The Fairy Tale Town of Conwy

  

We’ve all heard of fairy tales when we were kids. The stories of Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, The Beauty and the Beast, and many others. They were stories of princesses, princes, kings, queens, dragons, witches, castles and little old towns around them. As a child I’ve seen almost every Disney fairy tale animated movie from our school’s audio-visual room, which turns into a free movie house during lunch break, and from those movies I’ve always pictured medieval towns as walled villages with a castle somewhere inside. I’ve always pictured it in my mind in a “cartoonish” way, where white walls and bright orange roofs make the town stand out.

And then, I saw Conwy, a small town in North Wales that had exactly what the fairy tale towns had, minus the princesses, princes, and certainly no dragons nor witches. Conwy is a walled town set along the banks of a river, and in the foot of the mountains of the Snowdonia region, Wales’ most famous national park. Enclosed within the walls of Conwy is a small town that looked like the setting of the fight between Belle, Gaston and the Beast. Walking along the town’s very narrow roads felt like walking in the centuries past when everything moved by push carts and horses, and people’s daily clothing looked funny or shabby by current standards. And on one corner of the town lies the castle, a mandatory element of every fairy tale. Built during the 13th century, the castle has an imposing presence over the town, and it is relatively intact, considering it’s eight centuries old.

Though it’s walls are not white, and the castle is an old ruin – nothing like a princess’ castle in Disneyland – the beautiful little town of Conwy has all the magical elements, that make a fairy tale.
          
   
  
   
   
    
   
   
    
 

   
    
   
*Photos taken February 2016

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Random Wanderings, in London

  
 

Three months after I started my assignment here in London, and I’m now here sitting on the train to Heathrow airport for my flight home, typing away on my iPad and using the complementary wifi. It’s been what I would call, a “bitter-sweet” experience. I was away from my family for 3 months and missed Christmas and New Year at home. There were those late nights for video calls with my son, and on few occasions I fell asleep while in the middle of a call. It was winter the whole time I was here, and sometimes it felt like the cold bit not only skin but also bone, especially on the walks between home and office in the mornings and evenings.

Yet it has been a fun time as well. I managed to go around the UK, as much as a busy schedule would permit. There was the new year trip to beautiful Edinbrugh, Scotland, a weekend on Belfast and the breathtaking northern Irish coast, and then I got drenched in Wales and ate black pudding. I managed to accomplish one of the things I wanted to do while here – visit the four constituent countries of the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales). I managed to see Stonehenge, see the city with unusual name – Bath, wander around the towns of Windsor and Eton, and saw what punting in Cambridge was all about.

But most of all, I managed to see more of London this time around. It’s the most cosmopolitan place I’ve ever been to. Some parts of it feel like genuine England, while others are like East Asia, or the Middle East. People of all colors, varying heights, varying builds, walk the same packed sidewalks, and ride the same packed trains. Parts of the city are immaculately clean, while some downright dingy. Sometimes you wonder if you’re still in you Europe, and in other times you are reminded that you are in Europe. But one thing is clear – London is an experience like no other.

And before I disembark from this train, let me just show you a few of the pictures I’ve taken, from my random wanderings in London.

  

  
  

  
   
   

   
 

  

What are you doing in Wales, in this weather?

  

A colleague and I arrived in Wales, soaking wet. It was one of those days that would have been the perfect time to go out and explore, but the weather didn’t agree. We got off the train at Llandudno station to a driving rain, the kind you normally associate with the tropical monsoon. And then there was the gale force wind with the temperature of an ice bucket. We might as well have taken an ice bucket challenge, it would have felt the same.

With heads bowed from the wind and hands deep in our coats pockets to look for whatever warmth there is left, we walked the few hundred meters from the train station to our guesthouse. And as we arrived at the front door, we rang the bell and were met by a smiling old lady who promptly greeted us with the words “Oh my, what are you doing in Wales in this kind of weather?”. Yeah, what in the world were we doing indeed.

Llandudno is a  seaside town in the northern end of Wales, one of the four constituent countries of the United Kingdom. Bordered by the sea in the north, the mountains of Wales on the south and a rocky coastal hill called “The Great Orme”in the west, Llandudno lies on beautiful, god-given spot. The north shore of the town is a long gracefully arching coastline with whitish sand called the North Parade, and it would have been a postcard worthy scene on any other day, except the one when we were there. The view from the Great Orme would also have been perfect, I would imagine, on less rainy and misty days.

Still, despite the weather, Llandudno was worth the three hour train ride from London. It is a charming, laid back town where life seems to be very different from the perpetual rush that is London.
   

Llandudno, and the Great Orme

    
    
    
  

The North Parade

  
    
    
   
  

We stayed for a night at the Glenavon Guest House in Llandudno, and I would have to say it was one of my most pleasant overnight stays. The guest house is owned and managed by an old couple who kept the whole place very cozy and clean. And then there was the breakfast – a plateful of wonderful Full English Breakfast prepared with tender loving care in their kitchen. No rain is hard enough, and no weather is bad enough, for that breakfast.

   
    
   

* Photos taken February 2016.

Anglaagan, Is Turning Six

Yours Truly, the author

Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away. Now it looks as though they’re here to stay. Oh I believe, in yesterday.

Six years ago, in the first week of March, I started writing articles here. I named my site Ang Laagan (Visayan for “The Wanderlust”), to denote my penchant for travel, and my roots in Davao City, Philippines, where Visayan is the most widely spoken Filipino dialect. Six years, but it only feels like yesterday.

I started Ang Laagan because I wanted to show my experiences, to whoever bothers to read. I believe each of us has something to share, about our experiences, the happenings in our lives, and how they shape who we are. I simply chose Ang Laagan as my medium.

Despite being a site about personal travel experiences, I made it a point not to post pictures of myself here. Why? Because this site isn’t about me. Rather, it’s about the things that I see, feel, and taste as I go around doing what I like doing best. But I’m going to make an exception this time, as I post a photo of me crossing the most ordinary yet most famous crosswalk ever (expertly taken by a gracious colleague and friend). Forty years before I started Ang Laagan, a photographer took a few pictures of the Beatles along this crosswalk a few steps from their studio. One of those was made an album cover, and the rest is history.

It has been terribly busy for me lately, as each year gets busier and busier at work. I have been able to write less, I must admit, but that still has not drowned out my passion to escape and go to other worlds, whenever I can. Life will always be hectic, busy, impatient, but we shouldn’t let the world drown out what we are. Let’s just take life for what it is, the good, the bad, and make it better. Cheers!

Hey Jude, don’t make it bad. Take a sad song, and make it better“.

  
  
*Photos taken February 2016

Belfast…The Devil’s Own, No More

The Belfast City Hall

I remember the 1997 movie, “The Devil’s Own”. Brad Pitt played a Catholic Irishman from Belfast. He was an IRA (Irish Republican Army) assassin, who was sent to the United States to buy and ship weapons home, where the troubles between Catholics and Protestants raged on for years. Opposite him was Harrison Ford, a New York cop who played a gracious host to Brad Pitt’s character, not knowing of his true identity. However as no secret remains hidden forever, Ford’s character’s suspicions of his Irish guest’s identity grew over time. And before the movie ends, they face each other with who they truly are. Both Pitt’s and Ford’s characters believed they are doing the right thing, based on their own moral code. The former was just fighting for his hometown that is being torn apart by internal conflict, and the latter was just a cop upholding the law, as his job requires him to.

Since then the words “Belfast”, the IRA, and the struggles of Northern Ireland, was eternally stamped in my consciousness. The tension in Pitt’s character, for me exemplified the tension that was being felt in Northern Ireland at that time. He was a murderer in Belfast, but when he got to New York, he was just an ordinary man, like you and me. Belfast in those years, and the preceding three decades, was the most dangerous place in Europe. Conflict between the two sides of the divide frequently raged through bullets and flying petrol bombs in the streets. Both sides felt threatened by the other, and both believed they were doing the right thing by taking the fight to the streets and protecting their neighborhoods. Most of the fighters on either side, I believe, were good men who just got sucked into the conflict that was upon them. Put them in another part of the world, and they might be doing else, something more peaceful.

Thankfully the year after the movie, in 1998, a peace agreement was signed between the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, ending an undeclared civil war that raged on for three decades. Peace was given a chance to build a nest in Belfast, at last. Present day Belfast still bears the visible scars of that conflict, but has moved on, at great pace. The Belfast we landed on in 2016 was no longer the Belfast Brad Pitt’s character came from in 1997.

Present day Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, looks like any other small European capital city. It has a very beautiful city hall, a main shopping street with the latest brands, and an extensive bus transport network. And there’s the one thing the people of Belfast are most proud about, their new hotels. Prior to 1998 they had none at all, because no tourist with a right mind wanted to go there. It is also now very peaceful. In fact I would be more nervous walking alone at night in London, than in Belfast.

 

Royal Ave and Donegall Place, Belfast’s main shopping street

  
 

Belfast’s Parliament house

 

Typical Belfast Neighbourhoods

  
 

Still, even though Belfast has has been at peace for the last 17 years, reminders of its troubled past can still be found, especially in the western side where most of the fighting occurred. There are still walls that divide the Catholic and Protestant areas, and the communities around them are not yet comfortable enough to bring them down. Murals drawn by the various groups that fought during the troubles are still around, alongside memorials of those who perished during the fighting. All these serve as reminders of the past that the people want to learn from, but not live in. As a Northern Irish saying goes, “Look with one eye to the past, and you are wise. Look with both eyes to the past, and you’re a fool”.

   
    
    
 

*Photos taken February 2016.

Fish-eyed, in Cambridge

Fair blue skies, on the way to Cambridge

I bought a new fish-eye lens for my camera mid-day this Sunday. It was just one of those fancy body caps made by Olympus that double as manual lenses. It’s got glass in the middle, yeah, but it’s got no auto-focus and not even aperture control, so it’s perpetually stuck at f8.0. But before you say bummer, let me say that it only set me back 75 quid. How else can I mount a fish-eye in a system camera for 75 quid? I’ll let go of autofocus anytime, for 75 quid. This is back to basics photography, only with an unusual perspective.

So with fingers itching and eager to play with the new “toy”, I decided to take it for a field test. And the target? Cambridge. Just 1 hour away from London, it was within easy reach. It was a perfect day for taking some snaps too. The sky was blue – a rarity in England – and so I didn’t let the chance pass. And so I bought myself a round trip ticket for 16 quid, and hopped on the next train from Kings Cross. Neat. 

Cambridge, so called as it sits on the banks of the river cam, is known the world over as the A-list university town. It houses some of the world’s best schools, and any CV indicating one is a graduate from any of the universities here would make that piece of paper heavier than the paperweight sitting on top of it.

Yet Cambridge has more to offer, than just the weight of the diplomas that come from it. It looks very pretty, a postcard perfect sample of an old English town. Old buildings line the streets in the town center, blending in perfectly with the impressive architecture of the schools around it. And then there’s the river Cam, meandering calmly at the backs of the universities. One of the highlights for visitors in Cambridge is “punting” – rafting along the river Cam with a boatman, much like the Venetian gondolas, but the boatmen here don’t sing.

And how about the field test? The cheap little lens did not disappoint…in fact it was very, very far from any possibility of disappointing me. I had so much fun with it, in fact I don’t recall having this much fun taking pictures before. It’s my first fish-eye lens, and the ability to use the fish-eye perspective thrilled me to the core. Add to that the weather that stayed cooperative throughout, and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

   
    

“Punting”, their local term for rafting, in the river Cam

    
    
    

Hogwarts? No, Queen’s College

    
   
   
    

 * Photos taken February 2016

Far and Away…the Coasts of Northern Ireland

The ruins of Dunluce Castle, in Northern Ireland

I used to like listening to the songs of Enya during my younger years. Her songs were otherworldly and her voice ethereal. Her music tickled the imagination with scenes of beautiful landscapes, of places more fit for angels than men. For years I drew pictures in mind whenever I listened to her, and I did that quite a lot back then, wondering if such lands exist. But now I wonder no more. Enya was Irish, I found the place that her music painted in my mind…it’s Ireland.

Taking a quick break from the hustle of London, I and a few others flew to Northern Ireland, and we might as well have just flown to another planet. The Irish countryside is a completely different world from the big city. The scenery was astounding, and the isolation even more so. As we toured through the farmlands of the county of Antrim, I never felt that isolated in a long time. The only time I felt that much alone was driving through the deserts of Nevada, but In Ireland the scenery was completely different. It was lush green farms and rolling hills as far as the eyes could see, or until the mist meets the horizon.

Going through the countryside of Northern Ireland, we went all the way to the north coast, and the picture where the land meets the sea is even more breathtaking. White cliffs dropping into the surf below, coastal hills that slope toward the shore, windswept grasslands, craggy rocks and beautiful islands off coast…it’s like the brushstrokes ofmother nature. No wonder Enya makes such ethereal music. How could you not, if you come from a place that looks like it’s half way to heaven.

It’s quite rare for me to post an article about a place a mere day after I saw it, but this I will make an exception. The countryside of Ireland is that much pretty. Far and away, it is a very beautiful place.

   
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
 

One of the highlights in the north coast is the Giants Causeway, a curious formation of volcanic rocks that look like a set of hexagonal poles driven into the sea. It is a unique attraction not to be missed, for nowhere else in Earth, as far as I know, did Mother Nature shape rocks this way.

   
    
    
   

*Photos taken February 2016.

A City Called Bath

  

Bath – it’s a most unusual name for a city. In places far from England, people might give you a terrified stare if you declare in the open “I haven’t been to Bath in a year !”. But what is this city called Bath, and why does it have a bit of a funny name? I’m South East Asian, and I’m used to places in England ending in “Chester/cester”, “bury” or “shire”, but Bath? Not quite so. Or maybe I’m the fool who was the last one to know.

Anyhow, I just learned about Bath quite recently and thankfully I did, for it’s a visit not to be missed. Bath, despite its funny name, is an elegant beauty. It’s the sort of city you’ll wish to shrink and put in a snow globe. Situated in a picturesque valley in the southern tip of the of the Cotswolds, the city’s undulating terrain, narrow cobbled streets, beautiful gardens, rows upon rows of pretty Georgian buildings, and the lush green hills that surround it, make Bath look like a painting painted by God himself.

   
   

The center of Bath, historically and geographically, is the Roman Baths. Bath was founded by the Romans as “Acquae Sulis”, who built the city around Britain’s one and only hot spring. They built an extensive complex of recreational baths, as well as a temple to the goddess Sulis Minerva, and it became one of the most important cities in Roman Britain. As the Romans pulled out of Britian when their empire declined, Acquae Sulis was left to ruin, but parts of it survived, including the baths. Despite the age and ravages of time, the baths lived on to remind us of the golden era of Roman engineering. And what is even more amazing is knowing that the Romans got something like this built in faraway Britannia, one of most isolated corners of their empire.

     
    
    
   

Right beside the Roman Baths is the beautiful Bath Abbey. Built with a very decorative Gothic design, it’s hard to miss the abbey when going around central Bath, as it stands apart from the rest of the city’s Georgian simplicity. The external detail and beautiful buttresses make it one of the most attractive churches I’ve seen.

   
   

Bath is not a big city by any means. It has local population of only over eighty-thousand, but it does get very crowded with tourists as I’ve seen first hand. And why wouldn’t it be? It is indeed a beautiful city worth traveling thousands of miles for. It’s the kind of place where even just walking aimlessly around, is an attraction in itself.

   
    
    
    
 * Photos taken January 2016

Stoned…in Wiltshire

  

Rising out of the wide Salisbury plains is a curious set of large stones, probably the oldest monument of human civil engineering. The Stonehenge, as it is known today, is probably the oldest example of man trying to build some form of a robust, vertical structure. A Stone Age skyscraper. Composed of two main rings, a circular outer one and a horseshoe shaped inner one, at first it may look like just a bunch of flat stones stood upright, with some placed on top. However upon a closer look, one would see that the Neolithic (Late Stone Age) builders of Stonehenge knew a thing or two about architecture and mathematics. The curvature of the stones forming the rings suggest they were shaped not by coincedence, but rather by design. Some vertical stones that have lost their lintels (the horizontal stones at the top), show that the stones have joints resembling the ball and socket, to hold them together. Clearly the Stone Age engineers of Stonehenge knew what they we doing, and did it well.

The purpose of why the Stonehenge was built has been debated for centuries, and that debate will not end soon. There are burial mounds all over the vicinity, so maybe it’s a resting place and monument for important people. The stones accurately align with the positions of the sunrise in each season, so maybe it’s a calendar, or a prehistoric sundial. Maybe it’s place for seasonal ceremonies. Maybe it’s a tribe’s showcase and bragging right to say that they are the most advanced in pre-historic Britannia. Maybe it’s all of the above, or none of the above. Whatever it is, it shows man’s intrinsic ability to use technology and do grand things.

But please, none of that “alien” cr@p. Let’s give credit to the human race’s capacity for greatness, even back in the Stone Age. If some modern humans still think like Stone Age men, then who’s to say that some Stone Age men can’t think like modern humans?

   
   
   
 

*Photos taken January 2016.

Notting Hill and Portobello Road

  

We mostly knew London for the tower clock of Westminster, the Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace and other things grand and royal. But the 1999 movie “Notting Hill” showed people a face of London that many of us haven’t seen until then. It wasn’t the London of kings and queens, nor of statesmen and parliamentarians. Rather, it was the London where two unlikely characters, Will Thacker and Anna Scott, met and fell in love in a quiet and posh but unassuming neighborhood, where the guy kept a small book shop for a living. And the quiet neighborhood of Notting Hill – which, pretty as it is, could just have been another neighborhood in the affluent west end – shot to fame.

Notting Hill is an affluent residential area in central London, with rows upon rows of clean, elegant, spic-and-span Victorian townhouses. Depending on where your interests lay, it could be the prettiest neighborhood there is (think white wedding cake come to life), or the most monotonous blocks of streets ever (think endless rows of houses that all look exactly like each other). It could be your “Wonderland”, or it could be your “Truman Show”. But one thing for sure, walking through the quiet streets of Notting Hill would make you feel “Slumdog Millionaire” – you’re the slumdog in a neighborhood of millionaires.
   
    
    
   

Portobello Road

Running through Notting Hill is a cute and “eccentric” little street called the Portobello Road. Will Thacker’s (Hugh Grant) bookshop was along this road, though his bookshop is fictional (they rented one of the shops along the road and turned it into a bookshop for shooting purposes). A market stretches almost the whole road, selling all sort of things, from food to souvenirs, though the highlight is the numerous antique shops that line it. With a lovely, laid back atmosphere (though it can get terribly crowded), Notting Hill is a pleasant walk, even if you’re not buying anything.

   
    
    
    
    
   

* Photos taken January 2016.

The Royal Mile of Edinburgh

  

 As I was stuck in the UK between Christmas and New Year anyway, I decided to just make the most of the holidays. Together with a colleague who was as stuck in this place as I was, we headed north to the capital of the Scots, Edinburgh.

The Scottish are a proud lot, with a strong sense of identity and nationalism. They will assert that they are not English, although they are British like their southern neighbors. And if you ask a Scot what their capital city is, they might answer Edinburgh, instead of London. They have their own parliament,  which decides on Scottish matters with a large degree of autonomy from London, and they have a head of government called the First Minister. To say that Scotland is a “state” within the UK in the same way California is a state in the US, is not quite adequate, for Scotland is more than just a piece of the UK. Rather, it is another face of the UK altogether, distinct from England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh is blessed with an old city center that wasn’t ravaged by time. Like liquor, what makes it appealing is its age. Edinburgh’s old town, which retained the same layout that it had from the medieval period, runs the length of the “Royal Mile”, a piece of road stretching west to east, from Edinburgh castle to the Palace of Holyrood House.

Nothing in Edinburgh is more imposing than Edinburgh castle. Standing high up in a hill with steep cliffs on three sides and a gentle slope in one, Edinburgh castle has the unmistakeable air of royalty, like a crown above the city. The steep cliffs on its sides also make it a very ideal military fortification, and indeed it has been said that the castle was witness to the most number of sieges in British history.

A trip to the castle is a must for any visitor in Edinburgh, and the castles walls, towering high above the city, gives an unbeatable panoramic view of the lovely city.

   
    
          
 

Camera Obscura

A short walk from the castle is a peculiar, but entertaining attraction. The Camera Obscura, a device that allows groups of people to see objects at a distance through the clever use of mirrors and magnifying lenses, sits atop a building, and below it is 5 floors of optical illusion displays. The whole place is fun and educational, for kids and adults alike. The top of the building also gives a very good bird’s eye view of the city.

   
    
    
    
   

Old Town

Edinburgh’s next grandest attraction, after the castle, is of course the old town. The center of Edinburgh feels like a museum where everyday life still takes place. A walk across the sloping, cobbled streets that are lined with old buildings on both sides, feels like a trip to the past. One could spend whole day here, poring over the rows of stores in the place.

   
      

    
    
    

Photos taken December, 2015

Ending 2015 in Scotland

  If you had told me more than 2 months ago that I would end 2015 in Scotland, I would have asked if you’re insane. Scotland, of all places. It’s too far from anyone in the family, too expensive to get to, and closer to the Arctic than I’ve ever been to. Why in God’s world will I end the year there? Why?

Yet here I am, typing these very words inside a train in Scotland, in the closing hours of the year. When life throws a joke at you, you just laugh, because you don’t have any other choice really. It won’t ask you if you find its bizarre twists and turns funny, or amusing. It will just go on twisting and turning as it always does. Life happens, as they say, and you just take it all and make the most of it. Roll with it.

And so I join all of you in your revelry, while seating in Coach E of the Edinburgh-London cross country train. Not the most exciting of places to be in the closing hours of the year, but this is what it is. At least the train has wifi, or it could have been much worse.

And so as I greet all of you a happy new year, I leave you with some evening shots of Edinbrugh,the lovely capital of Scotland.

Happy New Year everyone, and may the next year be better than ever for all of us!

   
    
    
    
 *These photos were taken from Calton Hill and Princes Street in Edinburgh, in the closing days of December 2015,

The Highlands Misadventure

  

It was to be the highlight of our visit to Scotland – a tour across the vast, sparsely populated northern half of the country known as the Highlands – a wilderness of beautiful mountains and valleys, where sheep and cow outnumber people. Ever since hearing about the Highlands through the 90’s TV series “Highlander”, from which spawned the immortal Duncan MacLeod, I had always imagined it to be a region of barren windswept mountains where funny men wearing tartan skirts swung heavy swords as their clans fought each other, fighting as the hum of bagpipes provided musical background. We were supposed to see the numerous Lochs (mountain lakes), among which the one that empties into the river Ness has a legendary monster in it. We were supposed to see castles – abandoned and weather-beaten remnants of Scotland’s clans and feudal past which has long since been abolished. We were supposed to see the Glens (valleys), one of which was the setting of my most favorite Bond movie to date – Skyfall. But alas, another kind of Scottish monster stole the show for the day – huge, unpredictable and temperamental – the infamous Scottish weather.

It was all bright and breezy in the capital, Edinburgh, the day before, but the following morning it was all wet, chilly and unbearably dark. It was as if the sky was going to fall on Scotland – probably Mother Nature’s cruel joke in making me see an actual “Skyfall”. Two hours down the road to the infamous Glen Coe, we encountered a stoppage on the road. There was a landslide ahead of us, and cars were turning back. Our guide checked the alternate routes, and learned that they were flooded too. At that point they made a judgement call – we were heading back to Edinbrugh, and thankfully a full refund was offered to those who can no longer make the tour on another date.

The Scottish weather won this round, but yes the weather – furious and temperamental like a Highlander charging with sword drawn – is part of what makes Scotland, Scotland. And as we retreated back, I snapped a few shots of the couple of Glen and Lochs that we did manage to reach – all but a glimpse of the doorstep to the Highlands.

   
    
    
 
   
 

The extensive tour was supposed to have ended at 8:30 in the evening in Edinburgh, but instead we were back by 12:30 in that dark, gloomy afternoon. We milled around Edinburgh instead, and in the early evening we found this parade gathering in the old town. It turns out to be something called the “Procession of Torches”, an annual event in Edingburgh held the night before New Year’s Eve. And the parade was led by a band of bagpipes and people dressed as Highland warriors. Well then, if you can’t come to the Highlander, the Highlander come to you.

  

   
    
    
    
    
 *Photos taken December, 2015

Merry Christmas, From London

 

   

It was in the evening of November 2, while having dinner after having come from Singapore the night before, when I received the call. A project manager needed to be in London right away, and I was the one to be given the mission. It felt like James Bond receiving a call from MI6, only I didn’t have the benefit of a Q who would give me nifty gadgets for free. “Agent 00K, you are going to London. And by the way you will need this Aston Martin with a rocket at the back, and this Rolex watch that shoots a laser”, that would have been delightful, but we live in a real world. 

And so here I am, again, in Her Majesty’s capital city. So I would now see London twice, but all in the same season – winter. How uncool. And worst of all, it stole my Christmas. I wouldn’t have minded, if only they gave me that Aston Martin, or maybe even just the Rolex. But like a good soldier, which “Commander Bond, James Bond” is, I go where I am ordered to, to do things people would not voluntarily want to do. And like any good soldier on duty, we make the best of where we are.

And so without further ado, I’d like to greet everyone a Merry Christmas. Wherever you are, and whatever you do, I hope you find a way to put “Merry”, in “Christmas”.

Buckingham Palace – Her Majesty’s official residence, what else. I previously took a picture of it in a morning in February 2012, and I wanted to go back to take evening shots.   

 

Oxford Circus – London’s premiere shopping street, dressed up for the holidays. I hadn’t seen this place in my previous visit.   

    

Chinatown – having ruled an “empire where the sun never set”, there’s bit of every part of the world in London.
  

  

  

 


Leicester Square – Christmas is a very big thing in England. In fact next to the Philippines, they come second in terms of taking Christmas seriously, as far as countries that I have been to are concerned. Christmas villages, like this one in Leicester Square, pop up all over the city.   

  

  

  

 

Tower Bridge and the Thames – I had been here before, but the beauty of the river Thames, the buildings along its banks, and the elegance of the Tower Bridge which crosses it, always draws me back.   

  

  

  

  

 

   

   

Knightsbridge – Another of London’s shopping streets, but more upscale compared to Oxford Circus. The famous Harrods is just somewhere down the road.   

 *Photos taken December 2015 

Malaysia 2015 – Legoland Hotel

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How do you make an awesome trip to Legoland? Stay for the night! This would give kids more than their fill of fun  in both the park and water park. And even just a night in the hotel is an attraction in itself. The kiddie fun starts even before you check-in, as you are welcomed by a lobby that spells out “k-I-d-s-r-u-l-e”. Much of the floor is taken up by play areas with a pirate ship and a castle made of large bricks, and a lot of real Lego bricks scattered around for kids to toy around with. Even the check-in counters have thousands of Lego men in their walls.

Going up to the rooms, the kids-rule-this-place theme continues with elevators that play disco music complete disco balls spinning around the ceiling. And when you reach your floor, the door opens to hallways that are decorated to your chosen theme – Pirate, Adventure or Kingdom (we had a Pirate room) – from floor to ceiling. But the biggest treat here is the rooms – or rather, suites.

The Legoland Hotel is probably the most family-oriented, child-friendly hotel anywhere. All suites come with a master bedroom and a separate room with a bunk bed and a pullout bed, and can comfortably fit two adults and 3 children. And with all the themed decors in the room, from wall to wall, any kid would want to call it “home”.

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*Photos taken November 2015