Sunday, October 30, 2011

Land Trip - Europe (Day 48-49: London - Part 2)

17 Sept 2011 (Day 48)
(2nd Day in London)
Woke up early in the morning and went to a hotel to wait for the pick-up to Stonehenge!

It was early and I was still half-asleep...

The bus came and brought everybody to a bus terminal. From there, we were separated into different buses because everybody was doing different tours.

After 2-3 hours bus ride from London, I saw Stonehenge!!! And it was cold and windy!!!
Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument located in Wiltshire and is one of the most visited sites in the world. It is believed that the iconic stone monument was erected as early as 3000BC. That was more than 5000 years ago!
Because that were no written records from that time, nobody knows exactly why the Stones were erected. Many theories have been tossed around and some suggested that it was used as an astronomical observatory, a religious site, a place of healing, or a burial site. Till this day, it remains a mystery.
The stones are huge but I expected it to be a lot larger than they are.
After 30 mins, I had to go back to the bus! Can you imagine, we were only allowed about 30mins to walk around Stonehenge. I barely have enough time to take pictures and videos and see the place. Then I went back to London.

After I got back to London, I wanted to somewhere outside London. And I decided to take a coach to the City of Oxford!
The city of Oxford lies 80km north-west of London and was made prominent by its medieval university. Of course, that was the main reason why I went to Oxford, to see the oldest English-speaking university in the world - University of Oxford!
(Left - University Curch of St. Mary the Virgin)
(Right - Radcliffe Camera)
Till now, nobody knows exactly when the university was founded but teaching at Oxford existed in some form in 1096. 
(Hertford Bridge - a quaint pedestrian bridge at Hertford College.)
Just so you know, Rowan Atkinson, known for his roles as Mr Bean and Johnny English, was a graduate from Oxford University! Albert Einstein also spent some time at the university.

Oxford University was also one of the filming locations for the Harry Potter movies. More specifically, at Christ Church College. See the 2 pictures below. Look familiar?
(16th Century Staircase leading to the Great Hall in Harry Potter)
 (The Great Hall - Replicated in the film studios to create Hogwarts Hall)
Christ Church was also the setting for Alice In Wonderland and Lewis Carrol wrote it while he was at Oxford.

Another interesting fact: the ChristChurch Cathedral in New Zealand, after which the city of Christchurch is named, is itself named after Christ Church, Oxford.

Then it started to drizzle and I ran all the way to the bus terminal to catch a bus back to London. Managed to meet Hilda, a long time friend, for dinner. Caught up quite a bit.

18 Sept 2011 (Day 49)
(3rd Day in London)
Went to have breakfast at a popular local eatery called Lantana.
Walked around Petticoat Lane Market, which is a huge street market with a lot of discounted goods.

Then went to Brick Lane to find the legendary bagel. It was delicious! And it comes with different flavours too.
Look at the queue!
I went back to the Tower Bridge to take some photos in the day.

(Dr Johnson's House - where the 1st English Dictionary was complied)

(Another Famous Landmark in London- St Paul's Cathedral)
18 September was a Sunday and was the day that Manchester United faced Chelsea at Old Trafford. Can you imagine? That was the biggest match of the season! I've always wanted to visit Old Trafford since young but it was really far from London and very expensive to get there. Furthermore, tickets for big matches like this are usually sold out weeks in advance. To think that I was in England during a Man U Vs Chelsea match! So close yet couldn't watch it.

Guess I went instead? I couldn't travel up north to Old Trafford so I went to Stanford Bridge! That was a lot nearer to where I was.
(Standford Bridge)
Haha... I went to the home ground of Chelsea FC while the match was going on at Old Trafford. When I was there, Man U was already leading in the match. I looked at the sky and saw dark clouds above Standford Bridge and I knew that it wasn't a good sign for Chelsea. Sure enough, Chelsea lost! 

Then it started to rain!
(The world renowned Royal Albert Hall)
(The world famous Shopping Centre - Harrods)
(Platform 9¾ at King's Cross Railway Station. 
The secret platform where Harry Potter went through the wall to take Hogwarts Express.)
Then I went back to the hostel. Technically, I have already checked out because I only booked for 2 nights at the hostel. If you remember from my previous post, I had to stay an additional night in London due to my train ticket but I wasn't willing to pay for the additional night. 

So I stayed in the kitchen at the hostel for the night and took a nap at the TV room at about 3am in the morning. Fortunately, nobody noticed me! I left the hostel at 5:30am to catch a train to Amsterdam!!! Warning: Please don't try this!

After spending 3 days 3 nights in London, MY LIFE WAS NEVER, EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE..........................................EEEE...............................EEVER, THE SAME, AGAIN!!!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Land Trip - Europe (Day 47: London - Part 1)

16 Sept 2011 (Day 47)
I didn't know traveling within the EU does not require stamping of the passport. So my train ride from Paris to London was the first time my passport was stamped since Moscow to Riga.

The train went through the English Channel using the Channel Tunnel which connects UK and France by rail. So that means that I still did not travel by ferry or by plane. I was traveling on the train, which is a land transport. Not bad huh? I traveled from Singapore all the way to Europe and then to the United Kingdom by land!

Now the sad part. You see, usually when I arrive at a new city, I would go straight to to the railway ticket office to do an advance booking for my next train to the next city. However, as I was buying the ticket, the staff told me that the discounted price ticket (with the Global Pass) was sold out! My plan was to leave London to Amsterdam on 18th Sept, and that would give me 2 days 2 nights in London.

So now if I want to leave London on the 18th, I had to pay the full fare and it cost more than twice the discounted fare. I was not going to pay that much. I then asked the counter staff for the following day on the 19th, and fortunately, they have discounted tickets for the 19th. But that meant that I had to stay 1 additional night in London.

That usually won't be a problem right? After all, it was only 1 more night. However, London is extremely expensive and I was not willing to pay any amount just to stay 1 night. Furthermore, my train departing London was in the morning at about 6am. So it would be a waste of money for that few hour in the night.

I resigned to the fact that I would stay outside the train station if it was closed at night. 

So I checked in to my hostel and it was a crazy place. The people there were wild! And the wi-fi there was bad. I spent a few hours in the hostel trying to change my hostel booking in Amsterdam because of the 1 night delay. Need to change a lot of my plans too.

After I got that out of the way, I took the Tube (their Metro) to the Emirates Stadium - the home of Arsenal F.C. I was not even sure why I was there. Maybe because it was quite near my hostel.
Then I went to the residence of The Queen -- Buckingham Palace! Well, after seeing so many palaces, Buckingham Palace doesn't seem to stand out. Really, it pales in comparison to the Palaces in Russia and Austria.
(Buckingham Palace)
Walked around to explore the city.
(London Cab!)
(Trafalgar Square - Near Soho)
 (London Phone Booth)
Then I went across and along River Thames!
(London Eye)

(Big Ben)

So many sights to see in London. I went to find the London's most iconic structure - The Tower Bridge! Most people think that it is called the London Bridge right? When you see the picture of the London Bridge below, you would probably be asking the same questions that I asked, "Huh? Is that it? London Bridge?"
(On the left - Tower Bridge)
(Tower Bridge)
 Ladies & Gentlemen, presenting to you.......The London Bridge!!! (See Below)
(London Bridge)
Pretty disappointing huh? In terms of the architecture and structure, it is nothing close to the Tower Bridge. And guess what? The London Bridge is just opposite the Tower Bridge! It really just looks like any typical bridge across the river.

 As I was walking along the River Thames towards the London Bridge, I met 2 young ladies who recommended a very good restaurant for Fish & Chips. They told me that it is the place where locals would  go and it wasn't expensive. Since I was in Britain, I must try their famous British Fish & Chips!

So I went. The restaurant is located under a railway bridge near a Tube Station.
One of the better Fish & Chips I've eaten but not the best. It was good nonetheless. There is just something different about British Fish & Chips that I can't point a finger to......

Then I went to Piccadilly Circus, which is akin to the Times Squire in New York. Large neon billboards and signs are seen everywhere and the place is packed with people. In fact, too many people for my liking. Not sure how I ended up in Chinatown while I was walking!
The whole shopping and entertainment district is around here, in the West End of London. It is more commonly referred to as The West End.
(West End Theaters)
After a long day and a long night, I went back to the Hostel to rest. Going to see Stonehenge the next day!

(Author's Note: I spent a total of 3 days in London so I'm breaking up the London Post into 2 parts.)

After arriving in the UK by land, MY LIFE WAS NEVER, EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE...............................EEEE....................................EEVER, THE SAME AGAIN!!!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Land Trip - Europe (Day 46: Paris, France)

15 Sept 2011 (Day 46)
After more than 13 hours on the train, I arrived in the City of Lights - Paris!

First place to go? The Louvre Museum! Musée du Louvre is one of the world's largest museum and probably the most famous. It is also the world's most visited museum with an average of 15,000 visitors per day!
I pre-ordered my entry ticket to avoid the long queues there. I was impressed at how big the museum is. The most famous resident in The Louvre is Mona Lisa. So I went to look for her. She must be expecting me. I sent a tweet eariler to inform her that I was going to see her!

Saw a lot of famous sculptures in the Louvre. By now you should know that I can't really appreciate art. Not for now at least. So I pretended that I could appreciate the beauty of the sculptures and paintings. 
(Nike of Samothrace)
After walking through the crowd and many sculptures, I finally saw Mona Lisa! And we locked eyes....I was looking at her and she was looking at me. I think she was not all that excited to see me because she was just half-smiling the whole time when her eyes were on me. At least she smiled at me. Like she always does.
(Mona Lisa)
As I walked away, I noticed that she kept her gaze on me. And she never blinked. I learnt from young that it was rude to stare but she kept staring at me no matter where I walked! Being the nice person that I am, I forgave her. I guess that is what makes Mona Lisa special.
I can't believe at how small she is. Really. I mean, the painting of Mona Lisa is a lot smaller than what I have expected. I always thought that it was big. Come on, I bet that you have seen the copy of Mona Lisa's painting many times while you are growing up and must have thought that it was big right? Admit it!
(Inside the glass pyramid in The Louvre)

As I was walking along Seine River, I stumbled upon one of the world's famous "Love Bridges". What happens is that lovers would write their names on a padlock, affixing it to the railings of the bridge, and then throw the key into the river below. "Love Padlocks" are used by sweethearts to symbolise their everlasting love. Sweet!

I was at the romantic bridge known as Pont des Arts. As I was crossing the bridge, I was fascinated by the number of "Love Padlocks" along the railings. And I didn't know that there were so many different designs for padlocks! 
("Love Padlocks" at Pont des Arts)

The Notre Dame Cathedral was my next destination. It was further up along the Seine River from where I was. 
(Notre Dame Cathedral)
Notre Dame Cathedral is a Gothic, Catholic Cathedral and was the building that inspired Victor Hugo to write his legendary novel, The Hunchback Notre Dame. It was later adapted into many films including Walt Disney's animated feature of the same title in 1996. (And I haven't watched the movie yet!)
I was feeling hungry and I saw many people eating something that I have not been eating for a long time - Crêpes! And Crêpes are considered a national dish in France! Since I was at the birth place of Crêpes, I had to eat it. 

Went into a cafe and ordered Ham & Cheese Crêpe. The waiter was extremely rude and I could see that he didn't like Asians very much. There were 2 other Asian ladies that came in to order their food and they spoke in fluent French but the waiter was very sarcastic and said he couldn't understand their language! Then they spoke in English and he repeated what they said in a sarcastic manner and left. 

The worst part? A group of Caucasian guys came in and the waiter's attitude totally changed and talked to them nicely and was joking with them. Couldn't believe it!

Anyway, despite the poor service, the Crêpe was marvellous! I can safely say that it was the BEST Crêpe I've ever eaten. It was thin, crispy, soft, sweet, fragrant, all at the same time. Super good! (Suddenly I've craving for it now...)
(Eating Crêpe by the Seine River)
It is not difficult to guess where I was heading next: the most famous icon of Paris -- The Eiffel Tower. Needless to say, this is a must-go place in Paris. The Eiffel Tower and Paris are synonymous to each other and it would be crazy for me not to go. So I went. 
(Eiffel Tower)
The Eiffel Tower is the most-visited paid museum in the world. Millions and millions of people ascend the tower every year. For me, I didn't ascend the tower because it was quite expensive (they charge different pricing to the 2nd floor and to the top) and I wasn't with my girlfriend or wife. So it would be super un-romantic for me to go up. And I didn't. 
Then I went to find the Flame of LibertyThe flame was given by the International Herald Tribune newspaper to mark its Centennial and was a token of thanks for the restoration work on the Statue of Liberty (in New York) by two French businesses. Today, the flame has become an unofficial monument for Princess Diana who died in the tunnel beneath the Flame. 

Now, it is also known as the "Diana Flame" and is used like a shrine to Diana. Although not an official monument to the Princess, visitors flock around the world to lay flowers and messages to the much loved and remembered Princess. 
(Flame of Liberty - "Diana Flame")
Went to another landmark in Paris -- Arc de Triomphe.
(Arc de Triomphe) 
Then I walked down the "Most Beautiful Avenue of the World" -- Avenue des Champs-Élysées. This is one of the most famous and most expensive streets in the world. The 1.91km avenue is lined up with cinemas,  cafes, restaurants, luxury speciality shops and clipped horse-chestnut trees. 
Paris is the birth place of Louis Vuitton, and Champs-Élysées is the home of the Louis Vuitton Building since 1913. Champs-Élysées is definitely a place for up-scale shopping. The biggest Adidas store in the world is also located there! 

As I walked, I saw a beautiful stretch of trees that has orange/red leaves!!! The autumn leaves were so lovely. It was as if I was in a movie scene. No wonder Paris is the most romantic city in the world! 

Paris is not called the City of Lights for nothing. Went back to the hostel as it getting very late. 

Rested for a night and got ready to go to London, England!  

After exploring the capital of France, MY LIFE WAS NEVER, EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE............................EEEE.......................................EEVER, THE SAME, AGAIN!!!