Category Archives: London

My adventure in the English capital

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!