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...

Thursday, June 15, 2017

London Dubai 2017 - 4

After spending 3 hours at the British Museum, we were really tired and decided to go back to our hotel to have some rest.

Our Twin Room

We finally hit a bed after staying up for almost 48 hours!  What a day!  The room at Gresham Hotel at Sussex Garden is rather small, not really much space to spread out our luggage.  There is a travel safe in the room, but you have to put a £5.00 deposit and get a key to the safe.  I found it kind of strange, that key is so easy to duplicate.  Anyway, hotel room safes are never really safe.

Bath Room

The bathroom is tiny.  The shower area is so small that I always hit here or there when I shower.  I am a 1.69m tall skinny Asian, I can't imagine an 80kg Caucasian showering there.

Our dinner was at Sussex Fish Bar, a small restaurant near Paddington Station.  They claimed to serve the best fish and chip in London.

Grilled Sea Bass and Chips

Well, I don't know whether it is true, I ordered a grilled sea bass.  The waiter informed me that it would take around 15 minutes.  In the meantime, I enjoyed a cup of milk tea.   When my food was presented, it looked delicious, and it was.  The sea bass still retained lots of its juice so it was not dry nor hard, but the skin was crispy and lingered the fragrance of char-grilled meat.  I would have given it a 5/5 if the belly was not a bit bitter.

This was my first proper meal in London, or the entire UK.  I had always been told that UK food was the most terrible food in the world.  This grilled sea bass gave a very contrary impression.

I noticed the people working in this restaurant, everyone of them, seemed to be from Middle East, I guess the influx of immigrants from around the world had enriched the quality and diversity of food in London.

After this hearty meal, we went back to our hotel room for a good night's sleep.  It was such a long day.

Until next post, bye...

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

London Dubai 2017 - 3

With Google Map on hand, we set off for the British Museum.  Somehow I always have a problem with Google Map.  It always gives me some strange way to get to my destination.  In this case, it pointed me to a bus stop that we couldn't find.  We got to the exact spot shown on the map with the GPS, no bus stop in sight.

As we were trying to figure out our next step at the side of a street, a guy offered us help.  He said he is an Italian student in London, and told us that the British Museum is just nearby and he could show us the way there.  Then he took my map and walked into a side alley.  He seemed a bit unusually friendly and enthusiastic, and he walked into a side alley!  Alert! Alert!  I looked around, although it was a side alley, there were still quite a lot of pedestrian traffic.  Many student looking people walking past, as it is near University College London.  I took the plunge and walked into the side alley too.  I asked him to point out where we were and that would be sufficient, and we could go to the British Museum without troubling him.  He had a bit of trouble in pointing out where we were on my map, so he took out his map, and spread it out on a wall.

Just as the three of us were looking at the map, two men suddenly appeared behind us.  They showed us some kind of ID, which look like Singapore pink IC and said something.  I didn't hear it clearly but something to the effect of they were police.  I couldn't remember where I read about fake police asking tourists to show their passports and then extort money from them.  Problem is, I couldn't remember whether it was in UK!  Anyway, it was better to leave as soon as possible.  My friend and I were in a cornered position.  They guys seemed to targeting the "Italian student", asked him to turn around and hands on the wall.  They asked whether we were together with the Italian, I gave them a very firm answer of "NO", then I quickly walked away, with my friend followed immediately.  Lucky the two guys didn't chase after us.  Until now, I am still not sure what the situation actually was.  A few days later, as I walked past a money changer, there was a notice on the wall warning people about fake police officers.  Well, moral of the story:  never talk to strangers!

After this freak encounter, we quickly found a bus stop and got to the British Museum.

The British Museum is free!  As it is free, but the museum still needs money to maintain and improve, so you are advised to make a donation of £5.00 or buy something.  I bought a museum map which cost £2.00.

The museum is huge.  Guess what, we spent 3 hours there, without visiting the African section, and the Asian section closed for renovation.  We only quickly walked past most of the galleries without taking a closer look, so you can imagine how big it is.

The museum map has recommendations for some iconic treasures that you should see if you are short of time.  I have come up with my own version of recommendations.

Rosetta Stone

1. The Rosetta Stone

This is one single most important stone in history.   The same decree was inscribed on the stone in 3 different "languages" - Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic script and Demotic script and Ancient Greek.  It is with the knowledge from this stone that we are not able to decipher the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.

2. Rock Crystal Skull

Rock Crystal Skull

This crystal skull had appeared in some documentaries before which made it world famous.  It was previously believed to be from Aztech kingdom in South America, but now they claimed this actually came from Europe.  How did they come to this new conclusion?  I don't know.  I think most probably we will never know where it is from, now and future.

3. The Enlightenment Gallery

This gallery shows how people eagerly tried to know more about the world we live in.  From navigation to biology, to astrology, to many many new fields that had never been heard before the era of enlightenment.

The Asian gallery is said to have many Chinese treasures which you can't find elsewhere in the world, but unfortunately it was closed for months.  No idea when it will be open to the visitors again.
The museum also has a very large collection of Egyptian mummies and ancient Greek art pieces.

If you are planning your visit, it is more advisable to have a few visits with a few hours each.  Their collection is simply too large to just take a glance in a day.

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

Monday, June 12, 2017

London Dubai 2017 - 2

Empty Train when We First Boarded

We boarded the 8.35am train to Victoria Station.  The train was quite empty when we first boarded.  As it got closer and closer to the city area, more passengers came aboard, and it became a bit crowded.  It is advisable to store luggage at the luggage rack once you get on the train.

Victorial Station

9.35am, we arrived at Victoria Station at downtown London.  It is a major transport hub so it can get a bit confusing for first timers.  Anyway, look for the ticket office.

We bought our Oyster card (refundable deposit £5.00) and loaded it with a zone 1-2 any time 7-day pass (£33.00).  The 7-day pass lets you travel on all buses, tram and metro within zone 1 and zone 2 in London.  To give you a sense of the cost of transport.  A single journey ticket on metro costs minimum £2.40 using the Oyster card, more expensive with cash.  A single bus journey costs minimum £1.30 with Oyster card.  There is a cap on the max expenses of ~£6.50, ie if you don't have a 7-day pass, and your expenses for the day exceeds £6.50, then you only need to pay £6.50.  This means your maximum savings with the 7-day pass is £6.50 x 7 - £33 = £12.50.  More information about Oyster card and 7-day pass can be found at Transport for London website.  Mind you, the information provided can be confusing.

Oyster Card

How about zone 1 and zone 2?  Basically zone 1 and zone 2 cover most of the attractions in London, from Tower of London, Tower Bridge, further to Canary Wharf and Greenwich in the east, to Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, National Gallery, St James Park, Westminster Abbey in the center, to Paddington in the west.  However, Windsor Castle and Stonehenge are outside zones 1 - 2.  

Oyster card in hand, we took the metro Circle line at Victoria Station to Paddington Station.  It turned out to be another small challenge.  Different trains will stop at the same platform,  you have to check the display on the train and the sign board at the platform to know whether it is the right train for you.  

Gresham Hotel

11.00am, we finally arrived at our hotel - Gresham Hotel at Sussex Garden.  Two rows of old housing blocks had been converted to hotels.  Each hotel occupies one or few family units, so you see many many hotels in a very short stretch of road.  The road, Sussex Garden, is lined with big trees on both sides, providing ample shape in a hot sunny day.  As we got to know in the next few days, the location is very good.  It is between two metro stations, Paddington station and Edgware Road station.  Paddington rail station is just beside Paddington metro station.  You can go to Cambridge from Paddington rail station directly.  There are many shops, restaurants, convenient stores and supermarkets in the vicinity.  Hyde Park and Kensington Park are just 5 minutes' walk away.  

Check-in was at 2pm, so we left our luggage at the hotel and headed out for our next destination - The British Museum.   More adventures to follow in the next days.  Until then, bye...

Sunday, June 11, 2017

London Dubai 2017 - 1

17 May, 2017, a fine Thursday evening, we boarded Emirates EK355 from Singapore to Dubai, on our way to London.

The aircraft was an Airbus A380-800.  I traveled in an A380 for quite a number of times, other than the lower noise level, I never found anything fancy about it, especially the claimed bigger legroom was never a reality to me.  So you can imagine how surprised I was when I sat down.

The new A380-800, which is a variant of the legendary A380, actually provides bigger legroom.  Usually when I sit down, my knees will hit the back of the seat in front of me.  This time, there is still quite some comfortable room in between.

The personal screen for the in-flight entertainment is as big as those that I saw on Singapore Airline's business class.  The response is fast on its touch-screen.  Power socket, USB charge point are both available.  I was like WOWWWW..... I want to travel with Emirates, man!

Comparing with the solid hardware, software (in-flight service) was less impressive.  During the night, nobody came around to serve drinks.  No ready drinks or snacks available at the galley.  You have to go and ask for it if you need anything.

About 7 hours later, we landed at Dubai airport safely around midnight, transited to our connection flight EK011 to London smoothly.

This time, Dubai airport was not as crowded as my visit last May.  Last May, the entire airport was flooded with passengers, rarely a vacant seat was available for you to rest your tired bones.  This time, enough vacant seats for you to make a choice.

7am, 18 May 2017, we landed at London's Gatwick Airport.  Immigration and luggage claim was a breeze.  There are two terminals at Gatwick, North and South.  Train station with links to downtown London is only at the South Terminal, which is linked with the Norther Terminal with a free shuttle.

The train station at the South Terminal is small, can be quite crowded when there is a flux of passengers.  Be patient and make sure you know what you want.  There are three ways by train to get to downtown London:

     1. Gatwick Express:  It costs 35 British pounds, journey is ~45 minutes.
     2. Southern Train service:  15.8 pounds, ~55 minutes.  This is a local train service so can be crowded during rush hours.
     3. Thames Links:  I am not very sure about this, but should be similar to Southern Train service.

Gatwick Train Station

You can purchase your train ticket at the South Terminal train station.  London's Oyster card is available too, but they don't have the 7-day travel pass, and they don't have the Oyster card top-up service at the manned counters.  Probably the best you can do is buy the Oyster card, then go to a machine top-up terminal to top-up your card.

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

London Dubai 2017

17 - 28 May, 2017, I embarked on my first visit to London, Cambridge and Dubai with a friend of mine.  Seeing is believing, it was an eye-opening trip for me.  We read about these places in news reports, TV programs, etc, but still, nothing beats your own first hand experience.

In the next days, I will share with you my journey.  We encountered some fishy incident, some disappointment, of course, plenty of excitement too.

This page will serve like a contents page, collecting all my posts about this trip.

I hope you enjoy your reading.