UK Experience: London Part II

Did you know that I was also planning to go to London around this time of the year? My former team lead used to work in Oracle and she was based in London. She knew how obsessed I was with the place and she was planning to invite us as tourists…. if I remembered it correctly, she mentioned something about paying for everything? *wink

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Just imagine how excited I was!

The funny thing was, I didn’t tell her that I was applying for a visa because I was scared that I might get jinxed. So I was ho-hum about it, asking a few random questions until she finally asked me, “Are you going here?!” That’s when I only told her!

In the first weekend in UK, Jonai and I decided to meet up and tour London with her friend Sab (probably the best Google map user in the world). 

From Leicester to London (Victoria Station)

I took the 4-hour trip by bus from Leicester’s St. Margarette Station to London Victoria where Jonai and Sab waited for me. They were coming from Leeds which travel time almost took 5-6hours depending on the bus schedule that you’d get. We could have taken the train, but the train costs a lot – unless you’re lucky enough to book yourselves first class in a very cheap price – which we were able to from London – Leicester.

You can download these apps for when you need to book tickets for trains (Virgin, East Mid, etc) or buses (National Express).

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You can check National Rail’s website for discount cards or promos. How I wished we knew about it sooner. We could’ve visited a lot more places because of the discounts. We availed the Two-Together card that gives two named adults 1/3 off rail fares when they travel together by train. It costs 30GBP (15GBP each) and can be used as many times throughout the year. Train fares vary depending on the travel hours and days (off peak etc)

unnamed The National Express app can be used to book bus trips across the country. Watch out for promo fares! Last time, we only paid 7GBP from London to Leicester which normally costs 20GBP depending on the schedule. No comfort rooms in the bus and there are a limited number of stop-overs. The bus seat though is very comfortable and the views on the way are great.

Victoria Station is the second busiest station in London (and the UK) after Waterloo. The area around the station is an important interchange for other forms of transport: a local bus station is in the forecourt, and Victoria Coach Station for long-distance road coaches is nearby.

If it’s your first time to travel abroad, you’d be overwhelmed of how crowded this place is, or London as a whole.


South Kensington

Located in the West-district of London, it has become the epicentre of French community.

What to see: If you are a fan of museums, check out Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum and Baden-Powell House. Other institutions such as the Royal Albert Hall, Imperial College London, the Royal Geographical Society, the Royal College of Art, the Royal College of Music can be found here.

After checking in the hotel (thank you Jonai and Sab), we went to a Chinese restaurant in South Kensington. Upon exiting the station, turn right and walked to Thurloe Square. There’s a small Chinese restaurant at the right side of the lane which serves the best Chinese dishes I’ve ever tasted so far, and for a cheap price… wait, there’s more – you can ask for another cup of rice for free (we only knew about the “unli rice” on the third time we ate there)!

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Yummiest roast duck I’ve ever tasted!
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The Natural History Museum with free entrance. The line was winding so we didn’t go inside as it was going to take the day. The architecture of the building was simply amazing.

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We decided to check the Science Museum instead.
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I had to stop and take a snap. Look how narrow the building is and the shape… it’s curved!
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Since its opening by Queen Victoria in 1871, the world’s leading artists from many performance genres have appeared on its stage and it has become one of the UK’s most treasured and distinctive buildings.
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The “tube”

From South Kensington, we decided to go to Oxford Street to do shopping as I needed to buy a coat. It was already spring but it was still pretty cold and I only brought a couple of light jackets. I didn’t expect it would still be that cold.

 

Oxford Street
Still located at the West End of London, it is Europe’s busiest shopping street, with around half a million daily visitors and almost 300 shops – from major luxury brands to local ones.
How to get here from South Kensington: Take the Circle/District line to Victoria station and from there take the Victoria line to Oxford Circus.
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Look how crowded Oxford Street is!
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Looking for some place to eat… I can see Five Guys down the street! After dinner, the cold was just unbelievable Jonai had to wrap herself with another jacket. I swear, my hands were freezing!

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Picadilly Circus

Piccadilly Circus is a busy square in the heart of London. It is famous for the fountain that was installed here at the end of the nineteenth century and for the neon advertising that turned the square into a miniature version of Times Square.

How to get here: Take the Bakerloo line from Oxford Circus Underground to Picadilly Circus Underground station. It’s only a stop away and would take a minute or so, or you can walk passing by SOHO.

What to see: Ripley’s Believe it or Not, M&M’s World, theaters (Les Miserables etc)

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The mini version of Time’s Square, London style.
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Circus means “round-about”
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Oh my God, my heart.

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M&M’s World

Harry Potter’s Platform 9 3/4

I realized I wouldn’t have the chance to visit the Harry Potter Studios as we need to be scheduled and most of the weekend schedules are full, so we decided to just visit whatever Harry Potter-ish that’s convenient for us and that was Platform 9 3/4 located in King’s Cross.

Tip: If it’s okay for you not to have a professional photographer to take your photo and print it with a want and a Harry Potter scarf, then drop by around 9PM onwards so you can hog and take a lot of photos however you want.

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Goodbye muggles!

87After visiting platform 9 and 3/4, we called it a night as it was getting late and we were sleepy as we woke up quiet early that day due to the travel from the other shires to the metro.

The next day, the sun was up in the sky shining and saying hi and everyone was simply out! It almost never happens in London so I was really thankful God gave us a sunny day so we can walk around and enjoy more.

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Had a good breakfast and was up for more walking in my then favorite city in the world!

Buckingham Palace

It is the London residence and administrative headquarters of the reigning monarch of the United Kingdom. Located in the City of Westminster, the palace is often at the centre of state occasions and royal hospitality.

How to get here: You can get off in Victoria Underground, St. James Park Underground or Green Park Underground. Those three are the nearest stations to Buckingham.

What to see: Green Park or St. James Park, Buckingham Palace, the Changing of the Guards (google the schedule as it changes from time to time), Queen Victoria Memorial

From Buckingham Palace, you can walk to the Big Ben and London Eye

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I tell you, everything is huge in the UK! Look at those horses!
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The entrance in Green Park
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The Buckingham Palace Gates, huhuhu. I’ve only dreamed of seeing these gates and I wanted to cry the moment I saw it. I was like, “MOM! I wish you could see all of this with me!”
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Queen Victoria Memorial. Did you know that Queen Victoria is called the mother of Europe? Her sons and daughters married other royalties from other countries!
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The Buckingham Palace and Queen Victoria Memorial from afar. There were a lot of people waiting for the Changing of the Guard ceremony. We wanted to go nearer but the police closed off the area.
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A glimpse of changing of the guard ceremony. We were able to witness it from afar. No worries, we had our moment in Windsor and I’ll tell you a funny story about it.
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The nakakapanindig-balahibo frontal view of the Buckingham Palace, my God!
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The view of the London Eye from St. James Park

From Buckingham Palace, we decided to see the Big Ben and the London Eye again because obviously, I couldn’t get enough of it! So we walked from Buckingham Palace, passing through St. James Park to the Big Ben.

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I’m not sure what this place is called but if you pass through it, you’ll get to the Big Ben faster.
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The famous red telephone booth!

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London in summary! Can we move the London Eye in the left side of this photo so it’s legit enough?

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St. Margaret Church, side view – where the royals get wed
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There ya go! London Eye and Big Ben in one photo! This was taken outside the St. Margaret Church in Westminster Abby.
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Westminster Parliament, if I’m not wrong
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We decided to grab lunch in this small but very Victorian restaurant near the Big Ben. It was expensive, oright but I was willing to pay that much just so I can experience it as well.
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The London Eye, we’ll never get tired of your beauty!

Portobello Market

Portobello Road is a street in the Notting Hill district of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in west London. It runs almost the length of Notting Hill from south to north, roughly parallel with Ladbroke Grove.

How to get here: From Westminster Station, take the Circle Line and get off on Notting Hill Station. That would take you roughly around 15 minutes with 6 stops.

What to see: Antique shops, street markets with stalls offering everything from bread to pastries, the Blue Door and bookshop from the famous movie Notting Hill starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts.

It’s a really nice place to unwind, walk around and have coffee. On Saturday afternoons, I heard there’s a food market that’s cheap and everything tastes amazing!

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Apparently, Notting Hill is a high-class community famous for Portobello Market and a good fashion area.
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The famous 280 blue door in the movie Notting Hill!
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I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.

 

Abbey Road – The Beatles

Abbey Road is a thoroughfare in the borough of Camden and the City of Westminster in London, running roughly northwest to southeast through St. John’s Wood, near Lord’s Cricket Ground. It is part of the B507 road. This road is best known for the Abbey Road Studios and the 1969 album, Abbey Road, by The Beatles.
How to get here: From Notting Hill Gate Station, take the Central line and get off at Bond Street Station. From there, take the Jubilee line and get off at St. John Wood’s Station. Upon exiting the station, cross the street to the right and walk straight. You’ll know it’s the Abbey Road crossing when you see a bunch of people trying to cross the street.
What to see: It’s a quiet neighborhood and within it is the Abbey Road studios and the Abbey Road crossing where the famous band The Beatles crossing the pedestrian lane was taken. Abbey Road Studios and the Abbey Road souvenir shop are both located in the same area.
You’ll be happy to know that people driving around the area understand how this place has become a tourist spot. They would slow down, or sometimes stop and wait for people to cross and take that perfect snap!
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Reminded me of “Wizards of Waverly Place”
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The Abbey Road Crossing
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In an attempt to get that perfect Abbey Road The Beatles snap
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Right click at the right time!
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Souvenir shop. They sell everything! From t-shirt to mugs to guitar picks to pencils to sharpeners, you name it!

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Camden Town
Camden is well-known for street markets and other attractions. It’s very crowded and you’ll be so amazed at this side of the town. It’s like Harajuku of Japan, or a high-class Divisoria of the Philippines or Singapore’s Bugis! I discovered this place when I was googling where to buy souvenirs in bulk and for a cheap price and Camden was on the top of the list from both locals and foreigners.
How to get here: I can’t exactly remember how we got there but we came from Kensal Green Station where we stayed in a hostel for the night. Kensal Green is such a creepy place. It’s famous for catacombs and everything spooky. The hostel was also a bit scary that we were thinking of just paying more and transfer to a hotel. But for experience sake, why not stay and pray that everything will turn out well? :p Well, back to the topic of how to get to Camden, Rome2Rio is suggesting to take the Jubilee line and take a bus. I believe due to the increased popularity of the place, the city is trying to restore or improve the underground station for Camden. I remembered we had to walk further ahead to another station and just decided to take the bus instead back to Victoria.
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It’s crazy! For any cheap purchases, visit Camden Market. You can find all sort of coats, jackets, sweatshirt, hoodies etc.
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Need an outfit for that Gothic party? Look closer, there’s a shop for that!
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Madhatter in flesh!
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Street art. Street music. Street DJ. You name it! Camden has it all!

And last but not the least….

The Tower Bridge

I grew up believing the Tower Bridge is the famous London Bridge. Well, childhood ruined. Just kidding. The London Bridge is smaller compared to the Tower Bridge, much like the Brooklyn Bridge if you’ve seen it because I haven’t. Lol. The Tower Bridge though is probably London’s most famous bridge. If you search through Google about London, Tower Bridge will show up in almost every page.

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How to get here: From Waterloo Underground, take the Northern line to Embankment Underground Station. From there, take the Circle/District Line to Tower Hill. You can also get off in the London Bridge Underground Station.

What to see: If you’re coming from Tower Hill Station, you can stroll or drop by the Tower of London. If you’re coming from London Bridge Station, you can see the real London Bridge and The Shard.

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The Shards from afar.
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The Berkin on the Tower Hill side.

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So here’s a funny story. We were hungry and didn’t have time to eat so we bought peanuts from the sidewalk. I was carrying my backpack and a shoulder bag and was holding the cup of peanuts while walking. When I saw a good view of the Tower Bridge, I got so excited that I panicked and asked my friend to take a photo of me. I put down the cup of peanuts on the stone rail and this big black bird tried to peck on it. So I gave it two pieces but it wanted to peck from the cup itself so I got scared that it might peck on me. I was trying so hard to save my peanuts and my bags that the cup slipped on my hand and the peanuts scattered on the floor in which the big black bird pecked happily on each. We were laughing so hard in the irony and people started to look but we didn’t care. We were in London, in front of the iconic Tower Bridge and in those moments, nothing else mattered, we were happy.

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This couple was trying to take a selfie, I felt their struggle that I almost wanted to take their photo for them. 

London at Night

Beautiful Big Ben at night
Vince dragged me along at this part near the London Eye. It was amazing!

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I could still remember the feeling. This was the only time I was by myself and stared at the Big Ben in silence and in awe. I quietly scanned the area, still in disbelief that I was finally seeing it in flesh, that I was really finally in London! The wind was cold and people were rushing to go home. I quietly observed them and asked myself, wasn’t this the kind of life you’ve always wanted? Didn’t you want to live the dream? It was then and there I realized, you don’t know what you want until you get what you’ve thought you wanted.

I guess part of me was so excited to see London this early, and another part of me was willing to wait because I was scared I’d get disappointed or I wouldn’t like it the way I imagined I would. But I couldn’t be ungrateful could I? I am forever, utterly, absolutely grateful for this chance God has given me.

Now, whenever I see London photos, or news or movies, or friends talking about it, I don’t feel any pang of sadness or jealousy. I feel like I have no right to be jealous or greedy because I had my fair share of the British dream. 🙂

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