mixed dorm people sleeping

I love backpacking and one of the cheapest accommodation options you can have in London is living in a hostel. I stayed at Westminster at a place called The White Ferry House. It’s just a 5 minute walk from Victoria Station which was one of the major considerations I had – get near a major Underground tube station and you’re set to go anywhere.

It was also a plus point that a 15 minute brisk walk would bring me to the two major West End theatres in Westminster – Victoria Palace Theatre (showing Billy Elliot the Musical) and Apollo Victoria Theatre (showing Wicked the Musical).

When you don’t have enough time to find a CouchSurfing or BeWelcome place to crash in – hostels are the way to go. I’ve met lots of interesting people there. My favorite hostel in the world would be The Flying Pig (Downtown) in Amsterdam – it’s smack dab in the middle of the red light district and has a smoking room and coffeeshop.

hostel westminster

However, in London, I usually find myself at The White Ferry. It’s actually a pub that has accommodations upstairs. You get a free drinks voucher upon checking in (which can get you a pint of beer) and there’s free Wi-Fi in the pub downstairs too. Breakfast is provided as well and if you book early, it’s about 15 (30 on weekends) British pounds or so per night, which is cheap by London standards.

The local draft beer is really good and cheap too – there’s always specials with pints going for under 1 pound. The interesting thing about beer in the UK is that it’s not served icy cold like over here but just slightly chilled (a little above room temperature).

mixed dorm hostel london

The White Ferry only has mixed dorms (males and females bunking together) – I try and get in the 15 bed ones coz the 21 bed dorms can get a bit crowded. I’ve met some awesome people while staying there, including a French group who kindly shared their liquor with me. It’s fun to meet fellow travelers and set out together the next day to visit someplace – strangers into travel companions, an experience you will not get in a hotel.

shannon london

…and that’s why I love staying at hostels – it’s not only affordable but a great way to meet like-minded people and hear about their home country over a few drinks. :)

Short mention:


More at my YouTube channel

Here’s my submission for Samsung Global Blogger auditions – it’s a wee bit long…okay, it’s three times as long as it’s supposed to be, but it’s one take, just like life and I want to keep it that way.

Anyway, if you want to have a shot at winning a trip to London, just click on the link above and submit your very own 30 second video. The contest closes 29th April, so hurry. :)

wicked the musical

Wicked the Musical is one of the best musicals I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. It’s currently showing at Apollo Victoria Theatre in London. Yup, I caught the West End cast in this award winning production! :)

wicked

Wicked is actually based on the first of a trilogy of books by Gregory Maguire called Wicked – The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. Most of you would have watched or read The Wizard of Oz at some point in your childhood. It’s a good movie but ultimately suffers from being based on a children’s book – it’s all black and white, good versus evil.

wicked book

As you grow older, such concepts are foreign, nay, an insult to your intelligence, in a world you know has no such absolutes. It’s all shades of gray and Wicked will appeal to the older audience. The book and the musical adaptation has quite a few differences though – the book is darker and Dorothy does not make an appearance in the written word.

wicked glinda

However, I love the musical coz it weaves everything together and portrays Elphaba (the name of the Wicked Witch of the West) as a revolutionary who fights for the rights of Animals. She is ultimately a very misunderstood character and you can’t help but feel sorry for her.

wicked ticket

I managed to get reasonably good seats for 62.50 pounds (about RM 300) – it’s the very front row in the middle of the Dress Circle. I was impressed by the props on stage as well – the animatronic bird (?) hovering over the stage like a large pterodactyl that comes alive when the Wizard of Oz makes his speeches is awe inspiring!

apollo victoria wicked

The orchestra playing in front of the stage is so good that I went and bought the CD + program for 20 pounds. Wicked the Musical is probably best known for the song “Defying Gravity” which also appeared in an episode of Glee (the one with the wheelchairs in Season One).

wicked program cd

I won’t spoil the story for you but basically the musical is about Glinda (The Good Witch of the South), Elphaba (The Wicked Witch of the West) and Nessa (The Wicked Witch of the East) during their days in school.

orchestra

The witches weren’t known as such then (Glinda is such a selfish airhead) and the incredibly sad and touching series of events which culminated in the death of Nessa (damn Madame Morrible) and the vilification of poor Elphaba will bring a tear to even the most stone hearted man. >.<

elphaba

The production runs for about 3 hours, including an intermission between Act I and Act II and I cannot recommend it strongly enough for those with an interest in theatre (and even those without). If you only watch one musical in your lifetime, let it be Wicked. I got so angry at Galinda and felt so sorry for Elphaba even though it’s just great acting.

I can relate so much to Elphaba. T_T

No one mourns the wicked. :(

british mulled wine

I’ve never tried British mulled wine before and I’ve heard a lot of good things about it. It seems rather hard to find, despite it being winter when I was there but I finally managed to track it down.

mulled wine

Mulled wine is red wine with spices like cinnamon added and served warm. It comes out of a pot – the glass of wine is filled by ladling the hot mulled wine into it.

mullet wine

The taste is quite extraordinary – the warm drink makes it perfect for sipping and the sugar and cinnamon tones makes it very palatable indeed…even for non-drinkers. It’s awesomeness in a glass during the cold days of winter! :)

london 2011

Greetings from London! Yes, I am still here, hanging around and catching several theatre shows I’ve wanted to see. I’ll be heading to Tsibili, Georgia the day after (Friday) for my primary destination, although it seems like I’ve spent more time in London than anywhere. -_-”

Georgia has been in the news quite a bit lately (on BBC anyway) and it seems like it’s going to be an interesting trip!

priscilla musical

Anyway, I should be heading around but have been tempted with getting a dose of culture in the city. I’ve seen Wicked (awesome), Billy Elliot (not my thing), Oliver! (nice, and a good thing I catched it before it finishes its run) and my favorite – Chicago! =D

All theatre tickets kindly paid for by the betting centers around here. ;) I’m totally serious, I go out everyday and hit the Roulette machines after breakfast and won EVERY FUCKING SINGLE DAY.

bet and win

Nothing big, mind, about 100 pounds per day average, was satisfied with 50 pounds once but it’s 100 pounds is my target. It’s been paying for my expenses, so what the hell. smirk

I’ve also found this place which serves awesome fish and chips. Fish anyway. I have never thought that there would be huge differences in fish and chips, it being a simple dish and all, but there is. The chips are nothing to write home about, but their beer batter fried cod is to die for – crispy on the outside and the tender flesh just about melts in your mouth.

cod and chips

Delicious!

Anyway, I haven’t figured out where to go after I come back from Georgia yet, but I’ll need one last day here to go shopping for clothes.

It’s the post-festive season now so there are discounts galore. VAT is going to increase to 20% from 17.5% in 2011 and that’s another factor outlets are having insane sales too. I’m going to pick up a couple of pieces of attire – Chinese New Year is coming up (yeah, am old skool that way :p) and designer brands here are surprisingly cheap.

jesus ultrasound

It’ll have to be on the very last day though coz I don’t want to be lugging bags of clothes around, slowing me down. It’s pretty rainy right about now, and I saw some fluffy snow flakes falling down a couple of days ago and the forecast says it’s going to snow on Friday.

Anyway, till next time…Huai Bin, signing off. =D

Posted: 12:53 London time (GMT +0)

happy new year 2011

I must admit, I have been slightly depressed – worrying about everything – health, finances, work. I don’t even know if I can make my money last for this sojourn to Europe.

Hell, I’m not even sure I can put a roof over my head during this entire trip, which is driving me to financial ruin. I was starting to think it’s a bad idea after all.

I haven’t been looking forward to this trip, to be honest. I was on the verge of saying “Fuck it” and crawled back home.

However, when the flight took off and the pilot told us to look to the right for the New Year 2011 celebrations, I felt…something.

Looking down at the fireworks from 35,000 feet in the air, it really hit me – this is a NEW YEAR.

It’s a time for new beginnings, a fresh start, and hell, I am going to ENJOY my Europe vacation!

So here I propose a toast – to new beginnings! :)

ALL HAIL 2011!
P/S – The nicely scented pen plucked from the bosum of the AirAsiaX flight attendant’s uniform I’m using to write this on a scrap of paper might have contributed to the general uplift in mood. ;)

Posted: 10:09 am London time (GMT +0)

stonehenge me

I made it a point to go to Stonehenge during my trip to England. My only regret was that Stonehenge is not located in Amsterdam. I think I would have gotten much more out of it if it were there. ;)

rock cake stonehenge

Anyway, I have lots of photos and videos of Stonehenge so I’ll do a full writeup of this place soon. I read in Wikitravel that I should not miss the Stonehenge rock cake after immersing myself in the mysteries of Stonehenge.

stonehenge rock cake

I don’t know who wrote that but I can tell you that I’ve eaten better rock cakes. It’s 1.99 pounds (about RM 10) and it’s nothing more than a marketing gimmick. Go to Stonehenge to see the rocks, avoid the rock cakes. ;)

jacket potatoes

Jacket potatoes are probably the closest thing to street food in England. These are hot spuds with toppings of your choice. The potatoes are huge – it’s more than a size of a man’s fist and rather filling, with all the carbs inside.

jacket potatoes stall

I had one during a particularly chilly day in autumn. There are a lot of fillings to choose from – I went with bacon and cheese.

jacket potatoes topping

The cost of your jacket potato depends on what you want on it, but usually costs about 4-5 pounds or so (about RM 20+).

jacket potatos

The jacket potatoes is put into an oven and toasted to melt the cheese and although it may be a simple dish, it’s comfort food – perfect for the cold weather. :)

england draft beer

The closest thing to English cuisine is probably the food you get in pubs. Pub grub comprises of dishes ranging from bangers and mash to more elaborate Sunday roasts.

pub grub

I once asked a resident what the best food locals eat in London is and he quickly answered, in all seriousness, I might add – Chinese and Indian food. He went on to explain the cultural melting pot made curries and such a staple of modern gastronomy.

english pub

Pub food is probably the last bastion against the influence of globalization (not that I’m against it, it’s just that I want to eat proper English food, whatever that may mean, while I’m there). It’s best served with a pint (or three) of one of their local draft beers, which is nowhere near as carbonated as other beers – it’s pulled manually and comes up with a proper head.

england pub

One interesting thing I noticed about the pubs is that you can ask for an extra pull if you feel that the foam is too much. More beer. w00t.

I hereby present a selection of the pub grub that I’ve had during my vacation there:

Scampi and chips

scampi and chips

This is a variant of the popular fish and chips – substituting scampi instead of fish. It’s served with slab cut potatoes and green peas. I also had a pickled egg on the side. It’s an acquired taste, pickled eggs. I love pickled eggs with my fish and chips when I was in Melbourne.

Traditional full English breakfast

english full breakfast

It has the works – bacon, portobello mushroom, grilled tomato and toast.

Chicken pie

chicken pie

This chicken pie is rather unorthodox as the filling isn’t INSIDE the pie. Instead, the chicken filling is served on the side and the pie crust is empty. The boiled potatoes fulfills the carb intake and is best eaten with butter. Delicious!

Sunday Roast

sunday roast

This can differ according to which pub you go to but it’s basically a choice of meat with gravy and some sides to fill you up.

Scrumpy Pork Hock

pork hock

Now this is one juicy and remarkable piece of work. A huge chunk of pork is served with mash and green beans. The pork is tender – it’s the cut near the leg, also known as pork knuckle. It has a lot of tendons in addition to the meat and fat, which makes it all the more palatable. The gravy is made of apple and cider sauce. Mmm…

Bangers and mash with black pudding

bangers and mash

Bangers and mash is traditional pub grub – it’s sausages with mashed potatoes and gravy. I also ordered some blood pudding to go with it.

black pudding

Blood pudding or black pudding is a type of sausage made with pigs blood and it’s as tasty as it comes. Definitely a must try in England. :)

hogwarts

Posted: 7:29 pm London time (GMT 0)

london

Hello! This is the obligatory “I iz here” post. I am where GMT is exactly that – zero! I’ve been up for quite a while, my body thinks it’s 8 pm when it’s actually only 12 pm. T_T

alex sharon

I didn’t manage to get much sleep last night too but you know the oft repeated phrase “Small world, huh?” Yup, I bumped into Alex and Sharon in London! I asked them about a bus route and later we bumped into each other while waiting for the coach and he asked if I was sixthseal.com coz my face looks familiar. See you both in Amsterdam!

Anyway, back to London, it looks old…er, I mean it has character at first glance. The skies are a little bit gloomy and it drizzled almost non-stop. >.<

kind local

I have a very good first impression of this city though. I got a little lost on my way to the hostel where I’m backpacking and asked a hurried looking woman on the street the way. I expected her to walk on saying she didn’t know but she stopped, rummaged around in her handbag for a book and patiently consulted it and told me where to go. She said that book/map is the only way she manages to find the way around the city. Good first encounter with the locals – willing to help despite being in a hurry.

I’m waiting to check into my hostel right now, having a pint of their fine local draft beers. Let me just give you a brief run through of what happened after I got here:

breakfast

Grabbed a full traditional English breakfast with two pints of the local ale. Where else can you have a pint at 9 am in the morning without having weird looks, nay, with other people doing the same thing! =D

milk

Went to the local and bought some essentials and this creamy milk – it’s unhomogenized fresh milk from Jersey cows and it tastes awesome!

I made a huge mistake by exchanging the bulk of my currency at the airport. I got a 5.8 exchange rate instead of a 5.1 exchange rate in KL, resulting in a loss of GBP 80 (around RM 400). I saw that the exchange rates are more favorable in town so it’s still okay to change your money here, just not at airports.

roulette

Anyway, I decided to take matters into my own hands and get back the GBP 80 by stepping into one of the many betting places over here. They operate kinda like the Aussie betting spots – horses etc with a couple of pokies machines thrown in. However this one offers Bacarrat!

roulette win

I inserted GBP 100 and bet GBP 40 on Red – and won! I bet another GBP 40 and lost, and the losing streak continued till I finished my GBP 100. I put in another GBP 200 (swearing that if I lost this, I’m going to go) and started betting consistantly GBP 100 (about RM 500) per spin. I kept on losing and winning and lost the GBP 200.

winning slip

I damn won’t give up lor and put in another GBP 200 (for total buy in of GBP 500). I bet GBP 100 each round again and kept on losing and winning and was about to give up and just write off the GBP 500 (RM 2,500) loss until I went on a winning streak.

It was a tough battle but in the end I managed to get GBP 600. w00t!

pound winnins

That’s a GBP 100 (RM 500) net profit after my GBP 500 buy in. I managed to cover the GBP 80 loss in exchange rate and have a nice breakfast and a couple of pints courtesy of the machine to boot. ;)

600 pounds me

God Bless the Queen! =D

pints

I’m heading down to Stonehenge and the Roman Baths tomorrow. Catch you on the flipside!

Posted: 1:11 pm London time

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