Friday, December 14, 2007

Winter Escapade Ep. XIII

The last two days of my winter break came at last. All too soon, I had to say. But I definitely made the most of it this time round -- I finally fulfilled my London Zoo dreams with Monji! She was nice enough to traverse down all the way to Regent's Park with me to see the animals in action.

Earlier in the morning, I accompanied her to the Indonesian embassy at Marble Arch for her to renew her Indonesian passport. After some brunch at McDonalds, we decided we were ambitious enough to take a bus from Camden Town (that's Zone 2!) to the London Zoo. Admittedly, we did get a little lost in Camden Town, but thankfully we managed to get there without much hassle.

Most of the day was spent there, watching penguins being fed, getting upclose and personal with hairy caterpillars, and posing for pictures with llamas. Quite fun indeed! We hung around until the zoo closed, then we walked back to Great Portland, cutting across Regent's Park.

We then decided to catch a movie at Leicester Square (hence forgoing the LOTR musical), some arthouse flick titled Rescue Dawn. Which, as it would turn out, wasn't too bad at all! Christian Bale is really one heck of a talented actor. After the movie, I accompanied Monji home and hung around at Foi's until it was time for me to take the last tube back to Oxford.

The day after, I spent most of my time packing and trying to squeeze everything into my backpack and hand-carry. Trust me, it was much more tedious than I expected! Still, I couldn't resist some last minute shopping at Paperchase (love that place!), and met Patrick, Foi and Monji for a late lunch at Inn Noodle.

The sky was already turning dark when we finally finished lunch, thus heralding my impending flight back home. However, I insisted on giving the winter funfair at Leicester Square a visit before heading back! And huge fun it turned out to be! We went on rides and tried our luck to win giant plush toys, which we never succeeded, of course!

After that, it was the usual mad rush to Heathrow for my return flight back to Singapore. I had to brace myself for the humid weather when I finally went groundside on this sunny isle!

Photos of my trip can be found on one of my Facebook albums, just follow the link here.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Winter Escapade Ep. XII

Daph had to leave for Singapore today (Sunday), which meant I would be in London for two more days before joining with her back home. It didn't help that we woke up much, much later than planned, so we had to scrap our lunch plans, Daph had to rush her packing and we had to almost run to Tottenham Court so she could grab some last minute shopping!

Before I knew it, it was 3:30pm and her car was downstairs. Ok, I must admit I'm terrible: I was too lazy to go all the way to Zone 6 to send her off at Heathrow, so I just said goodbye downstairs! Well, I did try to pull the "We're not saying goodbye, we're simply saying see you later!" line, but it didn't quite work to my desired effect!

After she left, I headed down to Knightsbridge to meet Jeslyne for tea at this place which she recommended, Patisserie Valerie. It's quite the atas place, where the menu is almost completely in French, but the prices are reasonable and the pastry and cakes are excellent! We were joined by Mon and her friend as well, with all their Selfridges shopping bags. I got there when it was almost 6, and Jeslyne had to catch her train back to Manchester at 6:30pm! In the end, we didn't stay long; in fact, I'm surprised she even made it for her train!

For dinner, Patrick brought Mon & me to this Chinese/Japanese restaurant near his place in Russell Square called Hare & Tortoise. I had their version of laksa, which had a more curry-based gravy. I quite liked it! Recommended starters would be the spicy wing stick and Chinese greens! Don't be fooled by the latter, it's just vegetables topped with oyster and garlic sauce which you pay £2.95 for. But damn was it good!!

Foi joined us after work, and when we were done with dinner we headed down to the pub round the corner, Marquis Cornwallis, which served our favorite Früli strawberry beer! Definitely a fantastic way to end this gastronomic day! (Notice how I avoid the word 'glutton'). Some pictures of the day.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Winter Escapade Ep. XI

Saturday was definitely a day of no-gos and canceled plans. The day before, Mon, Daph & me agreed to head out to the London Zoo for a day excursion of sorts, and we were to meet at a godforsaken hour of 9:30am. And we did do just that! But by the time the three of us gathered at Regent's Park tube station, there was already an incessant drizzle that didn't seem to go away. And it didn't help that it was absolutely freezing!

We reckoned it was way too cold for the animals to come out anyway, so we scrapped our zoo plans and went for breakfast at the Pret cafe along Great Portland. We wanted to try some of the hot wraps, but apparently we were too early for a Saturday morning and the wraps weren't made yet. Ah well, with Daph still half-asleep and the weather below zero, it was a perfect excuse to sneak in for coffee and croissants anyway.

Following that, Mon followed us home so we could rest for a bit (and wonder what the hell we were to do instead). We finally decided on going to Harrods to get the Prada bag Daph had been eying earlier on when we went there a couple days back. En route, the Piccadilly line was severely overcrowded, no thanks to overzealous Christmas shoppers out and about on a Saturday afternoon. We took the tube to South Kensington instead and walked there.

However, we were all distracted halfway by the grand facade of the V&A Museum, which is just a couple blocks from Harrods. And being the focused, dedicated (and perhaps a little uncultured) shoppers we were, we decided to forgo the exhibits and just check out the museum shop instead! Well, not that I could afford much of anything that was sold inside anyway. See for yourself! Mon did end up buying a very stylish couture 2008 organizer though, which I'm pretty sure she won't end up using!

Well, as they say, there's no rest for the wicked! We headed down to Harrods after, Daph got her Prada clutch, we went down to Krispy Kreme, etc. Oh well, you know the drill. We managed to spot a gigantic stuffed Paddington bear in one of the departments, though! See picture below. By the time we emerged, it was already dark and it was still raining. Mon managed to drag Patrick out for dinner, so we went back to our all-time favorite (I use this term loosely) Chinatown to have dinner at this apparently well-known Japanese restaurant, Misato. I had some heartwarming sake sashimi, katsu curry rice and ebi tempura. Note: the portions are obscenely huge!

After dinner, we went over to this bar that we've spotted a couple times, but never entered, along Chinatown as well: The Exchange Bar. Plenty of angmohs inside though, for a place in the middle of Chinatown! Drinks are affordable and very well-mixed during "essential hours", which if I recall correctly is from 5pm to 7pm every weekday. The virgin mojitos were a godsend for Patrick, who was still recovering from a hangover the night before. And Daph, of course, who isn't exactly alcohol's best friend.

Mon & me, on the other hand, were feeling the need to exploit the one-for-one offer on all cocktails. And I needed a beer. Ah, choices, choices. So we got all in the end! A bottle wine was going for £7, how could I resist! So we got a bottle as well. Unfortunately, I must admit I was abit too enthusiastic about getting Daph to drink the wine -- she didn't feel too good shortly after!

We didn't leave the place too late; Patrick had to go back and study (that brainiac!), and Daph had to go back to pack as she was leaving the next day. Mon still wanted to go out though, so we headed back to Daph's so she could finish up her packing and get changed into something more party-ish. Michelle and gang were already out, and they suggested going to Astoria 2 in Soho, so we readily agreed. Mon had to drop off Foi's dinner at Marylebone before that, so Daph & me accompanied her.

On our way to Marylebone, however, Mich texted to say she was too drunk to go clubbing (they were drinking beforehand), and Mon's friend, who was supposed to meet us, canceled out at the last minute too. Talk about spoilt plans! In the end, we finally decided that the stars just wasn't aligned for us to go out, so we all conceded defeat and headed to our own homes for the night instead..

Some pictures of the day, enjoy!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Winter Escapade Ep. X

Another seriously touristy item was in the works on Thursday: Foi, Mon, Daph & me trooped down to Waterloo today to go on the BA London Eye! The London Eye is one of those things where people who live in London won't want to admit being eager to go to, but will readily agree when you have someone else who doesn't mind doing touristy things (like myself!) ask them to go along.

Besides, Daph & I still had the London Eye vouchers which we still hadn't redeemed when we bought the Madame Tussauds package. Since Daph had been on it in the daytime before, we agreed to go on it during sunset so we could catch the city lights. Mon had just come in to London from Leicester, so we went for lunch first at Inn Noodle (we love that place!) before meeting up with Foi at Waterloo.

When we reached, it was good to see there was hardly any queue; Mon told me of the last time she passed by and saw huge throngs of off-putting crowds queueing to get on. Pre-booking tickets does help plenty; we collected the tickets, queued up, had our bags checked and were in our capsule all in less than 10 mins. I must admit it was quite exhilarating as we got on it! The Singapore Flyer, however, is actually going to bigger than the London Eye by 15m in diameter, although it doesn't look quite as aesthetically glamorous as it's British predecessor.

Of course, we were indulged with great views of almost the entire central London, including the Parliament House, Westminister Bridge, St. Paul's and so on. Each capsule is big enough to hold approximately 25 people, so there was enough room to roam around and snap away at different directions. The city lights were no short of dazzling; I'm it sure it was definitely more spectacular to visit it in the evening as compared to during daytime. (Daph confirmed it!)

I've uploaded all my London Eye photos on a Facebook album here. I'll put some up here on my blog.

The foursome.

Doesn't this look exactly like the London Midnight habitat?

On the top of the world.

A ride (or 'flight' as they call it) costs £14.50 if you pre-book (50p more if you don't) for the standard one. Discovery flights come with a guide in your capsule who will point out to you the highlights of London and describe to you a bit of history, all for £3 more. We weren't that touristy to go for that! But you have to check out the London Eye shop. They really have the coolest Eye stuff! Fancy some eye confectionary? Or eye playing cards?

After our little excursion, we had some time to kill before dinner so we headed back to Covent Garden. I really love that place! It's such a one-stop fashion and shopping zone, especially the market. Quaint stores lined up in a cramp fashion, beckoning you to enter with their myriad of different products. There are throngs of small stalls set up in the middle of the market selling homemade bags, jewelry, shoes and such.

I managed to get Yee Chong's soap from Lush at last, and of course I got some for myself! There's also one at Carnaby Street but that one seems to close at the earliest moment possible! Daph and Foi did their shoe shopping fix at ALDO (I'm surprised Mon managed to resist!), and we couldn't resist another visit to Ben's Cookies for a cookie and hot chocolate.

It's really great just sitting there watching people go by, or watching the buskers do their thing at market square. Oh, and I've finally figured out why they have a logo that looks like a sketch out of a Roald Dahl book. Their logo is actually illustrated by Quentin Blake, whose illustrations for the stories of Roald Dahl have brought him international fame. There you go!

Following that, we went to Chinatown to have dinner at the same Korean place we went to last week. I met up with my former LaSalle classmate Serene (left) as well, and she brought along her current flatmate Jonathan with her. It was good meeting up with old, familiar faces, ironically in a place halfway round the world away! We recollected on the good 'ol days when we were still students at LaSalle-SIA, as well as our crazy Laos study trip we went all the back in 2005. Ah, how time flies. 

Anyhow, it's quite amazing when you watch Foi and Mon eat -- they are such desparados for ridiculously spicy food. They add chili powder and/or chili oil to absolutely everything they eat! I've eaten with them enough times to verify that. And that's after they ask the waiter/waiteress to make their food extra spicy when they do that. And then there's their homemade chili from back home in Manado which they bring over -- just a pinch of that makes my eyes water, and they eat it like it's soy sauce or something!

After dinner, we headed over to Foi's friend Han's place where he works as a manager -- a Korean/Japanese karaoke bar called HIBIKI in Holborn. There, we opened up the soju and whisky and drank away! Mon and Foi sang their Korean songs (which they are so good at, somehow!), and we played blackjack with our newly bought London Eye playing cards.

Well, I did try to sing a Rain song, but I didn't do very well at all. Ena, I think you would have disapproved! Daph did sing a couple songs with me though! Not bad at all! As usual, I always say, the Indonesians and Filipinos get all the natural-born talent: Foi and Mon are such good singers you'd think they had some sort of professional voice training! But of course they didn't. Daph and me stayed till 1am; the other two and Han, on the other hand, stayed till 7am!

The gang at dinner.

Friday morning, Daph rushed to work on her project (which was due at 2pm!). I accompanied her to school (Central St. Martins) after to have lunch with her, but we didn't have much time as we were running late and she was still trying to finish up her work at the cafe itself. I helped her paste some strips of paper on her project! Ok, ok, I know it's no big deal, but if you know me, I'm such a terribly helpless person when it comes to art (espeically fine art!), so you could say I was pretty proud of myself.

I bought some lunch back for Foi & Mon (who just woke up!) and went over to Foi's place at Marylebone to just hang out, having nothing else to do. I ended spending the better half of the afternoon and almost the entire evening there, and Daph joined us after she finished school. We lulled the time away watching Korean music videos with Han (who stayed over), Charles' beatboxing tutorial videos and Indonesian singer Inul's videos, all on YouTube!

You really, really should check out Inul's videos; she is a dangdut singer who can shake her booty better than Beyonce, Shakira and J.Lo combined! Don't believe me? See for yourself here! We had a great time watching, learning and laughing away. Ok, don't mean to offend any of her fans out there who might actually be reading my blog. Go check her out! She's good. Really.

A truly captivated audience.

Daph & I finally left Foi's past eight, and we headed back for a quiet start to the weekend. We stopped by at Tesco's at Great Portland on the way back to get some groceries, and Daph cooked a late dinner and we stayed in. On the dinner menu for tonight was pork fried rice! I finally had some of the beer which I stupidly brought back all the way from Leicester last weekend. Gotta say though, I do enjoy the occasional Friday night indoors!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Winter Escapade Ep. IX

Finally, I dragged myself out of bed before 10am to make my way down to do something exceedingly touristy: visit the official London residence of the British monarch, the Buckingham Palace. Another reason why I chose to head down on the 5th is because the Changing of the Guard only takes place on only odd numbered dates during fall and winter. Yes, very touristy I know.

I got off the tube at Green Park and made a very wintery stroll (is that a proper description?) across the park to the palace proper. I was already running a tad slow by tourist standards; most of the good sections along the signature black railings very already plastered with tourists, cameras at the ready.

Opposite, Victoria Memorial was also crowded with people trying to get a vantage point of the proceedings inside the palace grounds. I scoured along the length of the front gates and finally found a 'weak spot' in the tourist chain and squeezed myself nondescriptly until I secured my spot along the railings, with a pretty decent view of the entire forecourt of Buckingham Palace.

Soon enough, the guard mounting ceremony started with much pomp and grandeur, with plenty of fanfare. One would suspect this intricate ceremony is put up more for tourist spectacle rather than tradition, but nevertheless it provides a great representation and display of the British's long-standing, rich customs. For those interested, Wikipedia has a great writeup and section about the mounting of the Queen's Guard and it's procedure here.

What was rather interesting was that when it was the New Guard's turn to form up a semicircle (picture) and play a repertoire of music to entertain the New and Old Guard as well as the watching crowds, they played a medley of contemporary and jazz songs, including Something Stupid in full military orchestral style! The entire process was quite the entertaining spectacle, and the crowd (including myself!) enjoyed it thoroughly! Here's a wide angled shot of Buckingham Palace taken from Victoria Monument.

I must admit, though, it was quite fun being in the throngs of touristy crowds, with my face pressed against the railings and camera stretched through the railings straining for the best shot! It started to drizzle heavily halfway through the guard mounting process, but it died down soon enough. Everyone's mood was definitely unaffected, and kept their eyes glued to every single proceeding taking place on the forecourt.

You can view all the photos taken at Buckingham Palace in a photo album on my Facebook profile here. Click here and here for a picture of the Old and New guard respectively for that day I visited. Sorry I'm not that much of a fanatic to find out the exact regiments!

After the ceremony ended, I walked along the exterior of the palace for abit, stopping by the Queen's Gallery shop to have a look-see. It was quite a feat to resist buying everything in the store that was prettily adorned with logos of Buckingham Palace. They had everything, ranging from tea towels to travel & cosmetic pouches to t-shirts to confectionary to dog baskets! Yes, they have a royal collection for dogs too.

After which, I met up with Daph after her class and she took me to this place near her old school campus where she used to frequent for dinner: The Print Works. It's located on Farringdon Road, and is a great place to chill out over grill, deli sandwiches and good ol' beer! The interior is warm and welcoming, and the selection of cheap and good beer will please any drinker's palate.

After some mixed grill, a cheeseburger, chili con carne and a whole load of chips between two people, we pretty much stuffed ourselves silly for the day. After that, we decided to indulge in our favorite pastime (which I'm sure echoes in many others' hearts): shopping! Daph took me to this mini-Covent Garden called Carnaby Street; it's just right off Oxford Street, about 5 minutes' walk.

Carnaby Street is a fashion and lifestyle heaven, with many small boutique shops carrying independent brands lining both sides of this pedestrian street. It remains is one of the leading destinations in central London for those who seek cool fashion, bars and restaurants. It was decked out with Christmas decorations at this time of the year, and the entire area was 'linked up' with giant colorful paper chains.

After doing a whole load of shopping, we decided to end off the day with one last stop: the holy mecca of Oxford Street, the four floors of pure shopping nirvana: Topshop and Topman! Well, I almost spent an hour and a half just at Topman alone, trying out jeans, shirts, tees.. I managed to seek out a £20 hoodie sweatshirt, which was considered quite a good deal. They also have great accessories that go for £5 to £10, and winter essentials that look absolutely fabulous (but useless in Singapore) that I had to resist very hard not to buy.

We loitered around the shop looking for "things which look good but of absolutely no use yet irresistible to purchase" until it was about to close. Talk about ending your day on a high note! We wanted to check out this pub near Daph's place (for the longest time already), but that unassuming place turned out to be packed with mid-week revelers eager for a drink or two, so we decided to head home instead.

Ah well, to put in positively, the more I spend, the more I get to claim VAT refund when I go back! Heh heh.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Winter Escapade Ep. VIII

Tuesday really just seemed to pass by; it's the weather I say! It's been rather wet and gray in London over the past few days, definitely not my type of weather. Daph had no school so we stayed in and keep feeding off each other's lethargy until it was almost five and the sky was completely dark by then! Daph did cook some of her great pasta for lunch, though.

I suggested watching Avenue Q earlier that day and Daph readily agreed. So we finally emerged into civilization (you should see how uncivilized Daph's room has become, thanks to me!), and went down to Leicester Square to buy tickets. We still had a couple hours to kill then, so we headed to Knightsbridge to drop by the famous Harrods for a bit of shopping. Not that I was prepared to buy much anyway, knowing how exceedingly expensive everything is there!

Of the over 330 departments in Harrods, we managed to trawl through the men's and ladies accessories (£140 Paul Smith wallets and a multitude of Prada bags!), children's toys and books, perfumes as well as the Food Hall. Interesting, Wikipedia states "In 1898, Harrods installed what is claimed to be the world's first moving staircase (escalator); nervous customers were offered brandy at the top to revive them after their 'ordeal'."

If only such a thing still took place in present day! Here's a photo of the exterior of Harrods taken from opposite the street.

Of course, one of the highlights of Harrods (for me) was the presence of a Krispy Kreme outlet in the Food Hall! Alas, KKs don't come cheap here though; one original glazed is a few pence short of £1, and an assorted costs £1.30, if I recall correctly. Talk about feeding an expensive habit!

What this KK outlet has, though, is a special edition Harrods donut that is just about as sinful as it gets. A chocolate double-coated donut filled generously with chocolate cream, topped by chocolate flakes and ornately decorated with a slice of white chocolate with the Harrods logo printed on it. After having one, I could already feel the sugar rushing to my head, no kidding. Oh, look what we have here!

Donuts are bad!

After which, we headed down to the Noël Coward Theatre for Avenue Q. What's so unique about this musical is that most of the characters in the show are puppets operated, voiced and sung by actors onstage. Both the live characters and puppet characters sing, and short, hilarious animated video clips are played as part of the story. Also, several characters are recognizably parodies of classic Sesame Street characters! Rather than the usual, established puppet-child themes, the characters in Avenue Q use profanity, and the songs concern adult themes like sex, pornography and homophobia.

What I found rather amusing was the scene featuring "full puppet nudity", where one character (puppet of course) takes another home to have some particular loud sex. There's even a song for that one! Songs-wise, they're rather catchy, with lyrics that really get stuck in your head because they use plenty of everyday catchphrases in their songs. I'll try to put on up here soon. Interestingly, there's also a song titled "Schadenfreude", where the character sings just that: about taking pleasure from someone else's misfortune!

Also, what was impressive were the actors onstage who were operating the puppets and providing both their singing and speaking voices. Having to talk in a puppet-like voice is no easy feat, such as giving it a particular nasal or throaty voice; but having to sing in it is even harder. And they all do a great job at it! In addition, the characters who are not puppets relate to the puppets, rather than to the actors holding them. The puppets also speak directly to each other and never to the actors operating them.

In the musical there are also two characters called the Bad Idea Bears, two innocent-looking cuddly teddy bears who appear repeatedly through the story whose purpose is to side-track and tempt the main character into doing bad things. They are irritatingly cute in an evil sort of way. There's actually a scene where they encourage him to ply his date with Absinthe Daiquiris so he can make her drunk and bring her home for some passionate lovemaking. (Hence the full puppet nudity scene!)

There are also ridiculously funny songs such as "I'm Not Wearing Underwear Today", "The Internet Is for Porn", "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist" as well as the main theme song, "It Sucks to Be Me". The soundtrack is quite a gem in that aspect, although I suppose due to restrictions with operating puppets, set changes were limited to a minimum. They do have "costume changes" for the puppets though, with a different puppet wearing something different (or nothing at all) for different scenes.

The London production of Avenue Q is directed by Christopher Key and co-produced by Cameron Mackintosh, with Douglas Whyte as MD and Stephen Oremus for Music Supervision, Arrangements and Orchestrations. A very talented local cast include Delroy Atkinson, Daniel Boys, Mary Doherty , Mark Goldthorp, Rebecca Lock and Yanle Zhong.

Anyhow, Avenue Q turned out to be a great production; something refreshing and entertaining in relation to all the musicals I've watched. Well, that's three down, and maybe one or two more to go! Well, the LOTR musical is definitely on the books, it's just a matter of when!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Winter Escapade Ep. VII

Monday was a relatively slow and relaxed day, owing to the fact that we had to wake up at 8am in the morning to catch a train -- which is pretty darn early for me, at least. Daph decided to take me to the Tate Modern for another look-see; my second time there actually.

To be honest, I like the Tate Modern for what's outside and around it, not necessarily what's in it. To put it straightforwardly, I enjoy straightforward art and paintings like what you might find in the National Gallery: 13th to 18th century paintings which are much more orthodox in nature, where each depiction is uncomplicated and pretty much self-explanatory. A lot of attention is paid to detail as well as technique.

Daph, on the other hand, much prefers something more abstract, something which can be left to open interpretation and something that can be conceptualized, figured out and understood. And the Tate Modern houses exactly such art. Currently on display outside the Tate Modern, however, is an extremely impressive and huge sculpture titled Maman by renowned French artist Louise Bourgeois. This sculpture is basically a huge, 10m tall spider with an egg sac full of eggs; I'll leave the interpretation of how a pregnant spider relates to art to your own research! (They do explain it there, but I can't recall it for the life of me.)

Then there's also the Millenium Bridge leading right up to the Tate Modern; I really like that bridge for obvious reasons. What I did enjoy inside, though, was the currently site-specific installation in the Turbine Hall. Currently on exhibit is Colombian-born sculptor Doris Salcedo's Shibboleth, an installation that takes the form of a 167 meter long meandering crack in the floor of the hall itself.

Abstract interpretation aside, I was quite marveled by the scale and complexity of this sculpture; how painstaking it must have been to carve a meandering crack on cold, hard concrete floor. On close inspection you can actually the steel grid frames that were part of the hall's concrete floor. I particularly quite like the second photo from the left; it's a photo of the hall (with the crack obviously showing) taking from a viewing platform on a higher floor, set to a 2" shutter speed. Here you can see how the crack stands out, a jarring black against white as visitors below attempt to trace it from beginning to end.

Daph and I then trawled the rest of the Tate Modern, viewing the rest of the exhibits on site. Those interested may wish to know there's an exhibit specially dedicated to the life and work of Louise Bourgeois. Before long, it was 6 in the evening and we had to leave. From there, Daph brought me to the Whitechapel district where she used to live during the first year of studies here. It's located in East London and is definitely a gritter, darker side of the English capital.

She took me to this area where she used to frequent back than, a place called Brick Lane. Here is pretty much like a Little India of sorts, with countless Muslim/Indian restaurants, grocers, tailors, and retailers lining both sides of this street. We had absolutely fantastic burgers at this outdoor burger stand, although Daph was pretty much too cold to really touch much of her food!

Brick Lane is essentially the heart of the city's Bangladeshi community, and it's name is derived from former brick and tile manufacture companies that were very much commonplace on this street back in the 15th century. In present day, though, this area is better known for its cheap and cheerful food, and for allowing customers to bring their own beer (often the curry houses itself will not sell alcohol as most are run by Muslims). Touting seems to be a major problem, though, when I was there at least.

This area has also quickly become a vibrant art and fashion student area, with considerable exhibition space, which could clearly explain Daph's affinity for Brick Lane. Having lots of infamous Banksy graffiti along this street helps, I'm sure! I must admit, however, that I'm quite taken to his works as well.

On a sidenote, there will be a movie adaptation about Brick Lane which will be released in Singapore on 20 December. Based on a novel of the same name by British-Bangladeshi writer Monica Ali, it portrays the story of a Bangladeshi immigrant girl sold off to marry in the UK.

After dinner, we went back to Genesis, the same movie theatre we went to last week, to catch Hitman. Unfortunately I have nothing much to say about this movie; I didn't really play the game so I wasn't that connected to the movie in a gamer's sense, although I could see some elements that were cleverly reproduced in the movie from the little time I spent on the game.

Timothy Olyphant looked better with hair (in Live Free or Die Hard), and Robert Knepper (T-Bag from Prison Break) wows with his solid acting as usual. I got lost with the storyline for a bit, admittedly because I'm a very lazy listener during movies and I usually rely on the Chinese subs which we get in Singapore movie screenings to follow what's being spoken onscreen!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Winter Escapade Ep. VI

First up, I've managed to get my UK number (about time!). I think I'm gonna flip when my next month's StarHub bill comes. Anyway, the number's +44 7909 615 637, so contact me here instead. It's uh, 15c to send an overseas text from Singapore, but 10p to send a local text within the UK. Oh, the unfairness of it all!

Well, I guess it should be known by now that Paris turned out to be a no-go 'cos Daph mistook the dates when we booked the tickets. So I guess Disneyland will have to wait for now. I might still be going to Paris this weekend if plans fall through with Justin. We had no idea we booked the wrong dates until we were right at the Eurostar ticket counter at St. Pancras!

In the end, I suggested we go up to Leicester to visit Monji and Mimi instead. So over the weekend, we spent our time at both Nottingham and Leicester shopping, ice skating, and doing a whole deal of eating (and some drinking). We headed up on Saturday morning and got back on Monday morning just in time for Daph's class.

Friday though was one bleak day with plenty of depressing rain. Daph had her crit so I spent most of the day by myself, preparing and packing for Paris, actually. I did head out for a bit though, and my original intention was to go to Holland Park and walk around a bit and grab some lunch. The tube, however, decided not to cooperate with me that afternoon. Apparently, a "suspect package" was found on a train at Holland Park and the services on the Central line were severely disrupted the entire afternoon.

Finally, I decided to head down to London Bridge for some touristy pictures. Not that there was much to see or take, given the drizzle, overcast sky and premature sunset. Following that, I headed over to the Tower of London for even more touristy pictures.

On the London Bridge.

At the north end on King Williams St.

The skating rink right beside the Tower of London.

I met up with Daph at Holborn after her class and we headed down to St. Pancras (with overnight bag and all) where we realized we wouldn't be crossing La Manche for the weekend after all. Well, no point moping around, I say! So we trekked through the heavy rain and gale, crossed the Tower Bridge where I indignantly insisted we stop in the middle of the rain on the bridge so I could take more touristy pictures; and headed back to the area around London Bridge for dinner at this great, upscale Asian-speciality restaurant called dim t. I had, uh, laksa with the soup tasting like lontong.

dim t is this place along the London riverside along Tooley St. where you can enjoy a stunning view of Tower Bridge while you dine. Visit their website to see! In addition to my laksa, Daph had lemon chicken rice, and for starters with had ha gow and duck spring rolls. We opened a bottle of rosé to share between the both of us, but as usual I over-estimated her drinking ability. She was already rather flushed before finishing half of her first glass! Some photos now.

In the middle of the pouring rain.

Dinner by candlelight.

View of the Tower Bridge from dim t.

Cocktails, anybody?

Saturday morning, we headed back to St. Pancras to grab a train to Leicester to meet up with Monji. The ride was short enough, taking a little less than an hour and a half. The three of us then immediately headed down to Nottingham where we spent the day shopping at the Christmas market, spending money on Christmas'y knick knacks and candy, chilling out at Starbucks, gawking at street performers, ice skating (again!), walking around the Old Market Square, and the list goes on.

Ice skating again was fun, although this time it was much more crowded than when I first did it at Kensington. Monji's friend Zoe was really nervous on the ice, while Daph tried to go really fast but it was much too crowded for that. interestingly, I quite enjoyed the cheesy music they were blaring out on the rink! I'm actually getting the hang of it, and quite liking it too. Think I'll definitely go skating again before I head back!

For dinner, we met up with Monji's Uni Leicester flatmate Gerry and her also visiting boyfriend Roy for dinner at this quaint Thai restaurant. What was it called? Hmm.. Oh yes, Siam Thani. Here's a barrage of photos we took in on Saturday.

All ready and set to go.

Northbound to Leicester on the train.

Daph & Monji getting chummy with a kangaroo.

Everyone on the ice!

Dinner at Siam Thani.

That night, Monji was very nice to let Daph & me sleep over in her room in her hall residence, while she slept over at her cousin Mimi's room next door. But before that, the whole bunch of us, with Monji's flatmates, played Texas hold 'em and bridge all the way till past 5 in the morning.

With next day being Sunday, Monji forewarned us that there would almost be nothing open in Leicester central. And she was right! Well, to start off, we got up really late -- it was almost past 1pm by the time we stepped out, only to be confronted by huge winds that could've been in the 50-60 kph range. First stop, we sat down for a long lunch (being the lethargic creatures we are), at this Chinese place called Noodle Bar where we stuffed ourselves silly with mains, hor' dourves, and pecking duck wraps (again!).

After that, we went for a short walkabout at Leicester central (click to see picture), where I couldn't resist popping into GAME (thankfully it was open!) and got the latest game strategy guides which you can never, ever find in Singapore somehow. Even their game release are sickeningly up to date. Argh, why must everything be in PAL format??

We then met up with Daph's friend Nat and her boyfriend Dan from Loughbrough who came down to Leicester to have dinner with us. Being too early and still too full from lunch, we went to have coffee at Caffè Nero where I had a very, very sinful Caramelatte (click to see picture!). Daph went quite crazy over the luscious amount of caramel sauce and whipped cream, though. Heh!

Dinner was at this highly recommended place by Monji called Curry House, where we once again sat down and stuffed ourselves silly with papdums, naan, curry and dessert! It was really a decadent day of overeating, I assure you. After that we went down to the pub down the road where we washed everything down with plenty of beer. I had my first taste of Früli strawberry beer -- and damn, it was good!! Dan couldn't really take the curry and beer combination and he got sick for a bit, but recovered soon enough!

Leicester Square by night.

Dinner at Curry House: me, Daph, Nat & Dan.

Chilling out at after-dinner drinks.

It so happened that it was a Sunday night, and there were plenty of drinks that were going for £1 by the pint. That's right, that's S$3 for an entire pint! For the uninitiated non-drinker, that's about five times cheaper than back home! Oh, the unfairness of it all! (I say again!) After all that, we went back to Monji's where we played another round of Texas hold'em all the way till 2am. I lost, again. Shucks!

Yesterday morning was a mad rush -- both of us struggled to get up in time to catch the 8:56am train back to St. Pancras 'cos Daph had classes at 11am! We made it to the the Leicester train station just in time, but alas we were denied entry onto the platform as, apparently, we needed to be there 10mins before the train arrived. Which, as you could imagine, was extremely frustrating!

Thankfully, there was a 9:30am train to St. Pancras as well, and we managed to get into London a little less than 10 minutes before 11. From there it was a quick-step/run medley all the way through the tube until we finally got to Holborn where Daph's school was. Turns out she wasn't really late after all -- she stepped into the classroom only seconds after her tutor! Phew.

So there you have it. That's how my weekend that was supposedly for Paris ended up, which, if I must say, wasn't too bad at all!