(I've done up to Paris Day 2, am working on Paris Day 3, and have Paris Days 4 and 5, Athens Days 1 and 2, Crete Days 1 and 2, Manchester Days 1 and 2, and London Days 4, 5, 6, and 7 left. Such progress I'm making.)
Also, let me just mention a bit that I think I'm jet-lagged. For some reason I cannot get to sleep at night and only fall asleep at like, 4-something in the morning, and ever since coming back I haven't woken up earlier than 1.30 in the afternoon. The day immediately after I got back, I woke up at four in the afternoon. I know I'm a lazy ass, but even that was a bit much for me. I did some math and 2-something here is about 9-something in London...which suddenly explains so much. Grah, I hate wasting my mornings. I need my bio clock screwed back the right way.
Anyway, I'll need to write about it all eventually, so why not start now, from the beginning? It HAS been more than three weeks though, and as amazing as I think my memory is, I can't remember all the details in the exact manner in which they are meant to be remembered, but I'll try my best.
June 1, 2008 - The Flight
First, I'll like to write a couple of lines about what a bitch it was, packing for 19 days. Mag told me not to pack too much and I honestly tried to take that into account! I packed two jeans at first, then found that I couldn't fit all my 12 tops in, and decided to take out one pair. How amazing was that, right? I think so too. I had a small pull-handle suitcase that I thought was pretty big then, but in retrospect, and after surviving 19 days with that tiny-ass shit? FUCK I SHOULD'VE BOUGHT A BIGGER ONE. But more about packing and buying-too-much-stuff woes later or in subsequent entries, whichever comes first.
I left the house at about 8.30; my flight was supposedly at 10.55 p.m. I say 'supposedly' because I reached Changi Airport Terminal 1, checked the departures board, and found out that...my flight was freaking delayed. By half an hour. I flew British Airways for the simple reason that it was 900 dollars cheaper than Singapore Airlines, which is definitely my preferred air carrier, but too bad my family not rich enough. And you know what? It is highly unlikely that I'll fly British Airways again. Guess what time the stupid plane eventually took off? 12 AM.
TWELVE. IN. THE. MORNING. My flight was delayed by AN HOUR. It wasn't just the incessant waiting that pissed me off; I'd booked a coach from Heathrow Terminal 4 to Victoria/Central London scheduled to depart from Heathrow at like, 6.35 a.m., which was done on the assumption that I'd reach Heathrow at 5.15 a.m. (UK time), which was the estimated arrival time based on the scheduled time of the flight, which was 10.55 p.m. (Singapore time). While on the plane, before I fell asleep, I thought maybe I could still make it in time for the coach...but it all proved to be hopeless when it was freaking 5-something a.m. UK time and I was still on the stupid plane, feeling like I'd spent ten million years on that cramped Boeing 707 I think it was. (It was a 3-4-3 plane. Is that a 707? I can't remember.)
So yeah, one reason why it's highly unlikely ('highly unlikely' because...never say never. Unless we're talking about ex-boyfriends) that I'll fly BA again is because my flight was delayed by an hour, I reached London an hour and forty-five minutes later than I thought I would, and BA made me waste 3 or 4 or 5 freaking pounds on a coach that I never got to take. I don't even know why it was delayed for so long; either they never said, or they did and I didn't understand what they were mumbling about. Whatever. Thankfully the flight back wasn't as atrocious, but I do have another thing to bitch about regarding BA, which is also my other reason for not wanting to fly with BA ever again. I'll reserve this for my last entry on the trip though; it involves, in brief, my flight back from London.
Anyway, it was my first super long-ass flight ever and I actually survived! The flight was almost full so I didn't have the luxury of having an empty seat next to me, which means I couldn't sleep however I liked. I tried watching their in-flight movies - watched Jumper, switched it off after half an hour because it was so mind-numbingly bad; watched This Is Spinal Tap, switched it off after 5 minutes because I wasn't in the mood for a mockumentary; watched some other movies, switched them all off after a few minutes because I didn't feel like watching anything. Then I discovered that they had Stereophonics' Pull the Pin in their CDs collection, so I listened to that on repeat and thankfully got to sleep.
The dinner, though, was "chicken or beef?" and in my mind I was all, "Amazing set of choices." I just took "chicken" because - whatever, and ate a bite of the pasta which tasted like chicken and chucked the rest of it away. I can't remember what sides there were, so obviously they weren't anything to crow about. Breakfast was better - omelette with cheese and some other stuff. And um, BA air stewardesses are all, like, old aunties. It was quite sad, though I did appreciate, very much, the nice British accent they had (and still have, I'm sure).
At one point I attempted to watch Fools' Gold or whatever it was because Matthew is hot and Kate is hot but I found myself waking up with the headset over my head and staring groggily at my screen, not knowing, for a second, where I was, why I was staring at a fuzzy screen with bad colouring, and why my freaking neck was so painful. Long-haul flights are just shitty - period.
June 2 to June 4, 2008 - London, Part the First
I eventually reached London at 7 a.m. I thought all was good, until I came out of the toilet (after popping my eyes in) just to discover the longest queue I've ever seen in my life at the bloody non-EU passports immigration counters.
THE FUCK OMG. When it was finally my turn, after like ten million years, I understood why the queue was so long. The immigration woman asked me ten million questions and she might as well have asked me to write my autobiography on the freaking spot. Where are you from, where are you staying, what do your parents do, what do you do, where are you studying, what are you studying, how much money do you have on you, are you here alone, where are you meeting your friend...just stamp my freaking passport and let me go. Please? I think that alone took about 5, 10 minutes? It was just really long, so long that it was ridiculous. The immigration card wasn't kidding at all when they asked me for the address of where I was staying; I left it blank because I didn't know where I was staying, and the immigration woman made me fill it in. I was all, "I have no idea where I'm staying. I'm meeting my friend who's going to take me there." She said, laconically, that it had to be filled in and asked me if I had an itinerary - which, thankfully, I had, 'cause Mag meticulously filled in all these minute details in a nice table before I flew over, which I had the good sense to print out.
So anyway, my first view of London was Heathrow Terminal 4, Arrivals, which...was rather pathetic. There was one pathetic Starbucks there and nothing else besides the usual tourist information and hotels and whatever else, and it felt like it was a quarter the size of Changi's Arrivals. Heathrow, Terminal 4 at least, is one hell of a shitty airport. It looks shabby and tired, like a motel that used to be a hotel that hasn't been maintained for a while. Even the Cambodian airport was more aesthetically-pleasing and felt warmer than poor ol' Heathrow.
I'd bitch about the Departures area too, but I'll reserve that for my last entry.
I found my way to the Tube station and got on the train bound for Cockfosters. Mag told me to alight at Russell Square, which was about a million stops away, so I sat down and enjoyed the ride. I tried to write, but the train was really fast (undoubtedly, faster than the MRT) and I couldn't write at all, so I gave up after a while. It was above ground for the first few stops from the airport and I completely fell in love with London at second sight.
Let it be said then: I love London. I love it so much that I want to live there. The initial attraction was entirely due to the novelty of seeing English houses in the flesh (albeit on a Tube train) when prior to that I'd only seen them in very few movies, and the novelty of seeing housing that was so English and so different from what I'm accustomed to. Even so, my first public transport experience in London, or any experience in London, encapsulated, I think, London itself. After the train filled up, it felt like the United Nations. Seriously. People of all races - Asians, Hispanics, Blacks, Whites. And that was one of the many things that enamoured me so much to London: its diversity, its readiness in embracing the Other, how you don't feel like an outsider despite being Chinese because virtually every other face you see is a non-White face.
Having said that, I won't make the mistake of pretending or representing London to be a welcoming city that has a "COME TO LONDON! WE WELCOME YOU!" sign plastered over its anthropomorphic forehead. On the contrary, London, on a whole, is an indifferent city. It's not warm and hospitable like Athens is, but it's also not snobbish and exclusionary like Paris is. London, in a nutshell, doesn't give a shit about you - which is exactly what I like about it. London is polite, but it's not friendly; it's accommodating (or can be accommodating), but it's not embracing or welcoming. It leaves you alone, for better or for worse, but it isn't cold-hearted. If you approach Londoners for help with directions and whatever else, they will help you, but they won't go out of their way. And for some reason, I really liked that. London doesn't try to over-compensate or try to be more hospitable than it really is in a way that makes you feel like the tourist that you are. Of course you're a tourist, but you don't really want to feel like a tourist...or at least, I didn't want to feel like a tourist. And in London, I felt like I blended in.
Maybe it's true of most major cities, but I really wouldn't know, would I? Prior to this trip I'd only been to Taipei and...Taipei. And Kuala Lumpur. And Taipei. And we all know Taipei is practically Home. I did feel Tourist in Paris though, and Very Tourist in Athens, but not in London. And that's, I think, the gist of why I completely fell in love with London.
That, and I've more or less owned up to the fact that I'm an Anglophile, so maybe it's just me. (Love the accent, love the literature, love the rock music, and now, even like the English more than the French! OMG, help.)
Anyway, this is Day 1 in London:
-I arrived at Russell Square at 9-something a.m., was totally clueless about the lift and the 300 or whatever it was steps to the ground floor, saw a throng of people going into the lift and followed suit, and what do you know, the lift took me to the ground floor! Wow.
-It was FUCKING. FREEZING. I wore a thin t-shirt, normal Mango jeans (translation: bad quality jeans), and my thin Mango cardigan. I stood outside Russell Square station with my luggage and froze my ass off while watching Londoners dressed in black stockings and black coats rush off to wherever they were rushing off to. I honestly had no idea that it was going to be THAT cold. I thought, June mah, summer, where got cold? HOW WRONG I WAS.
-We had breakfast at Pret a Manger (google it - it will save your life) and it was amazing. It quickly became one of my favourite things about London. I ordered some sandwich - can't remember what, but it was yummy. I also had a soy latte, which was AMAZING AMAZING AMAZING. I usually take my coffee on ice, but in London (and Paris, too, not to mention Manchester), drinking iced coffee is akin to suicide, so all the coffee, save one, I had in London were warm. And wow, they were really good.
-They call it 'soya latte' but I insisted on ordering 'soy latte'.
-If I'm not wrong, my Chanel picture was taken at Oxford Street, or somewhere en route to Oxford Street. Whatever it is, I FLOVED OXFORD STREET. It was full of shopping and it reminded me of Zhongxiao East Road in Taipei. Big-brand stores along both sides of the road, one huge, long road full of shopping, and then there was Primark. OMG PRIMARK RULES MY SPENDTHRIFT HEART! I bought my black sweater (extra layer because it was DAMN COLD) there for like, 4 pounds? Or was it 6? It was dirt cheap. There was also a huge H&M store, and in fact there were two H&M stores. I really enjoyed the one-brand-one-store concept, kind of like the Zara next to Wheelock Place, but better, because the stores were soooo much bigger. Ohmygad, I almost died. I love Oxford Street. Marry me!
-West End/Soho/Leicester Square/Chinatown: We went to this Chinese restaurant for lunch 'cause Mag was in love with their duck rice. Four Seasons, I think? We didn't do much in Chinatown besides lunch, so there's not much to say. We did go to Leicester Square to get musical tickets though, and this Sistic-trained Singaporean was quite amazed by the sheer number of booths that were selling purportedly 'half-priced' theatre tickets. Quite clearly, the theatre culture there runs parallel to the movie culture. Absolutely amazing.
-As for Covent Garden, we didn't do much there either. Apple Market, one of the two small flea markets there, was closing when we got there 'cause it was like, 5-something, which was late by their standards (I still...am flabbergasted). I saw one stall selling really old books which I wanted to buy, but didn't, for want of space and not wanting to lug it all over Paris and Greece. This decision proved to be utterly stupid, because I went back to the same place two weeks later to buy myself an old book, but the stall was no longer there. SADNESS.
This is the rest of London:
We wanted to do the free walking tour in the morning, but it was raining and cold like fuck so we decided to do the museums for the simple reason that they were indoors and therefore warm.
-British Museum was like whoa. Egyptian, Greek, some Asian, and Islamic. Like whoa.
-We walked past a Baskin Robbins and just HAD to stop and stare at the assortment of flavours. The scoop guy was also really cute, so I just HAD to buy a scoop of the time-tested pralines and cream (the same flavour I've been eating at BR since I was a kid eating BR in Taipei) even though it was SUPER COLD. There were seats inside though, so we sat down for a while for ice-cream. YUM.
-Went to the Westminster area where the Houses of Parliament and important places are, but it was raining. Like, it was raining. And it was really cold. And the skies were gloomy and ugly. And Westminster Abbey was closing; it was like, 4 in the afternoon or something. Ergo, we adjourned to...
-The Natural History Museum. Niceeee. I felt like a kid again, which was definitely fun. The stupid snakes and that stupid komodo dragon with its tongue sticking out scared the shit out of me, however. (Pictures on Facebook.)
-Went to Victoria in the evening to watch Wicked. We bought tickets from some dude at Leicester Square the day before and kind of got ripped off. The guy told us the seats were in the middle of the theatre and somewhere to the right, which we thought was pretty reasonable for 32.50 pounds. We collected the tickets, just to find out that the seats were at the freaking BACK of the theatre. What the hell? We went back to the guy who was all indignant and rude and he even had the cheek to say that the theatre wouldn't fill up and we could always move down. YAY, THANKS FOR THE TIP, ASSHOLE. We paid 10 pounds more for seats that actually cost less, and that was THIRTY FREAKING DOLLARS. OMG. I hate that guy. I hope his girlfriend dumps him.
-Wicked was good. Nice re-telling of Wizard of Oz...or rather, filling in the blanks of the stories of the Witches. I like. I didn't like some of the singing, as usual (I have a thing against yelling voices and generally don't like musical singing), and was so tired that I was falling asleep towards the end of the first Act, but it was still enjoyable as a whole. Very creative and engaging story-telling.
-We went to Victoria station to take the Tube back and we were literally the last two people on that platform. The last train left at like some stupid time of 10.30 at night, due to some repair works or whatever, and we reached the platform just in time to see the train leave. Very fun, Not.
-Walked back to our hostel - a UCL dorm room - in the freezing cold. It was raining. It was cold. I was sad and miserable. The thing about London rain as I experienced it? It's light and fluffy, but it goes on for the whole day, and the wind is really cold so it makes the rain even colder when it hits you. It's a major pain in the ass, and at the end of the second day I formally declared that I'd really, really seen London.
-Notting Hill. So amazingly pretty. The best word I have to describe it is probably 'placid'. The sun was actually out that day so the whole place felt so cosy and relaxed and warm in the sunshine, even though it was still kind of cold, though definitely not as cold as the first day. Very nice area to live in, which explains the high costs.
-Portobello Market. Not much to say, except the fucking cupcake at Hummingbird Cafe was the best fucking cupcake ever. The icing? TO. DIE. FOR. It was cream cheese with whatever, sickeningly sweet, ridiculously good. I loved it, as did Mag.
-The public toilet there was also super high-tech and clean for a public toilet, not to mention Free. See my Facebook album for the picture. It was so amazing that I just had to take a picture with it.
-Buckingham Palace. We should've gone in! For some reason, we didn't go in. In any case, the fantastic weather made it a perfect day to camwhore around the fountain opposite the palace, which Mag and I did - a lot. So fun!
-Trafalgar Square, another camwhorish place, haha. But it was towards the end of the day and we were tired, and we also had to meet Pet and Khel at Piccadilly Circus or wherever it was for dinner, so we didn't take as many pictures.
-Westminster Bridge is an amazing bridge. No wonder Wordsworth wrote a poem about it. I bought fried peanuts from some guy along the bridge and actually finished it with Mag. Amazing. The view of the London Eye was also really pretty, and of course, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. I never really knew what the fuck Big Ben was apart from the fact that it exists and that it was quite important in Peter Pan, but now that I've been there? I love it! I love the whole Westminster area. I just get this nice, warm, fuzzy feeling inside when I'm there. I don't know why. Okay, I just really adore London.
Other notable mentions (for now):
-Their homegrown coffee chains are like amazing. Pret is amazing, Costa is amazing. Really put Starbucks to shame.
-I ate a lot of sandwiches and I don't even like sandwiches. Pret has amazing sandwiches, really. They make them so palatable, and it's not just the usual tuna or egg crap (which is why I don't like sandwiches in the first place; not much of a variety for me, especially when I'm not a fan of tuna).
-Shopping in pounds, or attempting to buy anything in pounds, was painful. Thank goodness, then, for Primark.
Okay, that's all for now. I can't think of anything else to say. I did London on the last four days of the trip so there will be another London entry, so yeah.
I LOVE LONDON! A LOT!
Edited to add: