【Travel】London, England

LONDON: 24 Nov – 29 Dec 2014

Our Itinerary:

Singapore > Paris Air France, direct flight
Paris > London Eurostar, railway
London > Amsterdam EasyJet, budget air
Amsterdam > Singapore KLM, direct flight

We arrived in London’s Kings Cross Saint Pancras Station via the Eurostar from Paris. The train ride was really smooth, as we chomped away our last pastries we had bought from Paris’ Gare Du Nord Station.

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This was my second time in London and the first for Ed. The first time I came was as a teenager, with my family for a whirlwind trip that lasted less than 3 days. We had missed the London museums altogether then, taking a day trip out to Warwick Castle, Oxford and Stratford-upon-Avon instead. This trip with Ed, with 5 days in London, we knew we wanted to cover as many museums as we could.

We skipped the long counter queue at Saint Pancras by buying our Oyster Card from a ticket machine using a credit card and hopped on the Tube to Seven Sisters Station where our BNB was located.

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It was a nice, quiet English residential neighbourhood. Coming from Singapore where we are used to living in shoe box apartments in the sky,  this experience was really different and definitely memorable for us.

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BRITISH MUSEUM

The British Museum is a short walk through Russell Square from the Russell Square Tube Station and also our first stop for this trip to London. Entry to the museum is free, except for special exhibits.

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Perhaps best known for housing the Rosetta Stone, the British Museum has one of the most comprehensive collection of human history, art and culture we have ever seen. We spent two days there and still couldn’t even make it through all the major exhibits. There was just too much to see (in a good way).

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One of the first towering exhibits to great you is the Assyrian Winged Human-Headed Bulls, from the North-West Palace Doors. Protective spirits that guarded the entrance into what may have been the king’s private apartments.

Lookout for the ancient board game carved into a part of the gate where the guards would have sat and played when they were bored.

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The scale of some of the artefacts and relics at the British Museum are just amazing.

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We share a common love for Egyptology, so we spent the most time in this section. The British Museum has the largest collection of Egyptian antiquities outside of Cairo, including mummies, sarcophagus, the Colossal bust of Ramesses II and a fragment of the beard of the Great Sphinx of Giza.

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There was also a Chinese exhibit that showcased antiquities from Xia to Shang and the final Qing dynasty.

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A Mayan death mask, built from a real human skull and covered with turquoise.

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The last exhibit we visited and one that left us feeling quite saddened by the state of the relics, were the sculptures from the Parthenon, Greece. The sculptures and carvings had been removed from the Acropolis building still standing in Athens today because of the destruction faced. Some of the relics are badly damaged, with statues having lost their heads and limbs.

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(Tip: You will also most likely need to refuel if you spend an entire day at the museum. While the museum has an awesome cafe, the food can be expensive for a budget traveler. We brought along sandwiches and pasta salads we had grabbed from Tesco, but of course, do show your support by getting a coffee or dessert from the cafe, and clear your own trash if you are using their space to lunch :). By the way, the coffee is fantastic.)

IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM

We headed to the Imperial War Museum to see the Holocaust exhibition where no photos were allowed for the exhibition. It was more comprehensive than we imagined, with a scaled model of Auschwitz II, a recreation of the freight train car that had been used to transport Jews to the death camps and many personal relics from the war.

It was a poignant reminder about the dangers of war and hate. Much like this piece of the Berlin Wall that was placed outside the museum.

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The War Museum was not on our itinerary initially, but we were glad that we found time to visit. This is one of five casings made for the ‘Little Boy’ atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. Three days later, a second bomb named ‘Fat Man’ was dropped on Nagasaki.

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We were surprised to find a piece of our own history showcased in a London museum. This Union flag was hidden by British officers in Changi Prison and flown above the Municipal Building of Singapore when the Japanese surrendered in 12 September 1945. The same flag had been carried by the British party that surrendered Singapore to the Japanese in February 1942

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The recovered body of a crashed Japanese zero fighter from WWII. 

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V&A (VICTORIA AND ALBERT MUSEUM)

V&A, London’s museum of decorative arts and design, opens till 10pm on Fridays and hosts special events from time to time. We went to check out the Font and Typeface event there, to find the museum booming (literally) with activity. Our only mistake was not getting our dinner beforehand, so we had to give the later talks a pass and just be content looking at the exhibits.

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What was especially memorable was this little room we walked into that had an ongoing font creation workshop. We would have loved to try our hand at it but all the seats were occupied. Nonetheless, it was inspiring to see everyone happy and hard at work making their own fonts using the variety of wooden stamps that were laid out on the tables. When you were done, you could get it scanned and saved.

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We also viewed an exhibit on Disobedient Objects demonstrating the powerful role of objects in movements for social change. There was a wall where objects belonging to ongoing struggles around the world could be displayed, and objects from Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution was among them.

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CAMDEN LOCK

Camden Lock Market, London’s cultural and creative hub. It has a whole network of shops and stalls that sell a myriad of stuff from antiques, to fashion, art, music and lifestyle products. What puzzled me though were the opening hours. Given the eclectic setting and hipster stores which we would often assume to be more bustling at night, the market surprisingly closes at 6pm (it can be even earlier in winter). What’s left after are just the food street stalls.

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That was something we did not anticipate, so when we started exploring the market after our dinner diversion, some stalls were in the midst of closing and we had to do a really fast tour of the place.

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The diversion came about when we were on en route to Camden Lock Market and this sign on a shop window caught our eye:””Best Independent Fish and Chip Restaurant’ at The National Fish & Chip Awards in 2014″. How could we not stop to try?

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The interior of the restaurant was 60’s vintage, with a real playable jukebox and the staff dressed up to match the theme as well. For your choice of fish, you could have either cod, haddock or halibut. I picked the seafood platter, while Ed had the large haddock.

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When they said the fillet was a Large, they weren’t kidding. Even the fries portions were huuuge. We have not tried enough fish and chips around London to know if this was truly the best, but it was certainly good, satisfying and very very filling.

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As you venture into Camden Lock Market, you will eventually stumble upon the Stables Market. As it’s name suggests, the market sits within an old stable, and we find that really really cool.

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The old wooden structures, and the shops housed within the old horse stalls, selling jewelry, souvenirs, signs, records and even one stacked full of old vintage suitcases.

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While we were picking out a London magnet for ourselves, a guy walked by and handed us a similar magnet telling us that he had picked that up and he was giving it to us for free. We saved a pound on the magnet but brought home with us a souvenir and a great memory of Camden Town.

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BOROUGH MARKET

Undoubtedly our favourite market in London, Borough Market is conveniently located next to London Bridge Station. But unlike Camden Lock, Borough is more of a food market and an absolutely gastronomical one.

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It was a real feast for the eyes too! There was so much to eat, so much to try but too little stomach to contain it all. We had cheese toasties, grilled scallops, cake, cappuccino, and a beef steak pie as we listened to the music of Scottish bagpipes and watched a cooking demo. We drooled at the Spanish paella, the cheese potatoes, longed for the raw oysters and hot ciders, and at the end, bought home some cheese.

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We took the the Kate & Sidney pie which the stall owner enthusiastically recommended. It was heavenly when paired with the mash potato and mushy peas.

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There was street food from around the world, all under one roof.

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This was Ed’s favourite food stall, selling grilled cheese sandwich and raclette with boiled potatoes.

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Packed with so much cheese, I don’t even know how to describe it, other than awesome.

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LEICESTER SQUARE / CHINATOWN

We wanted to watch a musical or play at West End and read that we could buy discounted tickets on the same day from a booth at Leicester Square, so we headed there one evening. The Christmas mood was in the air, everywhere around London with little festive markets and fairs like this one with a glittery carousel, game stalls and food stalls. It made Leicester Square exceptionally beautiful at night.

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While heading to the theatre, we chanced upon London’s Chinatown. After many days of not having Asian food, the food there looked really tempting! I was dying to have some stir fried vegetables and noodles. We already had dinner so we decided we would make it a point to come back the next day for a Chinese food fix.

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(The next day we had a Chinese buffet there which was pretty affordable and turned out to be the only Chinese customers in the restaurant, haha).

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As Phantom of the Opera was all sold out for the night, we opted for the ‘Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time’, National Theatre’s award-winning production adapted from Mark Haddon’s novel which was being staged at the Gielgud Theatre. And it turned out to be a great choice! The theatre production was top notch, we recommended it to all our friends who had plans to visit London.

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As we headed back to the BNB for the night, we passed by this very innovative busker using a traffic cone as a trumpet, playing ‘Close to You’. He was rather off-pitch but he made a lot of people smirk and smile as they walked by.

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COVENT GARDEN

Also all decked out glamorously for Christmas, was Covent Garden. It was a nice shopping area, with big name stores like Apple, Chanel, Marks & Spencer and Burberry.

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But what got us nerds the most excited was in fact, the Moleskin store. It wasn’t a big store and as much as we love stationary shopping, we picked out one notebook, got it stamped with the Covent Garden chop and moved on to the market area.

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The market atmosphere was awesome, with the Christmas lights, and the collection of stalls peddling homemade crafts and arts. We especially loved this little stall, and spent quite some time there sifting through old wooden type that had been used but discarded by printers and publishing houses. There was a lady next to us trying to form words with the available wood types, and it was great how we were helping one another find the alphabets in the sizes we needed.

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ABBEY ROAD

Abbey Road probably needs no further introduction. It is also one of the must-go places when you are in London. And the day started out perfect for us with rare sunny blue skies!

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From St John Wood’s Tube Station, it is just a short walk to Abbey Road. There are super clear instructions on where to go (I guess the station staff get the same questions all the time).

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And here we are at last, Abbey Road! All the road signs have been placed out of reach, for very obvious reasons.

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The famous crossing. A daily scene I would suppose, of tourists holding up the traffic, walking up and down the crossing trying to get the best photo of themselves in a Beatles impersonation, while locals went about their daily business oblivious to it all.

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In fact, it was quite fun just hanging around the area observing everyone.

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A quick peek at the legendary Abbey Road studios just next to the road crossing, before we left. The white walls of the studio gate, and even the lamp post are covered in graffiti by tourists and fans of the band.

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THE ICONS OF LONDON

The Tower Bridge against a lovely blue sky, was simply picture perfect.We couldn’t have asked for better weather that day to see the bridge looking its best. You could pay to go up to the top of the bridge where there is an exhibition and a glass floor that you could look down through at the traffic below.

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The sensuous curves of the Tower Bridge can be admired as you walk across it.

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The modern and the medieval. Our view from the Tower Bridge.

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To the right is the Tower of London which we didn’t visit as I had visited it during my family trip to London. A site that I do recommend visiting as the Yeoman offer very in depth tours of the Tower, from the creepy execution grounds to the ostentatious crown jewels.

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Buckingham Palace by night, is surprisingly peaceful. A real contrast to the daytime when there would be hoards of tourists gathered outside the gates waiting for the changing of the guards.

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The Big Ben and Westminister Abbey. Having seen it both in the day and at night, I think it looks more stunning lighted up, making it all the more imposing and grand.

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I really wanted to squeeze in a tour of Westminister Abbey to see the royal tombs but there just wasn’t enough time. There is too much to do and see in London!

And of course, when in London, you have to take the bus. The buses are rather easy to navigate, much like our buses in Singapore. One tap of the Oyster Card to get on and off the bus, with destinations clearly marked out at the bus stops. They are a much cheaper alternative to the expensive taxis and tube, especially if you are simply going from one tube station to the next, plus you get a nice tour of the neighbourhoods that you ply through.

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FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE MUSEUM

The name of this museum got our attention when we were scouring through a map at the tube station. Out of curiosity, and because Flo was named after Florence Nightingale, we went in search of the museum. We found it located unassumingly, next to a hospital with a very humble sign that indicated its presence. We didn’t visit the museum as we already had other plans, but left with a book about Florence Nightingale and a badge with a quote that said “Nursing is an Art”. I would definitely head back there if I had the chance to visit London again.

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