Category Archives: London

My adventure in the English capital

The One With Exploring London on a Bicycle

In 2013, London was named the most popular travel destination in the world with a record breaking 16.8 million visitors to the city. The list of reasons for traveling to London are endless, thus holidaymakers continue to fly to the city regardless of its reputation of being the world’s most expensive city. And now, exploring London has just gotten even more exciting with the wide selection of cycling tours that the city have begun to offer.

Cycling along the River Thames or via many of London’s other interesting paths weren’t necessarily the most common choice to see the inner workings of London until recently. Traveling via an open-top double decker bus were often typically seen in travel brochures, as the stereotypical mode of transport for sightseers around London. However, recently, the tourism industry has seen a huge spike in cycling holidays with over 26 million cycling trips undertaken each year.

The One With Exploring London on a Bicycle

The sudden boost in cycling tourism is perhaps the result of the London Olympics. Since the summer of 2012, bicycle sales and participation in cycling events have increased tremendously. This has led to more tours along the National Cycle Paths across the country.

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The One With Gold Mine – Comforting Chinese Food In London

So it has been months since I visited London for my annual Europe trip this year. I find it incredibly strange the locals sing praises for Chinese food in London, often at the expense for the “real” Chinese food in places like Hong Kong or China. I mean, what could be better than the real origin of Chinese food, right? Was I very much uninformed, uneducated?

I discovered the answers at a bustling restaurant called Gold Mine Restaurant at Bayswater, London.

Gold Mine London

We started our dinner with some comforting soup. Decent, but nothing to write home about. So was the stir fried greens.

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The One With Olympic Days in London

Razlan at the Olympics

It wouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone for me to say that the highlight of my stay in London must have been the Olympics. The entire city was wrapped in the euphoria for the games. Team GB spirit was spotted everywhere, from volunteers on the streets to generous support offered to all participants of the games.

I got into bit of the action with the semi finals volleyball games between Italy and Brazil. It was a great, great experience. The Brazilian fans were out in drove sporting green and yellow gear, adding much festive spirit to the occasion. The game itself was a nail biting experience – what the Italians lacked off in games prowess, they match it up with good looks and great style.

I am only saying.

Of course I also put in some time doing sight seeing around this fabulous city. From Tower Bridge to Borough Market to Tate Modern to Temple Church, I have done it all. The weather was great by London standard – I was repeatedly told for being so, so lucky – and it certainly lifted my spirit.

Oh yes, and Tom Daley? Absolutely adorable. I cheered with the rest of Britain when he clinched the bronze medal in the 10 metres men’s diving.

Now excuse me while I catch some sleep before my flight tomorrow. I can’t believe that in less than 24 hours time, I will be in Greenland!

The One With The Beginning – London Day 1

120809 - London Day 1

So here’s to the beginning of (yet another) trip of a lifetime.

As I am typing this, my energy is hitting a critical level and my eyes brain can shut down at anytime. I thought the jet lag won’t hit me bad as I traveled from east to west, but obviously I was wrong. But I am determined to be living it up on London’s time right away, so hey, look, it’s only midnight, so it’s time to put down those memories in writing.

Jet Airways. A pleasant, pleasant surprise. The cabin, though old, was surprisingly pleasant. That was helped by the many unoccupied seats as I travel from Hong Kong to Mumbai. The entertainment unit even serves on demand movies; how cool is that? So I watched “We Bought A Zoo” and “Devil Wears Prada” while devouring my curry chicken meal. The transit at the Mumbai airport was more than harrowing so wasn’t something I’d like to commit to memory. But we arrived on time at London airport, and in record time I cleared the custom and off to meet my dear friend, Liping.

Granger & Co. After a quick freshen up, we were off to this iconic Australian restaurant. Despite the many “un”-recommendations by fellow foodies, I found the food to be surprisingly pleasant. True to its namesake I ordered the Aussie breakfast, and in each components I found great taste and wonderful cooking. Now isn’t that what it is all about?

Hummingbird Bakery. Continuing on my culinary adventure, we sauntered down Portobello Market. Summer in London was on its best behaviour, complete with sunshine and blue skies. I bought myself a Red Velvet and Malt & Milkshake cupcakes. Finished half of them in record time.

The Bull & Last. And so after a quick nap, we were off… to dinner. The Bull & Last lived up to all its hype. Wonderful food, in a leafy neighbourhood, and in a gastropub setting that I was quick to warm up to. We were lucky to be there early, as the seats was fast filling up halfway through our meal. Of course I would do a proper review.

Parliament Hill. As Liping was off to see her boys and I had an hour or so to spare, so I walked around the Parliament Hill trying to expense my newly consumed calories. Parks and fields in summer do seem different in London. I won’t say it was a glorious day, but at least the locals were out in force to enjoy the rare sunshine. Hey, even the sun was still up and it was close to 9 p.m. already.

Royal Oak. And then it was a bus-and-overground adventure to get to Kitson’s place for a quick catch up over wine. Ahhhh… nothing beats good old gossips and juicirific news as the wine poured. But my eyes couldn’t take it anymore, hence the early night back in Notting Hill.

All in all, a great start to my holiday.

The One With The Wolseley – Iconic High Tea In London

Whenever I go on holiday, I tend to treat myself like a prince. Not that I have the ability to splurge like one, but I do think when you are on holiday, it is unfortunate if you have to scrimp to get by with too little money.

I mean, aren’t you supposed to save up for a holiday? What’s the point to be watching your spending all the time and feel miserable for missing out?

So this was one afternoon in London when I was with the best travel buddy a man could have (hello Liping!). We just did some window shopping at Harrods (ok, so that was a bit out of my price range, but I am no fan of shopping anyways), and had the odd hour to spare before our broadway show (Legally Blonde!), so we did what some lady-who-lunches would do.

We did The Wolseley.

Afternoon Tea at The Wolseley

It was hard not to be impressed by the splendour of The Wolseley the moment you walk in. With its vaulted ceilings, polished marble and art deco interior, The Worseley exudes an old school charm in a very polished, modern way. I was told even that, if I was lucky, I might even spot the odd celebrity.

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The One With Europe ’11 Day 2 – An Evening In Fez

An Evening in Fez

The day was spent mostly on traveling from London to Fez.

It was remarkably nice morning out in Notting Hill. We did a big breakfast at Mike’s Cafe, and then popped across the street for The Travel Bookshop, made famous by Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts in the movie Notting Hill. Never had I been so tempted to shop so much during a holiday. It would be rather silly to drag my books all over the place so I planned to return on my way home.

The journey from London into Fez has been nothing short of being remarkable. Some quick notes to be expanded later on:
– Never had I seen a budget airlines so determined to make money out of its passengers. Incremental revenue is one thing, but to trawl the aisle selling one product after another really irked me
– Had an insightful time at Fez airport. Let’s just say the Moroccan didn’t put much store to efficiency. It was also a tale of woes for the overbearing lady who lost her somewhat demented husband at the airport. The officers didn’t have to laugh so much
– Everyone jabbered in French, Arabic and Berber (the local language). Not that I could tell any difference. It just felt strange and rather overwhelming at times
– The journey from the airport, a good 30 minutes, took us through the French district, the “new” Fez and finally the Fez Medina. It was literally like stepping back in time as modern buildings and sweeping boulevards gave way to cramped alleyways and dark corners
– The Moroccan men like to loiter. A lot. They were literally standing everywhere in the street.
– Our accommodation, Ryad Alya, was amazing. Everything you saw in Sex and the City was real. Never had I been so amazed by a hotel.
– The staff was amazing too, particularly one local chap named Mahmoud, who is a medical student in the local hospital, speaks good English, loves sport and always up for a good cup of tea. That he is good looking of courses helped with the ladies
– The locals loved their tea; generously sweetened with sugar and spiced with mint. At last count I had four glasses of those sweetness before bedtime
– Dinner was at a lavish restaurant nearby. At EUR28 per person it was expensive, but it was an euthentic Moroccan experience; great food, impeccable service (despite the language barrier), live classic music, all within a cozy courtyard of a dar.

It was late nigh before we finally hit the bed. Fez in the daylight will be a photographer heaven. I can’t wait.

The One With Europe ’11 Day 1 – The Colours Of London

At Tower Bridge

I couldn’t have asked for a more eventful first day of my holiday. Who else can do all the following within one day?

– Trawled my way to Portobello Market and discover a little known Spanish church in Notting Hill
– Ventured into a swooning bakery called the Hummingbird and bought the most delightful muffin, ever
– Consumed eight cookies, five doughnuts and four grande coffee
– Stood out like a sore thumb among the suited bankers at Canary Wharf
– Dipped into the world of said bankers by having lunch at Morgan Stanley
– Mistaken the Olympic 2012 council building as the Mayor of London’s office
– Enjoyed the best of winter in London by strolling half dressed along River Thames
– Visited Tower of London and its endless (what else?) towers after two unsuccessful attempts two years ago
– Struggled to remain awake while being serenaded with Pachelbel Canon at Covent Garden
– Gaped like an idiot at the largest Apple store in the world (three storeys, man!)
– Being all nonchalant at dinner while the gorgeous Jessica Michibata and her F1 driver boyfriend Jenson Button canoodled at the next table

And London was not even my actual planned itinerary.

Okay time to get lost in the medinas!

London Day 5 – Final Day in London, Transit in Istanbul and Back to Singapore

First thing first – I didn’t take anymore photos from this point on. For some reasons I was occupied with “some stuff” which I can’t blog about. But there weren’t much worth taking photos on.

The plan was for me to get to the airport on time, take the British Airway flight to Istanbul, stay in Attartuk International Airport for 11 (freaking) hours before boarding the Singapore Airlines flight back to Singapore.

A long trip was ahead. I was not sure what to feel.

The morning was spent packing up my mountain of dirty laundry, travel knick knacks and miscellaneous items and stuff everything into my backpack. After a final round checking my Facebook (yes, it can get addictive), I headed to the Tube and made my way to the airport.

The flight on British Airway was uneventful. Perhaps because it was my second last flight for the entire trip, I was pretty blase about it. Touching down in Istanbul brought back a nostalgia that was hard to place. I mean, I left the place only like a few days ago… about two weeks. Gosh, had it been that long already!

It was about 9 p.m. when I landed at Attartuk. My flight is at early morning the next day on SQ, so I spent time traipsing around the airport, having snacks at Burger King (placing my order was quite an experience) and sleeping on the airport chairs/floor (which was definitely an experience).

The night at the airport wasn’t that enjoyable, what with the constant interruption on my sleep. I was half expecting to be the only person to be spending the night there, but to my surprise I was accompanied by quite a number of travelers. However that did not lessen the sense of loneliness in me.

So it was with great relief that I boarded SQ plane, to be greeted with familiar faces and services and food. And some 14 hours later, I landed at Changi Airport.

It was with a great mix of emotion that I am back in Singapore. Part of me was relieved to be back to familiar surroundings and old routines. Yet another part of me was sad that my three weeks holiday came to an end. I am not sure if I will ever get to do that kind of trip again, what’s with my job and economic situation.

Perhaps I shall write in another post on this. But this was it! The end of my trip! :)

London Day 4 – St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower of London, Hairspray the Musical & Final Night in Soho

Happy New Year 2009! This was my last day in London, and I intended to visit a couple of places that I missed out in my first few days here, catch another musical and drink the night away!

St. Paul's Cathedral

A Cathedral dedicated to St Paul has overlooked the City of London since 604AD, a constant reminder to this great commercial centre of the importance of the spiritual side of life. The current Cathedral – the fourth to occupy this site – was designed by the court architect Sir Christopher Wren and built between 1675 and 1710 after its predecessor was destroyed in the Great Fire of London. Its architectural and artistic importance reflect the determination of the five monarchs who oversaw its building that London’s leading church should be as beautiful and imposing as their private palaces.

The narrow staircase going down to Echo Wall

Visitors were not allowed to take photographs within St. Paul’s, so I have nothing but mere memories of how the place looked like, which was amazing! It was a huge church, with highly-arched domes in golden hues, and the mosaics made me speechless. While I was there, there was a service in session, so I got to see how one looked like. I also went up to the Echo Wall, a circular balcony above the main area of the church, where reputedly if you whisper to the wall, the person directly opposite you will be able to hear you. Too bad I was alone so can’t test out the claim, hehe.

View from St Paul's Cathedral

A very narrow staircase let me to the outside of the dome – I can’t remember the name. From here, I can see London sprawling in all directions. The clock towers chimed and chimed while I walked around the balcony.

After spending some more time at the cathedral, I left for Tower of London… which, to my dismay, was still closed! There went my final chance to visit the famous landmark of London. Disconsolately I went to the tourist shop to get some souveniers, and then off along River Thames to take some photos from the outside instead.

Tower of London

Tower of London

Tower of London

After some aimless wondering here, I decided to head back to Soho in search for my next musical. Walked around Piccadilly Circus a little, before heading into the famous HMV to enquire at the musical ticket counter. Found out that there was a screening of Hairspray that night! Immediately I got one of the better seats and was all set to see my all-time favorite movie, on stage!

Hairspray the Musical @ Shaftesbury Theatre, London

I have lots of time to kill while waiting for the show, so I went around first to scout for the theatre, which is located at the far end of Soho. After which, I went to shop for some shirts at Zara (the price was great!) before heading to a cozy looking shop for an early dinner.

Which was a great decision. The service was impeccable – a great waitress made all the difference. I ordered way too much – a huge rocket leaves salad, chunks of yummy stick, a dizzying dessert and a bottle of wine. It was one of the most satisfying dinner I ever had during the entire trip. Including a nice tip for the waitress, I spent about 50 pounds. No complaints.

Last Dinner in London @ Old Compton Street

Last Dinner in London @ Old Compton Street

Last Dinner in London @ Old Compton Street

Soon it was time for Hairspray! The musical itself was a blast, and I am definitely not the only one in the audience who knew the lyrics to all the song. The lead actress seemed a little tired I must say. But the character Link Larkin was absolute blast and a dashing actor to booth. Edna was a great hoot on stage. Towards the end of the play I was on my feet to sing and dance along with a couple of other guys who seem to know the songs as well as I do!

All in all, a great musical!

Hairspray the Musical @ Shaftesbury Theatre, London

High from the wonderful musical, I made my way to the main streets of Soho for a last night of pub-hopping. During my consumption of copious amount of London-beer (oh, how much I missed them!) I got to know two wonderful lads from Cornwall. Bernard and William were down in London for a holiday, and we spend some happy hours together trawling the streets of Soho until the wee hour of the morning.

Last Night at Soho

Last Night at Soho

You know what? The guys are actually musician! Bernard plays the cello and William fiddles on the violin a Cornwall-based string quartet name Orion IV. Guys, I missed you!

So it was almost 4 a.m. before I reached Liping’s house in Maida Vale. What an (almost) perfect end to my London trip. Click here for photos taken during my last day here.

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!