Friday, November 24, 2006

The Last Word on London: A Day Too Much

It's been a couple of days since I left London. But not a lot of people knew what sort of nerve-wracking experience the journey home was.

The day started off great. Nice, sunny and cold. Almost everything I did that day was documented in my previous post, and the picture set is here. What happened after, well, listen up.

I was set to be picked up by the airport shuttle my company had arranged for me at seven o' clock at the apartment I was staying in. A couple of minutes before seven, I had turned off my laptop, sat in the lobby (luggage and all) and tried to read my Neverwhere book. Seven came, no one was around yet, save for the receptionist. Five minutes went by, I thought it a bit unusual for the driver to be late. Seven-fifteen, I had resolved to take it up with the travel agent, the company uses. The contact at the other line was puzzled as well, and tried to contact the shuttle service. It was already around forty past the hour when she told me that the driver is already there and they tried to contact me using my mobile. My phone of course, is fully charged and has full service (signal) but no call came. The receptionist went outside and saw nobody. The contact finally said that they didn't know what happened and that it would be twenty minutes before someone can pick me up. They said that if I can find my own way to the airport, it would be so much better. I still had the sanity not to take it out on the travel agent contact, so I just politely thanked her for the help.

I hauled my ass out of the apartment near Westferry Circus to flag down a couple of cabs. Not being totally prepared for this disaster, I had no money (or at least I was afraid it wasn't enough) and was only armed with my credit cards and debit card. After attempting to flag down around five cabs, I realized that none of them take credit cards at the time, much less American Express. I went back to the apartment and tried to book cabs over the phone.

No such luck. All units with credit card-swiping machines have all been dispatched already.

At that point, almost eight-o-clock, I had to take things into my hands. I lugged my stuff from the apartment all the way to Citibank in Canary Wharf, which took me a good fifteen minutes, in single-digit temperatures, with (I soon learned) thirty kilograms of luggage plus handcarried bags.

Quarter past eight, I was able to flag down a cab. The driver, aware that I'm running late, suggested that I go to Paddington Station and take a fifteen minute ride on the Heathrow Express to the airport, instead of going all the way by car. I took the suggestion and he was on his way. The cab ride, took a good thirty minutes. Before I alighted the cab, Qantas (the codeshare partner of British Airways) had called me up and asked me if I will be joining them tonight. He suggested that from the look of things, and judging from where I am, I might not make it, since I needed to be at the check-in counter at quarter past nine. It was already 8:50pm. I thanked the cab driver for the 35 pound trip, asked for the receipt and ran the platform towards the ticket counter.

One way to Heathrow Airport, fourteen pounds-fifty. Luck was still teasing me, the train will be leaving in around four-minutes just giving me enough time to catch my breath inside.

I asked the ticket-inspector, Ben, who is also Filipino (I learned because he had a flag of the R.P. on his name tag) how long it would take to get to the airport. He said fifteen minutes, I'll make it.

The clincher I think was that it stopped first at terminals 1,2, and 3, waited for four minutes (it was already 9:14PM) before it went on the four-minute ride to terminal four, where I should be.
The train arrived at terminal four at 9:18PM, then I ran til my veins pumped battery acid. I had not eaten dinner yet, my mouth was dry because I had no water to drink, and my body ached from pulling that weight of luggage. I took the lift up to the check-in counters.

At 9:20 PM, the lady at the check-in counter told me they already closed the boarding for the flight to Singapore and that I am not able to get on that flight, no matter what I do.


Tired, hungry and thirsty, I knew I had to take a later flight. I asked the ticket sales what time the next flight was, there was a morning flight at eleven, and an evening flight at nine. Both only had economy class seats. At that point, I knew that I had stayed in London long enough, and opted to replace my business class ticket with a sure-economy ticket on the morning flight, and just have myself waitlisted for business class.

Once I settled that, I had to spend the night somewhere. The Hilton Hotel at Heathrow was the closest, a ten-minute walk through the tunnel. I didn't even care how much it cost or if I will be able to reimburse the company for it.

At the check-in counter, the lady told me of a £159++ room which I can stay for the night. I had given her the corporate credit card, which was, for unexplanable reasons, declined to be charged. What it meant was that I had to shell out some money first, which I didn't really have to since I got my personal credit card with me. At least I'd earn some rewards points for this, I thought.

At Room 423, I watched TV and called room service to order a Hilton burger which cost around a bit less than £30. The order arrived some twenty or thirty minutes after. It had a decent taste and I tried hard not to gobble it up so quickly to avoid getting indigestion.

Eleven-something, adrenaline pumping, heart still beating fast, I tried to get some sleep and wake up the following day, feeling refreshed and relaxed from the events of the day before.


You know in the movies where the character reaches some sort of breaking point after enduring trial after trial? Almost happened.

I woke up at around seven thirty, peeked out the window, and looked at the heavy fog and rain outside. I was afraid my flight will get cancelled. Nonetheless, I thought I'd take a nice bath with the beautifully laid out Crabtree and Evelyn products in the bathroom before heading out to the terminal.

After taking a bath, here was the moment. I was cleaning my glasses when the right lens fell out because the screws on the frame, slipped out for some reason. It was almost impossible to screw it in because it was so tiny.

There were no tears, I only let out a sigh.

I pressed the part together forcibly making the screw tight and just hoped it wouldn't fall out until I get some jeweller screwdrivers.


The check-in went well. I was told by the Qantas/BA crew that from the look of things, I might just get that business seat; but I couldn't find out until before boarding. I still was able to get into the British Airways Lounge and grab some breakfast and snacks, and surf the Internet while waiting for the flight to start boarding.

Blood pressure went to normal once the receptionist at the lounge told me that they are able to accomodate me at business class after all. Big smile on my face. At least a few things went my way.


The flight was relatively uneventful. I met my first single-serving friend, Philippe, on his way to Australia (after it stops at Singapore). I watched World Trade Center, a bit of You, Me And Dupree and Lucky Number Slevin. I only got a few hours sleep, got hungry, ordered a lamb sandwich before breakfast.

Twelve or so hours later, Monday morning, I was at Changi Airport feeling the tropical heat, and relieved to get back home.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


It's 4:28 PM GMT, Saturday. I've checked out of the apartment and I'm just surfing (if the network allows me to) until the shuttle picks me up at 7 and brings me to London-Heathrow Airport, terminal 4.

It was a very productive last day for me. I set the alarm for 7:30 AM and snoozed until 8. Did my last attempt at packing after I took a bath. Checked out early, left my baggage and set out to the last pasyal I'm going to make.

That last trip started from this apartment to Columbia Courtyard to Cabot Square, Canary Wharf Station then rode my last Tube ride to Westminster Station. Once I alighted from the station, I found that it was a very bright and sunny day, in contrast with the wet and windy night before. Walked from Parliament Hall to Westminster Bridge (where I got extorted for £5 "for the children") to the London Eye to Charing Cross Bridge to Victoria Garden, then back to Parliament Hall. I noted the time the Royal Thames River Services departs for Greenwich (12:45PM). Since I had an hour to spare, I walked to Westminster Abbey (saw the long line going in) and took pictures from outside and walked back to Westminster Pier where I boarded the River Cruise boat. After waiting for about three-quarters of an hour, we were ready to go. The commentary the captain did on the cruise was very funny, and he just kept going and going about the factoids and the funny aspects of the sights of River Thames. About half a kilometer past Tower Bridge, he ended his commentary since there was nothing else to see until we get to Canary Wharf and Greenwich.

Once we docked, I got off the boat and looked for some place to eat lunch, and I chanced upon this small restaurant serving roast beef. The reason for that is that I was freezing my ass off already with just my normal clothes and a jacket. I brought this upon myself, I wanted to savor the cold. After lunch, I took one last stroll on Greenwich Park and took pictures of the autumn landscape. I didn't go up the hill anymore to the Royal Observatory since, again, I was numb from the cold. My little Greenwich trek ended with a DLR ride back to Canary Wharf Station. I headed underground to Cabot Place and went up to ground level where the ice skating rink in Canada Place Park is. Took some uninteresting pictures then finally went "home" back to Circus Apartments. It was around four in the evening. Yes, that's right, the sun began to set minutes before. Well, that's the temperate zone for you.

So now, I'm bumming around, ready to go, waiting for my shuttle with my intermittent wifi connection, drafting this blog post on notepad. If you're reading this, then I successfully found an opening with this crappy Internet service.

Next stop: Singapore!

Friday, November 17, 2006

It's A Nice Place, But Not Really Home

Those words were spoken by a colleague of mine who was also sent here to London for a month. I have the same feeling. I'd like to stay but...

The Bath trip last weekend probably capped the entire trip to the U.K. I'm done visiting, and I'm ready to go home.


Home for me is Singapore. I'm flying from Heathrow Airport Terminal 4 on Saturday, 11PM GMT, and ETA at Changi is 6:30 PM Sunday, +0800. I'm taking a cab home, get my night's sleep and report back to our beautiful office down at Orchard Road.

So what did I think of London?


London has the history and culture that welcomes visitors and immigrants from around the globe. True enough, it was once the center of the world, and it still is, if we're talking about time zones. Old world charm juxtaposed with 21st century progress. London is the result of many ideas, almost two millenia worth. In contrast, Singapore has generally one idea, which could be a good thing or a bad thing.

It can't be said enough that London is an expensive place to live in, even more expensive to visit. Transportation, food, and entertainment. The general and practical setup for work probably is to get a nice apartment outside the city, and commute at least an hour to the office. I just learned that London Underground trains are NOT airconditioned, which must be hell during the summer. I personally don't like what I hear of my colleagues commuting experiences such as bad train services, weird commuters, drunk people sleeping on the platform...

If given a chance to live and work in London, I might give it a try, but it'll be a challenge.

I am going to miss London. I hope they send me back again in the future. For now, it's back to the predictable efficiency of the Lion City, my home.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Bath and Beyond

One of my goals while I'm here in the U.K., is to take one serious excursion outside of London. I had a couple of choices for places to go to. There's Oxford, Cambridge, Windsor, Liverpool, Stratford-Upon-Avon...


In the end, we decided to go and hour and a half by Great Western, west of London-Paddington, a city called Bath Spa.


It's founded on hot springs, famously associated with the Roman Empire, since they put up temples and buildings around it. A few thousand years after the fall of Rome, it's been preserved quite well.

So have a check on the pictures I took of the Roman Baths, The Jane Austen Centre, and as I mentioned on a previous post, Croydon.

Flight patterns


If there's one thing you notice from seldom cloudless London skies is that commercial planes are zipping and zooming across. I've noticed it since I arrived and I can't help but take the picture I posted above. Not a perfectly composed picture, obviously, but it should illustrate my point.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Croydon Foster Home


I'm here right now in Croydon, around less than half an hour train ride south from Victoria station. I went home with my foster parents Gay and Wood who I also went with today to Bath Spa, or simply Bath. They extended an impromptu invitation to their home, I happily accepted without missing a beat.

Since I don't have my laptop with me, I can't post pictures to flickr yet. I took some really nice pictures of the Roman Bath and Bath Abbey. And though I had no interest whatsoever with Jane Austen, I found the tour at the Jane Austen Museum about her short stay in Bath, very intriguing.

Night fell quickly and early on the U.K, my last Saturday weekend excursion here.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Small Steps


I managed to catch the Game On Exhibition in the Science Museum in South Kensington. This exhibit focuses on the history of video games. I'd say 90% of the people who shelled out £8.50 (adults, at least) weren't so much interested in the history, as opposed to playing the demo units, hands-on. I was able to take a trip down memory lane with the Donkey Kong arcade game, Atari 2600's Pitfall and Indy 500. There's also Prince of Persia, various Sonic and Mario games, Dance Dance Revolution, The Sims, and scores of handheld games. I did two matches of Street Fighter II Turbo Edition with some other guy. Naturally, I creamed his E. Honda with my Blanka, and later, his Ryu with my Ken. I rule!


After I visited the area taking pictures of Victoria and Albert Hall and the Natural History Museum, I went straight to Covent Garden. After watching a couple of street performers, I headed for the majestic St. Paul's Cathedral.


I was only able to look inside for a short while, as Sunday mass was being held. (No taking of photos allowed, unfortunately). Then I walked towards Bank and the 'Gherkin' at 30 St. Mary Axe.

Finally, I went up Monument, which is a memorial to the Great Fire of London in 1666. I went up the viewing deck, climbing 311 steps (and going down the same 311 steps).


I took this picture inside, going up the steps. Right before leaving, I was handed a certificate, saying that I was able to climb three hundred and eleven steps up the monument. Priceless and well-deserved.

Sunday, November 05, 2006


I watched Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan last night, a film notoriously known for its offensive comedy. Most of the time, it works. I was laughing like crazy throughout the film. Here in London, I get to watch a couple of episodes of Da Ali G show which includes segments of Borat. Sacha Baron Cohen, of course, is my new current favorite comedian following his performance as Jean Girard in Talladega Nights. Have a go at Borat. Chances are you'll have a great time laughing and unable to look away, even when you should. Mark my words.


I've done almost all of the items in my to-do list. Rode the London Eye (even if I lament the fact that I should have ridden when the skies were clearer). Watched Avenue Q and Spam-a-lot. Borat was a London Film Festival Film, so that counts. Went out of London, to Bicester. Currently still taking account of all my meal expenses.

Tomorrow, is the fifth of November, Guy Fawkes Night. In honor of the foiling of the plot to blow up the house of Parliament. There are already some residents here trying out their fireworks for tomorrow. There isn't really any one celebration. Just a few scattered drinking and lighting up fireworks parties here and there. I probably can get a good view from going to some park.


I went to Camden Town today and walked the entire length of Camden High St and Chalk Farm road. A lot of stores selling clothes in various markets, it reminds me of Greenhills and its various tiangge stalls. Camden, I learned, used to be the place where the hippest fashions are created. Or word to that extent. Anyway, I didn't find anything clever enough which was worth buying (since it's expensive even here, £12 for a shirt, or 2 for £20). And I was briefly reminded of how, even in Singapore, there were a lot of clothes I wanted to buy. The problem was that I'd rarely get the chance to wear them. Now if they were nice office clothes...


I also walked from Tottenham Court Station to Oxford Circus, traversing Oxford St. A stretch comparable to Singapore's own Orchard Road in number of commercial and retail establishments. Walked inside Marks and Spencer and bought a beanie and a pair of thermal long johns. Again, I stopped myself from overspending. Especially on autumn/winter wear.

After the little stroll along Oxford, I went to the National Gallery and even witnessed an environmentalist/political rally right on Trafalgar Square. Inside the National Gallery, I viewed works of Van Gogh, Manet, Monet, Picasso, Renoir and various others. I particularly noted the works of Canaletto, whose pieces on Venice had remarkable detail on Venetian architecture.


I walked from Charing(!) Cross to Westminster Station and took a chance on catching the right riverboat schedule. True enough, I was right on time. I took the river cruise from Westminster Pier to Tower Millenium Pier. It cost six quid, one way. DLR-ed my way to Canary Wharf, ate at Chili's in Cabot Square, then walked home and applied ointment to my legs and feet.


Next weekend will mark my final weekend in the United Kingdom for this trip. I fly out the weeked after that. Better make the most of it.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Sharp Frossssst Tonight

I can't stop thinking and talking about the weather and the temperature.

I had a conversation earlier this evening about the advantages and disadvantages of cold weather and warm weather. Most of my teammates were surprised that I prefer this cold weather than warm comfy weather. One of my teammates pointed out that one thing he liked about consistently warm weather is how light he can dress for anywhere. Fair enough. For my part, I don't experience cold weather often enough in my life in the places I have settled, whereas in the temperate zones, they have these four seasons to speak of.

Anyway, indoor heating is almost always on, up to a level where I can still wear a pull-over sweater over my shirt. I just found out though that even just wearing the down part of my parka can make my body extremely warm even if the air outside is very chilly. I also found out how helpful a scarf is in keeping warm. I managed to walk about a couple of hundred meters in just my business clothes, a sweater and a scarf. So after much apparel-tweaking, the right clothes for me for this type of weather is my normal long-sleeved shirt, trousers, sweater, gloves (if I can't put my hands in my pocket) and the outer jacket of my parka. I'm thinking of getting a bonnet, but I might not need one at all. (And besides, it's going to mess my hair :P)


I'm expected to fly back to Singapore at 18th of November, 11:00PM. I already have an idea on what to do on the day of departure itself. Canary Wharf is going to open an ice skating rink near Canada Square that day. I might just check it out.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

You know the sunlight always shines, behind the clouds of London skies

Today was the first time I had to go to work on the first of November. Ever.

And let me say that the temperature here in London has dropped a couple of degrees down and that the wind chill brings it down even further. Forecast tomorrow is a high of 9°C/48°F and a low of 3°C/37°F. Brrr...

Walking home, my face, and fingers were numb from the cold and wind. I did want to experience this. I brought this upon myself.

Anyway for the first time in my life, I get to dress up for autumn weather. Heavy jacket, sweater, scarf, gloves. I don't even know how to wear a scarf. I just wrap it in such a way that when one of the ends get caught in something, it'll surely crush my larynx. Anyway, by tomorrow, I'll know how to wear it. Thanks again to google.


I've experienced body overheating as well, if that's what it's called. The disadvantage of course, for wearing cold weather clothes, is that when you get inside buildings (or in the Tube) where there's indoor heating, you'd have to take them off. Or at least, I'd have to take them off. I'm very sensitive to temperature changes. When it gets hot, I sweat profusely. So what happened was that I was still wearing that thick jacket while in the shopping centre. And then when I thought I forgot something, blood pressure rose and body heated up. And let me tell you that jacket is a good insulator. Keeps the cold out and the heat in.


I think I also need thermal underpants. Brrr...


Yesterday, I managed to catch the evening showing of the West End play Spam-A-Lot, starring Tim Curry up at the Palace Theatre right on Cambridge Circus. It's very entertaining and very funny. It's "lovingly ripped off" from the movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, with a few revisions here and there and a new major character in The Lady of the Lake.

I got the (not-so) restricted view seats for £35. E2, which is five rows from the front, the rightmost seat.

The songs were very interesting and catchy. A lot of metahumour and breaking the fourth wall. True to the spirit of Monty Python comedy. At one point, one of the actors couldn't help but snicker uncontrollably at what he came up with improvising a bit of dialogue. There's also the ever-reliable audience participation which could have been me (since the guy picked was sitting in front of me).

All-in-all, I would say that it was a very enriching theatre experience for now. I'm done with it for this trip. Indeed, it costs a lot but every pence piece is worth it.