Wednesday, January 11, 2012

12 Dec 2011 Monday - Oxford

We took the 9.21 am train from Paddington to Oxford ( 26 GBP return / offpeak with F&F railpass ) , a 50 min train ride west of London. Despite weather warnings, Oxford was resplendent in glorious sunshine and vibrant with the youthful energy of young people in the little college town. It was odd to see among Victorian buildings, lots of Chinese and the occasional  Singapore accented English could be heard if we listened hard enough.

We walked from the train station to the main thoroughfare at George Street. I decided to ditch plans of the free tours by and opted to snoop around town, since we were already hungry and could not bear the thought of following a walking tour on empty stomachs. We went up the cupola of the Sheldonian theatre, the graduation hall built by Christopher Wren, located opposite the Bodlein College. ( 2.50 / 1 GBP ) It offered a nice view of Oxford's dreaming spires even  though Sheldonian is not the tallest in town. The only disappointment is that it is not an open air viewing gallery.

We had our first pub lunch at the touristy White Horse, opposite the theatre. English food of toad-in-the-hole, meat pie and vegetable  quiche were pretty good and not as salty as I feared. We had carbohydrate overload, with mash and crispy chips. The bill came up to a hefty 30 GBP ; I should have tried the quieter but cheaper ( ? )  Kings Arms.

Radcliff Camera
Then it was time for  a walk around the town center. We visited the Radcliff Camera, Bodlein library premises, both stunning places of learning which made me envy those who studied there. Down Catte St, w e turned to High St and took in the grand facade of Christ Church college. Now at 3pm, we decided against a paid  visit to Christ Church College. Instead we looked at the cows grazing across the college , then looped around Merton Grove and Magpie Lane before ending back at High St. Mr G guest starred in photo shoots in front of the Christchurch Cathedral.

Christ Church College
Past Corpus Christi, we rejoined High St and made a short vi sit to the Covered Market ,where we had our second cupcake this holiday ( the first at Covent Garden ). It was pretty good at a decent price of 1.60GBP. Down Cornmarket St, we traced  our steps back to George St and visited miles of Blackwell books and music, Oxford stores, by the end of which we were proud owners of 2 huge bags of cloths, T shirts and books.

Oxford is not a place for mush heads
For the Oxford finale, we had tea and scones with clotted cream at Coffee Republic. It was not the greatest English tea experience but nevertheless our first, despite our many visits to the country. The cream was rich and scones milky . What would make the experience complete would be Wedgewood chinaware and loose leaf tea instead of bags.

As scheduled, we took the 5.31 pm train from Oxford to London's Paddington, an uneventful hour ride. We wound up the day, dinning at home after carting 15 GBP worth of dinner stuff from Waitrose.

11th Dec - Sunday church service and Pahud at Wigmore Hall

Covent Garden market, near the church

We managed to have a good night's sleep, though jetlag caused me to wake up before anyone else. Our day started with a morning visit to Covent market to soak in the energy of early rising Londoners. We watched a quartet perform before heading to the nearby Crown Court Church of Scotland, a Presbyterian church. It was smallish but welcoming which made us feel at home. We participated in a nativity service, which was made up of  a cast of unpredictable little tots who read scripture passages and acted out every role except Joseph. The kids' roles were not well defined because they moved about during the performance. Nevertheless it was heart warming. A Korean couple, James and Eunice, were tasked to welcome us and we had a good chat and extended our welcome to our church in Singapore.

A little more shopping at Covent Garden after service yielded a 100% new wool scarf at a cool 14 GBP. Satisfied, we set off for Old Street , where I  had earlier made a lunch reservation at Fifteen London. It operated out of Westland Place, not a great neighborhood  but considering Jamie Oliver's intention to equip at risk kids with life changing skills, I was understanding about it. The food, from antipasti to main pasta course, was very fresh and delicious. The only grouse was the slow food delivery but it also gave us a chance to chat.

Lunch ended at 3.30pm. We took off to Oxford Circus, first to collect our pre-booked concert tickets at Wigmore Hall and then to HMV where H bought 3 classical CDs ( Kim Kashashian, William Primrose, Glenn Gould for 30 GBP ). Oxford Street was closed to vehicular traffic on Sundays  and we enjoyed ourselves walking on the road and soaking up the lights and music.

Oxford Street started winding down at  6.30pm, it being a Sunday ( poof !! ), so we headed to Wigmore hall. It was a smallish concert hall but acoustics was good. Even though we were seated at almost the end of the hall, the nuances of Emmanuel Pahud' s flute and Yefim Bronfman's piano were clearly felt. We coursed through Schumman, Brahmns, Mozart and Prokofiev and the audience's appreciation were reciprocated with an encore off Mozart's repetoire. Considering our jetlag(ed) state, I would say, we were well behaved audience.

We took a tube back to Gloucester Rd from Bond Street station. By 10pm, we were home, for another round of steak pie supper. Finally, after some washing and final  planning  for the next day , we surrendered to the strain of the day.

10th Dec 2011 Sat London - Here we come !

London lookings inviting from the air
Our travel to the UK was kicked off with a cheery phone call from Fifteen London while we were in Changi Airport, to remind us of our lunch reservation on the coming Sunday at their Westland Place restaurant. This call gave me great vibes to a great holiday.

We traveled by Emirates to London, via Dubai ( EK405, EK001 ). Because it was dear old Evelyn from Travelhaven which engineered the flight booking, she managed to wrangle a Dubai stopover  package from Emirates at Rolla Residence with 24 hr checkin.

The flight for each sector took 7 hours, with a 3 hour transit in Dubai. Thinking back, 3 hours is a good enough transit time, because the plane departing Singapore was delayed by more than an hour, while the return flight out of London was 2 hours late.

Compared to Dubai which was at a balmy 18C, London was freezing at almost 0C but sunny and dry. All of us were grateful for the sun despite the cold because the island was hit by a low pressure system just days ago, tearing roofs and bringing power down in many parts of Scotland.

At Heathrow tube station, Pat and I got for ourselves each an Oyster card, a stored value travel card for all modes of transport except the rail services. H's Oyster card application was supposed to have been done 2 weeks prior to London which I did not. Disqualification from a child's fare card, she would have to purchase a daily travelpass instead.

Top flat ( without any lift ) apartment
10 Gloucester Road , London
In June, I had booked an apartment with A Place Like Home, highly recommended by fellow travelers from , my go-to for DIY holidays. It was cheap ( slightly less than 700 GBP per week, all included  )  for an apartment located in Gloucester / South Kensington until I realized the trade-off  was the lack of lift.  Apart from that, it was well equipped, the agency was responsive and every thing  took off as planned. The locale looked just like what I saw with Google's street view. I liked the apartment's spaciousness and sky light from a glass roof top. Every room, other than the toilet, has a window that boasts  views of the roof tops of the South Kensington's area.

Home away from home
After APLH's rep Wynne's orientation, we went to King's Cross train station to claim prebooked tickets for Edinburgh, Cambridge and Oxford. We had a much delayed but delicious kebab lunch at Crystal kebabs near Kings Cross station. That was one item struck off our to-eat list!

Fed and sated, we trooped over to Trafalgar Square to catch carolers singing under the20m  Norwegian Christmas tree, a yearly gift from Norway for their help in WWII. Perhaps, it was Saturday, which explained for the crowd around Nelson's column. An interest group nearby were raising some sort of protest and caused a massive jam around The Strand and river front.

South of the square, we crossed Hungerford Bridge to take in the lights made by the traffic jam, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and London eye. At the other end of Hungerford, a Christmas market was in full swing. It was bitter cold even with our down jackets, so we filled up with gluhwein and hot tea. Christmas keepsake was overpriced and we browsed around instead. Jetlag was getting its grip on us and our bodies were straining under the cold and long walk.

From Embankment, we made the last trip of the day and went back Gloucester Rd.  As according to our usual DIY holiday practices, we carted back from Waitrose, located beside the Underground,  2 big bags of food.  That was our  midnight snack plan for the following day since supermarkets would be closed early  on Sunday.

So far, all have gone according to plan -the flight, the apartment, the food, the weather. It was a fitting end to a tiring journey from Singapore to London.