September Lapse

Blogging from the ship, after weeks of low quality food due to bad weather (no bunkering)... it's been a long time since I'd seen anything fresh on the tables of the mess room :( My daily meal has now consist of instant noodles, bread, oats, cereal..... Oh how I miss those leafy greens, so much! (I have already placed an order for Su En to cook for me as soon as I touch down to Singapore).

Anyway I am here to report another lapse in my blogging activities.... This break is going to be another busy and hectic one. I will leave it as a surprise but needless to say when I am back onboard, I will have tonnes to blog about and I am looking forward to that! 

A lil spoiler.... I will be heading to a place where it has kindled my love for seafood 
yum yum  So much food I want to indulge myself into when I get off!!!

New places, fresh discoveries, novelty collecting, old friends and lifelong passion 

(If it does not yet strike you, I have found that gmail does have a load of interesting emoticons that I can easily copy and paste to....)

Coniston Holly How

Coniston in Lake District is my top favourite spot amongst places in the UK that I've visited. First when I decided to extend my stay while in the UK, I was actually contemplating to visit some place entirely, like the Netherlands or a neighbouring country. I then looped in Soon Wen and also Caren; they were quite keen as well but after weighing in flight time, , we felt that it makes more sense to do a roadtrip instead. Then we became quite ambitious, considering to drive all the way up to Scotland from Cardiff (easily 8-9 hours!!) until sense took over and we had to lower our goals a little.

Lake District was an obvious choice and I am very glad that we decided to make this trip here. 

It was quite late by the time we arrive at Coniston- close to 5pm. Roads got narrower as we are approaching Coniston, too. But thank goodness for long summer hours. We checked into the YHA - a Youth Hostel Association or something along those lines, hehe. They offer dorm facilities or even private rooms at very cheap rates. I have booked online beforehand a 4-bed dorm with a common shared toilet. The place is quite clean but very basic and kinda old. But then again, it's only £22 for the room, £7 each... So we really can't complain much :)

No pictures of the place, nothing special to write home about...

We were told by the helpful front staff that the nearest 'town' is only 5 minutes walk away, and the lake 15 minutes. Without wasting any time, we headed to this town (I think a village is more of an apt description. It's really a small place), through it and towards the lake.

Super excited when I saw the lake. We decided that die, die, we must take a swim in it; kayak or something! Also cycle! (Super ambitious then).

Because the water is so clear.... my loyal Timberland hiking shoes that has been with me since Mount Kinabalu is now peeling on some parts :(

We spent some time at the lake and detoured back to meet up with a colleague of mine who attended the same course as I did when I was in Crawley. Coincidentally, he's from the Lake District!

Hay barrel in the making.

We initially wanted to dine at the Black Bull - which was highly recommended by the people at the YHA. But it was completely full! Even Will who arrived earlier couldn't find an empty table. The Black Bull has been around since the 1500s; if they've been around that long, they have to be that good! But alas, the patrons don't seem to be in a hurry to leave so we settled for a restaurant opposite the Black Bull....

Ordered a tattie pot - which is a Cumbrian speciality. Baked under a layer of potatoes, it contains lamb meat (Will suggested to try lamb since they are grown in this part of the country) and also black pudding - pork blood..... Not really my thing as it was mushy and gooey inside. I did like the vegetables though :/ And it's not like I am grossed by the black pudding - I just didn't like the texture. I liked black pudding when I was in Ireland!

With Will. Great guy! Talks way too much lol :P Very easy going and quirky person. Anyway, as there is a curfew at the hostel (!!) we started walking back towards the YHA by 10ish. The main door locks at 11pm (supposedly for security purposes)...

I had a good night's sleep, but the other two apparently didn't...... Caren told me that she heard a scream in the middle of the night and she woke up terrified... She immediately started praying and couldn't sleep any more (lol). Later on, we discovered that it was Soon Wen who had a nightmare and was the culprit lol zzzz. Because after that, in the early wee hours (sun has risen then), he had a second nightmare and shouted again zzzzz................. Lucky for me I only heard the second one and completely slept through the first one.

Got up the next morning for breakfast and then out into another beautiful day!!

The colour of the skies is just absolutely surreal..... Even typing this right now I am filled with disbelief that I was actually physically there in that perfect picture!

The skies are clear in the morning but as it gradually got later, more and more clouds filled up the bright blue sky and made it overcast. Didn't make for a good photo op :(

My favourite subjects - cattle! Here lazing under the shade of a massive tree

Those two really budak budak.... After the top photo, I offered to take a photo of the two of them. So I said, ok, who wants to pose with my bike. Caren said first, I want. Then Soon Wen seeing that Caren was going for the bike, he also said that he wants. Then they started bickering -.- I took the camera and turned around, with this sight in front of me.

LOL... Kids!!

We didn't manage to get into the Black Bull yesterday but we're sure as hell not going to miss another chance!

They also have their own microbrewery... made with natural ingredients and the local mountain water!

Following Will's advice, I decided to order a piece of lamb steak for lunch. And Oh. My. God, the lamb steak was heavenly!!! It is the best piece of lamb I've ever had. Seriously. It's like after eating it, my journey in life is complete. I can die NAO kinda feeling. It was the most succulent, juicy, tender piece of meat I've ever sank my teeth into. It comes with a small little jar of mint sauce and that was the perfect companion to this baby. Comes with mashed taters and asparagus. Sigh......

And that, wraps up my little adventure in the UK & Ireland! My favourites are definitely Ireland and here in Coniston. Trumps over London, without competition! 

Stonehenge Fail & Manchester Reluctance

Left London to Cardiff by coach via the Victoria Coach station, which is only supposed to be 5 minutes walk but as I was not familiar with the route, I ended making a longer detour towards it, with luggage on tow. So, er, it took me 10 minutes to arrive in style!

It takes about 2.5 hours to reach Cardiff and again, I was seated close to some weird, freaky people (as per usual). This particular female, travelling with a friend, was on the phone 80% of the journey. It wouldn't have bother me so much but 1) I was seated right in front of her (hence the sound projection received is full blast), and 2) she has apparently cranked up the volume too. What's even more annoying is she couldn't hear the voice in the phone properly and she thought it logical to raise her voice too...

God, why?

Arrived in one piece (albeit an annoyed piece) in front of Cardiff University where I am soon reunited with another old friend. Soon Wen!

He brought me to lunch at a Chinese restaurant. There's just something about Chinese food that is heart-warming and filling. Had dim sum too but no pics of it. Now, remember I said that I brought the sun? Well, it's still very much evident even in Cardiff. I was practically sweating when Soon Wen was showing me around the University.

Orange popsicles afterwards :)

We initially have got no plans for the day. Well, we had (to visit Bath and Stonehenge), but Caren missed her bus and we thought we will do something else. Soon Wen suggested to visit Stonehenge the next day; leave early, drive south to Stonehenge and then north towards Manchester to collect Caren and then drive to Lake District. All that will total up to about 8-9 hours minimum of drive in a single day and I wasn't looking forward to such a long drive, even though it won't be me behind the wheel. So we decided that we will do Stonehenge today, and leave the rest to the next.

We got around with a rented car; which is only about £22 a day (I think). It was a Ford Focus and my, have we got problems with it! First, the reverse gear is on the top left corner, which is different from the usual default we have back home; bottom right corner. After multiple tries and a phone call, we found out that you have to tug the gear up before switching. :/

Then the next day before leaving for Lake District, we drove into the petrol station for fuel. Soon Wen went out to sort it all and few minutes later he came back in and told me that the fuel pump refuses to go into the gauge!

So I went out to take a look (as if I was any better :P) and true enough, no matter how hard we try, we couldn't get the pump in. The gauge was sealed tightly! We rummaged through the glove compartment and got the manual out (by this time there is already another car waiting in line behind us). But nothing in the manual seems to help.

I waved at the lady in the car behind us to get to the fuel pump in front of us but she signalled no, she will wait. After several more attempts, the lady behind us eventually lost her patience and honked at us (even after we'd asked her to move forward! We concluded that her driving skills must be really dismal that she couldn't manoeuvre between cars to move to the front). 

So, long story short, we pulled out and called the rental company. Found out that we can only use diesel to fuel the car. The Focus has a smart function that detects the type of fuel pump and will only allow a diesel pump to pass through the gauge. I guess this is one of the instances where you can say it's a blessing in disguise. Imagine if we'd pumped petrol in! It would have been disastrous.

Ok, back to the drive towards Stonehenge. It was a little bit tricky to get there. Took us over two hours drive to reach!

Finally a glimpse of Stonehenge! Super excited by then.

I may have brought the sun, which lasts beyond 10pm. But it has not changed the British attractions opening hours. We arrived at 7:30pm and as we approached the entrance, the guard informed us that it's closed. I initially thought he was kidding, he had a small smile in the corner of his lips. What a sadist! But the truth is, Stonehenge really did close at 7:00pm. (it's in the middle of an open field, for God's sakes!!). Only 30 minutes late, but it didn't matter! :(

What was even worse, the guard refuses to let us into the car park (which is nearer to the Stonehenge without really going too close) and so we had to cross this field and peek through not one, but two fences that blocked our clear view of Stonehenge.

I mean, I still got to see it, just that there is these two annoying barriers in between and it does look like a really sad picture :(

And don't be misguided by the seemingly breathtaking views of the fields just by Stonehenge.... Me and Soon Wen were on our toes looking for a clear line of path... from sheep dung! Smells bad and they are all over the place ; (

After the not-too-enthusiastic tour of the Stonehenge, we drove around a nearby town called Salisbury trying to look for a meal.

Found this place and decided to go for it (there wasn't much choice in the small town, pizza, chinese takeaway and that's about it). It was kind of a dodgy place, with a few green tables in the middle and a bunch of guys playing poker around them...

Still, at the balcony we get a lovely view of the dusk skies while enjoying our meal. Getting chilly too.

Guinness steak pie with peas and chips. First of it's kind that I've ever had. It tastes very homely, best meal I've had.... since London. Green beans, not from a can, helps too. 

Next morning drove over 3 hours to Manchester to pick up Caren.... To begin our next adventure! Lake District! I really liked Lake District and have thus decided that it shall have its own post.

So fast forward, after picking up Caren and having one of the best dim sum meals I've ever had (XO udon was superb: tastes a little like char koay teow; the fried stuff shrimp roll is also extremely good, dipped in vinegar :D Happy tummy). Anyway, I digress. 

(Cue plenty of sampat stories about Soon Wen and Caren)...

On the way back after Lake District, and just the day before I leave for Singapore, we detoured and spent the night at Caren's place in Manchester. And where else do you head to when you're in Manchester.....

I felt like a complete hypocrite, standing there and posing in front of the Manchester United Old Trafford stadium. Couldn't care less for football but I don't mind making my friends jealous over the fact that I've been there! 

*Stretch* yawn; scratch ass*

Also, I was supposed to be really 'lucky' to be able to take a peep into the stadium (yawn). 

Dinner at Chinatown and picture in front of the famous arches -.-

Dinner of chu char, steamed tofu in soy sauce, fish stir fried in spring onions and ginger; and claypor eggplant with salted fish. Absolutely yummy! Thank god Chinese food is available worldwide :)

Those little bags at the back of the dishes are confectioneries we got from this bakery that Caren claims to sell the best breads.

Washed down by dessert - some coconut jelly; pineapple chunks and a type of custard.

Caren took us around the town; it was a Saturday night and the city is just about coming alive! I love the effort the people took to party around here; there was a guy dressed like a heavy metal rocker, one who was dressed like a superhero... all sorts of costumes and it's not even Halloween! But it was definitely a fun, party vibe and interesting to look. Manchester is also famous for a gay street where we also went, called Canal Street. Take the 'C' away and that's what the core is all about ;)

A Day & Half in London

Shortest stay of my UK trip, but contains the most pictures because it has too many attractions per square km (excuses).

Expecting a carbon copy of Singapore, with orderly transportation and convenient walkways..... That was not the case in London! As soon as I got out of the Heathrow Express, which zips me from the airport to central London at Paddington Station, I was greeted with a hundred signs, each pointing to different directions. Starving by then, I grabbed a quick Japanese conveyor belt lunch (mediocre, but a customer beside me said it's the best around the area) and tried to find my way (with some difficulty) towards the B&B at Victoria Station.

I was both impressed and disappointed with the London Underground. Impressed, because most of its stations are so well connected. There are countless alternative routes to take in order to reach your destination. Saying that, it was also a let-down that the tubes couldn't be more wheelchair-unfriendly. To add insult to injury, I had an 18-kg luggage to lug around, and needless to say, it wasn't a pretty sight .. (jatuh saham)... Most of the interchanging train lines are only accessible by steps, with no lifts of escalator in sight. (Shoulder and arm muscles fatigue for the next day pfft)

Thank goodness I bought a SIM card when I first arrived in the UK. Data was fully utilized, apple maps were a great help with my way around the city (I am a girl, I need all the help I can get!).

Welcome to Lynton B&B Hotel :)

I have no regrets paying a little extra for this tiny bed and breakfast. It is only about 5 minutes' walk to the tube and coach station, 10 minutes walk to the Buckingham Palace and some 25 minutes walk or so to the Westminster Underground (I tried walking this route at 11pm, thinking back, I probably shouldn't have done so hehehe...)

Rented this room at £90 a night for a single room en-suite. But Lynton didn't have a single en-suite at the time I booked, so they gave me this one with two single beds instead! Well, not that I have any real use of it except to put some of my stuff on it. Well, I could sleep on one bed on one night, then change on another.

Anyway, at first I was quite apprehensive when I first arrived. As I entered, I noticed some of the furnitures look old, and stairways are narrow. Simon, one of the owners, offered to carry my luggage up but I turned down his offer, preferring to launch into my own workout. It's probably safer and faster that way too cos Simon is pretty big :P  Checked into my room, it's small but it's very, very clean! That's probably the most important factor for me. The towels smell fresh, sheets crisp and clean, not dank like even some posher hotels. It's a huge bonus.

Toilets are just enough space for one. If I have longer legs or am a bigger person, I may have to poop sideways on the toilet lol. My knees are inches away from the closed toilet door, it's quite funny really hehehe. 

Quick shower, got dressed and started exploring the city. Decided to start with Trafalgar Square and then the National Gallery....

People everywhere! Sooooo many tourists. Where do all these people come from?! It's quite a nightmare getting past the crowds. And some of them were just hanging around the Square, like, got nothing to do issit?? If I was on holiday, I'd like to see and do as much as possible, at a comfortable pace, and not just sit around at a crowded area, staring into space.

Spent some 20-30 minutes in the National Gallery. Read reviews that it's must-go, must-do but to be honest,  it's not really my thing. Maybe I don't appreciate art and history that well, I suppose. A shame. 

Made my way towards Chinatown to meet up with Raymond, a friend from USM. And my, my, take a wild guess who do I stumble into! 

None other than Hugh Jackman!

Saw a huge crowd waiting outside and some areas cordoned off to pedestrians. Just out of curiosity, I waited in line as well, not knowing who or what to expect (#kiasu). Finally saw a policeman and casually asked what the fuss is all about. It's the Wolverine movie premier! Stood just for the fun of it, hoping to see a celebrity close up, for the first time if possible. 

Pictures from phone.

Close enough!

Now, assuming you are living in a foreign country for a while now and a friend is visiting you. It's going to be quite a treat bringing them to places you like, right? What I'll do is, I'll bring them to my favourite makan haunts, and then some place unique to the city I live in, that you can't quite get elsewhere. But Raymond is special. First he asks me if there's anything in particular I'd like to try. I told him to just chinchai pick and I'll be fine (I should have been more specific!!!) and he said what about Chinese food? I wasn't too convinced and said why would I travel all the way to London and have Chinese food? He replied that some of his friends actually said that Chinese food in London is much better. After a bit of thinking he said, ok, let's go to this place. Thinking that we may be going to some Chinese place, I left my dinner choices to the hands of fate.

And to my (not so) pleasant surprise, he brought me to a place called Ed's... an American diner!! So I thought, okayyy... maybe it's a special kind of American cuisine that I may not have tried? Just a tiny glimmer of hope left by then. Raymond told me that this is the only place in London that serves proper 'hot dog'. So I ordered a hot dog with onion rings and coleslaw on the side. Verdict? Meh.... I later complained to Soon Wen that Raymond brought me to an American diner when someone from Malaysia visits him in London. Soon Wen went, yeah, he doesn't know how to become a tour guide lol.

Jalan-jalan after dinner

It was nice catching up with him. Haven't seen Raymond since I graduated. We bade our goodbyes early because his girlfriend is sick and he has to go back and tend to her, lol. It was then close to 10pm and most attractions would have been closed by then. The solution is to go somewhere that is open to the public, 24 hours a day :P

Night view of River Thames

The usual suspects, Big Ben and a section of the London Eye

I must say it's quite a majestic view of the Big Ben, along with the Westminster Abbey. Something about seeing an iconic structure in front of your eyes after only having being able to see them from the tv or pictures :) Took some more pictures and decided to walk back to the B&B via the park surrounding the Buckingham Palace. Met some joggers and drunken Londoners but was otherwise quite safe me thinks.

Was quite worn out from all the walk the day before, but I am in London! Got up at 9ish in the morning, headed down for breakfast in the B&B. Too bad I didn't bring my camera down, breakfast was quite pleasant, with 'real bacon'! lol. Simon popped in during breakfast and is great fun to talk to. He will just suddenly burst into a song, very infectious with his positive energy hehe.

First stop; Buckingham Palace! I decided to head there first  because it's nearest and I just felt like walking instead of getting caught underground. Also, it's another beautiful day! (I honestly think I brought the sun :D)

Already a crowd waiting outside for the 11:30am Changing of the Guards. And it was only 10ish in the morning! A bit siao, these tourists, if you ask me. 

Little duck's prime residence in front of the palace! (And no, I didn't stay long enough for the baby Prince to pop out the Duchess).

Walked across St James park to try and find my way to an alternative, less known Changing of the Guards, supposedly less people and more photo ops. The park during the day is an absolute pleasure to take a stroll in, after getting squeezed in a sardine can of a tube. Then I spotted a clutter of lounge chairs, and I thought, that's a nice idea. Then I saw some more and a sign that reads: Rental £5 per hour and £15 whole day or something ridiculous like that. What a complete rip-off! Not to mention it's so touristy and the extend people go to, just to earn a few extra bucks.

How's that for a view! Top reason why St James Park is one of my favourite places in London. Couldn't believe my eyes when I first saw this trail of birds, thought they were motorised. Maybe I'm just a jakun. Glad I managed to take this shot.

Changing of the Guards at the Horse Guards Road.

Standing under the hot blazing sun, while waiting for the clock to strike 11:30am. I was kept entertained by the horses publicly relieving themselves, lol. Very glam.

I was expecting the Changing of the guards to be more... elaborate. What happened after some waiting was a bunch of horses trotted around the square and replaced the guards lined on both sides. And that was it. A girl beside me asked, "Is that all?", echoing the same thoughts in my mind. I was quite disappointed after all the hype! (Later I came back and googled this daily event, and apparently, the one outside of Buckingham Palace is much more interesting, with bands playing and all. Ah well.).

After the less than desirable show, I checked on the map and realised that 10 Downing Street is only a few minutes' walk away. It's more of a touristic responsibility than anything else, you see.

As expected, the area is heavily guarded and I only managed to take this dismal shot. At least I could say, casually, yeah, I've been to where the British Prime Minister lives in London. And seen Hugh Jackman in the flesh. While coolly sipping on (insert cool drink).

Also dropped by at the Natural History Museum and then the Science Museum afterwards (all free attractions!). Now, I don't visit museums much, not really when I travel, and it's not hard to see why. It's boring to say the least, and not very interactive. But don't get me wrong, I honestly think that the Science Museum is very nice. It is large and modern and plenty to do there. I only wanted to do an hour touring the Science Museum but I ended exploring it for more than 2 hours!

All that walking made me famished, but as I was quite close to Harrods, I was determined to try something there.

Harrods is undeniably the nicest looking building on the street. Had a bit of a problem locating the where the eateries are, but the guard sorted me out. There are three main food halls, one selling all sorts of main courses, another that serves confectioneries and a final one selling poultry, rotisserie and the likes.

The main course food hall has a few smaller sections serving all sorts of food items (Oysters, steaks, caviar, wine and champagne). Needless to say, they all look intimidating in the upscale Harrods and I feel completely out of place.

Marble counter top dining with a charming, immaculately dressed garcon. I knew this is one of the instances I should behave, be careful not to spill anything, act all prim and proper. It was hard work. 

I was torn between ordering the fish and chips or the lobster bisque. Finally decided on the fish and chips (I am in the capital of England, after all!).

1. Portion is huge! Comes with an even bigger portion of fries.

2. The fish is haddock, batter nicely done, but at £22 a plate, look at the state of the mushed green peas! A sickly, overcooked green. And that's being generous. Not really appetising. In fact, I think I had better fish and chips at the Crawley hotel I was staying at. Hell, even the fish and chips takeaway at 10 Euros in Quinslan, Ireland is much better than this!

3. Overrated!

Took a walk around the building, and it wasn't exactly what I'd had in mind.... I used to wander around the Harrods in the Twin Towers KLCC and admittedly, it was smaller than this one in London. The 2 shoplots will sell miscellaneous items such as Harrod's tea, bears and even some of those reusable bags (at a preposterous price like RM50 for a plastic one). So I suppose I was expecting more of a tea and scones place. Instead, it's a huge departmental store selling overpriced designer goods and expensive food items.... Yes, overrated. But it is filled with customers! Well, it's not for me anyway....

Also, travelling alone sucks. I miss having a companion around for meals, even just conversational ones. But the biggest impact for me travelling without a companion in this London trip: There is only one picture with me in it. In front of the B&B, no less -.- major fail.

After a full day of walking. I am too pampered during my Ireland trip, got chauffeured around. Here it's most convenient to just walk and by the evening of Day 2 London, I am already tired, sweaty, and covered in dust and grime! It's London, I swear, not a problem with my hygiene. Honest.

Got back to the B&B, showered and got ready for an evening of theatre. Booked a ticket while in Singapore to watch Les Miserables at a the Queen Theatre. Consulted Wei En because I was torn between Les Miserables, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory and Mamma Mia. She reckoned that Les Miz will be the best choice and I trusted her because she recommended Wicked (when they were in Singapore) which I enjoyed immensely.

Decided to give myself a treat after a hard day of walking and got the cab instead to the theatre (some 15 minutes away, but it's mostly traffic, not the distance). Chatted with the cab driver and he said I have good English! ;)

Dinner before theatre at a not-so-glamorous Chinese restaurant. Asked for the fastest meal available, roast pork (char siu) rice and man behind the counter says, 30 seconds! lol

True enough, just 10 seconds after I'd parked my butt on the seat, the tea arrives (complimentary), then 30 seconds later (approximate), my order arrives. And my goodness, for £5, this is a whole mountain of rice and generous portion of meat!

Pretty good meal too I must say.... Now where's the veg.....

Anticipation! My ticket costs £57 which meant I was sitting far from the prime seats :( but it's as good as it gets, you won't be able to see the performers' pores and all. 

I don't know if it's just me or what, after I'd settled in and ready for the show to begin, a father and his daughter seated right in front of me started snuggling together like lovers! I know they're dad-daughter because there is a son and presumably his wife there as well. So the two of them created a pinnacle of a triangle right in front of my line of sight.... Or occasionally they will sit up super straight and leaning forward and blocking part of my view, lol... Why me?!

I loved the songs, but preferred Act 2 over Act 1. I almost fell asleep during the first part. Maybe I was just tired. The show went on for 2.5 hours, it was half past ten by the time it was over. Still time to take the train and visit one of the iconic attractions of London!

View on Tower Bridge

Then view of Tower Bridge from London Bridge, lol.

This last picture probably reflects London, well, and any other major city. Full of promises and sparkling with bated anticipation but it's just another city, filled with people, rude, stuck up ones, not to mention filthy (the Underground - graffiti, trash, dusty). Oh well, maybe things would seem a lot different with a companion. But I do like the energy of the city though, interesting looking people, a plethora of colourful city dwellers. But I'll still take Glanteenassig any day :)

The Georgian Adventure - Hike to Chalaadi Glacier

Our third, and last hike in Svaneti. There are so many more places to hike and explore around Georgia, it was a hard decision to premature...