travel

2 WEEKS IN LONDON

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Of the cities I’ve been to so far, London is my favourite. It is super tourist friendly, very easy to get around(by foot, or by tube) and has everything I believe anyone needs, to live a comfortable yet exciting life — convenient and modern transportation, beautiful parks, history, physical presence of history, easy access to parts of the world, shopping, great international food, fantastic arts and music scene. I spent 2.5 weeks on my first trip to London, and in the middle, took a short trip to Glencoe, Scotland, which is updated separately. I love London for it’s musicals and plays! Watched a total of 2 musicals and 4 plays and wished I’d time(and also, $$)  for more. The range of international gourmet you can find is amazing, and one of my favourite places to go are the food markets, and one of them people know for sure is Borough market!

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GETTING AROUND LONDON – THE TUBE

When in London, I got around by walking (alot) everywhere, especially around Soho, simply because there are signs and maps almost everywhere for easy navigation. Usually if given a choice, I’d usually prefer to explore a city on foot, rather than taking transportation. I think I get to see more this way.

Taking the Tube is a super convenient option as well when you’d like to go to a specific place or if you have kids or elderly with you. The network is divided into Zones, with Zone 1 covering the main city centre, and 2-9 are further away. I’d recommend getting the Oyster card, which is similar to our ‘EZ-link’ in Singapore. I didn’t really research much about the card prior to arrival, or had to take the tube a lot, so I bought single journey tickets for my rides. A single journey on the London Underground in central London (between zones 1 – 2) costs £2.40. The maximum credit spend limit per day is just £6.50 which means if you’re sightseeing across the city and making multiple journeys that day, any travel after your third journey won’t cost you any credit! This card can be used for buses as well. Many tourists use the tube to get from Heathrow airport to their hotels/accommodation on arrival. But do take note to avoid peak hours, such as morning rush hours! I had 1 large luggage and a bag with me, and I took the tube exactly during the morning peak. It was so squeezy and I felt quite bad for making it worse with my luggage taking up so much space! Speaking about luggages, please also note that there’re many stations that do not have escalators or lifts and only stairs. Try to have some ‘plans’ to bring your baggage up and down the stairs, or pack less! On my way back to the airport, I had 2 luggages, and a kind local helped me get them up the stairs. So lucky! A cab for 4 persons from the airport is super expensive, and costs about  £70, and takes about an hour to reach the city centre.

Hostel Accommodation in London

I stayed at a non-YHA hostel in Old street on the first week of my trip. It’s in Zone 1, but a couple of stops away from the the centre i.e Soho/Convent Garden/Piccadilly. I didn’t quite have a good experience there, because of some reasons 1) stayed in a 16-people mixed dorm 2)hostel was next to a pub. It was my first experience in a mixed hostel, and it was really quite bad. Because there are a few pubs near the hostel, people came back really late at night, and they were super inconsiderate. There was this group of guys who came back really late at night, and switched on the lights and talked really loudly. Also, the room isn’t sound proof at all, and we could hear clubbing music every night. Despite the room being smoke free, I could still smell cigarettes at times. A week later I went to Scotland, and upon return I moved to a YHA at Oxford street, and it was so much better. Better access to the central area, and it felt much safer as well. After this experience, I’ve tried as much as possible to only stick to female only dorms, and only choose YHA. I mean there’s a reason why they’re always fully booked!

Places of interest – Old Spitalfields Market (Antiques, food, crafts and jewellery), Brick Lane, Camden Lock, Convent Garden, Hyde Park, Soho (iccadilly Circus, Oxford and Regent street), Southbank

As I was staying in Shoreditch, the Old Spitalfields Market (http://www.oldspitalfieldsmarket.com/) was within walking distance and I absolutely recommend visiting that place! On every day of the week, there are different markets set up, themed from modern art and fashion to antiques! There’s a lot of other shops within the compound, as well as food. I love going to antique markets especially, cos you’d never know what you would find. I was so delighted to bring home this tiny little matchbox of miniatures at a stall selling vintage toys!

The famous Poppies Fish and Chips is located there as well. Within 5 minutes walking distance is the famous Brick Lane, which is famous for it’s amazing Sunday market! I really loved the lively and hippie atmosphere along the colourful streets! On the walls, you can find ever- evolving works by renowned graffitii artists such as Banksy. There’s also lots of food options to check out in the area, so basically you can spend an entire day or 2 just visiting these 2 places in East London!

If you are into hippie- type, eclectic vibes, I’d highly recommend the Camden Lock Market. This place is popular with youths and is exactly bursting with ‘scene’, if you get I mean. Haha. It’s chaotic, but in a good way. When you’re there, prepare to get lost in the loud, colourful and very distinct vibe of Camden. There’re lots of shops selling clothes, music, vintage, and street food too. Great place recommended to spend half to a full day there.

Located in central London is the beautiful Convent Garden, where you can find numerous shops and eats (such as Shake Shack). I stumbled upon Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop, which is a super compact shop selling vintage toys! There are several vintage toys on display in the store, and I really loved looking at every single item in the shop. Couldn’t help but bring home a few mini matchbox- sized, pop up theatres as souvenirs to keep as well. Too cute!

If you’re looking to get souvenirs, I’d highly recommend visiting Jubilee Market, which is right next to Convent Garden! I’ve been told it has the best range of souvenirs for tourists, and probably has the best prices too. There, you can find London- themed metal street signs, key-chains, posters, bags, t shirts, tea, chocolates aka the typical souvenir type things. Pretty cool stuff! I got my Shaftesbury Avenue street sign right there!

I also squeezed out some time to visit the magnificent Westminster Abbey and Big Ben and strolled along Hyde Park, which was so beautiful in late Autumn.

In central London, the main shopping places to go are definitely around Soho, which is bordered by Piccadilly Circus, Oxford and Regent street. I’m not a big shopping person when travelling, so I can’t rave much about the shopping per se, but I really love soaking in the atmosphere by walking around these areas, especially when the sun has set at night, and when the lights come up, the area looks very cinematic, with the big red London buses and black taxis riding down Regent Street…

Take a stroll along the Southbank, especially during Christmas season, where the annual Christmas market will be held at. It’s also where you can catch the London Eye. Despite being crowded, the river bank makes a rather picturesque backdrop for photos.

Musicals, Theatre shows

I was there in late autumn, nearing winter, so daytime was really limited. Don’t know why but I was very inclined to catch shows as soon as it was dark, so I booked myself a total of 4 plays and 2 musicals —  Once, Les Miserables, Mousetrap, Strangers on a Train, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Gastronauts. Needless to say, I loved all of them. Part of the awesome experience for me was being able to watch the performances in old victorian theatres! (or if you also count the thrill of taking pics when it’s not allowed… add 10% to the cost covered… I sure did, haha). Felt really lucky that I was in the Apollo theatre just 2 weeks before it collapsed. What a pity though.

Food – Lobster and Burger, Fish and Chips(Poppie’s and The Golden Hind), Maze by Gordon Ramsay, Diana’s Diner (breakfast), Soho’s Secret Tea Room, Ottolenghi, Lola’s Cupcakes, Ben’s Cookies, Cinnabon

I can get a little ‘cheesy touristy’ when I travel sometimes, (though I see it as being ‘classic’ haha), but there are some things I told myself to try when I’m in London, that is, to try i) classic English Tea and ii) full English breakfast! One thing I miss most about the food in London is the cake in Soho’s Secret Tea Room! I sound almost like a broken record everytime I tell my friends who are visiting London that they HAVE to visit this place. I repeat and rave about this place cos it’s here that I’ve had one of the best cakes I’ve had in my life so far! I’ve forgotten the name of the cake, but it should be something of a nectarine flavour. It was simple but delicious, with a vanilla and syrup- soaked, moist sponge, layered with fresh cream (that I think had white chocolate folded in). When I took my first bite, I was really pretty sure it was the best cake I’ve ever had till date. If you love cake, you MUST try this. Another reason why this place is special is because the location is pretty secret! I’m going to leave it this way, you’ll find out when you get there 😉 Shall leave you with a photo of the amazing cake…

For authentic English breakfast, I’ve heard Diana’s Diner in Convent Garden is very good, but I didn’t get to try on this trip. Instead I went to a random diner one morning and had a pretty decent one! Can’t really go wrong with an English breakfast anywhere in England I suppose.

I tried Lobster & Burger twice, and it was really worth it, at £20 for a gigantic lobster. I had the grilled version, which was yummy. But I’ve heard people recommending the steamed version a whole lot as well, which I’ll try the next time! And maybe the lobster roll as well!

Prior to the trip, I was also very excited to try Gordon Ramsay’s at Maze for the first time, and I went for the set lunch and dinner. For peak periods such as lunch or dinner, reservations are recommended, so do remember to do so to avoid disappointments! One particularly memorable dish was the crackling pork belly, served with lobster and razor clams.

Take a day to explore Borough Market and its surrounding shops, and plan to have your breakfast and lunch there! There’s just so much great food you can find there, such as the famous Roast Pork Belly and Crackling Sandwich with Bramley Apple Sauce.

I had Shake Shack twice, at the Convent Garden outlet. The burgers are good, but I actually love the fries more! A little uninformed on my part, but I didn’t know that they are also famous for their milkshakes! Will remember to try them next time!

I’d previously read an article on the ‘Top 10 Fish n chips to try in London’, and managed to visit two of them on this trip! One was at Poppie’s Fish and Chips, and the other was at The Golden Hind. Poppie’s is located at Spitalfields, which is very near where I was staying at. I had the cod, and it was quite alright!  As for The Golden Hind, it is a charming little place, and was founded way long ago in 1914. I’d actually accidentally stumbled upon the place, while walking along Marylebone Lane one afternoon. Felt like trying it, just to compare against Poppie’s. Other than the usual chips, I also ordered mushy peas to go along, as I’ve read it’s a typical british favourite to go with. Sad to say, I didn’t like the peas at all. I guess both versions rank the same to me, and didn’t leave much of a huge impression. I think to conclude, I’ve to say I’ve had better fish n chips in New Zealand (Akaroa, to be specific). If I were to describe what I do like about British fish n chips, it will be the GIGANTIC portions, and also the vinegar that goes with it. Yup, I really do like the vinegar on the crispy fish and potatoes, but I wish I could taste more ‘fish’…

Poppie’s Fish and Chips:

 The Golden Hind:

Had lunch at Ottolenghi in Islington with my friends one day and absolutely loved the unique selection of fresh food there! The flavours were some what adventurous, and half the time I don’t even know what my fork has reached into but heck, it tastes so good! Quite a bold gastro experience tasting the food. There’s a pretty wide selection of vegetarian dishes, and are Middle-eastern inspired. The founder, Yotam Ottolenghi, is best known for his approach towards vegetarianism, and ability to serve up delicious vegetarian food like no other. Apart from the amazing vegetarians selections, there are also delicious meat options as well. Near the window area was a huge selection of freshly made pastries and cakes! A pity we didn’t have space to try more, so I’m left with lots of ‘reasons’ to be back again!

I also tried Lola’s cupcakes, which has a store in Topshop, Oxford. Had the red velvet and cookies and cream flavour, wasn’t impressed though. I’ve also heard about the Hummingbird Cupcake at Portobello road market, but not tried it though. On the topic of little street foods, Ben’s Cookies are also very much raved about by people who’ve been to London. I gave it a shot with the dark chocolate chip and loved it! It’s a very big chunk of cookie, filled with lots of chocolate! I’m a sucker for cookies AND chocolates though so I might be a little biased here…

Another street food I found while randomly walking around Piccadilly is Cinnabon! Soft, warm, sticky and moist, these cinnamon buns. are so so good especially in the cold!

Special mentions: Christmas Markets & ice skating

I was there during Christmas season(late november), and very lucky to be just in time for the Christmas markets! I love going to each wooden stall to look at handmade gifts and of course the food they have in the markets. A pity I didn’t have time to go ice skating or visit the famous Winter Wonderland. I’ve seen pictures of them and they look amazing! Well, next time for sure!

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