My toes are this time, exposed to the coolness of London’s night breeze, snaking their way through the partially opened window. What would usually be a graze of gentle sunlight on our faces and the routine roar of a passing bus, was replaced with the quietness of twilight.
I felt my body sink heavier into the tiny single bed. Before I could close my eyes, YJ stirs.
Silence takes over again.
The vibrations rattles my head as I fish for my handphone tucked under our pillow (yes I crashed his dorm room and his tiiiiiny super single bed and he has one pillow).
I groan and sit up.
Annoyed at the fact that we had to wake up at this godforsaken hour. And do we really need to go to Salzburg? I mean, we’re traveling. It’s for leisure. This ain’t leisure. God, I’M SO TIRED. Can we not-
*inserts alarm tone you can only find on an iPhone*
YJ groans and hits the snooze button for the second time.
I slump back into bed with the other half of the blanket, only to be exposed to the cold air again as YJ sits up and throws the covers off him (and me).
He shakes me.
‘Wake upppp,’ he croaks.
I groaned, mustered my will and sat up a little too fast.
After bumbling around half-asleep in the small dorm room for the next 45-ish minutes, we gingerly dragged our remaining luggage down the stairs, only to meet one of YJ’s neighbours holding a bag of groceries.
‘It’s Ramadan,’ YJ explains when I gave him a perplexed look, ‘the Sun rises really early here.’
‘Ohhhh yaaaaa but what time?’
‘Huh, means they gotta wake at like 3 plus??’
‘Yea, there was once FH had to wake at 2 plus.’
‘Wah, that’s not easy sia. Kudos to them.’
YJ nods in agreement as we navigated through fire door after fire door (to the point where I almost questioned if I’m really awake).
As the cool cold air hits my face, I could instantly feel my moisturizer abandon my skin, my pores shrivelling up.
And YJ reciprocates with a, ‘Got so cold meh?’
He grabs my hand and we drag each other and our carry-ons out onto the street.
London’s streets at night was a far cry from the hustle and bustle in the day. That’s something we can see in Singapore too, and all cities for that matter. But while we have quiet HDB blocks illuminated by cold fluorescent lights from the void deck, here was just streetlights.
The lamps cast a golden hue on everything. There was an occasional cool glow from light emanating from the bus stops. My favourite part was walking past the row of houses that were painted(?) red (or maybe they were bricked, I can’t really remember). The golden hue mixed with the red and the street looked like a painting. Not eerie, but just really peaceful. And beautiful.
I wasn’t that sleepy anymore.
YJ led us to a bus stop and we waited for the airport shuttle. A few minutes passed before more people arrived. Suddenly, I was yanked out of the romantic notion that it was just the two of us against the world.
Guess I was still pretty sleepy.
The bus arrived and not half was filled. Yay to empty buses.
YJ and I dozed off into a deep sleep.
When we awoke, the sun was up and the bus had stopped. Outside, a huge group of people were waiting to load their baggage onto the bus, with a handful trying to board. Soon, the whole bus was filled with people. Those who couldn’t get seats were standing in the coach bus. YJ and I were too sleepy to care and remember Stand-Up Stacey’s motto*.
Stansted Airport was the definition of the word ‘chaos’.
Travellers in groups, alone, in pairs. Some quiet, some chattering. Some with no luggage, some as if they were moving their home. It was only 6am but the airport was already this busy. With hoards of people walking towards every direction possible, I felt my mind turn blank as YJ led us through the cacophony effortlessly. Customs was a nightmare: long snaking queues, everyone ready for the summer, excited tones filled the terminal as I wondered where everyone came from and where they were going. Anxiety kicked in when it was our turn at the airport security scans.
Suddenly, I became acutely aware of the queue behind me, the eyes of the next person trained on my neck, wishing I would go through without hassle nor delay. Or perhaps they were benevolent, hoping that I would not feel pressured because they wouldn’t like to feel that way too. Thoughts raced through my mind as I slammed my hard-covered carry on onto the metal rollers.
Wah omg damn paiseh, I remember thinking as the metallic sound came back as an echo amidst everyone’s voices. I cautiously loaded my backpack into a tray and answered the security officer’s questions in yeps and nopes.
When we were finally through, we ran.
The gate was closing in a few minutes and we were on the other side.
But of course, we made it and there we were on our way to Austria.
‘Huh?’ YJ looked sleepily at me.
‘WE NEVER CHOP OUR PASSPORT**.’
‘Oh no need mah, ‘coz London and Austria is in the EU, so there’s no need to.’
‘I knowwww, but. I wanted the chop. I thought I could fill up my passport with it.’
YJ laughs, ‘I don’t think we’ll get a lot leh.’
Welp. Maybe after Brexit.
A couple hours later, we found ourselves queuing to get our passports checked.
A familiar sound came from the immigration officers: two light thuds; the stamp on the ink pad, and the stamp on a passport.
‘EH GOT CHOP. YAYYYYY,’ I whispered my squeals.
Since YJ had been in London, he and his friends have been taking (and are taking) every opportunity to travel the region. His passport was stamped. Colourful and crowded, a little booklet filled with free souvenirs that you can keep for the rest of your life. I was so jealous.
When we were finally out in the arrival hall, Salzburg, Austria greeted us with a gloomy sky and as we searched the terminal for cheap food, it started to rain. Deciding that we were more sleepy than hungry, we hopped on the No. 2 bus and hopped off at the Salzburg Main Station aka Salzburg Hbf. (Hauptbahnhof – Main/Central Railway Station).
Travel Tip: The Salzburg Card is a must-get. It’s a tourist card that covers almost everything: free entry into maaaaany attractions (we couldn’t cover everything) and free unlimited use of public transport. The latter is particularly useful if you’re not staying in the city centre. Get more info or reserve the cards online here.
Their public transport is pretty easy to follow despite the language barrier. There’s route guides at the bus stops and if in doubt, just ask someone! If you’re holding onto the Salzburg card, there’s no need to buy or punch a ticket (like the old school ticket puncher in our old SBS buses but smaller!). Just make sure you have the card with you when they conduct checks.
At the Salzburg Hbf., we made our way to our Airbnb. The area was…so idyllic. The houses looked like those ones we drew as a kid (square base, triangle on top, smaller squares for windows, etc.) and were painted bright, cheerful colours. Vines crept up the house we were staying at and it looked so pretty. The view from our room was positively jarring, like we were in a different world altogether. Houses stretched far out, each a bright colour, the neighbour’s backyard in full view: a huge space to run around, fence with bushes, a table for two just in case the owners wanted to enjoy some tea outside. The grass was a vibrant green and the sun cast a warm glow to the scene before me. (Disclaimer: the featured photo was taken near sunset. Gloomy. Still so nice. Sigh.)
I shut the window when YJ beckoned me.
Time to bid our hosts a nice day and to explore the city.
*Stand-up Stacey – the Land Transport Authority (LTA)’s latest courtesy campaign. Other characters include Move-in Martin and Bag-down Benny. Eh really, I’m not kidding.
**Chop – a Singlish term for ‘stamp’. Not to be confused with ‘Chope’. Check out the origin of the term here.
(‘kay my bad, I totally forgot about day 3 in London since we did not take many photos then. 3.30AM alarms were set after the events in *this* entry, not the previous one.)
The Sun is shining, the grass is green and my clock says 5AM. Sunshine warmed my toes and laid over my face like a warm towel that I do not need while sleeping.
The day began with a continuation from last night’s activities: packing.
Deciding what to bring fit into our carry-ons for the next one and a half weeks was difficult. Do I reeeeally need 3 Colourpop highlighters?? When all was done and decided, the room was separated into 4 luggages. YJ’s huge luggage filled with whatever’s left of his room, my huge luggage with all my loots bound for Singapore and our two carry-ons.
As we dragged the giant ones down the stairs, I began to feel relief: thank god I didn’t bring so much over. YJ on the other hand, struggled a little with his load. Past the dozen (?) fire doors, we made it to the lobby of the dorm. There, we met HC (YJ’s friend and housemate) and WW (my fellow LDR comrade).
The plan for the day: the guys would drag the luggage to their new rental for their stay in London and attend a meeting while us girls will hit the Natural History Museum located near campus.
And so began our little morning stroll through Hyde Park, with Pret-A-Manger’s Peking duck rolls in hand (thanks HC & WW!). It was nice, finally meeting YJ’s friends, those who have his back. The morning stroll was calm and peaceful, a picturesque way to spend the morning, albeit the sound of luggage wheels over gravel. It was so calm that I only remember the company, the sounds and the morning mist that covered the park like a grey veil over flowers.
‘See? Nice right? This is where we walk through every day to get to school,’ YJ smiled proudly.
‘Wah, if like that, I also don’t mind walking to school sia.’
When we got to the enormous stone building that was the Natural History Museum, the queue to enter stretched. As the boys bid us bye for now, WW and I started to talk about life after school. The impending adulthood that awaited us when we get back to Singapore resided at the back of our minds, nagging.
The Natural History Museum began with cool rocks and stones, a huge collection of coloured gems, the different layers of our Mother Earth and so on. We got to a section about earthquakes and there was a simulator: a platform on which we can stand on and it would simulate the effects of a major earthquake that happened in Japan in the 90s. Since Singapore is as safe as it can be (geographically), it was a little unsettling to experience a taste of how destructive our planet can be.
As we wandered our way through exhibition after exhibition, I became…saturated. With information. As I stared at the animatronic T-Rex in front of me, I felt excitement and so, so very tired.
‘Eh me too!’
Aaaand we decided to go get lunch (yay fooooood!). A search on Google Maps and some navigation (thanks WW hahaha) later, we plopped ourselves down in a Japanese restaurant (there’s only so much western food one can eat).
After laughing at some telegram stickers (still my favourite by the way), the boys arrived and our Asian souls were recharged with soup, sashimi and rice.
[Cue satisfied sigh]
It was an awesome morning spent with new friends and then we went our separate ways. On our end, we (YJ) had to run an errand. That meant heading back to their new rental to pick up something and dropping it off at another Singsoc (Singapore Society) member’s place, which was a walk-able distance away.
As we turned the corner, YJ stopped in front of a fancy-looking house. The building stretched the entire block, a typical row of white houses with small, black gated entrances that lead down to the basement. YJ unlocks the gate, fully revealing a set of steep concrete steps. At the bottom, the stone floor was weathered, its edges against the walls showing a green hue. The white walls that seemed to envelop us were marked with rain water.
A second key unlocks another black door and we stepped in.
The basement-turned-apartment looked like a dream BTO* flat: spacious. AF.
If this was a underground BTO flat, heck, I wouldn’t mind.
Down the long corridor were 3 full-sized bedrooms, 1 of which was meant to be a living room (converted to YJ’s and F’s room). Two bathrooms, one with a bathtub, a kitchen and a laundry space. PLUS, a backyard. In the basement level.
A year later, I’m back in Singapore writing this in my parents’ flat and am still shook.
After ooh-ing, aah-ing and omg-ing, we left the house and completed the errand.
‘You wanna see my school? It’s nearby! But it’s very small lah, nothing much one.’
Wah, really nothing much one.
NTU is ginormous.
We have buses to get around campus. Walking from the North Spine (Science & Engineering blocks) to the South Spine (Business and Humanities blocks) was considered a journey.
But the atmosphere in the campus (despite it being the summer holidays) felt nice. For one, its lighter. NTU has always had an effect on me: it reeked of competition rather than enthusiasm to learn. Everywhere you look, people are studying. Discussions about upcoming modules for the next academic year lingered around ‘which mods are easier to score higher’ rather than ‘this mod is fun/practical/good skills to learn’. Revisiting NTU for choir-related events as an Alumnus feels the same. It’s sad but I have little to no emotional attachment to the place (only the people). It was a pressure cooker.
Imperial felt like an educational institute.
Despite the small campus, I was envious.
It isn’t about infrastructure.
The one thing I craved throughout my university education was passion.
Something that’s been sucked out by a lack of educators.
But that’s a story for another day.
‘And here’s where I will graduate!’
We then wandered into a park.
‘What park is this ah?’
‘Err Hyde Park lor. I walk through here whenever I’m heading home,’ YJ points at the building behind us, ‘that’s Kensington Palace.’
A swan swims into my periphery.
‘So you mean. Prince William and Kate Middleton is in there? Now?’
‘Do you wanna go there? But we gotta go home soon, we meeting A and E for duck later.’
‘Oo okay, we don’t have to go in!’
YJ leads me round the pond, sidestepping swan poop.
‘Oh, do you know that all the swans in the UK belong to the Queen?**’
It was nearly evening and closing time at the palace, which meant that people flooded the gift shop and the café beside it. The brick façade of the palace made it feel homely, you’d forget that it is the residence of modern royalty.
I was soooooooo tempted to get something from the gift shop. Everything looked so pretty!! And there were books written by my favourite Brit(ish historian) (Lucy Worsley!)…but the price tag though. You’d look at the price and think it’s still alright, until you remember to multiply that number by 2.
FIFTY SING DOLLARS FOR A BOOK?! WAH SIAO. MAI LA.
(English translation: OH HELL NO.)
We stepped out empty handed and entered The White Garden, a seasonal garden decorated in celebration of Princess Diana’s life. The colours made one feel hopeful and a kind of calm cheerfulness would wash over me with just a tinge of sadness, just like her spirit. A silent hope for peace was uttered and we headed back out into the park.
With the Sun setting, walking past families and swans, smiling at dogs catching the occasional flying frisbee while holding hands, it was a dream. Except that we were starting to get superbly sleepy.
‘We walking home right?’ I asked as we stepped out of the shade.
‘How long is the walk?’
‘About 45 minutes?’
After a long walk and chat, a little rest, we headed out again for dinner.
ROAST DUCK YAY.
We met A and E and were shown to our table at the Gold Mine restaurant. The other dishes were like normal zi-char but the duckkkkkk omg. Eating a roast duck in a cooler climate feels more comforting than having it at a kopitiam (‘Kopi’- Coffee, ‘Tiam’ – shop). Crispy skin, succulent, oily duck meat. Damn shiok pls.
‘We usually come here for birthdays,’ YJ says with his mouth full of food.
Through the course of dinner, I found out that A and E are both studying in the UK, but they met in Singapore. ‘Aww’ factor up by 100.
Good food, good company and then we dragged our tired butts back home, and set our alarms for 3.30am.
Let the country hoppin’ begin.
*BTO or Build-to-Order – Residential flats built by the Housing Development Board (HDB) in Singapore. In order to buy one, you’d have to ballot for it.
**Okay, the Queen doesn’t own all the swans in the UK. Only unmarked ones in open water. Marked ones belong either to the Vintner’s Company or the Dyer’s Company (guilds stemming from medieval times!). Every year in July, there’s a swan upping ceremony on the Thames where swans are captured, ringed (to collect data) and marked (or not) for ownership. Although its merely ceremonial now, it still serves as a mean to assess the health and population of the swans.
We all grow up with fairy tales that have kings and queens, castles and grand ornate structures that worship gods, good triumphs over evil. We learn that history is vast, stretching back thousands of years, even millions (when Jurassic Park came out).
And then, you read Singaporean history.
It starts in the 1800s and anything before that is still murky (we pop up here and there in other civilisations’ history).
As a Primary 5 kid who had an unhealthy fascination with Ancient Egypt, I was bummed when the Singapore story lasted only a few chapters pages of our Social Studies textbook.
Now now, I’m proud of our history. And I’m learning more about the different facets of it as I go. While I hold our Singaporean history close to my heart, I get fascinated with those from other countries.
One of which is British history. Or more specifically, their royal history. Scandals, murder and schemes: Its centuries’ worth of ancient reality-tv material. This was their ongoing drama series back then.
I mean, people viewed public beheadings as a social event. They gave out booze. This was one pre-internet cultural activity I’m glad didn’t stick. Or do I?
After our delightful brunch at Borough Market, we took a bus down to Waterloo where the working lunch crowd mingled with fellow tourists. As we snaked through repurposed old buildings and people- can you imagine working in a building that has lasted for generations?? – we caught sight of the river Thames.
Soon, the buildings cleared to reveal the Parliament House and the world-famous clock tower in its full glory.
Being the (too) avid photographer, YJ planted me on a stone block that’s a taaaad too close to the water and immediately started coaching me on posing for the camera.
‘No, stop making that face lah! Why you dunno how to pose one?’
When it became evident that I’m no model, he vented aloud with tourists behind him, ‘Wah, you need to learn from all those influencers. Really cannot pose sia.’
We then started to cross Westminster bridge.
‘Quick! Take a pic with the red bus!’ YJ spun me around, my back facing oncoming traffic as he tried to capture me and a bus in a shot. But that failed after three buses went by and it seemed like a waste of time to wait for another one.
‘Okay! Take with the Big Ben!’
‘When will this end.’
‘Eh pose properly leh.’
Need I remind you that I am the tourist.
The little window between shots when he checks the photos were moments where I let my eyes take in the iconic view that was in front of me.
I’m in London. I’m in London. Ahhhhh. Royalty have walked these halls. The Big Ben has rang out for centuries. I’m hearing the same chime that people in the past have heard. This is so coo-
‘Okay, now take with the selfie stick.’
Our next stop was Westminster Abbey.
The place where dead historical figures are in their tombs. It’s morbidly interesting. But also a humble reminder that death comes to us all. And also, a little kick in the butt to live life to the fullest. And also, omgah the Queen Elizabeth the first, one of the greatest monarchs in history is riiiiiiiiiiight here.
‘Oh, I think it’s closed today, so we can’t go in,’ says YJ as he read the notices in the courtyard.
‘Aww, noooooooooooo,’ I pouted.
Sigh, oh well.
Then what were all these people doing here?
Around us were small groups or individuals lounging on the grass, just happy to be there.
‘Oh oh, Londoners damn chill one. If got sun and got grass patch they will just sit. It’s actually quite nice. Like tomorrow we’ll walk through Hyde park. I wanna sit under a tree and study one day,’ quipped the bf as we settled onto a grass patch with the Abbey behind us.
‘Aww, that’s nice.’
After resting our legs, we began our picturesque stroll through St. James’ Park as we sipped from a bottle of lemonade. Sun chairs littered the grass patches like oBikes Ofo bikes at park connectors. It looked really inviting but you had to pay if you sat in one.
And then we made it onto The Mall: the iconic straight road that leads you allll the way to the gates of Buckingham palace.
After touching the black gates of the palace and wondering what the Queen is doing right then, we headed to The National Gallery.
We saw some really old paintings, mostly medieval sacred artworks. As we winded through the maze, it is as if time passed by the centuries. Soon we started seeing portraits of people who have lived through the Tudor and Elizabethan era. (Tip: Entry is free!! So if you don’t mind paying £5, you can get your hands on their audio guides! Behind each painting is a story, so if you’re into that, go for it!)
Out of nowhere, a familiar painting caught my eye. Positioned in the middle wall of the room, the first painting I could recognise: Vincent Van Gogh’s Sunflowers.
I finally understood why people flock to Paris to see the Mona Lisa. It is a sense of familiarity and awe; that a painting that has been so highly spoken of is now right in front of your eyes. It was a bittersweet moment: looking at the beautiful art Van Gogh has created while struggling with the darkness that loomed over him throughout his life. After a silent moment, I turned and caught up with YJ towards the next room as the next tourist came by to take a photo of the painting.
After a few more rooms, the closing announcement came on and we headed out for dinner: BURGER & LOBSTER.
Everyone who has been there swears by the food. Including YJ.
Look at that smile. For the shellfish. Not me.
I’ve never really had lobsters and there, right under my nose, were two lobsters that resembled giant prawns. Okay, but they were good.
Fresh and succulent meat plus chips on the side. Wahdamn sinful can.
Extra sinful to the wallet too, but hey, its a holiday! 😀
With our tummies filled, and as YJ’s hair flopped, we concluded our 2nd last day in London and rushed back to snooze.
In this case, its one that has been around since 1014…or probably even earlier.
Fresh food and produce, all colourful and all looking delicious and nutritious.
Walking through Borough market was painful as well as exciting. All the foodstuff that comes fresh and cheap here (1 POUND FOR A BOX. A BOX OF STRAWBERRIES. TMD. HAVE YOU SEEN HOW MUCH A BOX OF STRAWBERRIES COST IN COLD STORAGE??), we couldn’t buy home to cook with- much less have the time to enjoy exploring the ingredients this part of the world had to offer.
Andand a scene you don’t get to see in Singaporean markets: cakes and pastry stalls. Freshly baked tarts. Ahhhhhhhhh.
Expensive by our standards lah, but everything looked so good.
Our first stop was a stall named Le Marché du Quartier selling Duck Confit wraps. Sizzling on the huge hot plate/table (think Teppanyaki) was shredded duck meat coated with a sheen of oil, just enough to make it go crispy. The meat at the bottom crackled and popped as the guy behind the counter tended to the customer in front of us.
14 SGD (i think) for a wrap almost as big as my arm. For one person, this is a meal on its own.
I’d daresay its one of the best wraps I’ve ever eaten. If you love duck, this is it.
While we took turns ravishing the poor wrap, we entered the section of the market that sold ready-to-eat food. Food stalls lined the walls and the crowd was machiam peak period at a Pasar Malam.
In the middle of the chaos that are humans, I spot a stall selling Singaporean dishes. One of which was laksa. #proudSGmoment
Moving on, our second snack of the day was also a wiener.
SAUSAGE WITH SAUERKRAUT. The shredded pickled cabbage is the answer to the jelat-ness* you’d get from eating a hotdog with only ketchup and/or chilli sauce (mustard’s not common in SG). It kept everything light despite the meatiness from the sausage. But since sauerkraut is probably hard to come by in SG, our next best thing is kimchi from the Korean section in supermarkets.
Someone try it and let me know HAHA.
After the meat fest, I caved and bought a bubble-tea sized cup of uber-red cherries. Ahh, dessert.
As we popped cherries (heh) into our tummies, the strong aroma that is coffee wafted across the street to us.
‘Ooooh, that smells really good.’
Having just exited my full-time internship where a daily cup of teh C siew dai* has become a necessity more than a habit, I craved caffeine at that very moment. Europe does their coffee differently. Condensed milk is unheard of. What more evaporated milk.
I’m a tad jet-lagged with 2-plus weeks of non-stop activities ahead of me.
So I crossed the street and got in the queue.
Almost every drink on the menu had the term ‘espresso’ in it.
They had a latte but my adventurous spirit screamed, ‘TRY SOMETHING ELSE LAH.’
Thus, I got an espresso macchiato.
Simply because, uncultured me thought that macchiato was like Starbuck’s caramel macchiato with the pretty separation of milk and coffee. Or like Koi’s Oolong macchiato. So probably a normal-sized cup of milk with a pretty layer of espresso on it.
I hated myself when the lady passed me an espresso-sized paper cup with a pretty milk heart on it.
It’s a cup of espresso with milk floating on the top.
To be fair, the aroma of the coffee was sublime, to the point where I was wishing that I could drink my coffee and tea kosong*. But my sweet tooth struggled and died trying to finish the cup.
It was a really pretty heart though :3
In desperation, I asked YJ (who is lactose intolerant and sensitive to caffeine) to help with a few sips.
To which he exclaimed, ‘You want me die ah??’
*Jelat (Ger-LAHt): the sick/full feeling you get when you’ve had too much mac & cheese
Teh C Siew Dai: tea (teh) with (C)arnation (evaporated milk brand), less sugar (siew dai)
Kosong: Empty or zero; in this context it means no sugar (for beverages)
I’d strongly recommend foodies to explore the different stores and stalls as they have really high quality and interesting ingredients. There’s stuff like raclette cheese and spices, oysters and local produce that you’ll not find in Asia.
And if your itinerary allows, grab some food/fruits as snacks for the rest of your travels! They’re pretty affordable (especially fruits) and its healthier than chips 🙂
Also, if you’re in the mood for summer cocktails, they’ve got sangrias, proseccos, etc.
When I bought the souvenir cup that came with decadent butterbeer,
when I bought the enamel pin without so much as a thought,
the exchange rate that exists between the Singapore Dollar and the British Pound hadn’t quite sunk in.
But upon scanning the menu at Kanada-ya, it hit me:
A can of soda costs £2.60.
Ah, standard lah.
Eh wait. No.
It’s x2 in SGD.
Suddenly, the price of every single item on the menu was fancy-cafe expensive. Its like eating and drinking at a beach club on Sentosa island. Think S$7 for a can of Sprite. And that was years ago.
Cultural shock indeed.
Back to dinner.
Kanada-ya is a ramen place reeeeeeeeeeeeeally popular among Singaporean students there, according to YJ and a couple of friends who have returned from the UK.
‘Kanada-ya? YES ITS DAMN NICE.’
‘OH YA THAT PLACE.’
So naturally, I had high expectations. 2 days in Europe and I was already ready for Asian food. Ramen sounded perfect as London’s winds brushed past my stubbly legs. I immediately regret wearing a dress. Oh, my knees.
‘It’s summer meh?’ I breathed, wishing I could wear my denim jacket as pants, ‘SO COLD.’
‘Awww,’ YJ placed an arm around me, amused that a tow-geh* like him finds the temperature just right while a carrot in denim thinks its winter.
So happy I was when we entered the restaurant and the familiar sight of chopsticks made me feel a tad warmer.
When it comes to ramen, I like to stick to the (rich) basics: a tonkotsu base with some cha-su, black fungus and bamboo shoots. That’s how I determine if a particular ramen place is good. Imagine a simple plate of fried rice. It seems like a basic dish that everyone knows how to make, but it takes a lot of skill and know-how to get it just right. What more for a tonkotsu broth that takes hours.
After debating whether to get the Tonkotsu X or the regular one without the X, I settled for the former since it is exclusive to their London outlets. The only difference in the menu descriptions between the two were the bones used for the base. The regular one used pork bones while the X had pork & chicken.
The soup was rich but not overly flavorful. A pleasantly warm salve for the chills. Perhaps they got my order a lil’ bit wrong as the noodles were too al dente for my liking. Or perhaps, that was soft.
The cha-su slices weren’t as fatty as the ones you’d get in Singapore (I wish I could say Japan, sigh) so there weren’t much ah-omg-it-melts-in-the-mouth moments. The slices did have a slight hint of yuzu which was not mentioned in the menu description (there is a Spicy Yuzu Ramen on the menu, so maybe it was a case of flavour ‘contamination’?), and that boggled my mind. In a good way.
But yea, a good 4/5.
And yes, I just did a food review minus pictures. Here’s one from YJ’s freshman year.
YJ had gotten hold of tickets for The Phantom of the Opera (squeals)! After singing their songs in the choir and watching the movie, I finally get the chance to watch it live.
Tummies warmed up and a short walk away, Her Majesty’s Theatre shone amidst the bustling city. A year after this trip, I would have found out that the theatre has been around since 1705 (it has gone through several rounds of remodelling to y’know, stay relevant, but daaaang). I’d just sat through one of the most iconic musicals of the 20th century not knowing that I was sitting in a 300-year-old theatre that have seen bucket loads of plays and music (and scandals hehehe).
And then a toy monkey started clinking its cymbals and the chandelier is unveiled and the overture begins. Immediate chills.
Tons of familiar songs, emotions, costume changes and orchestral accompaniment later, it was over.
While I googled the cast and fangirled at the same time, YJ nodded, his eyes distant. A human jam was taking form in the carpeted stairwell. People from the pricier seats brushed shoulders with us paupers students.
The dark atrium revealed the setting sun (it was past 10pm).
‘It’s your first time watching Phantom right? What do you think of it?’
‘It was nice,’ YJ began as we poured out of the theatre and into the night, ‘but Les Mis was better.’
*tow geh – Beansprout in Hokkien
There are shows happening EVERY DAY. A simple Google search should be able to link you up with several ticketing sites. While I didn’t book the tickets, I came across this. Works for students only though!!
Also, the price range is pretty wide. I’ve seen tickets going as low as £10! But of course, it is fully dependent on which show you’re watching, when and where.
And last tip: I highly recommend watching at least one show. If you are unsure, just go for the classics: Phantom for the music and romance, Les Mis for the atmosphere and a taste of the human spirit, Matilda (quite recent but its a Roald Dahl story!) for the innocence and Wicked for the kind. Haaaaaa.
The Harry Potter series was the worldwide phenomenon that helped shape our generation.
I grew up reading the (second half of the) book series while pining for the next installment in the film franchise. Classmates and I would exchange Panini sticker packets to complete our Harry Potter sticker books, while saving up our pocket money to purchase more at the convenience stores.
These books also saved me from my mind and served as an escape from reality. Along with so many others, Harry Potter and his world means a whole lot more than mere fantasy novels. It was a reprieve from the harsh and often terrifying realities. The movies provided visuals that let us fully immerse ourselves in that world. Words of the pages and images in the mind now physical, and almost real.
What if MRT track faults happened because someone apparated onto the tracks?
Maybe kopitiam toilets are portals to the other world.
*Gasp.* Maybe that’s why its dirty. It’s to deter muggles.
Back to the grad trip.
After a brief introduction to Pret-a-Manger (pronounced as ‘Pratt-a-muhn-zhay’) and the morning rush hour, we got off the train at Watford Junction railway station.
YJ led me to a bus stop situated in front of a small bus terminal and there stood a man with the Warner Bros. uniform who waved and greeted us.
YJ produced the papers while I smiled like an idiot, eagerly anticipating whatever that was to come. Soon, more tourists appeared at the bus stop and the at the air was charged with excitement. Everyone was smiling- no, only the fans (aka majority of the humans there) were smiling. You could clearly tell who was dragged along this tour because they had no choice (my boyfriend lor, but got others also lah).
10 minutes later, a bus fully covered in Harry Potter decals (wheee) arrived and along with it, more excitement.
After a 15 minute drive, we reached the studios and YJ was so psyched about getting good photos for me, I thought, ‘wow he really loves me.’ So he placed us on the road for a selfie. The next minute, I heard someone yelling at us to get off the road.
Little did I know. That I would begin to question his love for the rest of the trip. Little did I know. The lengths he would go for a great photo.
The next 4 hours were filled with awe and awkward photo ops.
Our tour begins with a short film and then we were thrown into The Great Hall.
And then, as if we had stepped into the Room of Requirement, props, paintings and magical items of all sorts grouped in batches, spotting the entirety of the studio. The Gryffindor Common Room just a short walk away from Burrow’s kitchen, a skate away from Hagrid’s hut.
My favourite ‘room’ would be the Potions classroom.
As I stood by the barricade, I became acutely aware of the late Alan Rickman’s (RIP) costume. While I’d probably dislike Prof. Snape as my teacher, I had this strange feeling that I would still enjoy his classes. After all, potions is the closest thing to my current profession. The stirring, aliquoting, the whole zero-tolerance-for-error kinda thing.
As we slowly moved on to the section of the tour where the drafts for set design and animatronics and prop-making were put in the spotlight, my appreciation for the production crew rose a thousand fold. Every thing we’ve seen: the props, the sets, right down to the words on the Daily Prophet. All the paintings that you would have seen in the films were painted, not printed. How insane is that?
Halfway through the tour, we arrived in the cafeteria where they served Butterbeer.
Sinful but very good. Very.
When we finally got to the end of the tour, there- I SHALL NOT SPOIL.
But I was so moved. It was truly a bittersweet moment.
“Whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”
― J.K. Rowling
And then we emerged into the gift shop.
THEY SELL THE UNIFORM. I wanted to try it on but it was soooooo expensive I decided not to, in case I spoiled it. Wands, candy, badges, scarfs, notebooks. It’s like the Hogwarts school bookshop for students to buy supplies. In the end, I got a Ravenclaw pin badge to commemorate my (first?) visit.
Major kudos to le Bf for bringing me here despite *gasp* not being a fan. And kudos to him for helping me save my money at the gift shop 🙂
Travelling Tips: Magic ain’t gonna get you tickets
ALL TICKETS TO THE STUDIOS HAVE TO BE RESERVED IN ADVANCE.
Peak periods include the summer months (June & July), so that means you have to book them really early. Otherwise, at least 3 months in advance should suffice. Also, if your itinerary is relatively flexible, you can keep checking back for saver deals as some people may cancel their reservations closer to the date!
Good luck my fellow Witches & Wizards! (heee)
I know it’s not Thursday but I didn’t want to wait for another week. So here’s a Travel TGIF instead of a Travel Thursday.