Norwich, A Hidden Gem Like No Other

Norwich; a city just 2 hours away from the famous London, yet, I have never heard of this place in my whole life. To say that I was surprised when I received the acceptance letter from the University of East Anglia in Norwich has to be an understatement. I was Googling Norwich, looking at it on Google maps and wondering what sort of city it might be. I learned that it’s one of Britain’s most historical cities, rich with its medieval history, with its cathedrals from centuries ago and quaint little shops along its old cobblestoned streets. In this blog post, I’ll just share about Norwich’s friendly culture which I so positively adored, introduce some of it’s hidden gems, plus a bit of my experience living there as a student.

A student-friendly city

DSCF7777

One of the very things I was told about Norwich at orientation was that it’s one of the most livable city for students in possibly the whole of Britain. The local people value international students and are generally more open to befriending and welcoming them.

Also, living in Norwich is much affordable than living in big cities like London, which is a huge plus for students who would want to save! According to The World University Rankings, Norwich has the cheapest rent at about £52 per week. I personally lived on campus in student accommodation, which is really convenient and has superb room service. We get clean towels 2-3 times per week, our beds made and sheets cleaned, and an ensuite room (with bathroom). If you could afford a bit more, living on campus for the first semester or while you’re on an exchange is a great way to make friends.

38010923_274340696706474_5645672963710648320_o

Taken during one of our lectures! Norwich is home to two universities, University of East Anglia and Norwich University of the Arts. UEA has over 17,000 students. Norwich’s city area is quite small, so it gives me the sense of a close knitted community. It’s really a relief and comforting to know that Norwich is generally quite safe—or at least, safer than most bigger cities in the UK. My friends and I have stayed out late a couple of nights to go drinking, and there’s nothing much to worry about except to stay vigilant against drunkards, and just try to stay with at least one other person! The downside is that there’s no Uber service in Norwich, and we got lost at 3am and have to find our way in an unfamiliar environment trying to get a cab 😅 (a story for another time).

IMG_0228

Amazing culture

Norwich is steeped in history and there are cultural opportunities around every corner. The city also has theatres, art galleries, museums and a Norman castle all ready for students to explore! Some of my favorites have got to be Cinema City (an arthouse cinema), the exhibitions in Norwich Castle and the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, which is located in my uni.

5573

‘Norwich is one of few UK cities that still retains a strong local identity and with that a strong sense of community – people walk down the street and say hello to each other, baristas remember your coffee order, you get to know all about interesting local projects.’
—Norwich-based journalist Lauren Razavi.

I could feel positive vibes radiating from the people and the walls of Norwich, quite literally. They have managed to retain their history, a unique sense of self, and people seem happier working and studying in such a picturesque environment.

1.1

Not only are they big on local culture, but they also managed to preserve their history as well. Norwich is home to two massive cathedrals and over 30 medieval churches, and this picture was taken in Norwich Cathedral. My friend Ian undertook the module of Medieval History in school, and he brought me around the cathedral like a tour guide and introduced me to the many stories of the past. Back then Herbert de Losinga, the Bishop of Thetford, built this new cathedral for the purpose of repentance for his sin of simony. Norwich Cathedral is beautiful. Its interior architecture is just so enchanting and there is so much to discover, despite its turbulent past since it began in 1096.

PS. (This cathedral has a courtyard that kind of looked like the Quidditch Field in Harry Potter, in my opinion.)

DSCF9037

Night life

Norwich has a vibrant and thriving nightlife, but I could only wish the shops open till late at night. Growing up in Singapore, I am used to shops in malls operating till 10pm at night, so needless to say I was shocked when the shops in Norwich close 5-6pm, and even earlier on Sundays. Thank God for the pubs and clubs though! We did a couple of pub crawls/club hopping, and some of my friends’ go-tos would include Gonzo’s Tea Room, Revolution, and Mercy.

IMG_0229

While the clubs and pubs there are obviously not comparable to big cities like London, it’s really satisfactory enough to feed our needs, especially during the World Cup season where everything became more hyped. It was 10 times more fun, pubs rang with loud chants, “Football’s coming home!!” whenever there’s a match going on. When night falls, the streets turn into a red-and-white fairyland, with patriotic citizens and football fanatics crowding around the pubs with the England flag draped over their broad shoulders. Tension hung in the air, and pubs were always full, with people spilling to the entrance, scrambling to get a view of the TV screen inside. The city still has a decent range of clubs that more than cater to most students’ needs, with big clubs like Mantra and Mercy holding the mainstream crowd.

IMG_9496

Shopping

Home to two large shopping centres—Chapelfield and CastleMall—and a thriving high street, all of the major British retailers can be found in the city. Norwich is recently voted as the top 10 cities for shopping in the UK. There was a massive summer sale when I went, with clothes up to 70% off! Norwich also has a wide range of major departmental stores, with everything you need such as M&S, Tesco’s, and Primark just located around the corner. I love how the city is so saturated with shops that we can walk easily from one shopping district to the next, and do all our shopping in one day.

IMG_0230

Being the trashy nerd I am, this was one of the stores I was most anticipating to get into ever since I set foot into the city! They sell merch of every franchise— Stranger Things, Marvel (!!), Star Wars, etc.

 

 

 

However, my favourite place for shopping in the whole of Norwich has to be Elm Street, a street that has a thriving cross-section of independent shops, eclectic boutiques, and unique shops and cafes.

FullSizeRender

‘Norwich’s secret shopping weapon is the Norwich Lanes. Winner of the 2014 Great British High Street of the Year Award, the Lanes never fail to give us a more independent shopping experience, and are home to a plethora of independent, creative retailers, selling everything from antiques and vintage clothing to records and health foods. Hours can be whiled away exploring what this little haven has to offer.’
—The Independent

My professor recommended me to go to this bear shop—which, according to her, has a collection of original Steiff and Charlie teddy bears, as well as a large selection of bears from all over the world. I went on a weekday afternoon when classes that day were canceled. It’s situated on Elm Hill, a charming store in a Tudor building with Georgian windows, with designer and big-brand teddy bears on its window display.

20180723_133159

20180723_135042

I spent ages choosing the perfect bear and eventually settled on getting the brown bear (on the right). Some of the bears squeak and make noises when you press its stomach. Some are handmade, some machine-stitched. Other stuffed toys like pigs and ducks are also available, even though the bears stole most of my attention. The price of the bears range from as cheap as £25 to as expensive as £100, depending on the country they come from, their size etc.

IMG_9733

There are also a lot of second-hand bookstores and antique furniture shops in Norwich, which makes it a paradise for vintage shopping. Besides antiques and art, there are also lots of shops housed in old medieval buildings, and market stalls selling clothes, food, and groceries at an affordable price.

IMG_0225

IMG_0215

This is one of the oldest outdoor market stalls in the country, where my friends and I went and found Marvel comics for £1! With a range of shops, from small convenience stores, large supermarkets to market stalls like these, Norwich has much to offer in terms of consumer variety and choice.

FullSizeRender 2

Food and drink heaven

Having afternoon tea in Norwich is probably one of my favorite activities. England is probably already well-known throughout the country for this, but it was in Norwich where I tried some of the finest teas for the first time. It was in Norwich where I had my first, authentic, British afternoon tea experience, with desserts and cakes included. That’s probably what made it so memorable!

IMG_0213

Some of my personal favourite tea houses are Harriets, Biddy’s Tea Room, and Assembly House. I’ll link the information down below.

IMG_0218

Biddy’s tea room is a hip cafe with a vintage-style decor, offering huge slices of homemade cakes and freshly made snacks.
Address: 15 Lower Goat Ln, Norwich NR2 1EL, UK

IMG_0223

FullSizeRender copy

The Assembly House is a beautiful Georgian building that allows customers to have afternoon tea in a really pretty outdoor garden. It is in a more formal setting, and you can choose to have tea indoors too. They serve amazing sandwiches, scones, and cakes.
Address: Theatre St, Norwich NR2 1RQ, UK

37982866_274411596699384_7542403291255144448_o

I learned, for instance, we have to eat in sequence from the bottom up, from savoury to sweet foods.

Prime location

Norwich’s location makes it really convenient to get to anywhere in the UK and beyond. During the weekends, we would catch buses to Cambridge or London, and the journeys would only last about 2-3 hours! Norwich also has its own international airport, where you can catch flights to Edinburgh, or Amsterdam in less than an hour’s time. It also has a train station where you can choose to take trains to Cambridge or London instead of catching a bus. The bus departs directly from UEA (University of East Anglia), which is why it’s usually my preferred method of transport.

‘Norwich is often given an unfair rep of being in the provincial backwaters of England – and this couldn’t be further from the truth.’
—The Independent

38208468_274367780037099_4004255704356487168_o

Seals along the North Norfolk coast at Blakeney

Not only Norwich has these strong transport links, but it also has a unique placement. Norwich extends into greater Norfolk, where you can venture into the Norfolk Broads (a network of mostly navigable rivers and lakes), Cromer Beach, or the Norfolk Coast, where seals can be seen! The coast or the countryside are ideal locations to escape from the bustling city. I love it because Norwich’s location helps me experience the best of both worlds. Big cities are usually my thing, hence I always find myself getting on the bus to London (I went there 5 times in the span of a month, to be exact.) However, I’m not 100% a city girl. I need solitude sometimes, and with Norwich so close by, I find myself easily retreating to a peaceful national park with miles of waterways or taking in the beautiful scenery that surrounds the city itself.

IMG_7491

On a cruise ride along the tranquil Norfolk Broads

With its collection of shops, places to eat and tourist attractions, there’s definitely no shortage of things to do in Norwich. It would be rather impossible to sum up the whole of my exchange experience in one blog post, but you could say I’m so damn fond of it. Tell me if you enjoyed this, or if this helps you in any way! Also, do not hesitate to leave a comment or tell me if there’s anything else you would like me to blog about!

See you soon,
Grace

 

What everybody needs to hear: ‘A Star Is Born’ Review

a_star_is_born_0

I caught ‘A Star Is Born’ at the theatres yesterday. I have been already listening to the soundtrack for weeks, and knowing it will be an emotional movie, I didn’t go in the company of anyone else.

Without giving away much of the plot, Ally (Lady Gaga) is a 30-something woman about to give up on her dreams of becoming a singer…until she met Jackson (Bradley Cooper), who helps her fulfill her dream. She shoots into stardom, but their relationship is not without a struggle. Jackson constantly struggles with drugs and alcohol, watching it is merely disturbing and heartbreaking.

The film addresses such dark themes, and overall, mental health. The seriousness of it. However, what stood out most for me is Ally’s journey from obscurity to fame. Not many movies can portray it in such a raw manner. The joy and disbelief that comes with that change are so real. Ally wants a voice all along, even as she battles her insecurities and doubts. Suddenly, she’s got a voice as she shoots to stardom, and the question is what to do with the voice and the challenges that come with it.

48fde0296f00c55a96a6cf99538a5680

“Look, talent comes everywhere, but having something to say and a way to say it so that people listen to it, that’s a whole other bag. And unless you get out and you try to do it, you’ll never know. That’s just the truth.

And there’s one reason we’re supposed to be here is to say something so people want to hear. So you got to grab it, and you don’t apologize, and you don’t worry about why they’re listening, or how long they’re going to be listening for, you just tell them what you want to say.”

I left the theatres feeling deeply satisfied like someone has taken the effort to voice out something unspoken inside of me. In this world when information is so saturated and everyone is fighting for their own voice, it can be overwhelming. Our insecurities can tell us that what we are saying is crap, that people will judge us for it and we are unable to hold people’s attention span. A Star Is Born encourages one to keep fighting, pursuing their dreams, no matter how old they are. It killed some cynicism inside of me.

a-star-is-born-lady-gaga-bradley-cooper-1538068172

Both of them took the audience’s breath away when they sang together

Gaga’s acting is so raw and incredible, considering that this is her first major role. Their on-screen chemistry is amazing and afterward, Gaga gushes about Cooper in almost every interview.

Many of the soundtracks, were, in fact, like the soundtrack of my life. ‘Shallow’, ‘Always Remember Us This Way’, and lastly, the bittersweet ‘I’ll Never Love Again’ describes so perfectly the loyalty of a true love—that it never fades, never wavers and always remembers.

lady-gaga-bradley-cooper-shallow-95601627cb04c59db8b9c255b831b08b

“I think you’re beautiful.”

Patrick Melrose

I watched the TV series adaptation, Patrick Melrose, this year. A line in it says: “you get excited thinking that someone can mend your broken heart, and disappointed when you realize they can’t.”

Except that I get excited thinking that I can mend someone else’s broken heart, and disappointed when I realize I can’t.

I have come to realize, that people can’t be helped unless they want to help themselves. Unless they accept help. Especially people whose lives are shaped and disfigured by their parents.

Benedict Cumberbatch did a great job playing someone so damaged, as always. At the end of it all, Patrick Melrose is a story about how a child can take on the ghosts of their parents. It’s sad, that I know someone like that, whose toxicity in the family is passed down. In many ways, we live out our parents’ unresolved lives, their struggles in their marriage, things like not being financially stable can create a fear in the child, a fear of poverty. It is so common. This phenomenon is seen in people around me, sadly.

“but if I’m going have to break out into the world, not…not just this, but the REAL world, to learn something, make a contribution, live rather than survive, then I’m going to have to say these things out loud.”

“perhaps the only way to live on is to become more detached from yourself and more attached to someone else.”

Cultural products

My housemates and I might have gone on a recent watch binge from the end of September to the recent October.

For days we’ve spent on the couch by the kitchen, binge-watching a marathon of all 8 Harry Potter films. We laughed, we joked, paused the video and talked, adding yet another layer of wonderful memories entangled with the magic of Harry Potter in my heart.

Harry Potter had been a really weird experience for me. Unlike others who usually grew up with HP and had its magic with them since childhood, my HP experience was fuelled by vivid memories of London. Memories of the WB studio tour, walking through the halls of Oxford Uni, or passing by the sweet shops that sell chocolate frogs, or even getting my very first set of HP pajamas at Primark. For those days in September, I wore those pajamas whenever I watched Harry Potter and dreamed of London.

maxresdefault

I was deeply enchanted by this Buckbeak flight scene. With the familiar feelings of flight, excitement, anticipation, awe, and wonder. To have and experience all these feelings is truly a blessing and I am thankful for it myself.

I took the Pottermore quiz a while back, and I am sorted into Gryffindor House. To be honest, I identify very strongly with a Gryffindor—hated to be thought of as ordinary, I value traits like bravery, courage, and determination—as well as the recklessness and stubbornness of Harry. The obstacles he faced are sometimes so dangerous and beyond all comprehension. Being a Gryffindor almost gave me the inner strength to push forward, knowing what they’re like, and how it really feels to face obstacles in this world that cannot be named.

harry-potter-9_686912n

So it came as a surprise when I fell hard for Prof Snape, in my opinion, the bravest and kindest Slytherin. I realize I am falling for dark, emotionally constipated characters who don’t show their emotions but actually love the deepest. Characters that seem robotic, emotionally heartless. A string of them in fact: Sherlock, Loki and now Prof Snape. Me too, I realized, when I was young I fell quick and fast, and is never afraid to let the world how I feel, always. As for now, I held love in such high regard that I think it is better not to talk about it. It’s something sacred, something to only talk about with God and myself. I get frustrated when people treat love as a topic of juicy gossip, people who will never understand why is that I avoid this topic with all effort.

But Prof Snape would. Prof Snape is one that has loved, and always loved, and all his actions are driven by love even though it is probably too hard to tell from the surface.

Anyway. Harry Potter was a deep encouragement to me, one to fight on, with courage and bravery. The magic of Hogwarts would live in so many people’s hearts forever. Life there was hard and tough with the onsight of evil forces lurking in the distance, and they didn’t have their family with them, but the only thing they had was friendship. Love and friendship held a high place in such academies when students sleep in dorms side by side with each other. When I came overseas, friendship held a high place in my heart too.


 

Recently I’ve been consuming more cultural products than usual, books and movies and stories. Movies were never just entertainment for me. They inspire me deeply and give me hope. They’re seen as something educational, it expands my knowledge on cultures and history, and society, and most of all, I can relate to the stories in movies, those precious stories that give me hope and my position in life.

 “When I read the script for Gump, I saw it as one of those kind of grand, hopeful movies that the audience can go to and feel … some hope for their lot and their position in life … I got that from the movies a hundred million times when I was a kid. I still do.”
—Forrest Gump

2018 is a good movie year Y’all. so many quality content and representation—black representation in black panther, and now Asian representation in Crazy Rich Asians. Not to mention movies we’ve been waiting for forever, like Incredibles 2 and Infinity War. A Star is Born is also out in theatres this week—̆by the talented Lady Gaga. I can’t wait to watch it. I have severely high expectations for this one, people said Gaga’s acting is brilliant and she deserved an Oscar.

I also watched a war movie the other day—Saving Private Ryan! I have started watching it like a long time ago but never got round to going pass the 30 mins lengthy battle scene at the start of the movie. After that is actually really awesome hey.

A few of my favorite quotes:

I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

^ about death

War educates the senses, calls into action the will, perfects the physical constitution, brings men into such swift and close collision in critical moments that man measures man.

^ Perhaps the most accurate quote about war. They said that the mark of any great nation is the journey it has endured on its path to glory. I totally agree. Freedom is bought. The price of freedom has always been high. The men had to earn the right to go home, by fighting and winning.

Saving Private Ryan questions the value of life. Is the life of one valuable enough to sacrifice the life of 8? 8 men went on a mission to search for one, and this time the mission is a man. The scenes that involved people dying were gory, and painful to watch, especially when they don’t want to go, they’re not ready to go, I could sense that fear, that feeling of unpreparedness and their mates watching in helplessness.


 

I watched Pride and Prejudice the following morning. This one was easier to watch.

tenor.gif

my fave line from Mr Darcy. I can relate to this so much! I have always thought of myself as a poor verbal communicator.

The message of this light-hearted romantic film is simple: Do not judge someone so quickly. It is also educational, giving me some insights on the societal context of 19th century England. Especially the scenery, it really brings back memories of my summer trip…

Screen Shot 2018-10-17 at 3.20.52 pm.png

Romantic films were once my favourite genre. However, in the recent years, I’ve held a slight disdain for them because they tend to be over cheesy and portray romance in a way that looks cheap. I admit, that my cynical attitude towards romance is not one that is easy to please. However, Pride and Prejudice’s maturity could convince me to like its plot, probably the only romance film that does the concept of love justice. Cinderella, no. The little mermaid, no. Titanic…touching and deeply passionate, but no. The notebook? Too cheesy. Gossip Girl? Absolute trash, sleeping with each other here and there. Oh, and chick flicks are an absolute NO unless I’m looking for a silly night with nothing being taken seriously.

Pride and Prejudice is different. It managed to show sincere affection between two people without physical contact, and the mannerisms of the 19th century, class relations were all portrayed really clearly. Not to mention the soundtrack is really amazing! No lyrics, but still. I’m really glad I watched it because I can read the book with ease now. Since it’s a literature book, I figured I’m going to have a very hard time deciphering it and hopefully watching the movie would help me understand it better.

KR-8-pride_l

“Only the deepest love will persuade me into matrimony.”

Pen pal

5.06pm

Ahhh…spring. The weather is getting warmer. Actually, I think I did talk about the weather in my last post too. People in Australia can’t seem to stop talking about the changing weather, especially my lifegroup. hahaha. It’s the same as people in Britain.

I walked to school today with my housemate again. The three of us stayed up late till the night yesterday for a Harry Potter movie Marathon. Completed only the first 2 movies…but it was so much fun! We’re doing it later again. After school as I was returning home, it was getting hotter but I decided to walk home instead of catching the bus. I’m really growing fond of this ritual—walking I mean. It’s funny considering how when I first moved to Australia I hated walking, but the roads were made in such way that people have to walk quite a distance before they get to their homes. I moved from my previous place in Epping just because I didn’t want to walk. And now, I can’t believe I’m falling in love with it.

In the afternooon the weather got quite hot, that by the time I reached home, I was literally sweating. It’s the first time I’ve sweated in months actually. Except for the time I was in Europe over the summer, it has been winter and really cold here in Aussie so I never really made the effort to move about. It’s quite unhealthy hahaa.

Now, I could not only save money but also exercise by walking to school. I have to walk through a creek each time, and my housemate told me she saw a snake and when I came back I saw a monitor lizard. Really fascinating hahaha. At night, we could see possums outside our house jumping against our windows, making a loud noise. It happened last night during the movie marathon and we freaked out a bit.

I had a revelation when I was walking back home from school, is that I am really thankful for my housemate. I am so so grateful about our newfound friendship. She moved in about July and in the past, even though we lived under the same roof, we hardly talked, just retire into our rooms each time we got home. Now we’re using the common area and all! I’m thankful because the 6 of us (my clique of friends) don’t meet up that often now, and I don’t really hangout with the rest of my friends—not that we have drifted apart,  just maybe everyone’s really busy right now and no one made a move to go out—so could you imagine what I would do without a social life, if I didn’t have my housemate to provide me with some form of interaction day in day out? And I think it’s really convenient cos we live in the same house. This morning I walked to school with her, and idk, it’s just nice having someone go to school with you together instead of catching the bus alone.

—–

Something strange also happened this week. So there’s this pen pal of mine from Malaysia, I never spoke about her here because I never actually met her in real life. She’s around my age, Malaysian but living in the United States. I got to know her in about 2016 through stumbling upon her blog. I found her to be quite nice, hence I reached out in comments and slowly, we corresponded through email this year. I think our first messages through email was in May. I found her inspiring, talking to her was an absolute pleasure. She seemed eager to be friends too, telling me she’ll show me around Penang if I ever go to Malaysia/KL one day and promised to send pictures on her upcoming vacation. We talked for quite some time, and it continued for quite some time even after I came back from Europe. Nothing was particularly wrong, until I had an inkling that the conversation have started to feel forced, and from her side, that she’s having some personal troubles of her own. I didn’t want to intrude, so I never asked. So I replied her emails as per normal, not knowing that it might be the last email I send to her and that I would never hear from her again.

I learnt from her blog that she thinks “Christianity is one of the most damaging things ever” (somewhere along those lines) and I went, “Thank God, she didn’t know I’m a Christian.” As a Christian, I am fully aware of how people might view and judge me based on my religion. I am always afraid, to come off too strongly, or fear that anti-Christ people would unfriend or stay away from me just because I’m one.

She did not reply me for weeks, so I sensed that something was wrong but didn’t think too much about it as well. I thought she had merely forgot, so I sent a second email to her sharing about some of my experiences (wasn’t rushing her or anything) but to my horror, I checked back on her blog out of curiosity that day and alas, all the content was gone. It had become a protected blog. She had locked it, my guess is probably that the things she blogged about are started to get too personal and she didn’t feel comfortable about me reading it. The thing that baffles me is why she stopped replying the emails. Is it because she had discovered something about my religion? Or is it just because she’s going through a tough time? Or maybe she didn’t know how to tell me that she didn’t want me reading her blog anymore. I mean, she could have told me if this was the case, and obviously she had the rights to lock her blog. But I thought it was a bit rude to leave me hanging and not reply, I just felt a little confused that she didn’t. After all, I thought she was really inspiring and seemed like a very nice person to be friends with, maybe not after all. Disappointing.


 

14 Must-Do Things in London

IMG_2082

In the land of Shakespeare, Arts and Culture, there’s just so much to discover. London has been a dream city since my childhood and I have waited over 10 years to come here; flew over 22 hours from Sydney, 9 hours transit, with 3 luggage, and just ONE ‘big fat’ dream—to see this beautiful city. I’ve had the absolute privilege to travel to London 5 times during my exchange (I’m possibly crazy haha), but if that makes you feel better, I am going to produce a local’s scoop of the must-do things in London, well, according to me!

I made it a challenge not to blog about too overrated stuff unless it’s really good, so let’s skip the Big Ben and London Eye in this list, shall we? Because that’s idiot proof!

1. Be dazzled by this Insta-worthy neon lights heaven

You have to be prepared to travel out of the way for this Instagram-worthy heaven, God’s Own Junkyard (technically it is owned by God). It is nowhere near central London at all. We took about an hour and a half to get here. It is a 15-20 minutes walk and about an hour on the tube, but the result? Totally worth it. Just note that pictures cannot be taken using a DSLR, as they cannot be used for commercial purposes.

One funny story—both of our phones died the moment we reached there. Since there’s neon lights all around us, power and electricity must be in abundance. We simply plugged our phones in one of the sockets hahaha.

God’s Own Junkyard
Unit 12, Ravenswood Industrial Estate
Shernhall St, Walthamstow
London E17 9HQ, UK
Opening hours:
Closed Mon-Thurs
Fri & Sat 11am – 9pm
Sun 11am – 6pm
For the: Picture crazy traveller

2. Go Museum Hopping and leave feeling inspired

I wrote a post specifically about museums in London that you absolutely must visit here, and the museums in London really have vast collections so rich in culture, history and value. Besides museums, cultural centres are totally worth visiting as well. My friend recommended me to go to Somerset House, which is an art and cultural centre with ongoing galleries and festivals. It is the breeding ground, the new experimental workspace for artists, makers, thinkers and hipsters alike.

DSCF4068

Somerset House is one of the best atmospheric outdoor venues in the UK. Its galleries are divided into East Wing, South Wing, New Wing and North Wing; each of them houses various exhibitions. They also have performances like this in the main Fountain Court. Circus Sampler was performing on the day we were there, where you can catch hula hoop acrobats and the Guinness World Record Holder in action!

DSCF4055

My absolutely favourite discovery lies in the South Wing. Print! Tearing it Up is an absolute treasure that I have stumbled upon and my biggest takeaway from Somerset House. It’s a showcase on independent British magazines changing the world, and all the magazines there were amazing. Print! Tearing it up reveals that print is not dead in today’s digital era; and seeks to continue its demand by revealing the power of print to provide a platform for key social and cultural issues.

DSCF4032

Furthermore, the content is good—they have a wide selection of topics like art, design, photography, poetry & prose, cooking books, and more. The exhibition showcases a diverse range of contemporary publications dedicated to urgent issues of the day, arguing the case for considered journalism to politics, fake news to the power of the algorithm. I bought a magazine called Backstage Talks on compiled interviews with 10 designers at the Design Conference last year (the yellow one on the table). This series ended on 22 Aug but don’t worry, there’s always new and interesting things coming, they have cool events like summer film screenings etc! Just keep a lookout for What’s On.

DSCF4031

Somerset House
Strand, London WC2R 1LA, UK
Opening hours:
Everyday 8am – 11pm
For the: Culture seeker

3.  Spoil yourself with luxury and beauty stores in Covent Garden

DSCF4111

From Somerset House, you could take an 8 mins walk to Covent Garden, where the best shops and best buys are at! There is Jubilee Market, which is famous for antiques and collectables; luxury shops like Daniel Wellington, and also the quirky Moomin shop. We went to Covent Garden on a rainy day and was in the mood for some souvenir shopping, and headed towards macaroons shop Ladurée and tea shop Whittard. You absolutely must visit Whittard to try their hot chocolates and their fine selection of teas! They have a lot of their flavours for testing. I tasted the white hot chocolate on a cold rainy day, and the rest was history. I have never tasted white hot chocolate in my life before. So so good! Of course, I bought it hehe.

DSCF4123
DSCF4135

Besides shopping, Covent Garden is also renowned for award-winning restaurants and theatres, so you might wanna check it out.

For the: Culture seeker, the shopaholic

3. Unleash your inner foodie at the local markets

DSCF4639

This was my lunch for £8!! It’s rice with seafood (prawns, oysters etc). You absolutely must visit the markets in London. They are great for affordable food & shopping in contrast to places like Covent Garden. Borough Market is one of the largest and oldest food markets in London. The padella pasta is good, and they also have a wide selection of wine and cheese, honey…the list goes on. Borough Market’s food is fresh and amazing, especially seafood. You can even drop by London Bridge while you’re at it cos it’s just next to the market!

DSCF4648
Borough Market
8 Southwark St
London SE1 1TL, UK
Opening hours:
Mon – Thurs 10am – 5pm
Fri 10am – 6pm
Sat 8am – 5pm
Sun Closed
For the: 
Passionate Foodie

Next, Camden Markets! This one is huge. Camden Town is something like the Bugis street of Singapore I would say! There are more stores selling fashion and accessories here, adjoining large retail markets. Borough Market just sells mainly food; however Camden has more Asian food as compared to Borough.

DSCF4830

DSCF4825
Camden Market
Camden Lock Pl, Camden Town, London NW1 8AF, UK
Opening hours:
Everyday 10am – 6pm

4. Feel (un)cultured trying to understand Shakespeare

This is crazy. I got tickets to watch Shakespeare’s Hamlet for £5! Yes, tickets can get as low as this…provided you get the yard tickets (standing). But we didn’t mind at all because of the play was so exciting, the actors so talented and engaging, that by the time we had noticed our legs were aching, the play’s already over.

IMG_0973

I watched it at Shakespeare Globe. The architecture here is amazing and (I think) it’s probably one of the only places to watch Shakespeare. Anyways I never felt so uncultured my whole life because I didn’t understand a word of the actors’ dialogue haha. However, it wasn’t boring at all for me, and you have my assurance that it probably won’t be for you as well. The actors are so talented, they would keep you engaged with their body language. I wished I could have watched one of Shakespeare’s plays when he was still alive in the 1600s, that would be interesting.

Plays usually have an intermission in between, and we aren’t allowed to take photos while the actors are on stage. Buy your tickets online in advance, because for this one, the tickets sell out very fast. I repeat, very fast. Like literally I checked in the morning it was available, and by the afternoon came it was all gone. I had never felt so anxious about buying a ticket in my life before.

Shakespeare Globe
21 New Globe Walk
London SE1 9DT, UK
Tickets: http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/whats-on
For the: Culture seeker

5. Catch dirt cheap musicals in West End

1_Theatre-at-night

Ahh, West End. I’ve heard so much about this before I came here. It’s so integrated into London’s culture, and it has never let anyone down, so if you only have one thing you can do in London, I’d say do this. Everyone I’ve met who have been to London (Jan, Florence, WenXin…) have told me not to miss out on the musicals.

IMG_0845

I was deciding between Phantom of the Opera or Les Miserables, and in the end, we went for Les Miserables—the world’s longest-running musical. I have watched the movie before so I was really curious to see how the actual live musical looked like. The experience was…exhilarating. I cried. I don’t think I can ever emphasize how much the both of us freaked out right on the first act, the music and the singing really freaked us right out into tears. My friend beside me burst into tears immediately. I was stunned, sitting frozen in a daze. It was so loud, so impactful, so real…the familiar lyrics I’ve always used to hear over my computer screen just thundered right before my ears. By the time I Dreamed a Dream came on, uncontrollable tears just flowed freely from my eyes as I sat high up in the upper circle, my gaze fixing on the actors below. It was performed differently from the movie—it was raw, unstable, emotional. The plot slowly unfolded right before our very eyes, the acting the music and props & everything…was so nicely done. My favourite song was Do you hear the people sing? it was just so liberating, so enchanting, so otherworldly. From the first song to the last, we sat frozen in a gaze, our hearts secretly impressed.

article-2526644-1A3623A100000578-616_964x613

We caught it at Queen’s Theatre, and we weren’t allowed to take pictures while the actors are on stage so these images I got from Google hahaha. We got pretty good seats for ourselves for about £29. What a steal! Considering musicals like these would easily cost over a hundred plus in Singapore, I’m very satisfied with the price. I heard that if you queue up outside the box office very early in the morning, you can get tickets as low as £5-10. I don’t know, I never tried. If you plan to get tickets online, book it in advance too because this one is also as crazy as Shakespeare Globe!! The good seats run out very fast.

Due to time constraint, this was the only musical I’ve watched during my time in London. So it works like this: usually, one theatre is dedicated to ONE production. Below are the respective theatres and their productions. They should have one intermission. And oh! Don’t just leave after the musical. You can head outside the backstage door to meet the actors and take pictures!

Queen’s Theatre
51 Shaftesbury Ave, Soho
London W1D 6BA, UK
Production: Les Miserables

Her Majesty’s Theatre
Haymarket, St. James’s
London SW1Y 4QL, UK
Production:
The Phantom of the Opera

Lyceum Theatre
21 Wellington St
London WC2E 7RQ, UK
Production: The Lion King

Prince Edward Theatre
Old Compton St, Soho
London W1D 4HS, UK
Production: Aladdin

Apollo Victoria Theatre
17 Wilton Rd, Pimlico
London SW1V 1LG, UK
Production: Wicked

Cambridge Theatre
Earlham Street
London WC2H 9HU, UK
Production: Matilda the Musical

For the: Culture seeker

 

6. Shop till you drop at Oxford and Regent Street

DSCF8416

Oxford Street is London’s busiest shopping street, with big and luxurious brands of our favourite international brands. Don’t let that scare you, I think the prices are pretty reasonable at Oxford Street! If you’re truly broke, head to Primark. In Oxford Street alone there are already 2 huge Primark stores, where you can find cheap and trendy fashion as low as £6, Harry Potter pyjamas as low as £10 (yas!!), Disney and Friends pyjamas, beauty buys, make-up, handbags, shoes…I bought so much this trip that I had to buy another luggage to fit all my stuff in! Primark is known for its affordability. I got Pusheen socks, earrings, necklaces, bathrobes…just remember, Primark. When there is Primark there is no self-control. 😂

If you have a bigger budget or is just feeling splurgy, check out Selfridges, which is also at Oxford St. It is a large departmental store, with fashion, stationery, kids stuff and more. I found Victoria Beckham’s fashion collection there! Lots of VIPs visit the store, and despite the chauffeur driven cars waiting outside, people in Selfridges are not snobby at all. Lots of people compare Harrods to Selfridges, Harrods being another departmental store selling luxury gifts, fashion accessories and designer clothing. I picked up a Prada bag in Harrods for £5,000—not available anywhere else in the world but can only be found in Harrods. The price shocked the hell out of me (obviously) but I still stayed and chatted a while with the saleslady. The people were not snobbish at all. Harrods is not near Oxford St, but it would be worth checking it out after visiting Selfridges.

IMG_0908

After Oxford Street, you can also head down to Regent St, which is in Soho. This is where you can shop at another departmental store Liberty, famous toy shop Hamleys, or explore Carnaby Street which has lots of cool fashion shops with a funky and edgy street style. Or, you can even do a pub crawl which I never got to do because of time constraint haha.

DSCF4496

DSCF4492

And Chinatown Gate is just around the corner too. Here in Chinatown, you can find Hong Kong pastries and Chinese food, give it a try!

DSCF4332

For the: Shopaholic

7. Sit under a tree and chill with a book at the amazing parks

FullSizeRender 2

When we moved to London, our accommodation was near Kensington Gardens so we decided to take a look. It was so breezy that day, a blessing considering that the past few weekends had been really hot. I could easily have my ideal morning there: feeding the ducks, reading a book under the shade of a tree and watching the world go by. Imagine living near a park in London! You could just go there whenever you are stressed and walk around, take in the fresh air or feed the ducks, which I must say, is a very therapeutic activity.

DSCF9171

Holding hands and dating must be so nice amidst this lush greenery and amazing weather too!

DSCF9184

From Kensington Gardens, all you have to do is cross a bridge from the correct side of the gardens and you’ll reach Hyde Park! Hyde Park was huge. There were a lot of people walking their dogs, and doing some rowing near the lake.

DSCF9193

For the: Nature Lover

8. Tell people your Hogwarts acceptance letter came…finally.

IMG_9400
DSCF8924

The UK is THE paradise for every Harry Potter fan. This is the Harry Potter Warner Bros Studio Tour, which is a freaking long tour (about 4 hours) but was super worth it. You can go on board the Hogwarts Express, see the train cabins where they filmed Harry Potter, and also try out wand choreography (which I felt like an idiot doing it but they teach you how to wave a wand properly!!)

DSCF8899

Besides visiting the sets, you’ll be let into the costumes collection, prop collection and most of the stuff used for the filming of Harry Potter. We got to see concept art and initial sketches of the movie, as well as paper models of Hogwarts and other sets, and the design and thought process that goes behind the production of the 8 films. It just awes me, that people put so much effort and dedication into perfecting every detail, into making the costumes, building the sets…

DSCF8960

Oh! they also served us butterbeer, which is non-alcoholic by the way. Its actually made out of cream soda and butterscotch foam, and tasted really pleasant and sweet. Overall, this place just brings the magic of Harry Potter to life.

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter
Studio Tour Drive, Leavesden WD25 7LR, UK
Opening hours:
Mon-Fri 9.30am – 10pm
Sat-Sun 8.30am – 10pm
Tickets: £41.00
https://www.wbstudiotour.co.uk/tickets

For the: TV and movie buffs

9. Connect with London’s famous detective, Sherlock

From the moment I watched BBC Sherlock played by Benedict Cumberbatch, I was Sherlocked. Captured in every way possible: by the witty storylines, the friendship between Sherlock and John Watson, the detective novels. I’m absolute trash for this fandom you probably have no idea. So I made it a mission to go to the most famous address, 221B Baker Street, to pay my detective a visit.

The museum was awesome. Inside we walk through the apartment of Sherlock Holmes, Watson’s study, and I was impressed that everything, even the furniture, looked exactly the same as the TV series! To see it in real life triggered scenes of the show in my head. “Oh, this was where he took drugs…this was where he and John sat to solve crimes.”

If you’re aren’t a BBC fan like me, that’s okay too. Lots of people have just heard a lot about Sherlock, and are curious about him. You’ll definitely learn more about this famous character here. Alternatively, you can visit the Victorian gift shop in the museum for free, which is just below Sherlock’s apartment, and they have lots of antiques, souvenirs & collectables, and BBC Sherlock merchandise for a trash like me.

Fun fact: I spent more at the Sherlock Holmes museum than in Primark, even after taking several items out of my shopping cart.

The Sherlock Holmes Museum
221b Baker St, Marylebone
London NW1 6XE, UK
Opening hours:
Open everyday 9.30am – 6pm
Tickets: £15.00
Purchase at the museum shop

Caution Tip: Please go way earlier than the time it opens to avoid long queues. The queue is crazy.

IMG_1233

We also made it a point to visit the actual film locations of BBC Sherlock. The actual apartment where BBC Sherlock was filmed at was at North Gower St, a quieter street not far from the actual 221b Baker St. We took a bus down after visiting the museum and…I almost broke down at the sight of this door, memories came flooding into my head, memories which were not mine. I was rather emotionally involved with the series hahaha. And tada! Beside the door is the famous Speedy’s Cafe.

We just casually had lunch here until we realised this cafe is bursting with business—most of their customers are Sherlock fans. There was a bunch of girls sitting beside us, one of whom was wearing a “I am Sherlocked” necklace hahaha. The food was okay, not particularly great, but because Sherlock used to always have chips here, I asked the waiter, “Does my burger come with chips?” In the end, we ordered so much and ate till we were so full. 😂

DSCF4767

Speedy’s Sandwich Bar
187 N Gower St, Kings Cross
London NW1 2NJ, UK
Opening hours:
Mon-Fri 6.30am – 3.30pm
Sat 7.30am – 1.30pm
Closed on Sundays

DSCF4423

As if that wasn’t enough, we went to St Barts Hospital, the place where Sherlock committed suicide. There were SO MANY fan scribbles on the wall, it reminded me of how this series used to take London by storm when it first came out. I never dreamed of coming here, of seeing it in real life. If you’re a Sherlock fan, you shouldn’t miss this. Bring a pen with you if you wish to share some love! One of my regrets at that time: I didn’t have a pen with me.

St Barts Hospital
W Smithfield
London EC1A 7BE, UK

For the: TV and movie buffs

10. Explore the state rooms of Buckingham Palace

DSCF8370

I went to Buckingham Palace on three separate occasions. Mainly because it’s always this crowded, and THIS hot in the summer, and I refuse to give up until I get a clear view and good photos haha. I do recommend going at least 45 minutes earlier to camp at a good spot, where you can see the changing of the guards. It usually starts at 11am.

DSCF7963

I also had the absolute privilege of entering the palace to visit the state rooms. It is indeed a rare opportunity which we can do this, as the palace is only open for a limited period only. Plus, again, tickets are in demand, so it is advised to book in advance. I paid £22 (student price) for a one year pass; the palace is open to the public on 21st July and will last till 30th September. It’s ending soon, so if you’re in London during this period, go on and be a royal for a day. Sadly, no pictures are allowed inside, and we had to go through a tight security check. I took as many mental images as I walked through the drawing room, throne room, ballroom, grand staircase…because how often do you get to see the inside of the palace? I even saw the throne chairs used for the Queen’s coronation and I was enthralled!

DSCF8376

If you have time, do explore the palace gardens and surroundings as well! I saw some swans and it is indeed a tranquil place to take a walk.

Buckingham Palace
Westminster, London SW1A 1AA, UK
Opening hours:
Open everyday from 9.30am – 6pm
Last admission 4.15pm
Tickets: £24.00 for a one-year pass
https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/the-state-rooms-buckingham-palace

For the: Culture seeker

11. Visit the squares in London

DSCF8147

I know, sounds funny right? Squares in London, what’s that? Well, Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square are my favourite squares in London. I was in Leicester Square during the pride weekend, and it was so happening, so crowded and usually there are performances in the square. Leicester Square is an entertainment hotspot, with more cinemas, theatres and restaurants ever. Just nearby you can visit TWG Tea if you’re feeling a bit homesick, or check out the huge multi-storey M&M’s world, an outlet like no other, where you can customise messages and names on your M&Ms.

See Nelson’s Column at Trafalgar Square, and if you find that dull like me, just opposite the column is the National Gallery, where you can see paintings of famous artists like Van Gogh and Monet.

For the: Culture seeker, the shopaholic

12. Scare your pants off at the London Dungeon

image

I never knew the dark side of London. Here I got up close with London’s frightening past—of convicts, the great fire, and the plague. The London Dungeon is near London’s Southbank, along with the other tourist attractions like the London Eye, Big Ben and River Thames; but you’ll scream in fright here like no other. I was brought from room to room in darkness, with occasional jump scares while learning about London’s dark history at the same time. I was treated like a convict, charged guilty, and there are two rides inside—where they say you will ride to your peril.

Ok, in all honesty, I was seriously so scared but it’s manageable as well. I mean, there were kids there, so it can’t be that bad. My favourite feature was probably coming (almost) face to face with Jack the Ripper. The actors and workers inside were also really into character, they spook me and make me laugh at the same time!

The London Dungeon
Riverside Building, County Hall
Westminster Bridge Rd, Lambeth
London SE1 7PB, UK
Opening hours:
Open everyday 10am – 5pm; with the exception of
Sat 10am – 6pm
Thurs 11am – 5pm
Tickets: £21.00 (online price)
https://www.thedungeons.com/london/en/tickets/

13. Don’t be a typical tourist—Climb the Tower Bridge!

FullSizeRender

We all know the Tower Bridge, but I got to learn a bit more about it when I climbed up there and discovered its hidden history, learning how it was built and constructed. I never knew the tower bridge could be lifted up, splitting into two parts in order to let big ships pass! You can check the bridge lift times here.

IMG_2043

Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge Rd
London SE1 2UP, UK
Tickets: £9.80 (cheaper if you buy online)
https://towerbridge.recreatex.be/Products/Overview

14. Get a bird’s eye view of the city at St Paul’s Cathedral

This is not for the faint-hearted! You can get the best view of the city by climbing St Paul’s Cathedral, with its world-famous dome. Speaking of which, there’s probably a lot of spots to get good views of the city from above, like SkyGarden or The Shard, but I’m very satisfied with the view I got from St Paul’s because I worked for it!

FullSizeRender 3

There were no elevators at that time the church was built, so the only way up is to go through a very narrow staircase, and it takes about 528 steps to get to the top — a height of nearly 365 feet. When you reach 257 steps and arrive at the top of the dome, there is also a Whispering Gallery where you can stand at one end of the dome and whisper to your partner at the other far end and he/she would be able to hear you!

After that, you can continue climbing to the Stone Gallery, which can already get you a decent bird’s eye view of the city; or go even higher to the Golden Gallery, where you hit 528 steps in total. I climbed all the way. Initially thought since I was young and it would be easy, but my legs were wobbling at the end and you have to be very careful not to slip and fall. There were so many people resting or giving up halfway—making up to the top was no mean feat!

If you don’t wish to climb, just visiting the church alone for a time of reflection and prayer would be awesome. I cried there again after saying a prayer because I was too overwhelmed by the grandeur and angelic song by the choir. I know, what a crybaby haha. The bottom of the cathedral is the Crypt, where they house tombs of the famous dead. You can explore that as well, it was such a holy and mesmerising experience.

IMG_0515

St Paul’s Cathedral
St. Paul’s Churchyard
London EC4M 8AD, UK
Opening hours: Mon-Sat, 8.30am – 4pm
Tickets: £18.00
https://www.stpauls.co.uk/tickets


 

So there you go! It is definitely a challenge to keep this list short because I have so many things to share and London never really gets boring! I sneakily added Number 3 twice, did you notice? 😉 I don’t think we would ever finish exploring London, the city is just buzzing with festivals, events and activities all the time; since it was my first time there, every corner I turn was a surprise. My advice would be just to explore each and every corner of London because this city is a place where we don’t have to stick to an itinerary in order to have fun. Just be flexible in your travel plans, and if you see something interesting, don’t forget to snap it and share it with me!

Lots of Love,
Grace