August Summer

Hello guys? How have your summer been? Does it sound weird to you? I have had 2 people said, hope you have a great summer so far. It was weird for me hearing that because in this part of Asia, we don't have summer. It's either it's a hot day or a rainy day. So anyway, I'm writing not because I have any interesting thing to say (as usual), but it's because I realized I haven't written anything in August and we only have 1 week left, so I might as well do it now. When I logged in to Blogger just now, for some reason I clicked on the blog which is shared by me and other people. We don't stay in touch anymore, well I don't know if the rest do, I don't. I even had to think when I saw a name posting a post, trying to remember who that guy was. Now I'm remembering the group of people he used to hang out with and how they're pretty tight back then, but now I'm pretty sure they don't talk anymore. It's how life is, isn't it? That when life takes us to different directions, we end up just like strangers who never spent days or evenings together. The last post in that blog was in 2009 and I saw a post from Ash back in August 2007 and it was about Astley who started the blog. He died a few days before Ash posted her post and I got to thinking, next year it will be 10 years since he passed away. I also got to thinking if things would be different if he were alive now. He's being alive now wouldn't change the fact that people go to different directions, or would it? I don't know. Some things are bound to happen I guess, but he's being alive may cause certain things to happen later or perhaps sooner. Anyways that's not the part I'm thinking about. What I wonder is if he were alive, would this group be still in touch? There's a good chance, because he's usually the one who cajoled people to do stuff, #vodkaShotEveryone.

Now that got me thinking, that time of my life I had more friends that I do now. I talked to more people than I do now. I remember the pointless walks around the floor just to walk and talk. Now I don't have many friends and I am silent most of the time, except in my head. It may sound sad, but it got me thinking about how before that time I also had my sad lonely period and before that was the period where I was surrounded with people and we always did things in group. So maybe it's a cycle, the periods of many friends and no friend come and go. It may not be like that with everyone, but it seems like it's always like that for me and I even can trace this back to 4th grade primary school. Some people may never know the loneliness I know. That sounds super sad but I realize that I may never know worse loneliness and despair that some people may feel every day. By the way, reading the blog posts about Astley's death still get me teary eyes even after all these years.

So yesterday, I went to watch The BFG. I was actually unsure if I was going to love it, but in the end I thought I should just go and watch it and it turned out to be so so for me, as expected. The most entertaining part was when the big friendly giant was having breakfast with the queen. That part was great. The rest wasn't inspiring. I have so many questions that I wished were addressed like why was the friendly giant smaller than the other giants? Because he didn't eat human? Why were the big giants scared of water? Why can't the giant live with Sophie in the end or at least hang out more. The end seemed to indicate they just went their separate ways. Anyways, I guess it's really hard to amuse me these days. Some time ago I watched Jason Bourne and though I like Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, I was also not amused much with the movie. There was a long car chase in Vegas and my mind seriously drifted off at that part that when suddenly I realized I was watching a car being flipped or something like that, I was like wait what, how did that happen? Who caused it to happen? I guess the why, who, how don't matter much in action movies anymore. Who cares who cause the explosion and such, it just is and will have to happen. Movies these days are just different iterations of each other and this is just so uninspiring. Yesterday before The BFG, I saw the trailer for Pete's Dragon and there was a boy in a jungle and it's reminiscent of The Jungle Book (which I didn't watch), the boy even had similar haircut. Yes perhaps the story is different, but there will still be jungle, animal, special effect, fighting, etc. When I was a child, I couldn't get enough of movies but these days I'm thinking hmmm, I don't know if I can sit through all that. I wish I can get that warm and fuzzy feeling I felt when I watched some movies back as a child. These days none of those feeling ever come. The closest was perhaps watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 which wasn't even shown in Singapore I think (I didn't watch it in a cinema). I love it and I feel sorry that it didn't get good reviews.

Okay, that's about it peeps. Next month I may have more interesting things to write, but they involve some unexpected expenses. So I'm having mix feeling about it, hope it will be okay. Talking about expenses, I got a shock some time ago finding out the amount of tax I have to pay monthly. I totally didn't expect this new monthly amount and it kinda throw me off balance in my monthly expenses :( Now I also have this thing in September and thing broken down that I have yet to replace because I don't have enough fund. My mom asked if she should give me some money and I told her I'm not poor poor, it's just I hate touching the so called emergency fund. That being said, unlike la Gioia who's very disciplined and strict with her emergency fund, I do touch my emergency fund, but that's only for the yearly travel and while I don't cap it or anything, I do hate to use it for any other thing, but this September I must :( This makes me wonder if next year I will have to scale down on the travel :( One step at a time, I guess. Hope you have a great summer people, see how weird that is!

:) eKa @ 4:56:00 PM • 0 comments

Singapore Garden Festival 2016

So I thought I wouldn't have anything interesting to write in July, turns out I had. As the title indicated, it's about Singapore Garden Festival which I went to yesterday. Yesterday was the social activity thing that I mentioned in the last post. It started very embarrassingly for me. I got into the wrong station because I never read the email properly. I ended up 30 minutes late. I was seriously beyond embarrassed. Perhaps now it makes sense to you when I often wrote how I'm directionally challenged and got lost a lot in all of my travels, it's simply because I don't read things properly. Anyway, so yesterday mom asked if it's fun. I told her I was just relieved when it's over. It was not bad. I guess I had some fun. I tried bowling for the first time ever and every time you get to try something for the first time in your life, it's always a good feeling, at least for me. I would say I still don't know how to bowl. I took many steps before I rolled the ball and I didn't even bother to learn how the scoring works. I managed to knock down some pins and in the group I played in, I didn't do badly, though there were times when my ball went to the gutter. The competitive me got annoyed. Overall it's pretty fun and I seriously do want to learn how to do this properly, but I don't think I'll have the chance. I don't see me doing this often. This place we went to was far for me.

So Singapore Garden Festival, I was kinda in a dilemma about going actually. I wasn't blown away by the previous festivals. In fact I think I wrote I may not give it a go again, but since social engagement finished not so late and it was a sunny day yesterday (compared to the heavy rainy and cloudy days we've been having in the previous days), I thought I should make full use of the rest of the day. Mom asked if it was good. I think it wasn't bad. Maybe because I came in with so little expectation, I didn't get disappointed much. It wasn't mind blowing, but I did see some things that I like. It helped that I paid the local residents rate, which is half of what the tourist would pay. I thought a lot about Chelsea Flower Show as I walked around the area which is very very big. It was a hot day yesterday, people were walking with umbrella. Here in the tropics, you need umbrella all the time, rain or shine. There were people, but it wasn't full or overcrowded like Chelsea Flower Show, so that's a plus. There were more crowd though in Gardens by the Bay's Flower Dome which host the winning orchid winners and this did make the visit to be not as comfortable. By the way, since I was still on the fence about going that day, I only brought my ixus instead of my dlsr. I struggled in getting good photos, but I thought I should use this as a challenge. As expected many of the pictures weren't great, but I did surprise myself when I saw decent pictures.

Back to comparing this to Chelsea Flower Show. Singapore Garden Festival actually perhaps has more things to offer. It has the outdoor garden landscape designs, the usual rooms or balcony garden designs, the window of the world (which looks more like installation arts with flowers), the fantasy garden designs (though I feel the number of entries kinda decreased), a good portion of bonsai exhibits, other flower arrangements designs and competitions, learning garden portion where you can see the plants that give us food here in Asia, orchid sections (which again I feel kinda decreased in size compared to previous festivals), and there's also talks and demonstration about gardening (which I didn't watch). The festival even has a bigger market place area for food and stuff, which by the way, this year they don't seem to have the stalls with people selling gardening or flower related stuff. Maybe because of the poor reception in previous festivals, the sellers didn't feel like coming back. Anyways, what the Singapore Garden Festival is lacking compared to Chelsea Flower Show is perhaps the many different kind of flowers that you see in Chelsea Flower Show. I think I wrote this before, it somewhat cannot be helped. We live in the tropics, some flowers, beautiful delicate ones just cannot survive here. In Chelsea Flower Show, I think the flower exhibitors sell out seeds. Here in Singapore, I didn't seem to find any. I guess if you attend any of the demo or talk, you can get some advice and buy something. I don't know if my perception of this is wrong because I didn't go and explored everything in details. It's just I think in the first Garden Festival, they dedicated a whole floor for community gardening and there's a lot of people so willing to talk to you about how to start gardening in your flat and stuff. This time around, I didn't feel so. Anyways, here are pictures, lots of them.

My first stop was the terrariums showcase. There were many interesting terrariums with very cute figurines inside them. The room is dark though, so many photos were just blurry.

This is a picture of some sculpture near this dome like structure they built. I don't know if it's permanent, but it looked pretty nice.

In the community garden sections, there were some harvest in competition. There were not many of them, I saw like 2 tables of this below. Still it's quite impressive that people took time to grew these.

The pictures below are from the Floral Windows to the World Exhibition. As written above, this feels to me more like installation arts with flowers, always unique, strange, whimsical. There were 2 displays that I really like this year. One of them is the one exactly below here with Japanese origami like structures. The other one is the second picture, because I love curves and the flowers choices were just great with the white wall.

This one below is from one of the bonsai from the Penjing and Artistic Stone Exhibition and Competition. I seriously had to google just now to learn what Penjing is. I just called these as bonsai and I like those with little figurines like this one below. I guess if they add figurines into it, it becomes Penjing, not just a bonsai? Anyways, there was one which was really amazing because it looks like a whole mountain.

This one below is from the Fantasy Gardens. The bench and gazebo is up side down. The gazebo is actually only half, there's a mirror reflecting it to make it whole. The exhibition area here is very dark that I couldn't enjoy some of the exhibits much, also photos coming from here are not amazing.

Outside, there were some strange things, like this one from the musical flower field.

Lastly, I went to the Flower Dome. The ticket includes this. I didn't realize that the flower dome has this cool dragon. Super cool and I so want to have one myself.

So by this time, the camera's battery was dying and with the so many people jostling to see the orchids, I couldn't really take many pictures. The orchids were okay I guess, I didn't see anything that was particularly stunning.

I spent around 2 hours there. It was hot and I was quite tired. I'm kinda glad I went, it wasn't bad. For more pictures, please go here.

:) eKa @ 5:02:00 PM • 0 comments

Surviving July

Hey peeps, how has your July been? I had a bad flu when the month started. So bad I had to visit the doctor twice because after one round completing the medication the doctor gave me, I wasn't getting better. I had quite a few rest days, but then since I was really sick I couldn't enjoy it. Then there's also some annoying things that happened. I still can't get over one of it. It's something that makes me feel like I had been lied to and betrayed. Seriously if I can, I really don't want to talk to the people involved anymore. In fact if it's been any other people, I would most probably not talk to them anymore. However in this case, it seems I just have to pretend all is cool when it's so not. It's a very ass move that they did. So pissed I am that I do hope bad things would befall them. To add to all these sad things was that because I was sick at that time, I couldn't just eat all the sorrow away. I couldn't eat junk food and I couldn't have ice cream when I really really wanted or perhaps needed too. I'm okay now and I have had my ice cream and comfort food, but I still feel I haven't been having enough ice cream.

Today as usual I had Japanese class. We're in Pre-Advanced now and today is lesson 3. Since lesson 1, I have been feeling like I'm drowning even more and everyone is so far ahead. There are more kanji. The classmates can guess the meaning and understand sentences faster and I always have to search what something means. Then also when my sensei starts writing Kanji without the hiragana, I'll be lost. In the toilet this morning I met one of my classmate, who's the motherly one because she is a mother. She remarked of how the class is getting difficult and I concurred. I said something like I felt so behind. I forget the exact word she used, but she said not to be discouraged and work hard. After every lesson where I felt like I have been smacked by a tornado, I did feel if I should just stop because it's not working for me. Today hearing my classmate said that, it felt good, comforting. Maybe I should hang in there, maybe I'll get through this okay. I wonder if things would be so much different for me if I were in a class where everyone don't have any Chinese knowledge and be as blind as me regarding the kanji. The kanji itself is not the only problem. Everyone seems to be speaking Japanese and I'm not like that. It takes me longer time to compose sentences so I wonder what happened, why is it I'm this behind. Truly, I am so demoralized.

I really don't have any interesting thing to say people. This coming Wednesday I have to participate in a social activity. I'm really not looking forward for it. I think it's because I don't see me having fun in it. So I'm hoping something will pop up which will stop me from participating. I don't write about the things I do day to day, but the fact that I hope something would come up so that I end up doing the same boring thing instead of doing something that could possibly be fun is rather sad. I know it is so unhealthy. I haven't been doing any social thing since perhaps my dinner with la Gioia almost 2 months ago. I should surround myself with people, but all I want is for people to get off me, let me be alone :(

Talking about sadness and isolation, there's this old uncle living in the same block as me. He uses a walker to walk and he walks really really slow. I usually see him on Sundays when I go to the other block to get food. There was one time I saw him sitting at the stair case looking really tired. It's worrying that the mean and evil me think he should just stay at home and not go out. I think it's a mean thought because just because he's old doesn't mean he shouldn't be seen in public. Then I also started to feel sad and heartbroken seeing him because one Sunday when I was getting my food in which I think it only took me 10 minutes or so, he only moved like 2-3 m. The other day I saw him trying to get into the lift and I wondered if he managed to make it. The evil me didn't make sure he could get in. It seems he has the strength to lift his walker, but he couldn't really lift his feet much that he drags them. These days when I see him, aside for the sadness, I start to think it's good for him for still be trying. I couldn't imagine how long he takes walking from this block to the other block where there are shops around. Does the 5 minutes I take mean 1 hour for him with many stops along the way? You may start to wonder if it's worth it. Worth it or not, he's doing it and so I begin to see him as being tenacious. I still get really sad when I see him, but at least now it's tempered with admiration for his persistence and I do hope God will take care of him and let him be alright.

Well that's about it peeps. I really have nothing interesting to write. Hope your days are great.

:) eKa @ 5:09:00 PM • 0 comments

Day 10: Last Day in London

all you have is your fire
and the place you need to reach
don't you ever tame your demons,
but always keep them on a leash

Arsonist's Lullabye - Hozier

This is the last post of this trip peeps. I don't think it's going to be long. You know I often feel that I cram all my physical exercises requirement in a year when I go travelling. I was outdoor a lot, I walked a lot, especially when I got lost. I even sometime felt that I got home skinnier. Now I start to feel that I cram all my writing requirement in a year when I write these posts about the trip. It's not like there's a requirement or anything, but I do think it's important to write. It's forcing my brain to think of words and be creative in putting my thoughts and opinion. Not that anything I write is beautifully phrased or any thought I have is sound and logical. I just always feel it's important to get my brain challenged. I guess that's why I've been taking language classes one after another, despite of me having days when I was just so frustrated of it all and felt that a 1-2 week break is too short. So after this post, I think you will not be seeing a new post soon due to my laziness. If you miss it (I doubt you will), don't worry, I force myself to write at least 1 post a month and so far I've been keeping it.

Before I start with this last post, let's talk about the UK leaving the EU. Man, I didn't think they had it in them. I thought they're going to chicken out and remain. So they're leaving, congrats I guess. The markets around the world as CNN put it are freaking out. If only they're not. Perhaps people need to chill. Yes, things are going to change. It may go downhill, but hey be positive, be resilient, get back to work, and make the best out of the decision. The ride downhill will eventually stop and things will start looking not so bad. So unlike me to sound positive. Right now things may seem disastrous. There are already talk from politicians in the Netherlands and France wanting to get out too. There's also talk about Scotland wanting to vote for their independence again. Then David Cameron is resigning, goodness right now everything does seem so nightmarish. I have to say he may have made the wrong move by allowing a referendum to take place in the first place. It's like opening a Pandora's box. Again it brings me to mind a conversation in the book The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. Anyways, one good point is with the pounds going down, it might be a good time to travel to the UK :)

So my last day in London. My flight out was at 8 pm, so I still had time to explore the city. The plan was to visit The National Gallery and Westminster Abbey. I took my time that morning. I checked out from my hotel and went out to a rainy morning. The evening before as I checked the weather I saw that there's a 12-hour yellow weather warning until 12 pm of my last day. Finding out there's a warning, it seemed serious to me. I didn't know what yellow warning meant. When I went out that day, I had to use the umbrella (again it proved that my decision to bring one was correct), but the rain was so-so for me. It wasn't heavy. It made me think of being in Singapore, I don't think we have weather warning and we often have big heavy thunderstorm rains with lightning and thunders. If there is warning, it's not something that appears in the news. So the whole thing was a bit strange for me that day. I did hear a tree fell on the track somewhere though and some train wasn't operating, but all and all it was an okay manageable weather situation for me.

The National Gallery is this awesome museum in Trafalgar Square. I say awesome because it's free (again the UK is so awesome about their museums) and the collections are great. I read that you can not bring your backpack so I put it at the cloak room, but then I did see people with their back pack :( So anyway, I started at this special exhibition of flower paintings. You can't take picture here, so I don't have any. I think they're all by Dutch painters and they're all so so beautiful. The museum is divided into different styles: Early Renaissance, High Renaissance & Mannerism, Baroque, Rococo, post-1800, Impressionism & Post-Impressionism. When you enter the sections, you really do see the different styles. Unfortunately my knowledge on this is still very very limited. The Early Renaissance section is kinda further off and you go through High Renaissance first before getting there. I thought it might be better if it's the other way around. This picture below is from one of the room in the High Renaissance & Mannerism section.

This is from Early Renaissance. I think all if not most of the works are about Jesus, the angels, and the saints.

This one is from the Baroque era. Looking at the picture, the kids look so happy. For a more detailed explanation of the painting, you can go here.

Here are paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Left is Dancing Girl with Castanets and right is Dancing Girl with Tambourine and I think they fall under Impressionism.

For more pictures from the gallery, you can go here. I forgot how long I spent here. I had lunch at the gallery, had Guineafowl. It's not bad, I actually enjoyed it and I actually googled what it looked like alive while waiting for my food. Leaving the gallery, it was still drizzling a bit, but I still walked around Trafalgar Square a bit. Seeing this picture, I think the weather that day is cliché London. It's like England was saying, you cannot leave yet without experiencing this :D

Next stop was Westminster Abbey. Again I have booked for this, but they didn't seem to have a dedicated entrance for people who already had their tickets :( You can't take pictures inside the Abbey, so all have is the exterior pictures.

Inside you are given an audio guide. I listened to all the stops. There are a lot of important historical things inside the Abbey. A lot of tombs. A lot of people were buried there, of course some of the Kings and Queens of England, but there's also people like Isaac Newton. There's a Poet Corner which contained many famous writers. There was a Shakespeare statue and I also saw a memorial for Jane Austen. I wonder if the Abbey is still used to bury famous people. If yes, I wonder if they really just start making a hole on the floor to bury the person. When I was there, lucky me, the garden was opened that day. So I went there too. It's not very big though and since I was running out of time, I didn't linger. This below is among the last pictures I took in London. It's a picture of the Big Ben that I took before I dashed to the tube station.

As you can see, it shows 03:30 PM. I had a ticket for the bus to Heathrow at 4 pm. I needed to rush to the hotel, get my luggage, and go to Victoria Coach Station. Victoria Coach Station is very near my hotel, but with 30 mins to spare I was cutting it close. When I arrived at the coach station, I got confused with the TV boards so I just asked one of the staff there. He was taking his time examining my print out, but luckily the gate wasn't far and I made it. As I sat down, I saw the clock in the bus showed 03:58 PM, that's how close I was cutting it in. When I booked the ticket, I thought I may have made a mistake, I could have taken a later bus, but then as the bus struggled with the traffic in London I thought I may have made the right decision after all. It made me think of how it's the same in Jakarta. When I need to get to the airport from home, the struggle is to get from my house to the toll. The distance is short, but the traffic can be a killer. In the end though, the bus arrived at the stated time, so really they have calculated the journey time to include traffic. I arrived with a lot of time to spare but as my mom always says, it's better to just wait at the airport than be late. The airport wasn't busy and after passing security check, I just spent the time walking around. Somehow I found out that I needed to take their internal train to get to my gate and I thank God that I didn't find that out at the last minute. I would have been in such a panic then, like the few passengers who seemed to be quite panicky about it. The section where my gate was didn't have a lot of shops, only a Starbuck and something else so yeah it wasn't much fun waiting there, but at least it was quiet. Perhaps that day really made me tired that I was able to sleep on the plane, as mentioned in post 1. At the end, I really thank God for this blessing and opportunity. It's another adventure done and each time I am always still in disbelief that I did it, that I am still blessed enough to be able to do all these. It's humbling and my gratitude to God is never enough. For pictures of London, please go here. So that's it peeps, we're done. THE END :)

:) eKa @ 10:06:00 PM • 0 comments

Day 9: Harry Potter Warner Bros. Studio London & The Tower of London

in the wandering city you're free
with mountains made of gold and silver
you'll find who you're meant to be

Navajo - Island Cassettes

I have 20 pictures planned for this post. That's too much yes, let's see if I can edit myself and cut down on a few. One of the thing I really wanted to do while in London was to visit Harry Potter Warner Bros. Studio and I did just that (mission accomplished, thank You God for the blessing). To visit Harry Potter Warner Bros. Studio London, you have to book the ticket beforehand, you can't get it on the spot. I booked more than 1.5 months before the day of visit and many of the time slot were already sold out. I ended up choosing the first slot at 09:00 AM. I would have liked a later option so that I didn't have to wake up early, but alas such was the decision that God made for me and I do see that God chose this so that every other things can work out. To make me more excited about this time slot, I think of my mom who would think 09:00 AM is not early at all and would chastise me for being lazy and wasting precious time during holiday :P I think if you cannot get the ticket on your own, you can take any of the day tour that would include transport from London to the studio, but they cost like more than 2 times than when you book the ticket yourself. I paid 44.95 GBP for my ticket which includes digital guide and a guide book. I was quite in a dilemma if I wanted the digital guide and the guide book, but then I thought I should just get it, I didn't want to miss out.

I was quite worried if I was able to arrive on time. London tube website is very useful, when you google journey planner, they also give you the timing of the train. First I had to make my way to Euston station. That was easy. Then I had to take a train from there to Watford Junction. Arriving in Euston, the TV board confirmed the train that I should take and I found out which platform it was. Then I got confused because there's no gate in accessing that platform, so I wasn't sure how I was supposed to pay for the fare using Oyster card. I asked a random guy and he told me about the small machine at the corner where I had to tap in. He reminded me that I could use the oyster card to Watford Junction only. Nice guy. So I went to the machine and tapped my card. This reminded me of years ago, first trip to Italy in which I had to remind myself to find the machine to validate every train ticket I used. That really felt so long ago as it really is. Side note: I do miss Italy sometime. So anyways this train I took was the express one, it skipped all the stops and went directly to Watford Junction. It took around 20 minutes, maybe less. Watford Junction is not a very big station and that's good. I was worried I would get confused in this station. Found the bus station easy enough because it's just outside on the left and as googled the Harry Potter shuttle arrived as expected and all of us Harry Potter fans got in.

When you arrive, you should use the machine and scan in your print out to get the actual ticket. It was straightforward to use. I actually arrived there before 09:00 AM and I have to say it's kinda nice to be on the first slot. It's not as manic with the so many people which I saw later in the day. That being said, the first slot itself had a lot of people. I saw some little kids in robes, the cutest thing. Being first, you had time to slowly take your time, use the toilet, or have breakfast at the cafe. The reason why they have to divide it into slots is because the first thing we do is enter the Great Hall and each time the doors are closed and each group enter together. If it's your birthday, I think you can tell the staff and they let you open the door. This simple act of opening the door and bringing you into the Great Hall is enough for people like me who's a fan to like gasped in awe and I don't even think I'm that big of a fan. I give myself like 7.5 out of 10. The digital guide I had gave explanation on each of the stop point and there were also additional videos in there that you can watch. There's actually some staff in some of the point and they gave explanation at some time interval. You can also ask them question if you like I think. The whole thing is extraordinary. As a person who loves Harry Potter, I was just giddy with excitement in everything that I saw. The studio is big but it's also not that big when you think about it. So each time when they have to reset the studio for a scene, it's kinda amazing to think of the logistic and such. The creativity in each of the craft is as they say magical in itself. When I saw all of these, I thought of the amount of work done and felt kinda sad to think the people working on it didn't get paid the millions. So anyways here are some of the things I saw. They're just so amazing and hence I had difficulty not putting them here. If you're not a fan, all these things might be so boring for you.

The Great Hall is in the actual size one would imagine it to be. At the end of the Great Hall is the teacher's tables. Here you have all the costumes that the teachers wore.

This is the room that Harry and Ron shared in Gryffindor. The beds became too small for them as they grew.

This is the Gryffindor common room with costumes worn by Hermione, Harry, and Ron. Painting on the left is the picture of Prof. McGonagall in her younger days.

These are the different important items in Harry Potter universe. You have the philosopher stone, the shell that Harry used to made Dumbledore drink the potion in the inferi lake, the golden snitch, and many others.

Here's one of the cupboard in Dumbledore's office. It contains many curious things. One thing that really made me excited was seeing the pensieve. Obviously there are so many things in Harry Potter world that I would want to have, but a pensieve would be quite top of the list.

These are the different paintings that adorned Hogwarts' walls. Fun fact: some of the people in the paintings are the people in production.

Potion room. It's pretty big and I did get quite sentimental a bit because Prof. Snape is like my favorite character in the whole thing. Never doubted from the beginning that he was evil. I think it would be a twist for me if he's evil instead. Seeing the room and be reminded that the actor Alan Rickman has passed away, well it's rather sad.

Below is a picture of Hagrid's hut. By the way as you can see we're allowed to take as many pictures as we want. I remember when there was a Harry Potter's exhibition in Singapore way back years ago, we weren't allowed to take any picture at all. How mean. What I remembered from that exhibition was that Hagrid's sofa was very big and for some reason I think we're allowed to sit on it. Anyway here I learned that there was a body double for Hagrid.

The snake door of the Chamber of Secrets. It looked menacing and cool at the same time.

The Weasley's dining room and kitchen. Here there were some items that moved by themselves like a pair of knitting needle which were moving as if knitting a scarf, a knife which was cutting a carrot, and a pan being washed.

The Black Family tapestry. Very cool. Another example of how detailed the craftsmanship on these things are, things that didn't appear for a long time on screen or even things that only appeared in the background.

The Hogwarts Express. It's an actual train. You can get on it. It didn't have many compartments and they're all dressed with items from where they appeared in the movies.

After this Hogwarts Express and platform part, it's actually the end of section 1. I went for lunch before continuing. You could get butterbeer too. I didn't because I had read some people saying it tasted very sweet and not very nice. I had butterbeer ice cream instead. I can't remember, it may cost 4.95 GBP or perhaps 3.95 GBP, point is I thought it's quite an expensive ice cream, but there were a lot of it. It tasted okay. Not the best tasting to die for ice cream I have ever tasted. It's just okay I think. Anyway the second section begins with the outdoor lot where there's the knight bus and the Hogwarts Bridge. There's also the Dursley's house. We were allowed to enter it and see its living room. In this picture the envelopes are being hold by transparent strings and as you can see they're invisible. By the way it's been 15 years since the first Harry Potter movie. I feel extremely old :|

By the way, back in section 1, as mentioned some points have staff manning them and they would give explanation from time to time. Well there's one point on the mechanics of some of these magical effects and there was a demonstration of how the many envelopes could fly out from the door slot. We're allowed to take the envelopes that flew out and of course I took one. While section one was about the sets and items used in the movies, section 2 was the production side of things - the research, the experiment, the blue print for the sets, etc. It was truly mind opening. There's a lot of work involved in all these. The people doing all these worked so hard and I truly doubt they get paid the millions. Made you wonder why movie stars deserve the millions they're getting and the people behind the stage who work as hard, if not even harder, don't get that kind of money. Anyways, the last thing we saw is this model of the whole Hogwarts castle and ground and it was big and majestic and awesome. They used this detailed model to film the exterior of the castle and ground and using special effects they put everything together with the live action. It's totally amazing.

Then it was the gift shop. I bought perhaps the most useless thing ever. Please don't tell my mom. I was in a dilemma about it, but then I decided to give in. I bought Prof. Snape's wand. Again he's my favorite character and his wand is black in color, so it's nice and it's also cheaper than what I saw during the Harry Potter exhibition in Singapore. At that time I remember I found the wands to be so expensive that I just couldn't. This one is still expensive at 20 GBP plus for a stick made in China (no surprise), but ultimately it was cheaper than when they're sold in Singapore then. Even though it doesn't have a purpose, I was really happy when I got it :D In the end I think I left at around 1 pm. For more pictures from Harry Potter Warner Bros. Studio, you can go here.

The plan for that day was to visit the National Gallery after Harry Potter Studio and the next day to visit the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey. Direction wise, they all made sense. However then I'd been hearing that the next day it would be a really rainy days in London, so it's better to do outdoor activity before that day. I hate having to change plan, I'm not very good with changes, but I had to. You can't be stubborn all the time, because you'll end up being stupid. So the plan next was to go to the Tower of London instead. Unfortunately the stupid me still did a stupid thing. I had actually googled the journey back and got the schedule. When I arrived in Watford Junction I was in such a hurry and stupidity that I didn't consult the TV board to confirm the schedule and check the correct platform and train. Instead I just walked on. I saw the train, seemed like a correct one and indeed it was, but it wasn't the express one. This one was the one that stopped at every stop, arrrghh!!! Okay the good point is at least I was in the correct train. However instead of the 20 mins or so, it took me so much longer.

I still arrived at the Tower of London and I should just be thankful for that. Just like everything else, I have booked for this. The staff didn't seem to scan the print out. It made me wonder if I could still use the ticket again. Unlike the other things I booked, the ticket for the Tower of London is valid for 7 days from your selected date instead of for a specific date. So anyway, just like everyone recommended, the first thing I did was to queue up to see the Crown Jewels. As expected the queue was long. People were writing that you should do this first to make sure you can get in. In retrospect, perhaps it's better to go see it nearer to closing time because I saw the queue was much shorter then. I really didn't enjoy being in the queue. I didn't like the noise, from the horde of French teens on a field trip to the 2 American girls behind me who couldn't stop talking. The queue moved pretty fast but it still took a lot of time from waiting outside to actually seeing all the crowns and all the other regalia. You can't take any picture here. There's a lot of gold and everything are impressive. Below is the building that houses the Crown Jewels.

The internet also recommends taking the free Yeoman Warder tour. However after I exited the Crown Jewels, I saw that the tour was already started. I didn't feel like joining them and so I went to see the ravens and then I explored the compound by walking the walls. Walking the walls bring you to the different towers and there's some exhibitions in them. After I was done I saw that there's another Yeoman Warder tour. Again I found them when they're already in the middle of their tour. When I found out they're visiting the Church of St Peter ad Vincula, I joined in. You can only enter this church with the Yeoman Warder tour. I couldn't remember much of the explanation in the church. After the church the tour was done, so yeah sadly I didn't experience the complete Yeoman Warder tour. After this, I went to see the old torture devices that they had; they're medieval kind and they were really scary. I also went to the White Tower where there are armouries on display, but I didn't feel like exploring this much. When I left the tower, I took another way to get to the tube station and I took pictures of the Tower Bridge.

It's been a long day, but considering the next day was my last day in London, I still had things to complete. I still needed to see the important sights. If you've been reading, I haven't gone to see Buckingham Palace yet. So I stopped at St. James Park. I was very tired and quite worried that this walk through the park would be long and I may not make it to the palace. Turns out St. James Park is very charming. It's quite small when you compare it to Hyde Park, but small thing can be better too. It's definitely pretty and it made for a really nice walk. I love it a lot. There's a lot birds, ducks and all and there's also some flower beds.

There's a bridge in its lake. Standing on the bridge, you will see the London Eye peeking from all the trees on one side and on the opposite side you will see the Buckingham Palace also peeking from all the trees.

I made it to the palace. There were a lot of tourists as expected. There were the guards. As you can see, the one on the left was marching. I don't know why he did that. Maybe they're allowed to do that when they're getting bored? The queen is not around because the flag is the UK flag.

I walked around the area a bit. Walked up to the big Victoria Memorial and that's pretty much it. The next day was my last day in London. That means I only have 1 more post to write people *phew* We're almost there peeps :D

:) eKa @ 9:53:00 PM • 0 comments

Day 8: Oxford, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwick Castle

everything that's broke
leave it to the breeze
let the ashes fall

Let It Go - James Bay

Day 8, I took a day tour that visited Oxford, Stratford-upon-Avon, and Warwick Castle. The tour group was again very big. I happened to sit next to a Singapore lady who's currently based in Hong Kong. She's in the banking industry and was in the UK for work. She's very hardworking, she brought her work in this trip. I talked to her a bit. Found out that she went on a trip to South America some months ago alone. I was very fascinated. I asked her how it was with zika virus around, she said she felt it's was over hyped. I wonder if it's a sign from God. It's like meeting Carl for the first time years ago, the first woman I knew who traveled alone. Me this time meeting another Singaporean woman who traveled to South America alone, a place that's quite on top of my list, is this a sign God? A sign that I can do this?

Anyways, first stop was to Oxford. I learned that Oxford university is composed of many colleges. Reading Wikipedia helps me understand this concept more. The guide took us on a walking tour around the main places. We didn't enter any of the buildings. Honestly I don't remember much of the places that the guide brought us around. There's this Bodleian Library which was used in Harry Potter movie as the hospital wing.

After the walking tour, we're given some time to explore on our own. I wasn't quite sure on what to do and I ended up visiting Balliol College which was nearby. You need to pay 2 GBP to enter. The colleges function as hall of residences as well and it made me think of my hall of residence back in NUS. It's not as cool; we didn't have a chapel, tower, or a beautiful garden, but we also didn't have random tourists walking around. We couldn't enter any of the buildings except for the chapel, but I still wondered if the students feel it's weird having all these tourists walking in. At that time the college felt very quiet, with not many people around, except for the few random tourists such as me. I wonder if it's because the school is on a break or if it's because it's a Sunday.

After Oxford, we made our way to Stratford-upon-Avon which is Shakespeare's birth place and also where one of Singapore founding fathers, Lew Kuan Yew, eloped. We got the chance to visit the Shakespeare’s Birthplace museum where you can see some exhibits about his life and works.

You also get to get into the house where he's supposedly born. The house is not very big and the rooms have been staged with things or art works to represent what life was like back then.

In the garden, there were actors enacting some parts of Shakespeare's plays. After this I made my way to the River Avon. There were so many people there that I didn't feel like exploring it. There's like a small pop up market by the side of the river. I only explored a bit of it and then I decided to walk back. I really don't enjoy crowd much.

Our last stop was Warwick Castle. The guide explained this castle a bit in the bus and she made a strange comment when she said if all of us were wondering if we're visiting a theme park.

The castle was bought by an entertainment company and when they opened in to the public, well they made it very commercial. There's a lot of games and activities for the kids. There were people in costumes greeting visitors and it really does have a theme park feel to it. In the castle, the rooms are staged with Madame Tussauds' like characters. It felt very Downton Abbey for me actually and it was rather interesting in a strange way.

One of the most precious room in the castle is perhaps the room that contained Queen Anne's bed. After exploring the castle, I went to explore the ground. The ground of the castle is very big and I didn't explore it all. There's this peacock garden with real peacocks. I didn't expect that. I thought when I saw feathers fluttering, they weren't real. Only when I came closer I saw that indeed there are peacocks. Lucky for us, there was one bird spreading its feathers.

It is rather strange visiting Warwick Castle. I totally didn't expect this, but I guess it's a good experience. I get to learn something about England. Downton Abbey towards the end touched on issues on how difficult it was for the nobility to manage their big estates and a lot of them fell to crumble. It also brought back to mind the comments one of the guides in Scotland said about how the whole land of Scotland are owned by only a few hundred people, but that doesn't mean they're really rich. They're perhaps land rich, but they may not have a lot of capital. A castle is difficult to maintain, you will need a lot of fund and you need to think on how to get those fund. While it's weird that this castle is managed this way for tourism, it's perhaps a good kind of different. The kids visiting seemed to be having a lot of fun. For pictures from these places, please go here.

On other note, I finished reading The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro. So this is like the 3rd book of the year. It's quite an interesting story, but I don't know if I like it much. There's a warrior, knight, dragon, and a old couple. Maybe it would make a good movie. The book started with an old couple. It talked about how they often forget things. I wonder if it's some sort of allegory for how old couple may forget important things about their lives due to sickness like Alzheimer. Do I use the word allegory correctly? :( Anyways, the ending felt sad and I don't know how to feel about the whole story. Kazuo Ishiguro writes beautifully for sure but out of the 2 books of his I read, this one and The Remains of the Day, I'm just not totally in love with his works. The Remains of the Day has an argument about politic that really stays with me though. I often think about it when I look at the world political situation, especially during election. So I guess he actually did a great job. If your work can stay with people and make them think about the world in a different perspective, well it's rare and it's quite an achievement. Right now I am reading the 3rd book of the Buru Quartet, the tetralogy written by the Indonesian author, Pramoedya Ananta Toer. My cousin kindly hunted for book 3 and 4 and gifted them to me when I went home during Chinese New Year. I just started on Jejak Langkah (or Footsteps in English) and our main character is in Jakarta now. His description on Jakarta is so interesting. The author used the word Jakarta, but I wonder if it's still known as Batavia. The Jakarta during colonial time had a lot swamps and monkeys roaming around. I am really really curious to see how Jakarta looked like back then, truly curious.

:) eKa @ 10:13:00 PM • 0 comments

Day 7: V&A Museum, Les Misérables, and Hyde Park

I go wherever I want, wherever I please
I look forward to the day where this is just a memory
Come on, come on I gotta get away
Save all the bullshit for another day
Get me a ticket and an alibi
There's nothing holding me down so teach me how to fly
Here we go, up up and away

Up Up And Away - Newton Faulkner

Day 7 was spent all day in London. The plan was to go to Victoria & Albert Museum then take an 1 hour or so break in Hyde Park before going to Queen's Theatre to watch the matinee performance of Les Misérables. The V&A Museum opens at 10 am so I didn't have to get up so early. Managed to get there without much trouble because the sign was clear from the tube exit. It's actually quite a long walk through the tunnel. The V&A Museum like many other museums in the UK are free. It's seriously really nice of them and imagine living in a place where you can see amazing collections and don't have to pay a single cent or penny as they say in England.

The V&A Museum is very big and it has such a varied collection. So varied that there were times when I was surprised finding what they have in their collection. Here are some of the different things I saw there. This below is a french board game about love. It's made of ceramic and I'm not sure if it's played with a dice. My french was too awful to understand how to play this.

This is one the gallery with paintings. I particularly like the dog there. I think there are many paintings from English painters. Unfortunately my knowledge on this is really limited. There's definitely a few from J. M. W. Turner, who I learned to know from a movie (Mr. Turner).

This one below is a stage set model from Matilda the Musical. The V&A Museum has a whole section on Theatre & Performance and it features sets like this from play or musical, costumes, and posters. Really interesting.

This one below is from the ceramics collections where there are many rooms with shelves and shelves of figurines such as below and also of ceramic plates, vases, and so on. I think it might be the biggest collection of this kind of figurine anywhere in the world. It's like when you are allowed to go crazy to collect as many things as you want, you may end up with all of this. I wonder how many of these items are there in total. Wikipedia tells me that there are 74,000 items in the ceramics section. For more pictures from this museum, you can go here.

So anyway here, quite early in my visit when I was in Raphael room, I met a girl who was in my tour group the day before. She was alone too then. By the way, the Raphael Room is quite something. It features these big paintings from Raphael and they belong to Her Majesty the Queen (again the royal family is really rich). So anyway, we kinda looked at each other the same time and so the only thing we could do was to say hi. Her name I found out later is Laura. At the beginning I thought she's an American Chinese. She does live in America currently, but in actuality she's PRC Chinese. I complimented her on her accent which sounded great and she said she worked hard on it. It made me feel sad that I don't have a good accent. She said let's walk together. She had a flight to catch later on so she couldn't stay long. We talked about this and that. She once spent some time in Singapore to do some design competition and she loves Singapore. She said she's actually with a group of people while in the UK for a study work trip, but she didn't feel like hanging out with them because she felt they're too young. I was curious about her age. She's 27 and these young kids she mentioned are in their early twenties. I was quite surprised finding out she's so much younger than me. I thought she would be nearer my age. She was surprised finding out I'm 34 and she said I looked like 23. I think she's being nice. By her logic, I should feel like I couldn't connect with people her age.

You might think after doing so many things alone in the past few days, I would have enjoyed the company and the chance to have a conversation. I actually didn't. Walking and talking, I feel it made for a rather distracted visit and one that wasn't effective especially considering I didn't have the whole day to spend. In Raphael's room I was curious to find where the Raphael Cartoons are. I couldn't find it then. We both agreed perhaps our understanding what the cartoons are is quite different from the actual thing. Now reading that link above, I think perhaps what I thought were just paintings by Raphael are the actual cartoons. So anyway, I actually just wanted to get off her, but I couldn't tell her. Then we kinda have circled the same area again and I said I was going up and she said okay perhaps she should start heading to the airport. At one point, she said she should ask for my Facebook. I told her that I don't use Facebook anymore, so that's just that. We said goodbye without making any attempt to stay in touch. I know it's very bad of me and I should be thankful that God gave me a friend for a short while and I should appreciate it. I hope she didn't feel that I was rude or anything. She was a really bubbly chatty girl. I wonder if it's because she's young and since I'm this old, I'm just so jaded. However I think I'm always jaded regardless which age I'm in, perhaps not when I was a toddler or in my teens. High school onwards I think I have a more tired look of the world :(

After we separated, I quickly explored the rest of the museum. The sections that I kinda missed or didn't see much were the Asian and Britain sections. There were so many things to see that I scrapped the plan to go to Hyde Park and I just stayed at the museum until it's near time to go to Queen's Theatre. I almost arrived late again. Oh my God, it's so bad of me. I arrived like 5 minutes before it started. I got a really good seat for this. Stall section, 4th row from the stage. It's not cheap, at 79.92 GBP, but it's much cheaper than in Singapore for the same section and I think it's one of the reasons why I chose to watch this in London. Another reason is because I have heard a lot of good things about it. The theatre is still kinda small if compared to Singapore, but I found the seat to have more space than Her Majesty's Theatre. Les Misérables was really really good. I love it so much more than The Phantom of the Opera. I actually have a new found appreciation for the 2012 movie and thought yeah Anne Hathaway did a really good job. Hearing On My Own still broke my heart like when I heard it for the first time sung by Joey Potter (Katie Holmes) in Dawson's Creek. It was really really good and I'm glad I went to watch it. I was on the fence about it because of cost and such and thought there were many other things I could be doing, but truly I'm glad I made the decision to watch it. Good job Eka. Oh, forget to write this before. One interesting thing about these theatres in London is that during intermission, inside the theatre, they sell snack, like Häagen-Dazs ice cream and you can eat it inside the theatre. I just can't imagine this being allowed in Singapore.

After it's done, since the sun was still out and it was still quite early, I thought I should go to Hyde Park next. Reading about this park, I found out that there are cycling paths that connect to Kensington Gardens and there are a few Santander Cycles stations nearby where you can rent a bicycle. So I thought that would be fun. Exiting the station, I couldn't find the docking station which my map told me should be there. Eventually I did spot it from across the street, but it looked empty for me and I didn't feel like investigating more, so I just walked in. You can't cycle in some places like the rose garden and Diana Memorial Fountain so walking has its benefit. There were quite a number of people there, tourists and families, enjoying the nice day with the sun. I saw this cave like tree which is so cool. A lot of kids were playing inside it and some were climbing up. I heard one of the kids shouted, "This is the most awesome tree ever!" and that kid was right :)

Reaching The Serpentine which is this lake in the park, there were more people sitting around it and birds, geese, and swans. Some of them are really big and some people threw some bread to feed them.

If you're really active, you can take one of those pedal boat and explore the lake. If I'm in any of this boat, I don't think I'll make it far. I walked all the way to the Serpentine Bridge which turns out to be a bridge accessible to cars as well. From here, you get a more lengthy view of the lake.

Nearby this area, I know that there's also a Santander Cycles docking station and I was right. I found it and there were some bicycles and there's this couple using the machine. Honestly, I really wanted to cycle around the park but at the same time I was also lacking the confidence to do so. It's like what if something went wrong, I got into trouble, and I couldn't figure it out. It's kinda the same fear as when I went to hike up Arthur's seat. You may think that I had done the extraordinary of going alone to a country thousand of miles away, 6 hours time difference from home, a country I have never been before, so I should be daunted by things as minor as these. Surely travelling alone to a foreign country was more difficult to do and a bigger mental mountain to climb. Yes it is, it's just, I have thought about this and I guess in my mind when there's trouble going up Arthur's Seat or cycling in Hyde Park, then I may trouble other people to help me and being that burden is bad and also very embarrassing. Getting on a plane alone and figuring out things are all on me, it would be very unlikely I would have to get people to rescue me. So when there's a chance I have to involve other people, I just get more shy about it I guess. I don't know if I am making sense or if this really is the issue in my head. Seeing that couple, I thought I had to do it because they're doing it as well. One of the points of travelling alone is to challenge myself, conquer my fear, try new things, and put myself in new different situation. I cannot always be in my comfort zone. So that's another reason I told myself I had to do this.

It took awhile for them to use the machine and then I understood why. Let me explain a bit about this Santander Cycles. In London there are a few of these unmanned Santander Cycles stations where you can rent a bicycle. Santander is a bank currently sponsoring it. With the many dedicated cycling paths in London, this is actually quite fun. You can also cycle on the roads, but I don't trust myself to do so. To rent the bicycle is quite straightforward. You need what in the UK is called a cash card. Basically if your ATM card or your credit card has a chip on it and you activate it for overseas use, I think you can use it. You go to the machine and follow the instruction and read the many disclaimers and information; there are really quite a number of pages hence the process is quite long. Using your card, you will pay 2 GBP for a 24-hour access to a bike. So this means for 24 hour you can take a bike in any of the docking station. Once you are done with the process, the machine will print out a slip with a number on it. You go to the bicycle that you want, I chose the one with the lowest seat possible, enter the code in the keypad and take the bicycle out. You suppose to check if the bike is okay to use, but what do I know about these things. The bicycle felt much bigger than what I thought it would be when I saw people using it. Though it was already the lowest seat I could find, only my toes managed to touch the ground. You can adjust the seat, but I didn't bother. You can also adjust the gear. When I started it felt super light and I was going much faster than anticipated going down, but I decided to keep it.

The first 30 minutes ride is free, but after that you will get charged. I forget the rate, you can check the internet if you're interested. The advice on the internet is to dock the bicycle before 30 minutes is up and then take out a new one if you still need it. This way you don't have to pay anything aside for the 2 GBP access. I actually don't know how the process to take out a new bike after docking works. I guess if you insert the same card then the system will notice it and you don't get charged again. Anyways, my plan was to just dock this bike before the 30 minutes. If I had followed my original plan, I should have cycled up to Kensington Gardens, but I chickened out on it because to do so I have to encounter cars as I navigated the Serpentine Bridge and the road around it. It is a shame but I think public safety is important. I don't trust myself. The last time I rode a bicycle was in Moerenuma Kōen back in 2013 and even then in an empty park I think I was a bad cyclist. In the end, I was just proud that I didn't kill anyone or anything like a bird. Yes there's dedicated cycling paths but there were many pedestrians as well. One time there was this toddler who just ran and almost got into the cycling path, luckily she didn't get hurt.

I basically just cycled back to Hyde Park Corner tube station. It was a really short route. I had fun and wished it could be longer. Okay let's put this in the list if I ever get a chance to go to London again, to try more of their cycling paths. I returned the bicycle at the docking station near Hyde Park Corner tube station. I know I should push the bike into an empty place, but I was a bit confused if I should consult the machine again upon returning. There were a few guys using the machine and as mentioned it takes a while, so I just pushed the bike into the docking station until the green light was on and it's really locked. I did it correctly because when I checked my bank transaction history, I was really charged only for that 2 GBP. It's really fun people, I suggest you give it a try when you're in London :)

:) eKa @ 4:51:00 PM • 0 comments