Amsterdam and London (part 1/2)

It has been 3 weeks since I put down everything at work to fly off to the other half of the world (almost) for a long and I would say, well-deserved break.

Hadn’t had much time to unpack my thoughts about it as I basically had to pick up all the pending work items #reality and try to recover from the jet lag. It left me thinking, though, about how this might be life as I know it now – living from one holiday to the next.

Featuring photos that were mostly taken with (and by) my partner’s Canon EOS M3 – despite paltry reviews online, I must say that the digital quality of the M3 is simply amazing and it takes incredibly flattering shots with just a simple understanding of photography concepts.

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I think the one thing that stood out for me was not about the country or the sights or the people that I saw, but about the vibe of the trip itself. Travelling with family has its own benefits, but we often have to do family friendly activities. Travelling with friends has so far been quite structured – hiking up mountains, sightseeing or doing community work. To have a like-minded partner feels like a whole new form of freedom, close to travelling alone but having someone to share your thoughts with constantly. We could go to less-thronged places and spend more time at places we liked. One of the things that we did with this level of freedom was to spend our time exploring the markets in London. Camden was one of the largest and it was really refreshing to explore a street market that actually offered novel sights (unlike south-east Asian street markets that have been globalised and standardized by merchant groups).

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There’s something about drinking coffee and other hot beverages in autumn-winter (its definitely winter to me) that makes it a hundred times more enjoyable. Here was where I was first introduced to mulled wine, served beside the store that served Ethiopian coffee. Mulled wine is the warm, spice-infused epitomy of the festive spirit of Christmas here. Little would I know that this would be the first of the many cups I would have here.

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Singaporeans as we are, food is never far off from our heads. We had a friend studying in Manchester joining us – and promptly pointed out the obsession Londoners had with pulled pork. Featured here are the manifestation of our hungry souls – corn chips (not nachos), pulled pork salad and Greek fries with feta. They turned cold by the time we found a table but somehow tasted every bit as good as we imagined. I suspect that the cold makes us all that much more accepting of food – as long as it lines our starving stomachs.

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I love how Camden is so huge – but yet somewhat organised. We eventually ended up at Stables Market, a continuation of the markets with its own history and all. Notice the surveillance camera above the signages – I almost forgot that London used to be (or still is) the most surveilled city in the world. However, having stepped foot in the city for 4 days, I don’t really get the feeling of a Big Brother watching over me – its either we Singaporeans are too used to it, or I myself am too jet lagged to take notice ¯\_ ツ _/¯

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The Stables had a vibe most befitting of the most hipster of all hipsters. There were vintage items lying all around – making one question if half the goods here were not stolen from some musuem or whatnot.

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This reminded us that we were in the land of The Boy Who Lived, and made me look forward so much to the studio tour.

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In retrospect, I recall that the whole idea of going to London seemed to start from this. Winter Wonderland. I remember hearing it and thinking that it seemed too trivial a reason to choose London as a destination out of the many cities in Europe.

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As a person from a relatively religion-neutral upbringing, I have never really celebrated Christmas for what it is – not with my family, and even then with friends, it was just for the sake of secret Santa and the likes. Almost every year, we would spend Christmas abroad on some family holiday. I had no concept of a Christmas spirit or any festive spirit of any sorts.

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Roaming about the streets of London really captured a part of my imagination in ways never before. I’m not sure if its something about the lights and how pristine they shine at night, or the quaint facade of every single building and neighbourhood that makes everything so regal-looking and colonial. The company, of course, made everything that much more magical. I remember using the word “surreal” to describe the state of things that were more than just a couple of times and it still is, whenever I look back.

As I stepped into this winter wonderland, slowly but surely a part of my heart grew full with a newfound sense of festive cheer. Not all of my favourite memories are captured, but here are some of them.

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Roaming past countless storefronts from the christmas market – even though they all looked the same after a while – it was still a rather pretty and interesting sight.

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We saw another dude setting up his tripod to take a long exposure shot of one of the rides and I kinda wanted to do the same (well at least I gave credit…haha). But this was the result. Slightly blurry, very spontaneous but that’s what makes the picture real to me. On another note, the rides here are no joking matter – I see countless spinning contraptions that spin on other contraptions and so on..much intense.

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Perhaps one of my most vivid memories – I’m not going to reveal if they are good or bad memories. But – there’s nothing quite like huddling around a warm, crackling fire in the wet cold. If I were to find someone to indulge me, I would very much like to sit by a fireside in winter when age catches up on me, side by side with someone familiar, and go on and on about life and all its intricacies.

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It truly rained on our parade – we went on two occasions to winter wonderland (that’s how much we wanted to go) and the last time we were there the weather was much more unforgiving. But I guess everything is a matter of perception – I still find it funny how we had to hunt for a sheltered spot and eventually found one, not before getting all wet and cold (still very sorry I had to get my partner wet :/). The price we had to pay for a roof over our heads was a cuppa mulled wine and hot chocolate for 12 pounds, but we couldn’t care less at that moment. I guess the most amazing thing was how the seats had a warmer integrated into it – my ass was feeling all toasty and…it just felt right hahaha.

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Even a month after I’m back in tropical, sunny Singapore, a part of me knows that I’ll never see Christmas in the same light again 🙂 perhaps, its indeed the best time of the year.

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Can anybody ever read the Harry Potter series, go to London and not visit the studio set? The Warner Brothers studio was by far the furthest attraction from the city area (we were basically roaming about the zone 1 and 2 areas) but it was easily worth a day trip out.

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It was quite unreal to see the actual sets and how down-to-earth real they are as compared to how they look on the big screen. I’m 24 this year and I can truly say that we are the Harry Potter generation – spending a huge part of our youths reading and re-reading our favourite books (in paper-back, no less) and begging our parents to buy the latest release (after Goblet of Fire onwards) and spending the whole night (and day) to finish reading the book in one sitting.

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Everything just seemed so iconic there. At times I wonder if the movies had not been made but the sets existed – would we be able to tell which props were for which items in the books? I remember that the world of Harry Potter for me was entrenched from the first 4 books, which I had read before Sorcerer’s Stone was released on the big screen. Stuff like the dining hall, I can imagine it being so like as in the films. The mind paints a funny hazy impression of what you read – and after watching the movies, its almost as if you can’t go back to the mental picture you had of the novel before you watched the movies. To me, the chamber of secrets was supposed to look like Russian subway tunnels and Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom kinda looked like my primary school toilet.

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But I would say this – the movies brought the series to life. Seeing all the intricate sets and effort put into all the visual effects and props reminded me that some people lived in the wizarding world well and truly.

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Definitely ticked this off the bucket list – found out that butterbeer aint beer but it was so good nonetheless.

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The last room of the tour blew us away. You can’t really tell the scale of the model but there’s no point in trying to put it in words – one really has to see it for oneself to know how breathtaking this was. I had no idea that all these while, the shots of Hogwart’s exterior was shot with a real model, standing right in front of me.

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On what seemed to be the most eventful day in London, we were supposed to eat at this ramen joint recommended by our friend but it was yet to be open for dinner when we arrived. Walked around Tottenham Court road and ended up at another Christmas market. It’s really friggin pretty.

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And it was worth the wait indeed. I’m not the most well-versed ramen connoisseur but Kanada-Ya was the best ramen (and best sit-down meal in London) I had so far. I would definitely recommend it anyday:

https://www.google.com.sg/maps/place/Kanada-Ya/@51.5151292,-0.1282324,17.56z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x48761b32c8a422bd:0xa6d8ce5d74f6042d!8m2!3d51.5154826!4d-0.127594

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We went on to catch Disney’s reimagined portrayal of a classic on stage – The Lion King. Funny thing about Lion King was that in Singapore, video rental shops used to play VCDs (yes that was some time ago) on televisions outside their storefront and people used to crowd around to freeload and watch whatever they were playing.

I fondly remember a very young and impressionable me sitting down to watch the entire sitting of Lion King all the way up till the part where young Simba walks along and transforms into a grown-up Simba. I had no idea why but I started feeling all the feels and actually cried in public, much to the shocked amusement of my parents.

The Lion King was definitely one of the best plays I’ve watched – in terms of the set and the music. I definitely have nothing to say for the story itself as…everyone should be kind of familiar with it haha. It’s one of those plays that reminds you of why theatre exists – to portray an art form that relies only on the creativity of the props and the improvisation of the actors to paint a story for the audience – something that is vividly real and standing just metres in front of you, up on the stage. The Lion King brought some of that magic to life that night. I wouldn’t say that its a play I would not mind watching again – I would definitely catch it again when it comes to town.

The other thing about the theatre culture in London is that it’s so much stronger than the cinema culture. Well technically both are called theatres, but the funny thing was that we wanted to catch Fantastic Beasts in London but there were simply no showtimes after 8.30pm, which was quite a shocker. The operating modicum was also vastly different from Singapore, which only has 3 major theatres which rotates shows and musicals every few months or so. In London, it seems as if every show will be situated in a particular theatre for the long run (like how the Lion King is at the Lyceum) and its kinda special in the sense that there’s a sense of territory to each show.

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The next day, we ended off a memorable trip to London exactly like how we started – exploring markets, this time round going to Borough Market where we thought that it kinda resembled a glorified equivalent of a wet market, but with a few extra cakes and ready to eat foodstuffs thrown in.

I felt that we were thoroughly charmed by London despite the gloomy weather. I recognize that its not entirely fair to say the whole of London as we were largely confined to zones 1 and 2, but the people here and the general air of civility and as well as the colonial architecture is a constant reminder of the richness of culture in the city. Winter Wonderland left an indelible (in a good sense..) impression on me and I find myself yearning to sip a cup of mulled wine and walk past stalls in the Christmas markets in the chilly, wet London air on Christmas day itself. Then again, it may just be the company I had that made me feel that way 🙂

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