Wednesday, August 13, 2014

London Holiday, Looking Back

It's exactly a week since my daughter and I returned from London. My body is nearly recovered though I still have some aches. My legs felt better and the blister in my right sole is healed. Looking back I admit the holiday went by just great except for the dreadful walk almost daily - apartment to train station, within central London, and again, after a dreary day, back to the apartment. Thankfully the weather was great. The wet forecast for 2 days we walked the streets of London failed to materialize. We just loved the fantastic summer temperature, sunshine and breeze. The sunblock we applied did half the job and I got a little burn on my face and arms.

I was afraid my knees would give in during the holiday. I has bought a foldable walking stick just in case. Well, the case never came and towards the last 3 days I reprimanded myself for being untrusting on my knees and lugging the stick all over. As a person who just need to plan for the worst case scenario, even the assorted mini pharmacy I packed wasn't even looked at except my daily pill box which I take routinely. In spite of the heavy physical activity, and deprived of my afternoon naps which I needed, I was surprisingly fit and in great health. I think the weather contributed much. Even without air conditioning we slept comfortably in the apartment. And I nary sweat or smell being outdoor daily. I just love the long daylight hours. Can't believe the dawn breaking at 5am! And the skies darkening about 9pm. Seems like we're having a bonus time to spend.

We prayed that our MAS flights would be smooth and were grateful that the A380-800 Airbus gave us comfortable rides both ways. On July 28 both pilots were Chinese and the crew a mix of Chinese and Indians. I asked an attendant why and she replied, oh, it is the Muslim new year and they're letting their Muslim colleagues 'off' to enjoy their holiday with families. That's a great 'muhhibah' or goodwill spirit. I hope it gets reciprocated now and then. The outbound flight, though not full, was relaxed and well flown without turbulence. There was a 30 minutes takeoff delay but the pilots compensated and we landed at Heathrow on time. The passengers cheered and clapped when the wheels touched the runway. We were glad it was incident free. After two tragedies that struck MAS you can understand why we were nervous that we may be in the unlucky third flight. I had a great appetite and finished both meals served on board. I didn't feel tired or jet lagged upon arrival although moving backward by 7 hours meant it was bed time.

The day after was set aside to adjust but it turned out to be a shopping day! For my daughter. She targeted to check out Primark store along Oxford Street for any great deals. We spent two and half hours inside, which included queuing up to fill up VAT tax refund forms. I didn't plan buying anything but ended up buying some clothing for my grandchildren and myself. Feeling hungry and looking for a place to rest and use the rest room, we were recommended an Italian restaurant nearby. Service wasn't great so we paid exact amount. The waitress didn't appear pleased. Plus the bill already added in 20% service tax.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in Green Park, Buckingham Palace and St James Park. The Oyster cards were really handy during our rides on the Underground trains. Instead of cash and the need to buy tickets the preloaded cards were our daily tickets. We just topped up a little 3 days before we leave to ensure we have sufficient card credit to use.

The day ended with a happy fish and chips dinner at a tavern aka pub in Westminster. I had the first of many glasses of cold beer in London. It must be the fatigue, I always want to drink when I feel tired.

Our outings to Stratford, Cotswolds, the parks, Sunday service in church and public travel were covered in my previous posts so I shan't repeat them here.

The day after we returned to London from Stratford was slated for visiting the Portobello Road Market and then watching the Miss Saigon musical play. Worried over the rainy forecast my daughter brought along her umbrella which was never opened. Portobello wasn't as great as we thought. Apart from some light souvenirs and lunch there we took the trip as an eye opener. The Miss Saigon show was enjoyable. Fortunately I got good aisle seats. We had dinner at the Garfunkel Restaurant at St Martins Lane. I remember we ate at a similar restaurant in Regent Street during our 1999 family holiday. This was our most expensive meal of the holiday, paying £37 inclusive of about 10% tips. Most of the time our food were eaten in pubs and cafe which doesn't attract tips and cost in the region of £24-28 for two.

One of the holiday highlights is the planned visit to the Westminster Abbey on Sunday Aug 4 to celebrate Holy Communion there. I've written on this in an earlier post. Though brief it was memorable. At least I can tell fellow church members and friends I've worship at the Abbey. The rest of the day was spent strolling around London. Besides the usual tourist spots in Parliament Square, Whitehall and Trafalgar Square we chanced a visit to Regent's Park as we were around the area. I was really glad we did that and wondered how I missed out this lovely place in my itinerary planning. Maybe I thought it was too far away. But I will love to come back here again if I have the chance, and my knees are strong.

For the first time my daughter and I split after Sunday lunch at the La Roche Cafe at St Martins Lane. It was next to the Garfunkel. I said I would like not to walk too much. She left me at Trafalgar while she headed to the Covent Street Market area. Being a hot afternoon I decided to check out the National Portraits Gallery and the National Gallery both in Trafalgar Square. They are opened to the public even on Sundays. Admittedly I went in mostly to rest. The toll on too much walking is starting to get me. We stayed in touch using the free Lebara-to-Lebara local calls on the Lebara data SIM cards we bought at Paddington underground station upon arrival in London.

After our rest at Regent's Park we ate dinner at The Globe on Marylebone Street before returning to the apartment. I was glad to be resting in a familiar place again.

I was looking forward to the River Thames Cruise the next day. As the forecast was zero chance of rain I left my jacket in the apartment and traveled light. The cruise was great. I've never rode on one in my previous visits. Although it was only from the Westminster pier to the Tower Bridge and back it was enough to enjoy the breezy ride and the photo shoots. The sightseeing tour on the open top bus was less useful as we passed by many of the places we were there earlier, but it took us back to the Regent's Park to see the Queen Mary's Garden which we thought would be prettier than the area in the Avenue Gardens before the Broad Walk area of the Park. Perhaps due to fatigue and lack of time we didn't explore much of the QMG but enjoyed a bit of the nearby Boating Lake.

Being our second last day in London my daughter said she'd like to check out Primark again so off we went after QMG. Again I said I'll wait for her and sat among similar folks outside the store and watched the passebys. One guy stood there for half hour distributing pamphlets on an upcoming religious talk. Not many were keen to take.

It was a pain looking for food on Oxford Street nearby Primark. We won't like to go back to the Italian restaurant again. The waitress might recognize us! We only managed to find Pizza Hut and ate there rather reluctantly. Imagine eating fast food in London? We over ordered our pizzas and had to doggy bagged what we couldn't finish for our breakfast. Returning to the apartment I counted one more day of long walk back to the apartment from the station.

It was bright and cheery on our last day which was set aside to be spent at Greenwich Park in the Docklands where we had lived the past week or so. We checked the credits on our Oyster cards and found them enough to travel even during peak hours, but we left after 9.30am instead. Greenwich is a nice quiet town to retire. A sustainable town by itself there is little need to go into central London unless absolutely necessary. We took the wrong direction to the Park after leaving the station. A nice man in work apparel used his GPS to point us to the town direction. Small town hospitality.

We ate at the Kings Arms in the garden setting which we love. It reminded us of the Hathaway Tea House in Stratford. So lovely. When we got back to the apartment we finished up our packing and brought our luggage down to wait for our taxi to bring us to the Paddington Rail Station. There was a road blockage due to repairs but the driver managed to get us in via another route. For that he earned a tip from us. Heading to the Heathrow Express platforms was easy. We just followed the arrows on the walkways. Once on the train we made use of the free wifi to update our Facebook and Whatsapp friends and families. We'd used up all our Lebara data limit so depend on free wifi to connect. At the airport, terminal 4, we joined a long queue at the check in line, got good seats even though I couldn't do web check in 24 hours earlier, then rushed to the VAT refund area to submit our tax refund claim. With less than an hour to reporting to the departure lounge we grabbed hot wraps from Pret a Manger outlet to eat then bought some duty free Guylian chocolates for my wife.

The return flight MH1 was fuller than our arrival flight MH4. As the flight time coincide with my night sleep I grabbed 7 hours of solid sleep during the nearly 13 hours flight. Thankful for the broad economy seats on the A380. This time it was a mixed race crew with Malay pilots. Because we were delayed at Heathrow we landed late at KLIA but only by 30 minutes. My daughter's family was eagerly waiting for her as we exit the customs. It must have been a very long 10 days for them, especially my son-in-law who had to take on some of the additional home responsibilities. Me? I was glad to board my own taxi back to my wife in Seremban. And my other grandchildren there, especially Andrew who missed me the most. He had been asking for me daily and crying.

It rained heavily on the drive from the airport. Did we bring showers of blessings home? I certainly hope so. Was I glad to be home again.

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