I felt it would be a pity to fly to London just for a few days to attend the 15th anniversary of Gran Turismo and then fly back, so I decided to extend my stay for five more days. I’ve been to London a couple of times before and I have done the tourist stuff like Big Ben, London Eye, Tower Bridge, River Thames, Madame Tussauds, changing of guards at Buckingham Palace and also caught a few popular plays.
Throwback: this is a photo of me taken on my second trip to London back in 2010 – I was going round the London Eye and that’s Big Ben in the background
London is a place I really don’t mind going back to again and again. Thankfully, one of my close girlfriends by the name of Daphne Maia Loo shares the same sentiments as me about London, hence she agreed to join me on this trip! We just returned from a bikini weekend in Phuket with six other girlfriends, so that was a lot we saw of each other. I’m not complaining :p
We flew up on the same day (though on different airlines) but I was busy the first two days due to work, so she kept herself entertained by making her way to some Harry Potter studio. I read all the books and watched all the movies but I’m not as big a fan as she is, hence I thought it was a wise decision for her to go on her “magical experience” by herself.
For two people to make awesome travel buddies, it would greatly help if they have similar lifestyles. Daphne and I bonded over our quest to live healthy – that is, eat clean, train mean and get lean. We watch what we eat, we have the same trainer and actually, we generally have similar sentiments towards life. We don’t hit the pubs or the clubs and we sleep early, like before midnight. Hence, travelling with each other was easy.
Daphne also makes the effort to prepare her own meals, to keep them as clean and diet-friendly as possible, and that was where I stood to gain! While I was out at the hosted dinner on the first night, she went to buy healthy food and then made overnight oats, as well as chicken salad for the next day. Even though we are on vacation and there is some inconvenience like not having the right cutlery or not having a microwave oven, she made the best out of the situation and drew motivation from having to prepare for two people instead of just for herself.
Our holiday properly started on a Wednesday and guess what we started it with? No prizes for guessing – a workout in the hotel gym!
We were suffering from jetlag so we were awake at around 4.00 am. By 6.00 am we thought we should just head to the gym and get our workout done. Daphne was thinking the gym might be empty at that hour, but no it was super crowded! All these professionals and executives were probably squeezing in their exercise before going to work.
Our trainer Joey had prescribed some workout routines for us to do on our own and we were squashed in a corner puffing our chests out with squats, butt kicks, reverse lunges, mountain climbers and star jumps. I wonder what thoughts the other gym-goers had about us!
In this exact workout attire, which was drenched in my perspiration, I walked into the coffee house for the hotel breakfast by myself and you should have seen those stares I got from everyone else who were decked in corporate attire. Oops.
I really enjoy huge hotel breakfast buffets because there will definitely be healthy food that will not compromise my eat-clean diet. At the Sofitel Heathrow, I was spoilt for choice beween bran, oat porridge, muesli and yoghurt so I took a bit of everything!
We checked out before noon and made our way to Central London, to the place that we were putting up in for the rest of the trip. Hotels are not cheap there, so what I would recommend is to get on to websites like Roomorama or Airbnb and you can get much cheaper accommodation if you don’t mind taking a room at someone’s house.
This was what we got for GBP 80 a night at a place in Vauxhall. There’s a dressing table which wasn’t captured in this photo. Toilets are shared with the rest of the people in the house and simple breakfast was included (cereal, oats, milk and the like).
The owner of the house we stayed in openly declared he is gay on the website, so we had some interesting reading material.
By the time we settled in, it was already mid-day so we headed to Covent Gardens for some shopping before meeting up with Daphne’s friend at Leicester Square for afternoon tea at Maison Bertaux. Yes, we cut ourselves a little slack and had a few bites of each. We walked it off later anyway!
When in London, catching a play or a musical is a must! Daphne has seen most of the popular ones, so we caught a relatively new one – The Bodyguard. I remember watching the movie with my mum when I was a kid and I loved the storyline. Matched with a good musical cast and the play was just awesome!
I saw this and wouldn’t have mind watching this over The Bodyguard, but Daphne is not a fan of cars at all, so…
The next day we planned for a day trip to Oxford – I have a friend studying there, while Daphne has a friend living there. Before heading out, we jogged to the nearby Kennington Park for another workout session first. The weather is pretty cold so I had to pad up with a jacket and track pants. I’ve exercised in the cold before and it’s funny how your hands get colder the faster you run. Anyway, we did some push ups, burpees, high knees, bench dips and step ups, and it got us breaking into quite a sweat.
We had already pre-purchased our National Rail tickets to Oxford online and collected them, so we just needed to get to the London Paddington station. The children’s book character Paddington Bear was named after the station and there was a merchandise shop with all things Paddington Bear. How adorable!
The train ride was about an hour long and Daphne prepared chicken-salad-in-a-lunchbox for us again. Oh, what will I do without her!
I’m familiar with the name Oxford but it’s not an association that I’m particularly fond of, as it used to appear on a lot of my revision and assessment books when I was back in school. Oxford city is built around the University of Oxford, the oldest university in the country and the English-speaking world. If I didn’t have a friend studying there currently, I wouldn’t even have thought of visiting the town. I mean, not many people would get excited about visiting a bunch of historical academic buildings and colleges right?
There are guided walking tours you can sign up for. The standard one would be to tour the university and visit some of Oxford’s 38 colleges (including the gardens, halls and chapels) and museums. Themed tours that might interest include CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien or Pottering in Harry’s Footsteps. Harry Potter fans would probably want to see locations where some of the scenes were shot, such as the Great Hall in Christ Church College which is Hogwarts Hall in the movie.
We chose to walk on our own instead and ended up buying exercise gear at Sweaty Betty, a fitness clothing shop. Ha ha ha!
I saw this bus in Oxford and I thought it was a sign – maybe I should have watched it instead of The Bodyguard, oops.
We also came across Hotel Chocolat, a British chocolatier and cocoa grower with some really luxury chocolate. I couldn’t resist buying these sinful ones, with the initial intention of giving them to friends as souvenirs. Alright I confess, I failed the staring contest against them and ended up eating them a few days later (when Daphne was out somewhere).
The only chocolates that Daphne eats, and allowed me to eat, were these dark ones that were so bitter. *makes a face*
We went to the meadow by the Christ Church College and Daphne wanted more jump shots. This was only the second time in her life doing a jump shot.
Not many people know how to use my 1DX so we couldn’t get a jump shot of us both. In fact, it was already quite hard getting someone to take a simple photo of us both. Coincidentally, we both had white jackets and black tights on.
Oxford was colder than Central London and I had to get my extra jacket out. I’m really very bad in cold weather It’s only end of Spring and I’m wrapped up in five layers, complete with thermal wear. Extreme? I know… Daphne was in disbelief too.
We went off to meet our respective friends after that. My friend Robin took me around some of the colleges and also to see Radcliffe Camera and the Bodleian Library. I also had the chance to eat in the Lincoln College dining hall where he was studying. It’s like a cookhouse where meals are prepared by the school and you just have to show up in your cloak (compulsory dress code). Each student is allowed to bring a guest so I could go in and get a taste of communal eating, Oxford style. It reminded me a little of Harry Potter!
It’s a simple three-course meal consisting of soup, a main and dessert, and the menu is usually emailed ahead of time. This is not something that anyone could experience unless you study there or have a friend studying there; unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to take photos in the dining hall and I even got scolded when I tried to use my phone to take photos of the food! I managed to discreetly take some though:
Since both of us have been around Central London a few times already, we decided to head out of London more, so we planned another day trip – this time to Bath Spa.
The name ‘Bath Spa’ intrigues me and makes me wonder if the entire city is one huge bath. Close. From what I researched on the internet, the city was established as a spa by the Romans. Once again taking the National Rail from Paddington Station, the journey took about 90 minutes.
I bought some magazines for the ride…
… but I ended up sleeping most of the journey. I was really tired for some reason, after getting back so late each night and from all the walking (back home I drive more than I walk you see).
When we got to Bath Spa, we were hungry so we bought some food and paid entry to get into the Parade Gardens and have a picnic there.
There was this little boy who didn’t want to leave the gardens:
We only had about half a day to explore Bath, so we decided to rent a bicycle to get to as many attractions as possible. Bath, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has some pretty architectural sights such as the Royal Crescent, the Circus and Pulteney Bridge, as well as museums and of course, the main attractions like the Roman Baths and Thermae Bath Spa.
The thing about Bath Spa is, there are A LOT OF slopes. I nearly burst my thighs pedalling like mad on one of the steeper slopes. Sheesh!
This is the Royal Crescent, one of the most photographed places at Bath Spa. Built between 1767 and 1775 and designed by John Wood the younger, the Royal Crescent has about 30 houses, one of which is a hotel.
Near the Royal Crescent is The Circus, another spot with good photo opportunities. What did we do? Jump shots!
I set the camera up for Daphne and after a while, she got a decent jump shot of me! Hooray!
Bath Spa is full of tourists, most of whom were queuing for the Roman Baths. The Roman Baths is not something that you can soak in, but you can buy a ticket to go in and view it. This is Britain’s only hot spring and the Romans built a temple and a bathing complex which flows with natural hot water.
If you would like to take a dip, you can do so at the Thermae Bath Spa, where you can have a spa session in the New Royal Bath or the Cross Bath. There is a whole range of bathing packages that you can choose from, including access to the indoor Minerva Bath and the open-air rooftop pool with spectacular views over the city of Bath.
We didn’t go for a bath, neither did we pay to go see where the Romans used to bathe.
Instead, we went in search of the famous Ben’s Cookies that our common friend requested for. There are outlets everywhere in Central London but in case we didn’t have time to get them before we go back, we thought we might as well get them in Bath Spa.
The cookies are mouth-watering and I could easily eat like 12 of them at one go. We gave ourselves a little cheat treat and shared a double chocolate chunk between us.
It’s the soft, moist and chewy kind that melts in your mouth. YUM. It would have been better if it was piping hot though, especially in cold weather. They are freshly baked daily but the one we got wasn’t warm when handed to us. It’s 400 calories per cookie by the way – think about how many kilometres you have to run to work that cookie off! Still, I love my cookies.
That was the end of our Saturday at Bath Spa. When Sunday rolled around, we had one more workout to complete and we were feeling lazy. Daphne even took to hiding in the curtains.
We eventually dragged our butts out into the old and did the Tabata workout Joey prescribed. This was how I looked, on a I-don’t-really-feel-like-a-workout day:
The rest of the day was chill and we just strolled the streets of Central London. Both of us are huge Hello Kitty fans and no matter which country I travel to, I somehow never fail to buy something Hello Kitty. This was my last Kitty haul from London:
I very nearly bought this too:
What was the one thing that Daphne and I missed a lot when on holiday? CHINESE FOOD. That’s why we were willing to wait 30 minutes for a table at Four Seasons, the Chinese restaurant in London famous for its roast duck.
We were so happy after that! Nothing beats having cooked vegetables, Chinese style. Just as quickly as our holiday started, it ended even quicker. Daphne took a train out to Newcastle on Monday morning and we had to say our goodbyes then, as my flight wasn’t until at night.
She barely left the house for five minutes and I was already missing her. Then she texted me to say she left me something on the window sill: a card and a white chocolate chunk cookie from Ben’s Cookies! So so so so so so sweet of her:)
Travelling with her was a really good experience and that’s something I appreciate. We do have our differences, despite having similar lifestyles, but they aren’t major differences that we cannot accommodate. For example, she needs to be on her phone 24/7 when she’s awake and I need to turn on my laptop every night before I sleep to do work.
One night, I was up till late and she conveniently sprawled herself across the bed just as I was shutting down my laptop to go to bed.
Quite importantly, we understand each other’s sense of humour too.
There have been funny anecdotes on this trip that I will remember for a long time, such as the time when we sat in the train long after it stopped because she insisted we were not at our designated station yet, or the time she carried the bicycle lock all the way back from Bath Spa and wondered why her backpack was so heavy. Then there was another incident where we encountered metal toilet bowls (at Bath Spa) and she had to choose of all times to do some big business.
That toilet had the weirdest sink too:
We have the same trainer, whom we bully a lot, and he wanted a Paddington Bear plush from us (for himself, not for his girlfriend).
So we got him a really cute one that Daphne had to keep in her backpack the whole time and even handcarry back. I told him that if he dares to bully us, that bear is ending up in the river.
Daphne has been with me every step of the journey since I started in February. I really wanted to lead a healthier lifestyle and achieve my desired body. The past two years of increased travel on the job has caused my body much suffering from the bad food choices, the lack of sleep and the lack of exercise.
This is a friendship I know I want to keep for life… and death.
Here’s to the worst bed heads Daphne, cheers!