It has almost been a month since I came back from a short visit to London. Had wanted to blog about the trip but was too caught up with work upon returning to Singapore. I was startled to read about the riots in London coz these took place just a few days after we left. I pray that the UK and her people will recover quickly from the aftermath.
Main reason I went to London was for this year’s Hillsong Europe Conference. Pastor Prince (my church’s pastor) was a guest speaker at the conference so I really looked forward to it.
I have been to London at least 3 times but never had time to explore the city. It was airport-hotel-trade show-conference-suppliers’ factory-hotel-airport. I had spent more days in London this time round than all of my previous trips’ sum total.
It’s supposed to be summer now in London but weather was nice and cool during my visit. I enjoyed the cool weather (with some rain thrown in) although a few of the locals whom I spoke to were not too delighted with it.
As you know, the UK is steeped in history. Not sure if this is true but some people even told me that it’s one of the most haunted countries in the world. So much so that tour operators in London offer ‘Ghost Tours’ where they will bring you to the most haunted spots in the city and hopefully, sight a few ghosts along the way. However, we never went on these tours coz they didn’t appeal to us at all. Besides, in the evenings, there were too many musicals to catch (and too little time!). We managed to catch only 3 musicals – Wicked, Les Miserables, and Phantom of the Opera. But looking at the sheer number of musicals running, I daresay even if we were to stay for a month and catch a different musical every single night, we’ll still be unable to complete watching all of them.
The Shakespeare Globe Theatre
One of the most memorable evenings was watching the play, ‘Anne Boleyn’ at the Shakespeare Globe Theatre. Shakespeare Globe Theatre is a modern reconstruction of 16th century Elizabethan era theaters. Audience either stand around the yard or sit on wooden benches in the gallery to watch the open-air performance. Of course during Elizabethan times, I’m sure the theatre would be even more rustic and perhaps less clean than its modern rendition. Nevertheless, we love it coz it’s as close as we can get to the real thing. Besides, the play itself was hilarious!
Personally, I think the Tudor period was one of the most fascinating periods in English history, due in no small part to the personal lives of King Henry VIII, his 6 wives and 3 (legitimate) children, one of whom has now a cocktail named after her (Bloody Mary) and the other, England’s greatest queen, Elizabeth I. The play, ‘Anne Boleyn’ that we watched was about Elizabeth I’s mother and 2nd wife to King Henry VIII. Sadly, she was beheaded on the charges of witch-craft, incest and adultery, after the king tire of her. Anyway, I don’t believe any of those charges to be true.
In historical texts and novels, I have often read about Hampton Court, the palatial palace built by Cardinal Wolsey (who was one of Henry VIII’s most trusted advisors but who later fell from grace when Anne Boleyn became queen coz she hated him) just outside London. So it was on my list of ‘must-visits’. Felt really thrilled to be there finally.
Initially, we set aside just 3 hours to explore the place but ended spending about 5 hours there, and would have stayed longer if not becoz we had a musical to catch back in London. What added to the experience at Hampton Court were the performances enacted throughout the day. The performances were about King Henry VIII’s 6th wife, Queen Katherine Parr. and the storyline, which was played out in sequence at different times of the day, was taken from this particular episode when Katherine Parr was Queen, where she was in danger of being convicted for heresy and treason becoz of her views on religion. We thoroughly enjoyed the performances, the Tudor royal costumes, etc.
Btw, Hampton Court is also a very haunted place as it has seen its fair share of tragedies over the centuries. At a particular gallery, visitors have regularly reported feeling chills go down their spines as though something is watching them. Thank God we felt nothing. Also, a few years ago, it was reported in the news that the CCTV at Hampton Court captured footages of a strange figure in Tudor-style clothing wandering around certain areas of the palace ground. The face looked really eerie and nobody could identify the figure. What’s more, it all took place when the palace was closed to visitors.
We also took a day-trip with London Walks by train to Cotswolds where we get to spend the entire day exploring the villages, mostly on-foot. Of course there are full day coach tours that will bring you to Cotswolds, Oxford, Bath and Warwick Castle in a single day but that means everything is done at a whirlwind pace as they shuttle you from place to place. We preferred to devote an entire day to just Cotswolds to soak in its beauty. We even managed to enjoy a lovely, leisurely lunch at one of the village’s quaint little restaurants, Eight Bells. Cotswolds is indeed beautiful, everything I have imagined an English countryside to be. Of course, having Richard as a guide added tremendously to our appreciation of Cotswolds.
Another memorable experience was high tea at the Ritz. Actually for us, it was more of a brunch than high tea becoz even though we had booked more than 2 months ahead, we could only get a table for the 11.30am slot. They have 5 slots daily- 11.30am,1.30pm, 3.30pm, 5.30pm and 7.30pm and tables are snapped up very fast! So if you are thinking of having high tea at the Ritz, please book as soon as you can.
To be honest, the food was nothing extraordinary. They are standard English tea fare like finger sandwiches, scones and pastries. But it was really the whole ensemble that turned it into a special event. For a start, you know that you are following in the footsteps of celebrities and dignitaries like King Edward VII, Sir Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin and Judy Garland, who were regular patrons of high tea at the Ritz. Maybe that’s why there’s such an old-world grandeur about the place.
Secondly, besides the opulent Edwardian-style interiors, the whole tea room is somehow bathe in an glowy, ethereal light which gives the place an unearthly charm. So although it is very elegant, it doesn’t feel stiff or stuffy at all. On the contrary, we felt really comfy.
Third, I guess it’s the guests themselves. As there is a dress code for high tea here, you don’t see people wearing T-shirts, bermudas or flip-flops. Gentlemen put on their coats (and sometimes ties) while ladies wore elegant luncheon or cocktail dresses. We even spotted a few ladies wearing lovely hats (wondered where they got those?) which are usually seen only in fashion spreads. I just wish that fine-dining restaurants and tearooms in Singapore will also insist on proper dress codes too. Somehow, part of the fun in going for fine-dining is the dressing up part where you plan your outfit, hair, make-up, etc.
Therefore, besides high tea at the Ritz, we felt that no visit to London is complete without a night at a fine-dining restaurant. Our 1st choice was ‘The Fat Duck’ but since it’s quite a distance from London and we can’t find enough time to make the trip, we decided on ‘Le Gavroche’ instead.
However, I only had 45 minutes to shower, do my hair and dress-up coz we visited Warwick Castle on the same day we went to ‘Le Gavroche’. I didn’t even had time for make-up although for this occasion, I would like to put on some make-up just for the fun of it. By the time we returned to our hotel in London, it was already 7.30pm. Really, I wondered how in the world do coach tours cram Warwick Castle, Cotswolds, Oxford and even Bath in a single day?!
By the way, Warwick Castle is beautiful but it felt somewhat ‘disneyfied’ so we didn’t quite like it as much as Hampton Court. There’s an attraction there called the ‘Castle Dungeon’ which I personally feel is too dark and scary for young kids and not very appropriate due to its gruesome content. In fact, we regretted going in too coz it’s all about medieval ways of torturing people and the actors were too good.
On the way to Le Gavroche (my double-eyelid look without glasses and make-up)
Back to Le Gavroche, we opted for the 8 course degustation menu with wine pairings. We thought that the portions were going to be minuscule like all fine-dining restaurants, but we were so wrong! By the 5th course, I already felt very stuffed but more food and wine keep coming. When the cheese trolley came out, I was very impressed by the splendid array but in my mind, I was wondering who on earth can still eat cheese after all those food?! However, when I glanced over at the next table, I saw the diners happily tucking into a whole plateful of cheese. Amazing!
Anyway, we asked for very tiny itsy-bitsy slices and I think the waitress on the other hand was rather shocked that we are not eating more of their fine cheeses. Fortunately, the cheese was served with tart fruit compote so we didn’t feel so ‘jelak’(malay word for ‘overstuffed with rich, heavy foods’). Don’t get me wrong, the cheeses were very good. It was just that we had already been very well-fed with so many courses.
By the time we left the restaurant, it was close to midnight.
With all these eating and drinking, it’s a good thing that we walked a lot in London. Also, I believe the cold weather helped to burn off any extra calories (coz our bodies must fend against the cold by burning more ‘fuel’). I actually lost 2kg after the whole trip despite all the food!
After a week of sightseeing, it was time for us to attend the Hillsong Europe Conference.
Our Room at the Bloomsbury Hotel
As Hillsong Conference was held at the O2 which is located about 45 minutes away from our hotel in central London, we had to move to a hotel nearer to the O2 for convenience. I was really sorry to say goodbye to our central London hotel, The Bloomsbury. It’s located near the West-end theaters and it’s very convenient for dining and shopping. Besides, the hotel itself was beautiful and the room we had was very spacious, comfortable and lovely. I highly recommend this hotel to anyone looking for good accommodation in central London.
Our Suite at The Novotel ExCel
Our next hotel was the Novotel ExCel which is much closer to O2. It is also a nice hotel but in terms of decor, it is definitely on the contemporary side. Very different from The Bloomsbury in terms of ambience and service. The rooms in general are also smaller, even for the Executive category. Fortunately, we received a free upgrade to a corner suite so in the end, our room was bigger than the one we had at The Bloomsbury, even though it was less plush.
It was our 1st time attending a Hillsong Conference and we looked very much forward to it. The excitement was palpable amongst the congregation throughout the entire 2.5-day conference. The praise and worship sessions were totally awesome and it was wonderful to see people from all over the world gathered at here just to revel in the presence of Jesus.
Besides Pastor Prince, we greatly enjoyed Bishop T.D. Jakes’ dynamic sermons. His words have the power to rev up your engines. I love the way he read the Bible too in King James version. Every word from the Bible somehow came to life when he read it and the passage became so captivating that I just wished he’ll keep on reading. Later, I found out that he was a member of the cast who read the audio Bible, “The Bible Experience”.
During the Hillsong Conference, we learned about this amazing organization called ‘COMPASSION’. They are doing wonderful works for the Lord by helping children, babies and mothers living in poverty-stricken parts of the world. Do check out their website at http://www.compassion.com/ to find out more.
We look forward to attend Hillsong Conference again next year (and of course, to holiday in another part of Europe).