London. It was the first and last stop of our 2.5-week long Europe trip, and I had mixed feelings about spending time in London. I hate that I love it so much, and I knew very well that visiting this city again will remind me of how much I’m missing out in Singapore.
I did my exchange semester a few years back in Hertfordshire (1 hour bus ride away from central London), and would often spend my weekends frolicking around London. I still have wonderful memories of its museums, gigs, nonsensical locals, clubs, and Primark outlets. Even imagining myself strolling down Oxford Street gave me an enormous sense of well-being.
Because I’ve done most of the touristy stuff in London, the first and only item on my must-revisit list is the National History Museum, which I absolutely adore — mainly because of the dinosaur bones and taxidermy. So as Priya set out on her bus tour, I lazed around in Ade’s apartment (yes, that bitch has been staying in London since early this year) until noon, before heading out.
I got off at South Kensington station, walked over to the museum, and was greeted with this wonderful sight.
Plan B? Hyde Park, since it’s only a short walk away.
I love these interactive public art things. This even housed a cafe within!
After strolling around a bit, I took shelter from the sun under a tree, where I laid down to read and even took a nap. And I enjoyed every single second of being alone in a foreign country.
I still had a lot of time to kill, so I decided to take a long walk to Piccadilly Circus, where I’ll rendezvous with Priya. Being in the thick of the crowd there reminded me of Singapore, and I felt sick immediately. So I cursed Priya in my head for being late.
Next on our itinerary was Ten Bells, a restaurant/bar (upstairs/downstairs) near Spitalfields. It’s here that Priya and I reunited with Ade (who had to work that day) as well as old friends Mei, Oleta, and Lana. I still find it surreal how easy it is to keep in touch with friends thousands of miles away through Facebook and arrange for a meet up with just a couple of phone messages.
While the food came in small portions, it all tasted wonderful. It’s on the pricey side, but I think it added up because we ordered quite a few appetisers, like buttermilk chicken as well as ravioli to share.
My portion of the bill came up to £33, including the shared appetisers, a main dish, and a spritz cocktail. Fairly decent actually, if I don’t convert it to SGD. Do give it a try if you’re in town! Nice decor, good service, and great food.
Next, we met up with Ade’s housemates, a lovely couple by the name of Patrick and Afsar, for a night of Icy Gays at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA). We got our drinks and entered a very warm auditorium where a group of very non-mainstream (by my standards) crowd have gathered to watch some sort of B-grade performance/presentation. A drag queen read off poetic lines while 2 performers (one gay boy and another topless transgender or girl, I’m not sure) dived off the stage and crowdsurfed. but I loved it. I had no idea what was going on, but I loved its freakiness and how everyone was so into it. It was quite trippy.
Aérea Negrot is a Berlin-based Venezuelan musician, who got the crowd moving with dark yet danceable Berlin-esque beats, proved her talents with some crazy vocals, and tickled all of us with lyrics like “listen to the people who cum inside you“. If you have clicked on the links or listened to her stuff online, you’re probably judging me for singing praises for such a nonsense artist. But trust me, you gotta see her live to understand. She has a great voice (the way she yelled, groaned, and moaned reminded me of the way Karen O sings live), her DJ set is minimal and groovy, and her performance is such a joy to watch! Very envious of Londoners and their access to such varied artists.
Hung out with Patrick and Afsar at home until noon, then Priya and I took a bus down to Borough Market.
We made a bee line for the duck sandwich as it was highly recommended by Patrick and Afsar. It was a little bit of a wait, but it turned out to be a generous serving of really tasty shredded duck!
The market wasn’t bustling, but it still had a nice, quaint feel of a farmer’s market.
We also bought a really good brownie (light and fluffy yet rich in flavour) to go, and I bagged some truffle oil (£7 for a Tabasco bottle-sized portion) and foie gras pate to bring home.
After our feast, we dropped by Primark. I’ve been dreaming about re-visiting it ever since I left the UK at the end of my exchange, and I was thrilled to be in the new store along Oxford Circus. But after an hour or so of browsing all four levels, only 2 tops (same design in different colours) caught my eye. Guess it’s just a natural progression to be a lot more discerning when it comes to shopping as you age.
After the disappointing shopping stop, it’s back on the tube again to get to Leicester Square to meet Ade for drinks at Opium, a speakeasy in Chinatown.
We had some fancy-looking drinks, and I really liked my choice: Xin Sheng Ming (£11) with Absolut, a ginseng spirit, rocket and watercress syrup, cucumber juice, and a hint of lime. (It’s the green drink that came along with a bottle labelled “chinese medicine” as pictured above.)
The day’s main event came after our pre-drinks. Weeks before we even embarked on this Europe trip, we made a booking with the Black Cat Cabaret because I’ve always wanted to watch a burlesque. So glad that we’re able to catch them during our short time in London as they only do 1 or 2 shows a month.
The cabaret-style seating on the ballroom floor cost a bomb as it included dinner, so we took the £13 general admission ticket that entitled us free-seating on the mezzanine level. The area was almost filled when we arrived just before the show, but we managed to find decent seats wedged between 2 British couples. And I was so in love with the venue. It was small yet grand, busy yet intimate, and so damn sensual.
The stage was tiny, but I loved that none of the acts were played up with the usual theatrics common in bigger venues. We were treated to a medley of short performances featuring acrobats, a juggler, a contortionist, a fire-eater, can can dancers, as well as a sexy piano player who sang and drawled his way into our wet dreams. The pace of the show was very casual, keeping the bohemian vibe pretty authentic.
Our Saturday night in London was spent at Area, a gay club in Vauxhall. Nothing exciting, but the music was pretty all right. Being the anti-social people that we are, we enjoyed our own company the most, and were very glad that the club was only half-full.
Our epic trip has finally come to an end. We spent our last day at Ade’s place, in the company of new and old friends and some really good home-cooked Indian food by Afsar. It was too soon that the conversations had to end, and we had to pick up our bags and put on our boots. It was such a heartbreaking goodbye to London and Ade. I love Europe so much and I’m never, ever prepared to go when it’s time to head home. Let’s hope it’s just a temporary separation. Can’t wait to be back.
Let’s end this series of posts on our Girls Gone Fat Europe trip 2013 on a happier note…