Friday, August 20, 2004

The Great Vacation of 2004

July 31 - August 2, August 6 - 12: London

I spent a week or so in London. Stayed with my brother in Canary Wharf, met up with three people: my London best friend, a university course-mate and yes, my ex. I went to Camden Market, Oxford Circus to just troll the high street, HMV to pick up some bargain CDs and DVDs, Covent Garden, clubbing once at Fabric, Greenwich a couple of times... Basically just re-visited my favourite places and shops in London. I wasn't intending to do much shopping, what with the strength of the pound, but was seduced by the summer sales. I went to Boots and Superdrug (two of my favourite shops as I LOVE toiletries) more than 15 times in total over that week! I also stopped by Paris on my way back to Singapore and did a little bit more shopping (but not much since I was acutely feeling the pinch by then).

The very first store I went into upon my arrival was the Boots at the airport! Over the course of the three days prior to my departure for Ljubljana, I went into Boots four times and Superdrug twice! That made me realise how much I miss the wide variety of brands available in England... and how much I love toiletries! I ended up buying three different types of hairspray (two Charles Worthington and one Umberto Gianni) to bring back to Singapore and had to force myself not to purchase two kinds of shampoo other than the Toni & Guy copper colour-depositing shampoo that I purchased on my last day in London as well as loads of different kinds of body moisturisers and shower gels... I was longing to bring back a couple of bottles of The Original Source Tea Tree & Mint shower gel as that scent isn't available here.

HMV in London has always been one of the stores which I simply must visit. It's not one of my favourite stores, mind you, but there does always seem to be something in the shop which I consider quite a bargain. This time, my haul consisted of three CDs (Ministry of Sound presents the 50 Greatest Trance Anthems of All-Time mixed by Judge Jules, Female Vocal Trance and Bebel Gilberto - Tanto Tempo) and three DVDs (Human Traffic, High Fidelity and Donnie Darko). Now, the last movie may seem a rather surprising purchase, even for someone with as eclectic tastes as myself, but I'd heard a lot about the dark and disturbing movie and had even read a recent review in a British newspaper on the flight over. Still, I don't know when I'll watch the movie as I've got tonnes of DVDs which I'd been meaning to watch but haven't yet found the time for them!

Camden Market... Camden holds a special place in my heart. Aside from its innate charm, I stayed there with my ex for a few weeks after moving out from Butler's Wharf and we had an absolutely wonderful summer there. I hadn't been there since I'd left London in 2002 and I was to return there on August 8. On my way to meet my brother at Golders Green for lunch before continuing to Camden, I bumped into my ex on the tube in what I can only call a massive coincidence. It was great to see him so unexpectedly and was to mark off what would be one of those rare perfect days you get every so often in life. Lunch too was a wonderful affair and it was fortunate we decided to go when we did, for the proprietors of the restaurant we were eating at had decided to close from the next day till the end of August so that they could return home for the remainder of summer. After lunch, I went off to Camden with 50 pounds in my wallet and a comment from my brother going through my mind - "how could anyone spend 50 pounds in Camden?". We'd see, big brother. We'd see.

Even before going to Camden, I had several shops in mind which I wanted to check out. For one thing, I really wanted to check out Punkyfish, a London-based streetwear label with a lot of attitude, Cyberdog, Psychedelic Dream Temple (both clubbing-related) and the little accessories stores in the hope of purchasing a wristband similar to what Ryan Atwood wears on The O.C.. By the end of my three-hour walk through Camden, I had ended up with three items from Punkyfish and two bags from an Aldo sale shop, as well as a frozen coffee beverage from my favourite London coffee shop, a href="">Caffe Nero. Curiously enough, I had purchased a major amount of pink: a pink hoodie, a white sleeveless tee with pink ribbons, pink cargo pants and a pink bag. The strange thing was... I didn't even notice until my mother asked, "How come you bought so much pink?"

Camden was a lot of fun and brought back a lot of memories. While walking towards the market, I saw the large Sainsbury where my ex and I used to get our groceries from before embarking on attempts at a gourmet dinner. I still get cravings for the Mexican dishes we used to cook from time to time and I'm still rather proud at the salmon hollandaise I made specially for him one night. I ducked down Inverness St to see if Singapore Sling, the restaurant where we celebrated his birthday and my farewell, was still there (it was). I went into the Psychedelic Dream Temple where I got him a CD as part of his birthday package and it was nice to know that they still play really great trance music. The only problem with the CDs sold there that is that they're very pricey as they're not available elsewhere.

One of my favourite moments of that day - and there were so many! - was walking into Cyberdog in time to catch two members of the public dancing to the music that was playing. They were poppin' and body lockin' and just putting on a performance for the rest of us. It was that moment which captured all that I love about Camden - the quirkiness of the shops, the eclectic range of people, the sense of freedom and liberty one gets just being there... It was just wonderful.

August 2 - 6: Slovenia

Slovenia was great fun although towards the end of the five days, I did have a suspicion that if I stayed there long enough, I'd have the same feelings for it as I would for Singapore: terribly nice and safe to be in, easy to get around, but too small. Ljubljana was terribly safe; on my last night there, I walked around with a fellow backpacker (an older guy from San Francisco who I had just met that night but sorry, no romantic interlude there, just two people out to explore the city) until 3 am and never once felt like I was in any danger. The locals are indeed very friendly. When I was walking out of Cafe Anika after buying some very nice ice-cream with the Lonely Planet Slovenia guide in hand, the other customer in the store called out, "have a nice stay in Ljubljana!" I loved the area around the river. It felt very vibrant and full of life when the restaurants were open, though I was very surprised that virtually every bar and club closed by 1 am. That's just not my idea of nightlife.

Bohinj was a lovely little place. The water was incredibly clear and there were quite a few people sunbathing and swimming. Unfortunately, being by myself, I didn't really partake in such activities. I just felt a little shy, so despite the fact that I was wearing a bikini, I kept myself covered up in a long-sleeved tee-shirt. The little church by the lake which LP described as having very pretty frescoes on the inside was unfortunately closed for renovation, a theme that was to recur throughout the remainder of my trip, I was to find. I went up to the Savica Falls and although I didn't spend that much time there, it was purely due to the sheer number of people there, and nothing to do with the awesome natural beauty of the place. It started raining while I was up there (another event that was to persist no matter where I went) and I was a little put out because... it's summer! It's not supposed to rain!

After this, I headed over to Bled even though it was already 3 pm because I had no desire to repeat my journey given my limited time in the country. Due to the lateness of the hour, I could only see Bled Castle and spend some time by the lake writing in my journal. I didn't get a chance to go to Bled Island and ring the bell where all your wishes are supposed to come true. In fact, I got off at the wrong coach stop - one bus stop too early, but I had an enjoyable speed walk to the town, so I was fine. The krema sniza (sp?) was absolutely divine - two layers of great flaky pastry with three inches of cream sandwiched between them!

The Skocjan Caves were awesome, incidentally. While caves are well, caves, I haven't been to one before and I found this one breathtaking. It takes 30 years for a stalagmite and stalactite to grow by 1 mm so I was awed by the sheer size of the dripstones found in the caves. There's also an underground river running through the caves so it just seemed like something out of a movie; all I needed was to see some bats and my very first cave experience would have been perfect! As the caves were most easily accesible via a 45-minute hike through a forest near the nearest train station, I ended up walking quite a fair bit that day. I think I must've walked more than 10 km that day easily. The hike's ostensibly 3 km but I don't usually take 45 minutes to walk 3 km so I think the hike's really longer than that. The walk to the caves was 1.5 km and the walk through the caves was another 3 km and then I walked another 1 km out of the way to check out the museums so that makes 3+3+3+1.5+1+1=12.5 km before I returned to Ljubljana where I walked some more!

Piran, a little coastal town along the Adriatic Sea and just 1.5 hours away from Venice, was cute. It was a pleasant stay but again... too small! I must have finished walking through the whole place by noon and I had only arrived at 9 am! I did like the Venetian feel to the town though. Again, I was too shy to sunbathe (again!) but I was content to walk around and try and get some colour on my pale legs.

I bought quite a few souvenirs from the Dom handicraft shop in Ljubljana - a small vase, a thimble, a mug for my dad, a beekeeping panel painting and a painted egg which caused me much anxiety while I was travelling as I was so afraid it would break before I got it back to Singapore! I also bought two bottles of red wine: one for my mother and one for my ex in London as his birthday was coming up soon. The last purchase resulted in my missing the airport bus and I had to get a cab... twenty quid! Argh! Still... at least I had my wine!

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