Archive for March, 2008

I went to wander through parts of the East End, taking in Brick Lane and two small museums in one day.

I have actually been to Brick Lane once before, on the night Jon and I first arrived in London, but I thought I’d explore the place in the day time to see what it was really like. On the North end of Brick Lane, it’s a bustling place with cosy cafes, vintage shops, and specialist stores. Quite young and trendy. Then as you progress Southwards, the place is fringed on both sides with restaurants – the Brick Lane I met on my first night. In the day time that area is much less bustling as the touts are not on duty; and the streets are filled mostly with locals going grocery shopping at the local store (which stocks all types of South Asian supplies) or emerging from the mosque after prayers.

The colours of Brick Lane

I had heard that the Brick Lane Beigel Bake had the best bagels in London, so since I was there I had to try it didn’t I? I was happily munching away while wandering about the place. But I have to say, I think the best bagels I’ve had are still those from New York! Mmm…

I then head to the Geffyre Museum which traces the changing styles of interior design in London.

It’s like peeping into people’s houses cos it’s basically a series of spaces decorated in the style of various periods, from 1600s to the present. Fairly interesting to see the change in styles – from simple and functional, to ornate and flowery, then on to minimalist and modern.

The museum also showed the evolving style of chairs over the centuries.

This chair is, I think, the most comfortable of the lot :) When you sit in it you really melt into the cushion and feel like you’ve become part of the chair.

The Geffyre is a small museum and quite off-the beaten track. Not really a main attraction for a passing tourist unless they’re particularly interested in interior design. So having walked through the entire place without taking too long, I moved on to the last destination for the day, the White Cube. It’s a minimalist art space that has changing exhibitions. The day I went there were two photography exhibitions of mild interest. I think there are probably more interesting exhibitions at other times.

Anyway, having covered everything I wanted to during the day I went home feeling mighty pleased with myself :)

Read Full Post »

There’s a weekly antique market in Islington called the Camden Passage Market, which is actually not that near Camden. It’s a cosy little place, and all the wares line narrow passages behind the main row of shops lining the road. The Camden Passage Market also takes in the Pierrepoint Market, which is similar in nature, just a little distance off the main thoroughfare.

It was fun poking around the place looking for interesting buys. Quite a lot! But most out of my budget :) So just browsed…though I did get my parent’s Christmas present from there! Was quite pleased with myself :)

When I went to visit the day started nice and sunny, then it suddenly burst into rain, even though the sun was still shining. That’s the crazy British weather for you. But it did make for nice photos :)

Read Full Post »

Dark Materials

I actually read this series of books last November. Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights , The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass make up the Dark Materials series.

I really enjoyed these books. They are engrossing reads, and I found that once I started I couldn’t stop! It’s been a long time since I read a book that manages to keep up the tension throughout the entire story, which makes you turn the pages faster and faster! I thought it was very imaginative – the characters, the plot, the setting were all very original. I recommend these books if you’re looking for a good, adventure-filled read.

I know there are controversies regarding his apparent anti-Christian stance. But as I was reading the books, I didn’t think he was criticising Christianity per se, but rather he was against institutionalised religion in general. Not that the organisation of religion is bad in and of itself, but it appears he is against the way religion can sometimes be practiced, e.g., if one has a legalistic approach. Although some reviews and commentaries, and even Pullman himself, say that his books are about killing God, the Authority who supposedly represents God, is clearly described in the books as not God himself! That seems to me an important and telling distinction! Pullman described the Authority as being an angel that has posed as God, but is not God, and that there separately does exist a Creator God! In fact, God himself doesn’t really make an appearance in the book, and the issues circle around the Authority and Metatron (another angel). The whole set-up doesn’t quite seem to reflect Christianity, but rather is an obviously fictional religious order.

While I can see how people may say the books are anti-Christian, I personally didn’t get that feel when I read the books. I think the books are good for the storyline itself. Even if he does try to throw in some subversive ideas, it seems that overall, the books just come off as a good series of fiction. If a comparison has to be made, I think the Da Vinci Code is probably more controversial since it mixes falsehoods and truths in an indistinguishable manner.

Anyway, since reading the book it’s been fun seeing Oxford, where some parts of the book are set, chasing the Northern Lights in Iceland, and seeing the boat houses in Amsterdam. Not that I intentionally chose to go to these places because of the book! I have independently always wanted to visit these places/see these things, and it was just interesting to have this story to tie them together :)

Read Full Post »

Scottish Dance Theatre

Shan, Ben, Jon & I went to catch the Scottish Dance Theatre’s (SDT) performance at The Place, a contemporary dance school. The SDT is the same group that ran the workshop I went to a couple of days before. I had heard that the dance tenderhook was “very beautiful” and was keen to watch it. It was actually the dance on which the workshop was based, but they didn’t teach the choreography during the workshop, just the techniques.

To be honest, I was a little disappointed with tenderhook. The reviews were so good, and the mental images conjured in my mind after the workshop were very different from how the actual dance looked like. It’s a dance that’s supposed to explore relationships between people, and I thought it would evoke more emotions and be much more stirring. The music was so good! Unfortunately, it seemed more like a series of movements to me. I knew the significance behind them, since they explained it during the workshop, but I thought there’d be more to it, more blending of movements; instead they took the elements and pieced them together. That’s what I thought at least, though they had some interesting use of props. I guess it’s just cos I expected so much more. But that’s just how it is usually right? When you expect too much you tend to get disappointed.

I was more impressed with Dog. Though requiring less technique, I liked how they kept up the energy and showed commitment to the dance. It involved a lot of explosive movements sandwiched between segments of fluid movements. I always find that you need a certain kind of dancer to be able to pull off such contrasting textures of movement. A lot of times there isn’t enough explosiveness, and the movement just looks weak, and the whole effect is lost. But I thought they did it very well, and melted easily from explosive to fluid. I actually also saw more meaning in Dog than in tenderhook. The choreographer made it clear that he didn’t have any particular meaning he wanted to convey when he started choreographing the dance, but that that doesn’t mean his dance has no meaning. So he urged the audience to see their own meaning in it, i.e., it is pretty much up to you. So to me, it seems like well, we’re all sometimes like Dogs. Sometimes kicked around by others, loved by others, sometimes affectionate, scared, conditioned to do certain things, curious, sometimes out of control, etc., but still always very human. I don’t profess to understand the whole dance. There were bits that totally didn’t make sense to me, but that’s the little bit I pulled out from it.

Read Full Post »


Jon & I caught Rihanna’s performance at the O2! :)

Yes, we did see some people bringing umbrellas for the concert.

Anyway, in contrast to Smashing Pumpkins where most people were around our age, this time around most of the people attending were young, screaming girls. Gosh. They can really scream. When Rihanna first appeared I thought I would go deaf! Already our ears had a pre-taste of what those vocal chords were capable of. When some celeb (I assume) came in, the girls all started screaming, and already I thought that was loud. Actually, I first heard the screaming then noticed they were screaming over someone that I totally didn’t recognise. Jon and I asked the couple next to us (who happened to be around our age) who that guy was, and they didn’t know either. I think we’re all too old to know these things… :) But yes, there were some others our age and older. But the bulk of the crowd were kids (with chaperons!) and teenagers. Actually it’s quite cute to see parents and their kids bonding over this event :)

But lest we sound like old fuddy duddies, we actually knew quite a lot of her songs :) Jon was surprised that certain songs he was familiar with were sung by her.

Paying tribute to Bob Marley

She put up a good show, and actually sang during the concert, not lip-sync, though the back-up singers did a lot of singing too. But I like her voice, there’s a distinctive tone to it. Still, the concert felt more rehearsed and structured than the others that I’ve been to here. I guess it’s cos she has to coordinate the songs with the dancers and dance routines, with props and multi-media displays behind. So she had less leeway to improvise. It’s probably all timed and choreographed. But that’s probably how it is with a lot of pop acts like Spice Girls and Kylie Minogue I think. Saw on TV the Spice Girls rehearsing their moves for their latest tour that just ended. On the other hand, Smashing Pumpkins was a rocking good time that felt free form and independent, and Mika was an intimate affair and crazy fun (even if he did have dancers occasionally, they really just pranced around freely in a non-choreographed way).

Overall it was a worthwhile trip, and fun to join in and sing the songs when I knew them…and of course we all know the ella-ella song! :)

Read Full Post »

The dance workshop was great!

Not what I expected, but very interesting and inspirational nonetheless. Instead of teaching their repertoire per se, the gave insights to the thinking and creative techniques like “brackets and squirrels”, “kites”, “paisley” and “canon” that went behind the work. A lot of it requires improvisation and creativity, which I found great fun! We rotated with various partners, and each partner brought something else to the equation. Some of the dancers were fantastic! It was so inspirational watching them! Strength, grace, and creativity all rolled into one. Turns out that they are intending to audition for the Scottish Dance Theatre (SDT) – no wonder they were going all out to impress, and it was clear the SDT dancers were impressed!

My whole body feels worked-out and stretched. We really used every inch of our bodies tonight, and I’m definitely going to ache tomorrow. How wonderful!

Read Full Post »

Dancing In London!

I’ve been wanting to go for dance in London, and finally went for two classes several weeks ago. The first was for a contemporary ‘Graham technique’ class at The Place, and the second was a jazz class at Pineapple Studios near Covent Garden. Both we great fun, and it was fantastic to get to dance again! More than anything I realised that contrary to what I had thought – that a lot of the people who attend these things are really fantastic dancers and I’ll look so horrible next to them – there are many people here who go to class just to try out something new, or indulge in an interest…why worry? :) There are of course many fantastic dancers, but, who cares? :) Not like they know me. Just do it!

So tonight I’m going for a repertory class with the Scottish Dance Theatre at The Place. I was thinking of attending the Rambert Dance Company’s repertory class, but decided that the work they were going to teach was probably better enjoyed as part of an audience than to learn. The Scottish Dance Theatre is going to lead the class to learn tenderhook which has been described as simply beautiful and stunning. I’m not too sure whether there is a requirement for the level of dance experience, but I’m just going to go for it and try! :) Wish me luck!

Read Full Post »

Here’s a link to the photos we took on the trip!

Click here.

Read Full Post »

Iceland – Day 4

For our last day in Iceland, we headed to Hafnarfjordur where I went horse riding! Icelandic horses are more stocky than other horse breeds, and are famed for their smooth gait and warm personalities. Most guidebooks say that they are friendly and willing. But I think the Insight Guides was most accurate, “surefooted, intelligent, affectionate, home-loving and sometimes headstrong”. Yep..it can be headstrong too as I discovered!

My horse, Sqwisa, was certainly not willing. He refused to walk faster even when kicked! He’d walk slowly, resulting in a large gap between myself and the person in front. Initially I was in the middle of the pack, so one of the guides rode up to me and urged my horse on. It seems Sqwisa only responds when under peer pressure. Cos even when the guide gave me a riding crop to use, and asked me to kick my horse more, Sqwisa refused to move faster. Only when the guide rode alongside did he oblige to trot a little, but otherwise he ambled along at his own pace. So when the group turned to head back to the stable, all the other horses walked ahead and I ended up right at the back. After a while I was 20-30 metres behind everyone else!

Near the end of the ride there was a snow plow behind, and the guide asked everyone to kick their horse and trot forward to the stable. But I kicked, and kicked, and hit with the crop..and thought that maybe I’m hurting Sqwisa so tried stroking, I tried talking to him, then tried kicking again, but all to no avail. He just walked on while everyone else galloped away.

Later on when I was changing out of the riding gear, one of the other riders asked if I enjoyed my ride. I said yes, but that my horse was really slow. She said that I should have used a riding crop. When she used it her horse moved faster. But I told her I had kicked and hit no end, but he still went slowly. Then she asked, “were you the last one?” And when I said yes, she and the others all burst out laughing….. TSK! Great.

Anyway, it seems there’s this love-hate relationship. Because at one point before our ride, Sqwisa was nuzzling his snout against me in an affectionate way. I thought that was sweet. But then he turned out to be quite stubborn. Hiya. So much for the willing, good-natured Icelandic horse :) I guess even they have a range of personalities :)

But I do love how Icelandic horses look so cute with their thick fringes that hang over their eyes :) And you get all sorts of colour combinations. Brown horses with blonde hair, white horses with brown hair, black horses with brown hair, etc.

They also display some interesting behaviour. When they first come out of the stable, and also after we dismount from the horses and remove the staddles, the horses start rolling around in the snow on their backs as if to cool it or scratch it! I’ve never seen horses do that! They’ll prance around, lie down, then roll to and fro until they are satisfied. A fascinating sight :)

Anyway cos my Sqwisa was rather stubborn, plus the riding path was much less adventurous than the brochure made it out to be (just walk out then turn and walk back), I was a little disappointed with the experience, though I still love the horses and being around them.

Jon and I then drove to The Pearl back in Reykjavik to get some panoramic views over the capital. The Pearl is a revolving restaurant that sits on top of hot water tanks, and has an outdoor platform that you can walk on and look out in all directions. It was a bright and clear day, so we were even able to make out the glacier Snaefellsjokull on the Snaefellsnes peninsular in the distance, almost 80 miles away as the crow flies!

We then made our way to Garður, a small fishing town near the airport. It was very small and the port really smelt heavily of fish, which was fine with me :)

Time was catching up with us so we had to make for the airport to catch the flight…the end of our trip! Again it was a day flight, and this time we sat on the correct side of the plane and managed to see beautiful views of the Reykjanes Peninsular – the roads we drove on, Reykjavik in the distance, bird cliffs in the South that we didn’t have a chance to go to; and as a bonus we also saw Heimaey and Surtsey! It brought the trip full circle, ending with the islands we got to know through the volcano show on the first day in Iceland. I felt really privileged to see Surtsey, the tiny island that didn’t exist not long ago in geological terms.

Anyway, as we got higher into the clouds, we settled in for the short flight back home to London :)

Read Full Post »

We decided that we’d try some local food that day. For the previous few days we’d been self-catering our meals. We had brought bread, canned tuna, canned salmon, pate, corned beef, and clementines from UK. Apparently other travellers often also bring along food with them from home cos the cost of food, and the the cost of basically everything, is very high in Iceland. Iceland tops the Big Mac index! One of the guidebooks described how it is pitiful to see travellers who normally travel in style and luxury end up penny pinching, and even taking food from breakfast buffets to make lunch packs. Our hotel had a sign on the dining room door that read “it is not the custom in Iceland to make lunch packs from the breakfast buffet” to prevent exactly such behaviour. But Jon and I are used to self-catering anyway, having done that many times on our various backpacking trips.

We got to see just how expensive food is in Iceland that Sunday. We shared a snack of soup and a kebab and it added up to S$36! But the food was really good! The soup was made from lobster (and was excellent), and the kebab was of Minke whale! Wait wait wait! Before you say anything, Minke whales are not endangered! In fact Iceland carefully watches the Minke whale population. Of the 45,000 Minke whales, less than 1% are allowed to be caught. Whale meat is surprisingly like red meat! It really looks like, and has the texture of beef steak, though the taste is slightly different.

We were glad for the hot meal because it was another freezing day!

Having warmed our stomachs, we went to explore the Sunday Kolaportio flea market. It’s rather an ordinary flea market, except for the food section. Oh…the food section. There we tried some yummy Icelandic food like smoked fish (like giam he) and smoked herring (sweet, fishy, and tasty). We also bought some of their flat rye bread (yummy! sweet and with a slight burnt taste), a loaf of sweet malty bread, some smoked salmon and fish pate to try.

But the king of Icelandic delicacies that we tried was Hakarl, which is rotten shark. Yep…rotten shark. It is buried for up to six months in sand to break down the high levels of ammonia and neurotixins contained in its flesh. Different parts of the shark yield either white or dark meat. We tried the white one… While the initial taste was sweet (though Jon will dispute that heh), the aftertaste which came quickly after was horrible! Oh man…you cannot image the taste! Ammonia plus some other gross concoction of flavours…yucks.. And the worst part is that the taste stays in your throat for the next few hours. Even though we ate other things after that…there was still a lingering tinge of the rotten shark. The smell was horrible too. At the stall selling Hakarl there was an overwhelming pungent smell that I kept trying to blow out of my lungs! I couldn’t imagine working in that stall and being surrounded by that smell all day long. But I suppose the stall keeper was used to it..and maybe even likes Hakarl!

Anyway, we tried it! :) It seems many Icelanders also don’t really fancy Hakarl, and the traditional way of eating it is to drink a glug of really strong alcohol once you’ve popped the Hakarl in your mouth so that you don’t taste the rotten fish.

Another really fantastic bit of Icelandic food that we tried was their hot dog! We went to the most well-loved stall called Baejarins Beztu Pylsur which was near the flea market. It looks like a simple hot dog, but you know you’ve got something wonderful when you bite into it! The flavour and the blend of sauces is excellent! And there’s an extra crunch from the fried onions they put inside. Fantastic! Don’t think I’ve had a better hot dog!

We couldn’t resist going back to the hot dog stand after coming back from the Blue Lagoon and getting a hot dog each as a pre-dinner snack. It’s clear it’s a well-loved stall cos there was an endless flow of customers going to buy hot dogs, even at night! We then had dinner proper back at the hotel, eating some of the stuff we had bought from the flea market. Yummy smoked salmon and the super tasty rye bread with knobs of butter! :) So much better than canned tuna! :)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »