Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Long Way North-West.

Trip duration: 06 June 2008 - 22 June 2008

6750 miles & 12 back-breaking hours on the plane.

I've never been a good bargain hunter, I must admit. And after trawling the Internet for a good few weeks, I finally booked my tickets via Zuji, which I'd used on more than one occasion before. Gotta say, it probably does not give the best deals as compared to tour agencies, but as I only needed flight tickets 'cos I was gonna be putting up with a friend and my bro, I don't think the tour agencies would've given very much cheaper priced tickets. So online booking it was, plus I love how fuss-free and instant it is. ;) You gotta love the digital age - you even get to check yourself in online up to 2 days before the flight, which means you'll secure yourself that aisle seat without having to rush to the airport hours ahead.

SIN-LON on Qantas
The flight was delayed by 45 minutes, 'cos some traveller got lost in transit. Well unforunately, after 45 minutes he still did not show up - so the plane left without him. Thank goodness for direct flights. Transits could be good for really long flights so you get to regain your sanity and feeling in your legs, but I think 12 hours was still tolerable, and opted for the direct instead. Chasing through transit is never fun, especially if your first/connecting flights get delayed.

Left-right: Polished floors and glassy architecture are what make up the new Terminal 3 at Singapore Changi International Airport; Chinatown in London

Going thru' customs at London Heathrow, I felt like I was being interrogated a little. The lady officer was askin' all sorts of questions, like how long would I be staying, purpose of stay, who I was staying with, and when I said my brother, she proceeded to ask what his profession was.. etc.. and then it finally ended with whether I had a return flight. -_-" Right.. well, my dad did warn that customs were pretty strict with single foreign girls entering the country - probably 'cos several of them were entering with an intent to stay on as illegal immigrants? Maybe next time I should stick my business card in my passport to show that I ain't no illegal immigrant wannabe.. Bah.

G came to fetch me from the airport, and we cruised home via the M3 on that really chilly morning. It didn't help that his car window was broken and couldn't be wound up either.. I was seriously freezing by the time the drive ended, which was about an hour later! After unpacking and settling down for a bit, it was off to London to be a bit of a tourist. I loved London. It was big, packed with shops, lots of nice little cafes with tables along the street so you could just have a sit and indulge in a cuppa or dessert and read a book, or just watch the world go by.

Building view Dessert - Pudding

Left-right: Like much of UK, London has great architectural buildings; Dessert was caramel pudding.. mmm.

Piccadilly Line Empty platform

Left-right: Piccadilly Line; The underground - equivalent of our MRT system, but is seriously way more massive. And it pretty much gets you about ANYWHERE.

Seen & Been
1. Hyde Park - Red Bull Flugtag 2008
What on earth is this event all about? Well, as far as I could tell, the Red Bull Flugtag involves people building some sort of contraption which they were supposed to make fly, powered only by human power. They'd do a little dance, sprint off on the short runway, and more often than not take a nose-dive into the water about 3-storeys below. ;P But you gotta give it to some of the participants - they really had cool looking flying machines and costumes.

The platform to leap off from Participants Paper plane Tardis from Dr. Who Flugtag raft - Fruit stall

And... you guessed right if you said there's nothing aerodynamic about the Dr. Who and Fruit Cart machines. At least they were good to look at!

2. Hertfordshire - Knebworth House
Real name christianed Knebworth House, I think this is best known for being 'Wayne Manor' in the Batman films.
Knebworth Park far shot "Wayne Manor" in Batman films Knebworth Park Staying close to mom

Surrounding park, family of geese taking a leisurely swim.

3. Around London
The fastest way to zoom in and out of London would probably be via the subway - alight at King's Cross Station for central London. It is also here that you will find a wall with half a luggage trolley sticking out of it, and a plaque emablazoned with the words 'Platform 9 and three-quarters' above it. If you're not a Harry Potter fan, then obviously this little bit of trivia won't be the least bit of interest to you, kindly move on to the next paragraph. ;)
All aboard for the Hogwarts Express!
Lilywhite's Welcome to London

Another place to go would be Trafalgar Square, where its distinctive landmark of Nelson's Column stands.
I remember seeing a photo of my dad in Traf Square back in the 80s. There were loads of pigeons around, and I always imagined running across the square, scattering the pigeons above me. But alas, they outlawed feeding the birdies in 2003 and you'll only find a handful of pigeons left roaming the court. Else, the square is pretty much a lounging area for tired walkers or youths just chatting around. It's a decent place to stop and catch your breath, especially if it's cool out. Else it could get pretty warm if you don't catch a spot in the shade.

Aura Lion watching over the people Water bursting through sun rays Fountain at Traf Square

The famous bell of the clock tower of the Westminster Palace - It was a bit unreal to finally see the Big Ben in real life, after having seen it in several cartoons (think Peter Pan!) and movies (who could forget the fight scene in Shanghai Knights?).
Panaromaic shot of Westminster

London Eye:
A pleasant ferris wheel ride which gives you a bird eye's view of the city in all its glory.

London Tower Bridge:
To learn more about the history behind the London Tower Bridge, head not to the library but to the London Bridge Experience - where they drum the history into you via what I would call, scare tactics. I have a weak heart for horror (ghouls and sudden appearances by ugly apparitions), but I gotta say, it.was.fun. you gotta try it!

London Eye after dark Enjoying the sunset Almost gone London Tower Bridge

The British Museum:
My first exposure to The British Museum was through the game 'Hellgates of London', but in the game the entire place was dilapidated and invaded by ghouls, zombies and other forms of the undead. Back in reality, the museum is home to many relics and just rich in history. I'm not a really into history, but even then roaming through the halls and admiring the great handicraft of early mankind, when advanced machinery and tools were not yet available - you just can't help but feel that sense of awe and respect their ingenuinity as well as craftsmanship.

Check out the online tours if you'd like a sneak preview into the museum: http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/online_tours.aspx

British Museum IMG_1543 Crystal Skull IMG_1626
Easter Island statue - Gimme my gumgum? IMG_1595

4. Wiltshire - Stonehenge
Somehow I had this strange misconception when I was younger that Stonehenge was a natural phenomenon and held some spiritual significance.. Kinda like the Crop Circles saga you know. But eventually I found out that it wasn't, and it was a great feat of construction by humans instead (I'm referring to Stonehenge, not the Crop Circles eh). Well I definitely felt no great aura around the stones, but it was a really pleasant afternoon, and the rays emanating from the sun through the clouds and onto the stones, was aura enough for me. :) We brought food along for a lil picnic too. Yum.

Welcome to Stonehenge Admiring A Hare hopping! Crap, I think I stepped in crap.

5. Cambridge:
My visit to Cambridge was a rather short one as well (again, I cannot emphasize how important it is to start your day early). I was with a friend for this trip into Cambridge, and we decided to rent bicycles to get around. It was a bit nerve wrecking cycling on the roads which we were completely unfamiliar with, and I got rapped on the hand like a little child by an elderly man with snowy hair after I couldn't brake fast enough at a pedestrian crossing. WELL, I think that ruined my day thereafter. B-ah.

Cambridge is huge, there's much to explore around, and lovely architecture to admire. You can also go punting along the river, or do a bit of shopping in the town area. Labels like Dorothy Perkins, H&M, Marks & Spencer, etc. are everywhere in England.

Parents diving for food IMG_1645
IMG_1646 IMG_1651

There also happened to be a carnival going on during the time of our visit, so we stopped by and I got co-erced into getting on a gravity-defying ride.. Apparently my guts aren't as big as I thought they were.

Carnival at Cambridge Bumper cars Carousel Booster ride
Oh dear Lord Up in the booster

6. Day hikes
During my stay with my brother and sister-in-law, they brought me along on a day hike. When you're in a country as vast as England, there are definitely lots of places to go and things to see, and some of these are off the beaten track and cannot be travelled upon by vehicles - so you gotta walk it (plus, it's good exercise!). There are many routes in several places documented, and come in varying difficulty levels, so you'll definitely be able to find one suitable for the occasion/group.

On my day hike, we drove up to Peaslake, and embarked on a round-trip walk through lovely fields (along pre-designated walking paths, of course), and saw sheep, horses, flowers and cottages. We also met a really frisky and friendly pup along the way, and it was pretty amusing to see it jumping up amongst the taller flowers and disappearing below again. I think all animals should have that sort of space and freedom to go nuts in. It's just not sane for them to be cooped up in our concrete apartments without a great big field or garden to frolick around in.

It's important to be decked out in the correct gear for a walk, long pants are always a good idea, cos some parts of the walks may be lined with rather prickly plants (I could still feel them through my jeans.. dangit).

Fields changing colour Standing tall Trail marker - Oak Farm Up close and personal

Public footpath Hiking Bluebells

Sheepish I think we intruded in on their very private conversation.. "Wait for me!" Sprinklers

Oh, I also got to do something I'd never done before - blow away a dandelion. :P

Dandelion Dandelion, blown away

Sample of walking guide: www.surreyhills.org/Documents/Walking-Route-PDF-s/holmburyhillwalk.aspx

7. Windsor
Whenever in a new town that's a popular touristy place, always be sure to pay a visit the local visitor information centre, 'cos here you'll be able to pick up maps, find out if there's any special events going on, and basically pretty much get ideas of the to-dos and to-sees. It's also a good idea to start your day early, 'cos things pretty much wrap up around in the early evening, around 5.00 PM or so if I recall correctly. I was a bit of a pig that day and got out of bed late, and I think I got on the slow train out, so I ended up arriving in Windsor only around 2.30 PM in the afternoon. Since I was running out of time, I quickly got myself a ticket for the City Sightseeing open-top bus (it's a day ticket thing, so you can hop on and off the bus as many times as you like within the day). This also allows you to get on and off different stops along the way if you see something you'd like to explore further.

There's also a few walking routes around Windsor which you can explore, but I think I got a bit lost and went really far off the beaten track and ended up rather lost (damn, I tend to get a bit stupid when I'm on my own), but thankfully the Windsor Castle was pretty much visible from where I ended up, so I used it as a tracking point to find my way back into town. Getting lost was not a total loss though, I stumbled right on to the path of the royal procession which was leaving the Castle (the Queen was in that day, which also meant I did not get to venture into the Castle gardens - or at least I think it was not open, as I mentioned I tend to get a bit stupid on my own). But I remember being told at the Info Centre that the Castle was closed 'cos the Queen was in.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching the Royal Guards march out, fanfare and all. And it's not everyday you get to see Policemen on horses clearing the way (in fact, you don't get to see that in Singapore at all).

Other than Windsor Castle, the other main building to see I think would be Eton College. I believe the school's name speaks for itself, and is probably one of the most well known schools in the world. The school dress still consists of a black tailcoat, waistcost and pin-stripe trousers. It felt a bit like a scene from a Harry Potter movie.

All in all, my short trip to Windsor was pretty enjoyable. Tips I would advise: start your day early, visit the info centre, don't get lost, and not to panic if you do get lost.. and your day should be just peachy. :)

Windsor Castle - Statue of the Queen Windsor architecture Windsor sightseeing Windsor sightseeing Windsor sightseeing Eton College boys - they wear tailcoats as uniforms..! Datchet Road The Queen is in. More guards Mailboxes
Old mailbox design - vertical slot The Crooked House (it really was standing crooked, the picture doesn't show it well)

8. Fruit/Vegetable Pick-Your-Own:
Pick-Your-Own - because there's no other way to get your produce any fresher and in a more enjoyable manner. There are several PYO farms around (see http://www.pickyourown.org/). I visited this PYO farm - Garsons, in Surrey, and returned home with 2 basketfuls of the reddest, juiciest, sweetest, fragrant and freshest strawberries (& maybe cheapest?) I've ever encountered in my life. :) It was certainly an enjoyable experience picking the fruit yourself, but sad to say I witnessed the ugly side of people as well - some other Asians (I think they were Hong Kongers from their language) were eating the strawberries right in the fields - you weren't supposed to eat anything, 'cos the weighing machine is at the entrace and you pay on the way out. Shame on those fruit stealers!

Strawberry field Strawberry season Fresh strawberries for harvesting Strawberries freshly picked!
Recipes for your fresh strawberries Winner of the scarecrow design competition

9. British Wildlife Centre
A small-scale version of a zoo, showcasing various British Wildlife, The British Wildlife Centre is worth a visit if you're within the area. There are also keeper talks for each enclosure, so be sure to catch those to learn more about the animals and see them in action. There's also a little gift shop to bring home some memorabilia of the adorable critters. Be sure not to miss their resident barn owl sitting in the main entrance - Milo, who might sing for you if you stroke him gently. But be nice, 'cos he's still got that sharp beak and talons if you piss 'im off. :)

This is not a toy - It's real! This is Milo - he might do a lil dance if you stroke his soft feathers gently
Otter This fox is -not- happy Badger Polecat Mink Natural acrobat British Wildlife Centre

There's still so many places to see and explore in England, I've barely covered enough. I'll definitely be making another trip back in future. :)
Posted by dawn.wong on 6/24/2008 10:57:00 PM in , , , , ,