Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Visiting London's Top Tourist Spots and Markets

The story of how I ended up in London is simple, really. Since poly, my parents and I have had an ongoing travel agreement, because poly semesters clashed with my brothers' June and year-end school holidays. So whenever they take a trip without me, my parents make it up to me in other ways.

My dad got news that his company's annual conference may be held in New York this November, and the family plan was to fly over and join him. I have no holidays in November, and my inner freshman told me I couldn't afford to skip a whole week's worth of classes. I now realise my inner freshman needs to shut up. 

(inner freshman is also telling me to type this post in times new roman, double-spaced, font size 12)

So mum asked if I would like to go to Europe, and I got to choose between Italy and London. My 5th aunt in Rome couldn't accommodate us in June, so London it was. Mum's friend ended joining us for the trip too, since she wanted to visit her daughter who was studying there. The more the merrier!

Borough Market

A day after we arrived, we took a bus from our serviced apartment to London Bridge bus terminal to get to Borough Market.

Here's a London travel tip: get a sim card and download the citymapper app on your phone to plan your routes beforehand. Citymapper is basically like gothere.sg but free, with a prettier interface. My friends living in London also recommended checking the TFL website for traffic conditions, and taking the bus whenever possible because you'll get to see more of London.

The market was a 5 min walk from London Bridge terminal, and it's right next to the beautiful Southwark Cathedral which is worth checking out too.

Borough Market is basically a huge market for local and regional produce. We bought a few punnets of berries because they were so cheap and sweet. I hate those unripe, shrivelled berries we get on pastries and cakes in Singapore. On the bright side, our watermelon juice doesn't cost £3 (insert moonface emoji).

I really enjoyed myself at the market, and skipped from shop to shop sampling whatever they had to offer. One stall had a bell jar of black truffles with "SMELL ME" scrawled on a sign above. I'd never taken a deeper breath.

Try to grab a meal at the market, many stalls have sit-down areas for patrons. The giants skillets of paella and the wafting scent of cured beef from sandwich shops were seducing me. They didn't come cheap though.

Tower Bridge/ Big Ben/ Westminster Abbey 

The following day, we got tickets for those hop-on, hop-off bus tours that go round London. I didn't enjoy my time on the bus at all, the audio track on the bus was spammed with the tour company's ads. Also, it was SO HARD to figure out the routes and stops even though we were given maps. In sg, hippo tour buses stop at regular bus stops. In London, the tour buses stop at special stops which can be really hard to find. After walking to 3 different bus stop around Westminster, mum and I decided to take a public bus to Marble Arch to shop.

Nonetheless, we got a good look at Tower Bridge, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. We chose not to pay to enter the attractions, and just hung around and took pictures from the outside. Westminster was stunning, there's something about old places of worship that just gets to me, y'know?

The rest of the afternoon was spent at Oxford Street, where I blew £60 at Primark. Oh Primark, how I love you.

Camden: Stables Market 

Camden is a huge area with a number of streets and large markets. This was easily one of my favourite places in London. We took a bus into the area and alighted right outside the Stables Market by chance, not knowing that there were so many markets to explore. I'm not exactly sure what the other markets are like, but this market specialises in alternative and vintage goods.

There were plenty of gothic/punk rock shops, kind of like cheeks and lips at FEP. Mum and her friend bought a faux leather jacket for £45 in one of these ~alt fashion~ shops.

Souvenirs here are priced much more cheaply than in town, and the items are more quirky and unique. I got my owl print scarf here for £1.79, and there were tons of cute tote bags, backpacks and even famous road signs to buy. I wanted a baker street one, slapping myself for not getting it now.

This is also where I bought band tees - I got a xx shirt for myself and an arctic monkeys one for keefe at £10 each. Universal shopping tip: don't buy an item in the first shop you see it in, another shop probably has it cheaper, and please bargain. I saw more band tees for £6-8 each in another shop later on.

The most wonderful thing about Stables is the vintage shops. Just as much as I'm a fan of old churches, I also adore old clothing and cameras. I stumbled upon St. Cyr Vintage in the stables, and it has to be the best vintage store I've ever been in. Clothes are categorised by UK size, so looking for something that fits you is so easy. Bags are arranged by size and colour, so it's easy to pick out a bag if you already have a style in mind. In the end, I only got a £10 blue-striped dress from the sale rack but I didn't mind. Being in such a lovely place was already an experience in itself.

St. Cyr Vintage, I hope we meet again!

P.S I finally got to try horchata and piping hot, fresh churros. Let's just say life feels a little more complete now.

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