Monday, December 5, 2016

Visit to London in just 7 days! - September 2016

My best friend, Philip, and I went all the way to London to specially participate in Teddies 2016; one of the largest Teddy Bear Conventions in Europe. It had always been a dream for Wayne to travel to Europe and now he has finally fulfilled it!

Philip advised to have lots of sleep in-flight in order to minimize jet lag due to the different time-zones between countries.

The flight to London took 16 hours! Thankfully there was a mid-transfer in Dubai which allowed us to walk around and take a breather. The journey in-flight was dreadful as there was limited space to move around and we were constantly seated in a upright position.

Although it was uncomfortable, we managed to sleep for a couple of hours and ate well on plane as well!

Once we arrived at Heathrow Airport, we went to the customer service centre to purchase train tickets. We bought the train cards known as Oyster Cards, Big Bus Tour Tickets for 2 days, as well as admission tickets to ZSL London Zoo, Tower of London, and the Sea Life London Aquarium. They were slightly cheaper to purchase at the airport rather than directly at the places themselves.

The Big Bus Tour brings us around London for 2 days. There are 3 different tour routes, covering all the top London sights. It also comes with 3 free walking tours of Royal London, Harry Potter and London’s music scene. In addition, there is also complementary 2-way River Thames cruise operated by City Cruises. There are a few different operators providing such bus tours but we chose The Big Bus Tours as it was the most convenient for us.

After purchasing the Oyster Cards, we took the train to our hotel to check-in. The train map system, which is also known as "Underground", is organized and easy to understand. It works similarly to the MRT system we have in Singapore, albeit more complicated. The train was fast and clean. To our surprise, you can bring dogs onto the train and even eat or drink inside!




Paddinton Railway Station
As a Paddington Bear Fan, this place was definitely one of the venues which Wayne must visit! We took the Underground train to the venue in search for the Paddington Bear Statue and Shop. To our disappointment, the silver statue and shop were no longer there. However, we found a coloured statue hiding at a waiting corner beside a small shop selling some Paddington merchandise. We took several pictures and quickly move to our next destination.




Natural History Museum
We went to the Natural History Museum on first day. The architecture of the museum was stunning and the place was extremely huge!!! What's more, admission to the museum was free! There were so many things to see inside! We would really highly recommend this place to everyone.


Inside the Natural History Museum, you will see the taxidermy of different animals and sea creatures. There were even dinosaur fossils too!

Building of the Natural History Museum








Stamford Bridge – Chelsea F.C.

Philip is a Manchester United football fan and so he couldn’t miss the opportunity to visit one of the top English Premier League Football Clubs in London! Unfortunately we were unable to visit Old Trafford as it was out of the way. We went to the Chelsea FC Megastore and walked around. To our surprise, we spotted a rare Pokemon “Mr Mime” in sightings in the Pokemon Go mobile game. After a frantic search, we managed to find and catch him! Mr Mime can only be found in Europe and although we wanted to catch him, we were not expecting to catch him on the very first day in London!








ZSL London Zoo

The London zoo was really huge but we managed to cover most of it despite the bad weather. It was raining and cold.  Fortunately it only started raining after we had visited and took photos of the various animals.  At the end of the day, we bought a few animal soft toys as souvenirs for our family members. 






Garfunkel’s Restaurant

Our dear friend, Linda Bean, recommended this restaurant to us. We were certainly glad she did as the food was great. We visited this restaurant more than 3 times during our 1 week stay in London. There was also free WiFi in the restaurant. 






Buckingham Palace, Victoria Memorial and Harry Potter Walking Guided Tour
On our first day of the Big Bus Tour around the city, we dropped off at the Buckingham Palace. The place was amazing and filled with lots of tourists! We could see the Queen’s guards standing still outside guarding the palace. We were not able to take a group picture with them as the gate was locked and we were far away from them. On the other side of the palace was the Victoria Memorial, a monument to Queen Victoria. It has an elaborate scheme of iconography sculpture and is also a favourite spot for tourists to take pictures! Naturally, we couldn’t resist taking a few ourselves!




After visiting Buckingham Palace and Victoria Memorial, we walked past St James Park to Trafalgar Square, where there was a complementary walking guided tour by Big Bus Tours. There were 15 of us together with the tour guide Ken. He told us it was a 90 minutes walking tour around various film locations from the Harry Potter Movies in London’s West End and Whitehall. It also took us to the Palace Theater where the new “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” was showing. Ken told us it had already been fully booked till 2017! We managed to take a very nice picture outside the theater! We also visited the Hardys Candy shop and bought some bonbons to eat!


Big Ben, River Thames Cruise and Tower of London
Having purchased the Big Bus Tours tickets, we were given a 2 way complementary cruise across River Thames. We alighted at Westminster Tube Station and walked to Westminster Pier to take the cruise. On the way, we stopped to take pictures in front of Big Ben! A gigantic clock tower, it is officially known as Elizabeth Tower. We were amazed by the intricate design and size of the clock tower!


After taking a few pictures with Big Ben, we proceeded with the River Thames cruise. The tour guide on board the cruise told us the history and other useful information of the various places along the river bank. We passed under London Bridge, as well as Tower Bridge.



We disembarked at Tower Pier and went to the Tower of London. Thankfully we did not need to queue up to purchase the tickets as we bought them in advanced at the airport. We explored and learned about the fascinating history behind this fortress. There was also the Crown Jewels exhibition, showing off the spectacular priceless treasures of the Queen. The exhibition also showcases some of the most extraordinary diamonds in the world. 









Sea Life London Aquarium
The Sea Life London Aquarium is located on the south bank of River Thames in central London. Although it is the largest aquarium in London, it seemed pretty small to us as the ones we visited previously were much bigger. However, it is still a pretty good place to visit if you are interested in marine life. It was very informative with detailed descriptions of the various types of marine life. The underwater displays and landscape were also beautifully presented.


We also realised that there was no mobile reception when inside the aquarium. Hence, we were unable to access any of our apps (Facebook, Instagram, mobile games etc) while inside. There was also no free WiFi.








Westminster Palace

Borough Market

Located in central London, Borough Market is one of the oldest and largest food markets in London. Philip and I went there to try the Scotch Eggs as they were highly recommended by a friend. The Scotch Eggs came with sweet potato fries + salad and the meal was really delicious! We walked around and see the various types of food on sale. As we went on a weekday, some stalls were closed and the place was not as crowded as it would be on weekends. If you would like to visit one day, we would recommend that you visit on the weekends when more stalls are open. But do be prepared for the crowd.









Hamleys Toy Store
Hamleys, located at Regent Street, is well-known to have the best collection of toys for all ages! They carry their own in-house brands and many others such as Lego, TY, Steiff, Merry Thought, Hermann Teddy Original, Barbies, Sylvanian Families, Paddington Bear and many more!


What attracted us to the store was the large collection of displays in the store. The shelves were generously filled with toys from the floor all the way up to the ceiling! The friendly staffs were always there to demonstrate how to play the toys. One of them was throwing a boomerang when people walked past him. But he was skilled enough to ensure that the boomerang does not hit the customers! Another was showing off magical tricks and a levitating UFO! Everyone looked so happy there and I felt like I was in Disney land! The toys were all very high quality and we would definitely recommend this place to anyone who loves toys.








Harrods
Harrods is similar to Singapore's Paragon. It is an upmarket department store where you will find various branded goods. Our friend, Allen, told us that they serve very nice afternoon tea. We went and stepped out of the place after seeing the shocking prices on the menu. We would rather spend the money on other things!


There was also a toy section on one of the levels. We took a picture with the giant bear display and walked around. On the ground floor, there was a section where they sold different types of pastry, meats and salads for take-away. The food looked really nice but both of us preferred to find a place to sit to have lunch. Perhaps next time we would try the food although the prices seemed rather exorbitant as well!





Tate Modern
Tate Modern Museum showcases a wide range of art exhibitions from Design, Paintings, Videography, Photography, Audio, Space, Furniture and many more. This is another venue which we would recommend everyone who are interested in Art and Design to visit. As a designer, Wayne enjoyed this museum more than the other museums he had visited. Furthermore, there was no admission charge to visit Tate Modern.

This place gave different kinds of visual and sensory experience to Wayne. The section which he enjoyed most is the artist from Indian who used woven human hair to create a space filled with hanging hair. Car bumpers were tied to the suspended hair. (Story to refer to photos)


There were also different art pieces created by Andy Warhol and Piccaso on display. The section on Nazi photography was very interesting as well.













Victoria and Albert Museum

We visited this place on the last day and realized that it was impossible to complete this building. As it was our last day in London, we were both tired and restless. We managed to view the collection of art and artifacts from the cultures of Europe. The collection spanned 5000 years of art and artifacts from ancient times to present. It was definitely an eye-opening experience for both of us. We would be back next time when we visit London again.





Overall, it was a wonderful and exciting experience for both of us! We plan to visit UK again probably in 2018! Hope you have enjoyed reading our compilation of places of interest. Till next time! Cheers, Wayne and Philip