Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmas in the UK

The once thriving and busy Market Square suddenly became lifeless

I came back from Europe on 23rd because I just wanted to be in the UK for Christmas eventhough everything is closed on the 25th and 26th. Cambridge turned into a ghost town; could hardly see anyone on the streets. It is cold and empty.

Alo! Alo! Anyoneeeee??!!!

So you may be asking what have I been doing in such a lonely Christmas. Remember I have 3 assignments. The 2-week break is also the best time for students to catch up with some work and friends. The rest of the students in my course went home. For me, there was a little bit of travelling and blogging; as you may have noticed from the myriad of articles that I put up in these few days.

Winson drove us down to London on Christmas Eve to meet up with his other Malaysian friends. Most of them were former Cantab students and now working in London. So, they invited him for a pow-wow and dinner and I tagged along. Perhaps we were some of the Malaysians who are "stranded" in the UK for Christmas and it was a great opportunity to meet up then. There was no congestion charge in London and parking was free. So what better time to drive into London than Christmas! London was also very quiet but not as dead as Cambridge.

We had stuffed roast duck instead of turkey because Marks & Spencers ran out of turkey! Hahaha! Then we had roast salmon, wine, Jamie Oliver's style courgette, roast potatos with rosemary leaves, carrots, brownies, beer, and Christmas pudding with ice-cream. We were so stuffed that night! My goodness, my buffet king title was put to the test but I was okay.

We continued the night with a game of mahjong. So it looked more like a CNY gathering than a Christmas Eve party. I didn't play cause I am mahjong illiterate. But I did catch up with a Christmas movie from the satellite TV. They were showing Van Helsing that night. Before that was the Christmas carol from King's College, Cambridge, broadcasted live over BBC. Ironically I watched it in London.

London's transport system is down and there are no services on Christmas. So, anyone of you in Malaysia who are thinking of Christmas in the UK, it's better to do it back home. At least you have family and friends around. If I happen to be still here next year, I'd definitely book a flight home for Christmas. Now I know why so many Malaysians go back around this time.

I went to church early in the morning of Christmas Day. I was surprised that the church was packed! I didn't go to Fisher House because they only had the Christmas Eve vigil mass. So, I went to the Church of Our Lady and English Martyrs, the main Roman Catholic Church/ Cathedral of Cambridge which was just a few roads away from Wolfson College.

After that I proceeded for a traditional Christmas lunch at the St Andrew The Great Church, in the heart of Cambridge. Got to know about it few weeks back from the Christian Society here. The Church offers the traditional lunch for Cantab students who are "stranded" in the university. Therefore, most of us who attended were foreign students and a great majority were from China.

Traditional Christmas lunch means that there was turkey, pudding, courgette, potatos, mince pies, minced meat, and lots of other stuff which I have never tried before.

Sat with two other Singaporeans and a Chinese student. I guess I was the only Malaysian around...hahahaha...

Would also like to take this opportunity to wish Jesus a Happy Birthday and thank You for a fantastic and great year! Without Him, all things that happened to me this year would have been impossible to say the least....

And to everyone reading this, Merry Christmas and a Happy, Happy, Happy New Year! I miss all of you and may we meet again....soon, I hope!


When I arrived into Porto, I didn't have a very good impression of this small town. In fact, have you ever heard of Porto anyway? Haha! Apparently if you are a football fan, you would have had. It was one of the venues for the Euro 2004.
One of the main squares in Porto. Check out the night scene at the bottom of this article.

Porto is actually an older city than Lisbon. It feels more historical and not as touristy as Lisbon. Come to think of it, I didn't see any Asian tourist there other than the two of us.

Porto is no small town as I thought. It is hilly and there are lots of slopes. The people of Porto must be a healthy bunch.

The narrow and slopey corridors are common in Porto.

The aerial views of Porto taken from the bridge atop of River Douro.

Porto is known to produce a type of wine called Port, deriving its name from the city's. The ships above are advertisement boats of Port shops.

One of the Roman Catholic churches in Porto.

The scene from the banks of River Douro, with two of the 5 bridges in the background.

A trip to Porto is incomplete without tasting their Port. So, I ordered it for dinner at the famous O Muro Cafe located at the Ribeira.

Our dinner at O Muro Cafe. Rice with Cod Fish and the Calamari with Salad and Fries, to go with the Port.

The night scene of the square in Porto. So in the end, how did I find Porto? It's a lovely small town with beautiful sights and great food. Things are much cheaper here. It gave me a historical feel unlike the bigger cities which I visited. It's a different feeling altogether. It's a good and romantic day-stop if you have the time.


When I read that 90% of Portugal citizens are Roman Catholics, my first reaction was, "Wow! There must be alot of churches then, and Christmas must be very beautiful there. " I was not disappointed at all...

My exposure of Portugal was from the History textbooks from Standards 4 to 6 and Forms 1 to 5. I only knew that Portuguese took over Melaka in the 1500s I think. So, I expected to see the likes of A'Famosa or the red post office building.

Above is the landmark of Lisbon called the Padrao dos Descobrimentos (Monument of the Discoveries). It celebrates the Portuguese who took part in the Age of Discovery of the 15th and 16th centuries. When I looked at the human sculptures, I thought to myself, "One of these guys here must have been to Melaka and brought home a few packets of gula melaka to the king. Or maybe he brought home a few sags of Malaysian rambutans to honour the queen." I guess I was just being silly to the point of even thinking that they "tah pao" two packets of UKM Nasi Lemak and eat in the ship. Malaysia is still my "tanah air" no matter what, yah I still miss home alot wherever I go.

This chic here caught my attention. With an excruciatingly low temperature of 5 deg C, FHM paid them to dress in summer style and pose for photos. It's the FHM Traffic Girls who goes on to promote safe driving to the people..as if.

And as usual...

Above is Restauradores. The Obelisk and the sculpture commemorates the 1640 restoration of Portugal's Independence from Spain. The hostel that we stayed was located here, very strategically located.

This is Rossio, just a stone's throw from Restauradores, the centre of Lisbon.

Aerial view of Lisbon, taken from the St George Castle (Castelo de Sao Jorge)

The high wall in St George Castle. The size of the wall dwarfs the woman seated in the middle.

Not until I came here that I realised many of our Malay words were borrowed from Portugal. Here, it's Igreja, Malay is Gereja. Then, Limao and Limau. Borsa and Bursa. Coming here is a phase of discovery for me. These are just the few words that I discovered in my short stay here. Am sure there are many more words out there.

Above is Commerce Square (Praca do Comercio). This is one of the most majestic squares and was once the main maritime entrance to Lisbon. You can still see the old marble steps leading up to Commerce Square from the River Tagus. The arch is decorated with statues of historical personalities, like Vasco da Gama (Portuguese sailor).

A rare opportunity to witness a beautiful sunset over River Tagus. Pictures taken in Belem about 6km away from city center.

Above is the Jeronimos Monastery located in Belem. It replaced the church of Saint Mary of Belém where monks of the Christ Order gave assistance to sailors passing through.

Belem is also the birth place of the Portuguese tart that we have been eating in Malaysia. This is THE place; after all the hype about the tart and with places claiming to have the best egg tarts from Macau to Singapore to Malaysia. For a taste of the original recipe, we made our way to Pasteis de Belem, the original Portuguese shop founded in 1837. The pastry crust is absolutely different from the ones I ate in Malaysia. Imagine eating a crispy roti canai, that's exactly how the crust felt at first bite. The custard/egg part is soft and hot. The combination makes it go very well with a cup of coffee, which was how the people here ate the tart. We followed suit.

Our dinner in Rossio; rice with pork meat, tripe and beans and the other is the roast cod fish with potatos and salad. Didn't know Portuguese ate rice too, like Spanish.

And....the Christmas decorations are just fantastic and magnificent! Lisbon spent alot on the deco and generously pours out the yuletide atmosphere onto the streets with carols and performances in public areas. Recommended....2 thumbs up!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Madrid, SPAIN

So what would you do when you have 3 assignments at the back of your mind and a childish crave for travel to satisfy? Just bring your laptop and two t-shirts; nothing else. The rest, get it from Hard Rock Cafe. That was exactly what I did for this trip. I flew from Barcelona to Madrid and from Madrid to Lisbon. Doing my assignment in the airport while waiting for the flight departure was a very sensible thing to do. I managed to finish one of the 3 assignments. But I still need to proofread it again.

Madrid welcomed us coldly...

The local "mamak" stall where we had our breakfast. I think it's simply called as a Cafe.

When I first arrived into Madrid, my first reaction to KY was, "I hope I bump into Beckham in Sol. Or even Victoria also can la..." I guess Madrid has looked like a Beckham place to me now than Madrid's matador and bullfights.

Everywhere in Spain gyrates around Puerta del Sol, which is central Madrid. The picture above is Plaza

Mayor which is southwest of Sol. The centre of the square is occupied by a statue of Philip III who was responsible for the construction of the square. The Plaza Mayor was once the focal point of the old city, where bullfights, royal coronations and even the inquisition took place. Though the Plaza Mayor is probably the most popular tourist attraction in Madrid, it is still as popular as ever with the Madrileños (people from Madrid). A number of street café’s and restaurants cover the Plaza, from where you can buy over-priced Paella and people watch.

One of the common features in the city; storylined miniatures of the 3 wise men , running up to Christmas.

The Royal Palace in Madrid

One of the halls in the Royal Palace. Showcase of luxury and splendour

The dining hall in the palace. Some people just know how to enjoy the finest things in life. Am sure it'd looked superb if there's a formal hall held here.

While I just enjoy a meal of the local delicacy, the tripe tapas.

And as usual....