was five kilometres away.

I looked at Liping in dismay. It was already 10.25 a.m. and without a doubt we will miss our bus. And since today is our last day in Athens, it will also mean we will miss Delphi altogether.

ARGH!!!!!!

Dejected beyond belief, we had to spend several minutes taking deep breathe to calm ourselves after a bout of serious cursing of the cab driver who acted like he knew what he was doing. I suggested that we should visit the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, which was closed when we visited yesterday. Liping looked at me blankly and said she will bet her bottom dollar that the damn museum will be closed as well, but since we had nothing else planned for the day we might as well just try.

And finally, finally, our fortune turned for the better – the museum was open! You can imagine our relief to see the hordes of people moving towards the entrance. And so we got our tickets and immersed ourselves into the world of Greek culture and history.

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The National Archaeological Museum of Athens houses some of the most important artifacts from a variety of archaeological locations around Greece from prehistory to late antiquity. It is considered one of the great museums in the world and contains the richest collection of artifacts from Greek antiquity worldwide.

As we walked along the many, many displays of ancient Greek artifacts, I couldn’t help but felt awed by the grandeur of what I was experiencing. Centuries of Greek culture were immortalised through brilliant sculptures, drawings and archaeological find. I took a great many photos here, and here are some of my favorites.

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This sculpture depicts a fallen young Greek soldier, whose knees were wounded and was kneeling on the ground. His helmet has fallen to the side, and his arm was stretched to the front yielding a sword to defend himself. The look of anguish was clearly engraved on his marblic face.

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Ancient Greek head gear (I can’t remember what it was called) for the partisan, plated in gold. It looked like an exotic tiara to me, and I really, really wanted to buy a replica of it to bring home!

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A painting of two boxing children, which was excavated from the ancient site of Akrotini of Santorini. Somehow I find this a bit too freaky for my liking. They looked like they are doing a round of muay thai.

Liping and I spent a good two hours here at the museum. I finished first because I was so, so tired from the adventure last night, that I fall asleep in the museum foyer waiting for her! How embarrassing, LOL.

As we leave the museum, the sky was finally cleared and the rain was reduced to a light drizzle. Liping and I took a slow walk to absorb the atmosphere – afterall, this was the area where the recent riot took place, and we could see many burned down buildings, smashed facade etc.

After a leisurely meal at a nearby cafe, we went back to (where else?) to the backpackers. By then we were tired out, both physically and emotionally, from the roller coaster adventure in the morning that we just rested. But I couldn’t stop myself from going to Ermou Street one more time to get a proper winter jacket from Zara, and to shop for more clothes.

Which I did! The shops were then opened (much to my relief), and spent some happy hours trawling through the street despite the unrelenting rain.

Night out at Makrygianni

This was the jacket I bought from Zara. Pretty cool, eh?

When I returned to the backpackers, we were all ready to go out for dinner. Liping, Marco, Kevin and I went to this place recommended by the owner of backpackers, where we bumped into the youngster Rene and Simon. So we joined our table and had the most fabulous dinner ever! A bit on the pricey side but it was worth every euro.

Drinking Session @ Athens Backpackers

Since it was our last night in Athens, I intend to enjoy it to very last moment. As usual, our session for the night started at Athens Backpackers’ pub, and gosh, by the time the few of us left for pubs outside, I think I was totally smashed. Marco, Rene, Simon and I made a gang of foursome and trawled the Makrygianni area for drinks, dancing and merriment. Liping and Kevin decided to call it an early night – aiyoh!

Night out at Makrygianni

I think I had a little too much to drink that I couldn’t recall much of the night. I recall buying the lads a few rounds of beer (alcohol in Europe is seriously affordable compared to Singapore), and danced with a couple of Greek girls at a pub to some retro-like Greek tunes. LOL. A serious culture immersion experience for me.

And – horror of horror – I puked all the way back from the pub to the hostel. Poor Simon and Rene took care of me. And I will always remember one conversation that we had:

Rene: Are you okay Raz…? (in that German accent of his)

Raz: I am okay… *pukey* I need water. Can you buy for me?

Rene: Okay.

Raz: (Pregnant pause)

Rene: But I don’t have money.

Raz: *pukey* Okay, here is five euro. Quick, before I puke again!

Rene: Okay. SIMON! Take care of Raz!

And off he ran. LOL. For some reasons this remained in my memory. Though it could be Simon the one who went to buy drink for me and Rene who stayed with me.

They even got change back to me, and stuffed it into my pocket. LOL.

So we went back to backpackers, and true enough there were a couple of drunk backpackers loitering around in the lobby too. Simon and Rene started to hunt for their “lost camera” (I thought they were playing punk, but apparently they really did lose their camera!), but ended up going back to their room and… passed out on the floor. LOL.

(The story went that Simon puked on the bed and had to sleep on the floor. Either way it was still hilarious)

Here are the photos I took that night. Thank you my dear lads, for taking care of me that night. Athens was great because of you guys!

Athens Day 3: Boxing Day in Athens

The plan for the day was to visit Delphi, located some two hours coach ride away from Athens. After some seriously difficult sign language with a cab driver, Liping and I managed to find our way to the right bus station…

… only to discover that the 10 a.m. bus for Delphi was sold out! The next bus is at 1.30 p.m., and since that would mean we will arrive at Delphi close to four, and everything will close by 5 (sunset, see?), it makes little sense for us to go on that day.

So, to be better prepared this time, we bought the ticket for the next day. After some contemplation on what to do next, we decided to pay a visit to the National Museum of Greece. So off we go on another cab (lucky for us the driver speaks pretty good English)…

… only to discover the bloody museum is closed! Worst of all, it was still raining (what is it with Greek weather?!). Liping and I were frozen to the bone. At the museum, signs of the recent riots were evident. It was a bit disheartening to see such a beautiful place being tarnished by graffiti.

And so, with a heavy heart we went back to the backpackers. Liping was so disappointed with the unfortunate turn of event that she settled down in bed to read. It was only after some hours later than we decided to make full use of the day to go out to the shopping area of Athens, a street called Ermou Street.

Mind you, it was still drizzling when we ventured out, so imagine, just imagined our disappointment when most of the shops were closed at Ermou Street!

Ermou Street

Espirit – closed!

Ermou Street

Zara – closed!

It was really, really a mega bummer. In total desperation we went to a nearby cafe to have lunch… and ended up chatting for two hours. To be honest, although Liping and I have been traveling together for some days now, we didn’t really talk talk. So over a cuppa and some food, we talked and caught up with each others’ scandals. LOL.

After that long yakking session, we went to the Parliament House of Greece to watch the changing of guard. It was really, really dull work, and the ceremony wasn’t as grand as it supposed to be. So I was kinda look forward to the one in London.

Christmas Fun Fair at Syntagma Square

We then went to a nearby McDonald’s for some coffee, because I was really, really frozen to the core with all the strong wind and drizzling wind. Just our luck that in McD, we bumped into a couple of “crazy people”. A mute man who was enthusiastically scribbling on many, many pieces of paper and was so excited seeing my Macbook, he demanded to look at the screen. A slightly crazy-looking overweight woman who sat next to us who started to scratch herself everywhere.

Liping and I were very perturbed by these, so decided to head back to hostel instead. More photos of our adventure that day here on Flickr.

Liping doing some sunny side ups for us!

That night we had a lot of fun drinking (again) at Athens Backpackers. Liping even tried her hand in making sunny side up eggs, much to the amusement of all the lads around her. Got to know a couple of friends too – Marco from Switzerland, as well as the lads from Germany, Simon and Rene. We drank together and generally had fun the way only drunk people will. LOL.

The Foursome for the Night!

We had a little bit too much to drink, and in the pissed-off state we were in, Marco, Simon, Rene and I decided to head out (in the rain!) in search of more drinks after the backpacker’s pub was closed at 11 p.m. So on we went, and I couldn’t remember exactly what we did. I think we tried to go into some clubs, only to discover either they have a minimum age (Rene and Simon were only 16!) or they have exorbitant entry charges. We moved in and out of clubs and pubs, and at one point someone even approach us and asked if we want to get some “fun pills”!

Of course, we didn’t. Do you mind! I am a thoroughly decent guy, drunk or otherwise :D

And so we ended up at a pub where we had some more beer and shots, before making our long, long way home. I crashed out the moment I entered the room. What a night!

More photos here from that night, if you can stomach it!

Athens Day 2: Christmas Day @ Athens Backpackers

Christmas Day in Athens! You would expect joyful caroling along the main streets, with people mingling around drinking beer, dressed-up ponies surrounded by shrieking children…

… well, that was supposed to be an Athenian Christmas, but it didn’t happen today because it was raining the whole damn day.

The sky just poured and poured… not heavily, mind you. Just heavy enough for you to think you can venture outside only to discover yourself drenched within minutes.

So all in all, it was a bummer of a Christmas, but within the house of Athens Backpackers there was still joy to be shared by all. In exchange for a Christmas lunch, Liping and I volunteered for some “communal cooking”.

So off we went! I was on chopping duty, so my job was exactly that – chop, chop and chop! It was a hilarious experience chopping mounts of vegs with the ladies who (surprise, surprise) had no idea what we are chopping. LOL.

Christmas Lunch at Athens Backpackers

And so after all ingredients were prepared, we sat at the lunch table and waited… and waited… and waited.

Did you know turkeys took five hours to cook?

Nope, we didn’t know either. So we waited from late morning till 3 p.m. before any food was served!

Christmas Lunch at Athens Backpackers

While we waited, I chatted with Zun, who hailed from China, but was born in Philippines, but right now studying in the USA. His background was so complicated that Liping, Kevin and I had trouble understanding. LOL. But we had fun making fun of each other and passed time by complaining in unison how long it took.

Christmas Lunch at Athens Backpackers

Ah, the food was finally ready!!! This was what we waited five hours for. It tasted… well, I guess it tasted alright. But the wine they served (on the house, yay!) more than made up for the amount of food to be shared by the 40 odd backpackers that afternoon.

It was certainly an interesting way to spend my Christmas morning, and one that I would love to do again.

After sitting for so long in the dining hall, we went back to rest in our room. Contemplated going out, but it was still pouring, so we slept instead until dinner time. By then we were starving again, so we headed to a nearby restaurant for some food.

Christmas Dinner at Nearby Tavern

The food, I have to say, was much more satisfying compared to lunch. The dim light, the soothing music (they had live piano and guitar going on on Christmas songs) and the great company made a wonderful Christmas dinner.

Christmas Night Pubbing @ Athens Backpackers

And then it was back to Athens Backpackers for more drinking and merriment. I think by the time I hit my third glass of housepour, plus a couple of Raki shots on the house, I lost track of time and what I was doing. Crashed out not long after that.

More photos on my Christmas Day in Athens.

All in all, it had been a very fun Christmas, and I really wonder if I could do this again in the future!

Athens Day 1- Athens Backpackers, Acropolis, Ancient Agora & Roman Agora

After a minor crisis at the Athens Airport involving a detached haversack from my backpack, we made our way to Athens city centre… by bus. We were lucky that we did not miss the last bus, since the flight from Santorini – Athens was delayed!

And so we made it to Syntagma Square, where our accommodation Athens Backpackers was located at. A series of misinterpreting directions (my fault, I’ll admit), me made it to the backpackers in, checked in with little fuss and soon tucked into bed.

Walking Tour from Athens Backpacker

The next morning, after a quick breakfast of toasts and coffee, we took part in the Downtown Walking Tour (5 Euros), which was organised everyday from Athens Backpackers. It’s not just a walk around, but a complete orientation of the city centre, a must on your first day in Athens. The very chatty guide, a local Greek girl named Paula who spoke perfect English, took us to some of the must-see sites and museums, shopping tips, interesting out-of-the-way places, and of course show you where the great cheap tavernas’ (traditional Greek restaurants) are.

In the two hours walk, Liping and I learned more about Athens and the Greek way of life, more language and culture. I won’t put the photos taken during the walking tour here as we visited some of the key landmarks in the same day.

The end of our walking tour!

We ended our walking tour in the middle of Plaka. Liping and I opted to head out for lunch… and after walking around the area (and subject to some minimal touting, a relief compared to Istanbul), we had some simple sandwiches at a nondescript cafe. Right after, we hurriedly made our way to the majestic Acropolis, site to many ancient Greek monuments, including the sentinel Parthenon. However, our first stop was the Theatre of Dionysos.

The Acropolis: Theatre of Dionysos

The importance of theatre in the Athenian city-state can be gauged from the dimensions of the enormous Theatre of Dionysos on the southeastern slope of the Acropolis.

The Acropolis: Theatre of Dionysos

During the golden age in the 5th century BC, the annual festival was one of the major events on the calendar. Politicians would sponsor dramas by writers such as Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, with some light relief provided by the bawdy comedies of Aristophanes. People come from all over Attica, with their expenses met by the state.

I took a great many photos here, because the place was simply too grand for just a cursory glance. We climbed up and down the seats to take in the feel. It was a good thing we did – turn out that this is the only site in Acropolis that we can actually get close to. The remaining were cordoned off, out of reach of tourists.

The Acropolis: Odeon of Herodes Atticus

Next up – Odeon of Herodes Atticus, which was built in 161. Herodes Atticus was a wealthy Roman who built the theatre in the memory of his wife Regilla. It was excavated in 1857-58 and completely restored between 1950 and 1961. There are performances of drama, music and dance here during the Hellenic Festival. The theatre is open to public only during performances.

Not very far from here was a series of stone steps to go up to the top of Acropolis, where my breathe was literally taken away.

The Acropolis: The Propylaia

To get into the main site, you will pass through the grand entrance of Propylaia. The Propylaia formed the towering entrance to the Acropolis in ancient times. Its architectural briliance ranks with that of the Parthenon. It consists of a central hall, with two wings on either side.

The Acropolis: The Panathenaic Way

The Panatenaic Way, which cuts across the middle of Acropolis, was the route taken by the Panathenaic procession – the climax of the Panathenaia festival held to venerate the goddess Athena.

The Acropolis: Erechtheion

Erechtheion was built on the part of the Acropolis held most sacred. It was here Poseidon struck the ground with his trident and where Athena produced the olive tree. Named after Erichthonius, a mythical king of Athens, the temple housed the cults of Athena, Poseidon and Erichthonius.

The Acropolis: Erechtheion

The Erechtheion is immediately recognisable by the six larger-than-life maiden columns that support its southern portico, the much-photographed Caryatids. They are so called because the models for them were women from Karyai (modern day Karyes) in Lakonia.

The Acropolis: The Parthenon

The Parthenon is the monument that more than any other epitomises the glory of ancient Greece. It means “virgin’s apartment”. This is the largest Doric temple ever completed in Greece, and the only one built (apart from its wooden roof) of Pentelic marble.

The Acropolis: The Parthenon

Built on the highest part of the Acropolis, the Parthenon had a dual purpose – to house the great status of Athena commissioned by Pericles, and to serve as the new treasury. It was built on the site of at least four earlier temples dedicated to the worship of Athena.

The Acropolis: A View of Lykavittos from Acropolis

We were lucky that during our visit, the weather was sunny and bright, if not a bit too windy. To be at the Acropolis on that day was like a dream come true for me. Standing on top of the hill, the white buildings of Athens stretched everywhere you look. It’s like the God drop a whole load of (white) candies on top of the Acropolis, and they rolled in every direction.

Right after the majestic Acropolis, we descended from the hill to visit the Ancient Agora.

Ancient Agora

Ancient Agora was Athens’ meeting place in ancient time. It was the focal point of administrative, commercial, political and social activity. All roads led to the Agora, and it was a lively, crowded place. The main monuments are the Temple of Hephaestus, the Stoa of Attalos and the Church of the Holy Apostles. The site is bounded by Areopagus Hill in the south, the Athens-Piraeus metro line to the north, Plaka to the east and Apostolou Pavlou to the west.

Ancient Agora: Temple of Apollo

I was looking forward to see the Temple of Apollo. Little did I know it will be just like the rest of the “remains” in Ancient Agora – just foundation stones on the ground. What a disappointment!

Ancient Agora: Temple of Hephaestus

Of the entire Agora, only Temple of Hephaestus was in tact. This temple, on the western edge of the Agora was surrounded by foundries and metalwork shops, and was dedicated to Hephaestus, god of the forge. It was one of the first buildings of Pericles’ rebuilding programme and is the best-preserved Doric temple in Greece. Unlike the Parthenon, the monument doesn’t evoke a sense of wonder, but it’s impressive nonetheless.

Riot Polices in Greece

On the way from Ancient Agora to Roman Agora, we bumped into a couple of riot polices hidden at a corner of the main road. We looked around in alarm and saw that indeed some kind of a crowd was gathering at the square of Makriyanni. Of all things, a riot on Christmas Eve! I hurried away, but Liping found the time (and courage!) to snap a couple of photos first. LOL.

Roman Agora: The Tower of the Winds

Soon we arrived at the Roman Agora, and immediately one monument attracted our attention. The well-preserved Tower of the Winds was built in the 1st century BC by a Syrian astronomer named Andronicus. The octagonal monument of Pentelic marble is an ingenous construction that functioned as a sundial, weather vane, water clock and compass. Each side represents a point of the compass, and has a relief of a figure floating through the air, which depicts the wind associated with that particular point. Beneath each of the reliefs are the faint markings of sundials. The weather vane, which disappeared long ago, was a bronze Triton that revolved on the top of the tower. The Turks allowed dervishes to use the tower.

Ancient Agora: Stoa of the Giants

The rest of the Roman Agora appears to the layperson (like me) as little more than a of rubble. In the southern area are the foundations of a propylon and a row of shops. To the right of the entrance are the foundations of a 1st-century public latrine.

In fact, I almost had a little incident at the said public latrine. After a full day of walking about, I was understandably high-tide. So I was scrambling around looking for a toilet. Was told by the nice lady at the ticketing booth where the toilet was, which was at a corner of the Roman Agora.

As I walked to the said corner, I can’t help but notice the said site of the ancient public latrine. Of course, by now, the latrine was reduced to mere rubbles on the ground. I was puzzled and momentarily considered if this was where I was supposed to relieve myself. But it couldn’t be… I mean, should I be tainting a national monument with, err, human waste?

After a couple of puzzled seconds, I finally noticed the actual public toilet, which is actually built into the ground. No wonder I couldn’t see it! Haha. For a moment I almost made a fool out of myself. LOL.

Click here to view the galore of photos I took that day.

Finally we went back to the hostel to rest. My poor, overwalked feet! It was also then we met Kevin Yum. He was originally from Hong Kong, but now studying in the States. Came to Athens enroute to Italy for an end-year holiday. Lucky bastard. If only I was that fortunate when I was a student!

I couldn’t remember what I did that night… I have a shrewd suspicion that it consisted nothing more than an elaborate dinner at a restaurant nearby and then more drinks at the hostel bar.

Cheap drinks galore! For EUR2, I get a beer. EUR3 for a housepour. And despite not being that well equipped, the bartender was surprisingly apt at producing the most delicious drinks. He also had a penchant to dish out free shots of raki at us the Asian guests. I am not complaining of course, but it also meant I was dead by the time midnight came around, and off to the bed I went.

Merry Christmas!

Hello guys,

Greetings from Athens! After spending one week in Istanbul, and a few days in the beautiful island of Santorini, finally here I am in Athens, home of the monumental Acropolis.

Here’s wishing you a Merry, Merry Christmas! Hope 2008 had been a fruitful year for you, and may 2009 be a fantabulous one for everyone!

More photos and blog posts after I am back in Singapore :)

Along Bosphorus in Istanbul. Far in the background is the Black Sea.