Saturday, July 15, 2017

London Dubai 2017 - 11 Primrose Hill

Primrose Hill was the destination for the evening.  It is a small hill north of Regent Park, with a slight elevation about the London city skyline.

From Paddington, we took a bus to Camden town, changed to another bus to Primrose Hill.  Camden town appears to be mostly a working class neighborhood.   It is less neat, but probably more vibrant in its own sense.  A noticeable African population is there too.

Primrose Hill itself is quite a quiet neighborhood.  From the bus stop, we had to take a 10-minute or so walk to the hill top.

It seems like a popular place for the young people.  Before sunset, groups of young people gathering on the lawn, looking towards the city-side, waiting for the magic moment.  The atmosphere was relax and lay-back.

View from Primrose Hill

Standing on top of the hill, you could see the city sprawling around the River Thames.  At sunset, the modern buildings glittered upon the golden sun rays, making London literally a golden city.

Until my next post, bye... 

Saturday, July 8, 2017

London Dubai 2017 -10 A Visit To Cambridge

21 May, 2017, a lovely Saturday with the sun shining brightly early in the morning.  We headed to the London King's Cross train station, made world famous in the boy witch fiction Harry Potter.

London King's Cross Train Station

As you would expect, the real King's Cross station doesn't look like the one in the movie at all.  It is modern with a futuristic design.

Platform 9 3/4

However, to satisfy all the Harry Potter fans, they designated a small area as Platform 9 3/4, it is really nothing but a sign.  Potter fans queue up just to take photos for memory sake, to let their imagination fly wild.

The return ticket to Cambridge cost £16.90 for super off-peak, as today was a Sunday.  It seems like the cost for the return ticket and a one-way ticket is the same, so it is better to get the return ticket, instead of just a one-way ticket.  You can take any train for your category and class for the day (only once of course), seating is free.  The journey is ~1 hour, you can enjoy the famous English rural scenery along the way.  It was quite a joy ride.

Cambridge Train Station

Cambridge's train station looked pretty new, at least renovated with modern facilities.  There are some cafes around too.  Good to have sip and recharge while waiting for your train.  The town center is about 15-20 minutes walk from the train station.  You can take a bus, but most tourists seem to choose to walk.

The day before the trip, we found a free Cambridge Walking Tour at this site.  We wanted to go for the 11am tour, so we headed to the Fudge Kitchen right away.  It was quite easy to find, just opposite the famous King's College chapel.

Free Cambridge Walking Tour Meeting Point

King's College Chapel

Our guide for the day was Joe, an English language student at Cambridge University.  Naturally our tour started from King's college, admiring the architecture spectaculars and the long history, with the defining touches by King Henry VIII.  To enter the college, you have to pay a fee, ₤9.00 for King's college, cheaper for others.  As the guided tour was free, admission was not included obviously.  You could visit the college after the tour though.

Just adjacent to King's college, there was this giant Corpus clock.  This is a new addition to Cambridge, said to be designed to run for at least 100 years, counting started from 2008 when it was first unveiled.  You can find more details about the clock here.  

Our next stop was a church-like building.  I thought it was just another chapel from another college, then Joe explained that it was the old Cavendish Laboratory, where DNA was first identified.

Joe, our guide, in front of old Cavendish Lab

Cavendish Lab was not even a biology lab in the first place, it was a physics lab.  Somehow, the research expanded and somehow, work was done on identifying the mystery of life, and then DNA was successfully identified.  Lots of hard work, lots of luck, and the world is just this strange.

Since there is a King's college, a Queens' college became necessary.  Our guide particularly brought our attention to the placement of the ' in the two colleges.  It is a King's college, the ' is before the 's', signifying one king, maybe King Henry VIII?  Although King's college was constructed over the reigns of a number of kings.  For Queens' college, the ' is after the 's', signifying this college was constructed upon the efforts of many queens.  This is one tiny detail the most people won't notice, or even bothered, while our English language student picked up for our entertainment :-)

Queens' College

There was a wooden bridge across the river in front of Queens' college.  Legend had it that it was built by the famous physicist Isaac Newton as a gift to the college.  It was built without the use of a single nail.  His students wanted to challenge their teacher, dismantled the bridge, but unable to put it back.  Newton was furious when he heard of this, refused to help his students to put the bridge back.  At the end, the students could only re-construct the bridge using nails, which is what you see today.

Does the story sound good?  It was just a myth.

Besides King's and Queens' colleges, we also visited many other colleges in Cambridge whose names I could hardly remember.  What impressed me most is their education system, especially their 'supervision' system.

To put it simply, supervision is basically a tutorial session, nothing especial, we have tutorial classes in NUS and NTU too.  However, the staff to student ratio at NTU was like 1:20 for tutorial, in comparison, it is 1:2 in Cambridge!  You can see a supervision session in Cambridge, Queens' college of a computer science student here.  I wish I could get that kind of attention and dedication from my tutor at NTU.

At the end of the day, good education is not defined by how grand the school buildings are, how much money has been spent, it is all about what kind of graduates a university produces.  Would your graduates have independent thinking?  Integrity?  Social skills?  Courage?

These are points for you to ponder.  Until my next post, bye...

Friday, June 30, 2017

London Dubai 2017 - 9

After a tiring day, what better will be to have a sumptuous meal?  This evening, we went to a Chinese restaurant near Bayswater metro station.

The name of the restaurant is Four Seasons in English, 文兴in Chinese.  It is just a stone's throw away from Bayswater station.  

The most famous dish, a must have dish here is the roast duck.  Its roast duck is different from your normal roast duck, which has a very crispy skin layer.  The roast duck here is actually soft, deeply immersed in its own sauce.  The ducks are locally bred in UK.  The temperate weather demands the ducks to grow a thick layer of fat to keep themselves warm.  You can imagine how fragrant that fat becomes after roasting.

I picked up a piece of duck meat, the oil dripped from the greasing fat.  It melt in your mouth, the juice filled your mouth with fragrance.  Oh my, it was so unhealthy; oh my, it was so heavenly.  If you are in London and crave for some Chinese food, I will highly recommend this.  It is unhealthy, strictly speaking, but you will regret it if you don't give it a try.

Until my next post, bye...

Sunday, June 25, 2017

London Dubai 2017 - 8

May 20th, 2017, Saturday.  It was a beautiful day in London.  The sun started to shine from 5am, the sky was blue.

Big Ben on a Sunny Day

We quickly went to Westminster again, to see the cultural icons of United Kingdom again.  My friend commented that it made a great difference in a gloomy day and a sunny day.  The sun acted like a giant studio light shining on the Big Ben and Palace of Westminster, created a beauty dish effect.  Of course, the subject would look flawless.

Next stop was Cleopatra's Needle at Embankment station.   Cleopatra's Needle is a collective name for 3 ancient Egyptian obelisks in London, Paris and New York.  The one in London and New York were a pair in ancient Egypt, the one in Paris was also part of a pair.  The other one in this pair is still standing in the Temple of Luxor.

Cleopatra's Needle London

So far, I have seen the one in Luxor, in Paris, and now in London.  New York should be my next destination!  My observation is the Luxor/Paris pair are much taller.  They reach out to the sky, as if a giant stretching its hand out to touch the sun.  The one in London is quite a dwarf in contrast.

The days of people having a fancy of obelisks were gone.  The Cleopatra's Needle stands quietly at the bank of River Thames, hardly a visitor, save some joggers passing by and a few obelisk enthusiasts like myself.

Continuing our journey, we arrived at the famous Tower of London.  Tower of London is actually not a single tower, not even a single building, but a collection of towers, castles built over the centuries by various kings and queens.  You can walk along the inner wall, which is lined with the older, more barren chambers.  However, you can have a good view of London's ultra modern south bank architectures, including the Shard.

London South Bank

A royal bed chamber was created on this section of the wall.  Well, it looks good, but probably still not as good as the bed room of any modern 5-star hotel, probably not even as good as a commoner's bed room in sunny Singapore's HDB flat.  Despite all the ills associated with our modern society, we should always remind ourselves that we now live a life better than many kings and queens in history, enjoy the convenience and comfort that only the rich of the rich could afford probably just a century ago.

A Re-created Royal Bed Chamber

The crown jewel of Tower of London is none other than the Crown Jewels!  It is advisable to arrive early in the morning, the best is gain entrance when the tower opens its doors, to avoid the crowd.

Visitors Queuing to View the Crown Jewels

We arrived at Tower of London at around 9am, just at the opening time.  We didn't have to queue to view the crown jewels, but after we came out, that was what we saw at the entrance - a long queue!

No photography allowed in the exhibition hall. The entrance and exit are 8-in thick stainless steel doors.  The feel was kind of awe.  The worlds largest diamonds, Cullinan I & II, and the famous Koh-i-Noor were less than a meter away, yet they were so out of reach.  An even more strange feeling was that I had no feeling!  Largest diamonds in the world, but they look just like that resin diamond in the toy store!  Is my sour grape mentality at work?  Maybe.  Being a utilitarian, I don't have a higher level of satisfaction owning such diamonds.  I can't eat them, drink them.  They don't have any useful applications.   They don't even raise my social status.  Oh, well...

White Tower

In the center of Tower of London stands the White Tower.  It was first erected by William the Conqueror in 1066.  You see, those names you only see in your history textbook appear now.  Inside the White Tower, it is the Royal Armouries.

Royal Armouries

The Tower of London complex is huge.  Just walk around the whole place takes a few hours, not taking into account wait time and time to appreciate the exhibits.  If you want to see everything in a single day, I would suggest you start early in the morning.  Bring with you some drinking water, and plan ahead some stops for rest.  There is a cafeteria in the complex, with reasonably priced food.  You can schedule your lunch to avoid peak lunch hour.

If you start your day at 9am, then it is reasonable to expect to finish your tour at 2-3pm, including an hour for lunch.

So much for today, until next time, bye...

Thursday, June 22, 2017

London Dubai 2017 - 7

Having had a sumptuous lunch, we were again full of energy to explore this beautiful city.  London Chinatown was just a stone's throw away.

London Chinatown

This Chinatown has a relatively short history.  It became a Chinatown only in the 1970s, when there was an influx of Chinese immigrants coming from HongKong.  With them, Chinese restaurants and Chinese cuisine became popular and now almost an integral part of London.  There are still a very large numbers of Chinese restaurants, in particular, Cantonese restaurants here.  The Chinatown is quite small though, if you don't stop for some shopping or food, you may cover this area in about half an hour.

I was quite surprised to see lots of people queuing up at some drinks shop.  I thought such mania would only happen in Asia, where people queue for some popular drinks for hours.  And it was a Friday morning!  Not even weekend.

TKTS Booth at Leicester Square for cheap tickets

A short walk away is Leicester Square, THE entertainment place in London, famous for London West End's plays.  It is said that you MUST watch a play at London's West End, and this is THE place to get some cheap tickets.  Watching a play is too arty farty for me, so I figure it would be better for me to save that money for another sumptuous meal :)  There is a statue of William Shakespeare in the center of the square.  He hope he wasn't too disappointed with me.

Further south, we soon reached Trafalgar Square.  It was lively place.  In front of National Gallery, there were many street artists performing there.

Trafalgar Square

 A crew team was setting up the stage for an event for the weekend.  Kids running around, poking fun at the various street artists.  Tourists were awed by the grandeur of the neo-classic facade of the National Gallery.  The Nelson Column, which stands in the center of the square, commemorates Admiral Horton Nelson's victory at the Battle of Trafalgar, in which he was mortally wounded.

It was a cloudy, gloomy day, with unpredictably weather between rain and moments of sunshine, however, Trafalgar Square was still full of joy.

Before I end today's post, let me use this street artist's work of various countries' national flag to remind all of us that it is better to live with each other in harmony than in war.

Until my next post, bye...

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Is Scoot Really a Budget Airline?

Scoot (flyScoot) today launched its virgin flight from Singapore to Athens.  Scoot is supposed to be a 'budget' airline, but is it really so?  I did a comparison.

I chose 17 Oct and 24 Oct as my departure and return dates.  Considering 30kg standard check-in luggage and including one meal.  The total cost for this is SGD857.59.  Total flight time is about 11 hours.

I then did a research at Skyscanner with the same dates.  I got the cheapest from Emirates.  The cost is SGD1027.00, with the same standard 30kg check-in luggage, a meal and some other benefits.  However, the flight time is about 19 hours, including a transit at Dubai.

The price difference between the two airlines is ~SGD170.00, flight time difference is about 8 hours.

Other differences between the two airlines for you to consider:

1. Scoot uses Boeing 787 Dreamliner.  The leg room is quite crammed.  I am not sure whether there is any in-flight entertainment system available on-board.  For Singapore to Perth, I confirm there is NO in-flight entertainment.

Emirates uses AirBus A380-800, which is a super jet, or Boeing 777-300.  Both have in-flight entertainment.  Leg room in A380-800 is very comfortable.

2. For Scoot, I guess you have to pay for everything on-board.  For Emirates, you can enjoy some 'free' drinks such as orange juice, apple juice, beer, wine on board.

Which one is better?  I think it is very subjective.  For the young crowd, probably Scoot makes more sense.  You can get to your destination faster, at a lower price.  For the more mature crowd like myself, I most probably will choose Emirates instead.  It is more comfortable, a stop-over at Dubai provides some breathing time from an otherwise very long journey.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

London Dubai 2017 - 6

Having enjoyed the beauty of St Jame's Park, we moved towards Buckingham Palace for the Change of Guards ceremony.  To be frank, I was totally confused of what was happening for the whole process, and many tourists there were just as confused as myself.  I suggest you visit Change of Guards website to get some very useful information.

The entire Change of Guards process stretches over a large area, from Wellington Barracks to Buckingham Palace's forecourt.  There are many places for photography, however, unless you can run really fast, you probably can only manage to take photographs at some selected places on a single day.  Outside the railing of Buckingham Palace's forecourt, where the ceremony actually takes place, is crowded at least one hour before the event.  Another location, which is quite a disadvantage viewpoint, is the Victoria Memorial.  You have to be a tall guy and stand on your toes to get a glimpse of what is going on on the other side of the railings.

Household Cavalry Ride Past

Costumes of the guards are colorful, full of tradition, although they may seem Greek to young people and visitors from other cultures.

Guards Marching Towards Buckingham Palace

The Change of Guards process starts at 10.30am, ends around 11.45am.

Having witnessed the colourful Change of Guards, it was time to fill our tummy.  Straight we went to Burger and Lobster, a restaurant situated in the chic London Soho area.

Burger and Lobster Restaurant

The restaurant front looked very ordinary, totally unnoticeable to say the least.  Once inside, it was completely different.  Lots of customers for a weekday lunch.

Restaurant Interior

I got to know this restaurant from LadyIronChef website.  They recommended the lobster set lunch, which cost £23.00,  for a 1 lb lobster, served with sides of chips and salad.  I decided to add a pint of lager to accompany the good food.

1 lb Lobster Set Lunch

You can choose how you like the lobster cooked, steamed and grilled are two of the options.  The lobster was very fresh.  Meat was firm and sweet.  It was ecstasy after a morning of good walk around the city.

So much for today.  Until my next post, bye...

Saturday, June 17, 2017

London Dubai 2017 - 5

19 May, 2017, our second day in London.  Suffering from jet lag, my friend and I both woke up at around 4.30am.  Sunrise was early in London, by 5.30am, it was already very bright.  We decided to have an early start for the day.

Paddington Metro Station at 6am

By 6am, we arrived at the Paddington Metro station.  It was quiet and few passengers were there.

Circle Line Metro at Paddington Metro Station

The station is very old, although it had been refurbished.  The building very much looks like from the industry age, with high, red brick walls, reminds me of industry era factories.

Circle Line Train

The metro train for the circle line is modern, has ample space.  In the next days, I will show you a more traditional London Metro train interior.

Big Ben, Westminster Palace and Bridge

Our first stop was Westminster.  This is where you would see the famous London landmarks such as the Big Ben, Westminster Palace, which houses the parliament, and the Westminster Bridge.  It was a cloudy and gloomy day, with rain drops drizzling from the sky.  The air was chilling.  What a first hand experience of London's famous bad weather.  If mist had been added to the scene, I would very much feel being in a scene of Sherlock Holmes' detective stories.

We walked across Westminster Bridge, and scouted for some vantage points for the Big Ben.  London eye was just around the corner.  We went past London Aquarium,  Golden Jubilee Bridge, Charring Cross Station, Trafalgar Square, eventually ended up in St Jame's Park.

St Jame's Park is a lovely public park, with lushes of green in the center of London, right in front of the Buckingham Palace.  The ceremonial guards for the palace sometimes would march past on their way back to their barracks .  We were so lucky to witness one such march-past ourselves.

There are also many animals in the park.  Gray squirrels would keenly approach park visitors for food.

When it feels threatened, it would also bloat up its body to scare away the enemny.

Gray Squirrel Acting Up

So much for today.  Until my next post, bye...