Sunday, January 11, 2009

Tell-A-Tale (Part 26): Tube Days (Part 2 of 1)

On the Piccadilly line, somewhere between conversations and congested stations, I realised that I was wrong this time. Pretty much convinced that the immigration officer at Heathrow would give me a tougher time (thanks to my Malaysian passport) than the almost sub zero temperature, I was surprised to find my entry into the city of London a breeze. The cold city wind, on the other hand, was not that welcoming.

Changing to the District line to East Ham, I was led to a piece of warmth no burger or chips could provide. Yes, my first meal upon landing in London was a vegetarian thali, complete with a delicious rasam. Strolling along the main street of East Ham with its mostly subcontinental community, I recalled the usual days at Brickfields sans traffic jams and talks of yet another comedic day in Parliament at our usual banana leaf rice restaurant.

Sunset along the coastal line parallel to Galle Face Green in Colombo must be at its most beautiful now, I told myself as I looked out the window of my friend's dormitory in Docklands. At 4.30 pm, London was already dark.

As the tube came to a halt at Hyde Park Corner, one could feel the excitement of the alighting passengers, especially children. The holiday week in London and most parts of Europe had the people enjoying themselves at the many festive markets, like the German Christmas Market, a fairground filled with rides, fashion accessories and food, here at Hyde Park. Well, and drinks of course. Piping hot mulled wine and cider were perfect for the cold night but not before a mustard drowned bratwurst and the almost perfect doughnut, with just a humble sprinkling of sugar or chocolate dipping that would put the overhyped ones to shame.

Our starting point was always the Cyprus station on the DLR. Waking up daily to an awesome view of the Royal Docks, which run along the River Thames, was truly inspirational. With the London City Airport located just minutes away, sights of planes taking off or landing were of norm, among others like the flocks of birds and the occasional rowers and joggers.

At the edge of the District line, just before Richmond was Kew Gardens. Not many enjoy a stroll in the park, well in the cold winter months at least, or are fascinated by the display of tropical plants which are as common as slippers back at home. But the landscape was beautiful and I can only imagine the colourful tulips in spring or the golden fall of autumn leaves. A good place for photography, this.

In preparation for the next Olympic, specific tube lines are closed for upgrades from time to time. Longer trips, confusions and delays are just some of the problems commuters have to face until then. Untangling oneself from the complex tube system is a subject of urban study that requires much logic and sometimes, a little fate. Fun for tourists, bad news for the millions of daily commuters.

From the tube map, you look for your starting point, followed by your destination. You then count the number of stops and transits before reaching and finally, decide on the shortest route. Yes, fairly simple. But there were no shortcuts to the Tower of London. The long queue with average waiting time of 30 minutes to purchase an entry ticket at around 5 degrees Celcius was a drama itself. Being told of the short queues during winter months and the necessity of reserving the ticket in advance at the same time, I chose to believe the former and there I was in the cold, regretting the kiasuism I left at home.

To stand before the Crown Jewels of the royal family in the castle, complete with explanatory videos, was an educational experience but to apply the practicality of these objects of status in today's society is something that I reflected upon. Perhaps growing up with the rapid advancement in science and technology had added a practical sense in us. Not forgetting a touch of humour from the Simpsons. We respect and awe at the majestical and colourful colonial traditions such as the inaugurations yet we can't help but to snigger at the red tape, grandeur and pace of it all. An interesting educational B-side trip altogether. That aside, with the towers starting from St. Thomas' to Martin's, the ravens and Beefeaters, it is not hard to understand why the Tower of London has become the number one tourist attraction in the whole of London. It is a good preview of English history filled with drama, mystery and love. The architecture of the formidable fortress itself is a piece of art.

Getting to the Borough Market requires a change to the Northern line, alighting at Borough station. It was a place that I looked forward to. Remembering the fantastic Campo de' Fiori in Rome, I hoped to see more of the local eating culture and perhaps, purchase a few interesting foodstuffs here. And indeed, the market was a fantastic European assembly of food, both cooked and uncooked. From Spanish tapas to English pork pies to French pastries, it was the place to be for a taste of everything (at a fraction of the price at Harrods). With the purchase of bottles of boar terrine, olive confit and white truffle sauce from a French shop at the market, it almost felt like viewing Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa at the Lourve. The irony of it all just seeped in, for some unexplainable reasons. The coffee at Monmouth's was everything described in the tourist guide. Yummy. Despite the closure of many stalls, due to the Christmas week, it was still an enjoyable and definitely less crowded trip.

Hours before the new year greeted London, we traveled on the Northern line to the Chalk Farm station with bottles of beer in hand. The plan to celebrate the new year at Trafalgar Square was scrapped for fear of the enormous crowd. Climbing Primrose Hill with the rest of the Londoners (and tourists) while singing, dancing and doing everything silly warmed my coldest night in London. Overlooking the city of London, I spotted St. Paul's and the London Eye among others. In the final hour of 2008, lanterns much alike those found in Thailand or Taiwan were flown into the air. Concerned over air traffic confusion with the release of these lanterns, police officers had to stop the activity but the deterred braved them all.

At the stroke of midnight, the usually Auld Lang Syne was heard across the hill, in different languages and beats. Strangers were hugging and wishing each other while me, in trying not to over-analyze the moment, believed in the sincerity of it all.

There was also the fabulous Les Miserables. Not forgetting the frenzy post-Christmas sale on Bond Street/Oxford Circus and the National Art Gallery. Food-wise, there were the infamous pies and the extensive selection of both local and international eateries. All things I missed from Part 1 of 1.

These few days of tubes were like meeting an old friend. This English speaking friend has not changed much since we first met in 2005. But I did. I've met other friends of very different interests who spoke of different languages. I've learnt about co-existence, changes and independence. And that pride and glorification is nothing short of shame.

My real, dear old Malaysian friend, who hosted my visit, while pointing at the Canary Wharf across the River Thames from the University of East London, said the working population there was drastically slashed due to the on-going economy crisis. As the major sporting event draws near, coupled with the very pessimistic outlook on the earliest recovery date of the economy, it will be an uphill task for this historical and influential city to regain control of things, just like in the past.

London remains as one of the most vibrant and fun cities I've ever been to. A visit to Europe is incomplete without a stop at London, even for a few hours.

Best of luck and see you in 2012.

22 comments:

Big Boys Oven said...

Your recollection of your London trip brings back lot of great memories, lovely London, truely being miss!

"Joe" who is constantly craving said...

bummer..its been almost 2 yrs since i last went to london..seriously overdue for a visit..

i mean which country can u travel to city from airport for 4 quid? 2 quid with the octopus card..(no converting of course)..makes our kl express a rip off..

Selba said...

Beautiful pictures!!!

I wish I could visit London someday... It's been one of my desire destinations. The last time I was there, it's 20 years ago! LOL

J2Kfm said...

now that AA flies there, I'm sure soon we'll be able to see accounts of UK trips from all over the blogosphere. :)

but still eludes me. tot of UK as boring and mundane? no?

fatboybakes said...

city from airport for 4 quid? on the regular tube ah? but aiyo, no escalator and no lift, when i had to change at earl's court. groan.
i miss london after reading your post. was last there in 05, but the pound was so high, i didnt have much fun.....

CUMI & CIKI said...

wallau!!!! look at the amount of things you saw, did, ATE..!?! jealous.... :P

~Christine~Leng said...

u were in london for new year? chris n i were there too! ;p

Live2Talk said...

Your never fail to bring out every hidden story behind every shot *salute* well done sweetie. Even if i don't get a chance to visit London in the near future, you have satisfied my desire for now just by looking at your pix!

ladyironchef said...

dude you damn good life, always go travelling one. is it holiday or for work? how many days u went?

ling239 said...

so u still holidaying there ?
or back d ? :p

550ml jar of faith said...

A catalogue fit to turn any London cynic into an eager winter beaver... I'd often equated the city with drab weather and drabbier food. Ladies and gentlemen, I think we have a new Visit this place NOW pitch!

Life for Beginners said...

Last time I was in London was over five years ago... but I'm heading there again this May so your post will be a much-needed (updated) guide to the English capital for me and the Devil Wears Prada. :D

Nic (KHKL) said...

bigboysoven, glad it brought back some good memories for you! i'm sure you had a fantastic time when u were there. any plans of going there soon?

joe, yeah, i was telling a friend that the train from airport to town is cheap. then again, it's not the express train while kl express is much faster. wanted to take the bus to puduraya but was told it's really slow...

selba, thanks! ;) wow, 20 years ago?? i think it's a good time to go, given the favourable exchange rate, these days. spring is a good time! ;)

j2kfm, oh yeah! but it's another airport and i'm not sure if there are trains to the city. then again, it's still a good deal lar.
actually, london is a very happening city. from clubs to monuments to (a certain extend) food. and it's a good starting or ending point for a europe trip.

fatboybakes, haha, i understand the no escalator thingy. and it gets worse if one of the shorter lines are closed. that's why i make a point to travel light there..hehe...and thanks to you, i insisted of watching les miz. it was really good. and am growing to like their songs lar! ;)

cumi & ciki, actually, not as much as my first trip. this one was more about makan and finishing up some sights that i've missed the last time. u'll love it here in dec cos the sale is heaven sent! hehehe...

Nic (KHKL) said...

christine, really! so, u went to paris and london? cool! where did u go for countdown? london was really right, that night? *shivers*

live2talk, awwww, u so sweet lar, sweetie! ;) dun worry, i'm sure you will go to london and the rest of europe when the time comes. and u'll love it there! oh, and i'm sure you'll be shopping lotsa as well! ;)

ladyironchef, hehehe...actually, i was there as i had a whole week off. with a good deal, plus free accommodation, i thought it was a good time to go. the exchange rate was prett favourable as well. i was only there for 6 days plus a few hours in sri lanka. klm has good offers from singapore! check it out! ;)

ling239, i am back on the 2nd day of new year. ;) cos had to start work after that ;( if not, i would have stayed for a few more days and makan...hehehe...

550ml jar of faith, cool! london has landed! haha! well, i think london is a good starting point for many things, including access to other european cities. the fact that english is widely spoken here made things much easier. i was thankful for the beautiful (though cold) weather and good food, through recommendations from friends. and thanks for the compliment! ;)

kenny, wow, cool! may's a good time to go! get the Devil Wears Prade to borrow some guides from the Singapore libraries. they have an excellent and updated range of guides that i dare say almost on par with the major bookstores. have fun in london!!

backStreetGluttons said...

blessed is the malaysian from singapore who just came from colombo having an english outing in the cold.

just great ! goode old chap ! beer in hand , marvellous ! splendid !

mimid3vils said...

Huh...sekejap Sri Lanka, sekejap London...?

thenomadGourmand said...

I agree with 550ml .. u made London sound fun! I do equate London to moody weather and congestion horrors.

ck lam said...

Plan to visit London has always been on my mind and your photos make me more eager to visit this lovely country.

Faye fly said...

colorfull flowers,yummy foods,pretty view ..sure u so enjoy at there ^^ nik,may i bite tat burger ? juz one bite .. ;p

Nic (KHKL) said...

backstreetgluttons, it was hot and wet to cold and dry and this malaysian from was craving for a plate of hokkien mee wherever he goes. oh, and nasi lemak! :)

mimi, haha, actually, i went to london via colombo. since i had 8 hours in colombo, i decided to venture the city! ;)

thenomadgourmand, it is definitely fun! especially if u enjoy musicals and galleries. the food's not bad as well but i must say it's kinda expensive...hehehe...i was lucky that the weather's been consistently good! ;)

ck lam, cool! do look out for offers from asia. pretty good deal. i think sri lanka airways is quite good as well! ok, and there's klm! do check it out! ;)

faye, hehehe, that burger inside my stomach liao lor...hehehe...it was good and one had satay sauce in it! yeah, i enjoyed my stay there! ;)

jasmine said...

looking at this post makes me truly miss London. I have been missing it for a while now but seeing the pictures (fantastic as usual) really makes me wanna go now! but alas, looks like it's not likely in the next 2 years at least.. :(

Nic (KHKL) said...

jasmine, no worries. london will be right there waiting. you'll be able to go there before you know it! ;) there were not much changes as well, as compared to my visit there 3 years ago. but still fun.