Southwestern Serendipity – a Singaporean female in Exeter

I awake slowly, my eyes opening incrementally in millimetres every minute. My forehead and nose is telling me that outside is cold and no sane person would consider leaving my (third level) bed at 6.45 a.m. But then again, not everyone finds out a day before their trip to the UK that their ex-colleague and dear friend from Singapore is now studying in Exeter, a 3 hour train journey from London. So yes, amidst much whining from my snug-in-a-blanket warm body, I pull myself out to have a cold shower (my hostel didn’t believe in hot showers in Winter…. tragedy). 30 minutes later, I am at Waterloo Station all excited to travel down to Exeter to meet Netti!

As said, UK really put on its best dress for me. Here was a picture of the sunrise that I was treated to on the journey down to Exeter.

The beautiful sunrise that greeted me enroute to Exeter

The beautiful sunrise that greeted me enroute to Exeter

Exeter Cemetary?

Exeter Cemetary?

Some berries spotted on our country walk

Some berries spotted on our country walk

Not sure what berries these were, but I HAD to stop and snap a shot of them. Pretty, aren’t they? Originally, Netti and I had planned to visit a Donkey Sanctuary near Sidmouth, Devon. However, we had overestimated the capabilities of Sunday public transportation. In the end, we were (somewhat) stranded in the country at 2 p.m. and took a leisurely stroll down the countryside.

Netti & I

Netti & I

Came across this small stream and had to stop to take a wefie. I’ve missed this girl. She was a bedrock for me when I started my contract teaching in CHIJ Katong. We started together and although our paths have diverged, it felt so good to get the opportunity to meet up with her again and see the many blessings that life has brought her after a tumultuous period in her working life.

Exeter Cathedral

Exeter Cathedral

High Street, Exeter - reminds me of Perth's city centre!

High Street, Exeter – reminds me of Perth’s city centre!

Netti & I at High Street, Exeter

Netti & I at High Street, Exeter

We ended up having a hot coffee at Costa and taking some pictures along High Street. In many ways, Devon reminds me of Western Australia and Exeter, Perth. The public transport, the buses, the weather, the long leisurely walks, beautiful scenery and the city centre structures. I’ve barely been here a day and I see the many ways I could fall in love with Exeter. Oh, to leave parts of your heart everywhere you travel. It is both a blessing, and a curse.

Trains from London to Exeter depart from both Waterloo and Victoria stations. More details may be found on Southwest Train’s website at http://www.southwesttrains.co.uk/exeter-guide.aspx.

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Accommodation Review: Smart Russell Square

Overall Rating: 2/10

– Stay Away unless desperate and the only option is to sleep out on the streets.

Alright, alright. So I booked into the hostel of hell. To be fair, I’ve visited my share of hostels and I expected to be slumming it (the one in Naples was scary enough – I thought I was going to wake up raped or sliced up in bed). But still, this one was one for the infamous lists.

Let’s start with the Positives.

1. Staff were friendly. The doorman always greeted me with a smile, and the baggage check person (Ryan) had a nice conversation with me.

2. Location was very convenient. It was within walkable distance of the tube station (Russell Square) and a supermarket.

3. Beds had a curtain to draw which hid your bed from the room and allowed me to change in privacy.

Moving on to the Negatives.

1. Toilets were only located at Level 1 (separate from bathrooms) and Level 3 (with some shower stalls). If you wake up with a near bursting bladder and had the misfortune to be located all the way up top of the bunk beds, let’s hope you have practiced your kegel exercises.

2. Charging points – only 2 charging points were provided in my room of 9. The math doesn’t compute.

3. Common Room was crowded and there was nowhere to sit (except for the tables). This was caused mostly by the lack of charging points in the rooms – people started bringing their electronics to the common room to charge.

4. The kitchen was dirty and had unwashed dishes in the sink. In these type of 9-bed and 18-bed hostels, it only takes one to set off a chain reaction and I suppose I was there during those bad days.

5. Organization of Room – the beds weren’t bunk beds, they were set into the walls. Which were both good and bad. There was sufficient space (in my 9 bed room) for luggage. However, they had 3 beds on top of each other – which kinda sucked if you have vertigo and are stuck on the top bunk (moi!). I was convinced I would fall off every time I climbed down the hell long ladder.

6. No free lockers (I even brought a lock). Either way, a group of 7 checked out the second day I was there and hostel staff also removed my linens and towel by accident (which I had paid 5 pounds and a deposit of 10 pounds for). This was in spite of me putting in my check in and check out dates in the little dongle provided. No effort was made to replace my towel. My slippers also went missing, I assume it was thongnapped by one of my hostel mates.

7. I had two showers here. The first time, I tried the shower stalls in the basement. The basement showers were worse than communal gym showers. Curtains that stuck onto you. To turn on the water, you had to press down a knob otherwise the water stopped running after a few minutes. This would be alright if the water wasn’t so BLOODY COLD. IN WINTER.

The second shower I had was up in the 3rd level showers, which at least had nicer shower cubicles. However, the water was still cold. My first few showers in Europe in winter were yes, cold showers. I nearly froze to death.

If you would like to sleep in discomfort, there are probably better places to do it in London.

Website Link: http://www.smartrussellsquare-london.com/

Tripadvisor Reviews: http://www.tripadvisor.com.sg/Hotel_Review-g186338-d1233082-Reviews-Smart_Russell_Square_Hostel-London_England.html

Hostelworld Reviews: http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Smart-Russell-Square/London/29412/reviews

London; Here comes the Sun.

As I step off the plane, a shiver of anticipation rushes through me. The air of London at 5 a.m. is refreshing and crisp, a stark contrast to when I left Singapore at 11 p.m. the night before. In fact, the wind is bitingly cold as it freezes its way down my lungs.

First order of business was a cup of heartwarming orange chocolate from Costa at Heathrow with Stuart. What followed the next few days were several deja vu type moments. Names I’d heard of from reading way too many historical romance novels and playing Monopoly now have an image to go with them, etched in my brain.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to visit the Tower of London. I also didn’t take a touristy picture in the red telephone booth (sheesh). Last but not least – I kinda wished that I had the time (and energy) to visit Fabric Nightclub or Ministry of Sound. Unfortunately, I booked into the Hostel of Hell (review posted here) which kind of annoyed me everytime I returned back and sapped my motivation to head out.

Highlights of London: A really nice cozy pub lunch (Bangers & Mash) with Stuart, Sightseeing with Stuart, meeting up with Longzhao and having a stroll around South Kensington & catching Wicked at London’s West End (one item off my bucket list!).

The Tube - uniquely London

The Tube – uniquely London

The London Underground (or Tube) – people here seemed to always be in a rush or walking really quickly. Definitely none of that face stuck in their mobile phones stuff here.

Big Ben and the Red Bus.

Big Ben and the Red Bus.

Big Ben / Clock Tower – apparently this tower holds the largest four facing clock in the world. Also saw the Parliament close by and the Palace of Westminster. Of course I had to take it with the red double-decker bus in the foreground. Gahhhhh I’m such a tourist 😉

The London Eye

The London Eye

Life Guards of the Household Cavalry

Life Guards of the Household Cavalry

We were lucky enough to come by at exactly the right time to catch the changing of the Life Guards. The Life Guards are a regiment of the Household Calvary of the British Army and since their first action in the Battle of Maastricht in 1672 the Life Guards have won numerous battle honours, including Waterloo, Marne, Brussels and El Alamein. The changing of the Queen’s Life Guards take place daily at 11 a.m. on weekdays & 10 a.m. on Sundays at the Horse Guards Parade.

On the tube with Stuart to Croydon

On the tube with Stuart to Croydon

Christmas Lights a la London

Christmas Lights a la London

At the Natural History Museum of London, no dinosaurs came to life.

At the Natural History Museum of London, no dinosaurs came to life.

Yep – this is where they filmed Night of the Museum. No dinosaurs were harmed in this process.

A Major Highlight, Watching Wicked at London's West End!

A Major Highlight, Watching Wicked at London’s West End!

Definitely a major, major highlight. I would have loved to catch Book of Mormon – however the agent who was meant to book it mucked up the dates I was in London and this was the replacement he provided me with (nice discount too!)

For sure, London put up its best shot. The weather was magnifique – sunny wintry days, no rain at all (am I in London, really?). Au Revoir London. Maybe I’ll be back one day.