Tag Archives: Travel

A weekend in London – What would I do?

I lived in London for 7.5 years and I became a true Londoner in this period of time. Since I have been living in Singapore for the last 2.5 years, I sometimes miss London, and whenever I have a chance to go to London, it is a great opportunity for me to get into my old routine for a few days.

What would I do in a weekend in London?

London, the capital, is a place where new ideas are generated so it is a place to visit museums, shows, restaurants but, most importantly, bookstores. You will not get any night life advice here.

In a typical weekend, I would start my day walking to Marylebone: this is my London centre since I lived in Bickenhall Street for 3.5 years.

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Marylebone is a very special place for me as I have a lot of memories of every single corner of it, and my first visit would be Daunt Bookstore on Marylebone.

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Technology is evolving and many argue that books will be history, since a lot of people have already shifted to e-books. Daunt Bookstore definitely fights quite strongly against this idea.

It is a great place for me to spend a couple of hours. It is an Edwardian bookstore with long oak galleries. This bookstore specialises in travel books, but there are other sections such as history and literature. I love to look through its travel books, but I would always buy a history, politics or economics book over a travel book. Since this is my first stop early in the morning, I won’t buy any books but I decide on what to buy on my return.

Now the long walk to Hampstead starts.

I cross the Marylebone Road and reach Regent’s Park, where I spent many of my early mornings and late nights. Through Regent’s Park, I reach Prince Albert Road and then I continue to walk towards Hampstead. The nonstop walk will take about an hour to reach beautiful Hampstead Heath.

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My stop would be at The Wells, a gastropub, by Hampstead Heath. It is a family friendly pub with an evolving menu. I would stop here for an hour or two before heading back to Marylebone to buy the books that I decided to buy earlier.

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I find a lot of similarities between Marylebone and Hampstead Heath. A boutique cinema chain (Everyman) and my favourite bookstore Daunt Books are only two of them. I feel both have distinct characteristics, not like Chelsea, and they are both true London boroughs.

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The time would hit 4–5 pm now and I would have to go and leave my books and maybe rest a bit. I have a lot of favourite restaurants in London, and I would prefer Big Easy on Kings Road, Alounak in Westbourne Grove or a new London restaurant recommended by a friend.

If I could a squeeze in a theatre at night, that’s perfect. Sometimes it is quite difficult, but I would definitely try.

The walk should take about 17–18 km that day. In other words, around 35,000 steps. Not too bad! And thank God that London is flat.

I would wake up as early as possible on my second and final day in London. I would try to go to Trafalgar and Covent Garden, to walk without any aim. Then I would walk to Parliament and would cross Waterloo Bridge.

This would enable me to walk towards London Bridge and should take about 45 minutes. On my way, there are the Tate Modern, a nice pub by the river, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and Vinopolis—which I heard that it is closing down.

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Lunchtime should be about there and I would take a cab or a tube from London Bridge and go to my favourite spot once more, Marylebone. My lunch would take place at Casa Becci, an authentic Italian restaurant run by an Italian family for a long time.

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It is a very simple restaurant and price friendly, but, most importantly, great simple Italian food. My favourite here would be Spaghetti Aglio E Olio.

Unfortunately, the weekend has come to an end. I have to take a flight to continue wherever I need to go. I should walked about 15,000 steps that day, or in other words 10–11 km. Not bad!

London is not an easy city to live in, but it is definitely one of the best!

P.S. Most of my walking sessions started at Chelsea Bridge Wharf over the last three years as my beloved friend, Hakan Dikmen, kept hosting me without grumbling. Thank you, Hakan—you are such a great host!

All the best from Singapore.

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

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Trip Notes to Cambodia

I thought it would be a good idea to add some of my previous trip notes to the blog.

I will begin with Cambodia, which has definitely been my best trip so far.

For those of you who are not familiar with the area, Cambodia is a Southeast Asian country with a population of over 15 million. Between 1975 and 1979, the ruler of Cambodia, Pol Pot, committed genocide against his own people. Cambodia’s nominal GDP per head was barely over USD 1,000 in 2014.

It all started when my wife kept insisting that she wanted to go to Cambodia. I thought it would be a nice surprise to book the tickets without informing her, and I did.

As I was busy dealing with so much stuff, I hadn’t done any research and I did not have any idea that Siem Reap is the place to visit, so I booked return flights to Phnom Penh.

When I revealed my surprise, she did not seem very happy and said that she wanted to go to Siem Reap.

And this is where the story begins…

This “small” mistake of my mine made our trip to Cambodia unforgettable. We had only three full days in Cambodia and we were landing at Phnom Penh, so we had to be really fast and efficient.

I booked Le Meriden Siem Reap and arranged a car from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. I had been told that it would be only 3.5 hours, but it took us six hours to reach our destination.

I have no problem with long car trips, but the problem was there was no asphalt as soon as we were out of the capital, Phnom Penh.

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The road was bumpy, dusty but, more importantly, really dangerous. There was no real distinction of separation of the lanes and everybody was just going their own way.

Our driver was a good driver and he seemed quite experienced on Cambodian roads, but I could not keep myself from looking at the road for more than a second. After a two hour drive, our driver kindly offered us a break to visit a local market.

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That was an experience! Tarantulas, cockroaches and different type of insects were being sold in the market.

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When we were back in the car, I asked if he ate cockroaches and he proudly said: “Yes, sir, with beer especially. Very good!”

After much overtaking and danger of accidents, we reached our hotel in Siem Reap. Le Meriden is a good hotel and it is located close to the Siem Reap National Park.

We had a good dinner at Cafe Abacus on our first night. Cafe Abacus is situated in a pleasant villa which is a combination of French and Khmer architecture with a nice garden. As Cambodia used to be a French colony, there are quite a number of French people living in the country and you can’t really avoid French food.

On our second day in Cambodia, our hotel kindly arranged a tour guide and car for us to visit the necessary places. For a reasonable fee, we had a good tour guide and a driver for the whole day.

Siem Reap is a magical city. The combination of temples with banyan trees and its history makes it a very attractive tourist destination. I will leave you to discover Siem Reap, and I believe each experience will be unique.

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As there are so many temples to visit, it is important to be quite selective if you have a time constraint. We visited the famous Angor Watt, Angor Thom and couple more temples on our second day in Cambodia.

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One dollar bills are life savers in Cambodia. You need them for everything, especially for tuk-tuks. You can exchange your larger denomination bills into one dollars in your hotel. Tuk-tuks are a must try and are very common in Asia.

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On our second night, we ate at the FCC restaurant. It is a restaurant inside the hotel with a nice view and good food. It used to be former French governor’s residence which is now converted into a hotel and restaurant.

On our last day, we arranged a car back to the capital very early in the morning. To be honest, I tried to avoid this trip by checking direct flights from Siem Reap to Singapore but they were fully booked so we had no choice to go back to the capital.

And I am glad that we did!

We visited Killing Fields, a prison under the Khmer Rouge regime and a Royal Palace.  It was a really very touching experience. When you think that the Khmer Rouge were in power 30 years ago, it is really scary what happened in Cambodia.

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One particular scene that I had saw during my visit to the Killing Fields I will never forget—a room full of skulls, and cracks in every single skull. Apparently, as bullets were expensive, Pol Pot had ordered that people be killed with hammers and some types of farming implement.

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On our way back to the airport, we were really stuck in the traffic. Our driver (the same driver who took us to Siem Reap) performed several magical movements and got us out of the jam.

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At the airport, I bought some books on Cambodian history to learn more about these lovely people and their sad recent history.

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Irony: A luxury car dealer in one of the most poor country…

If you haven’t visited Cambodia, you definitely should. I have visited 51 countries, and many countries more than once; but this short trip to Cambodia was my favourite.

All the best from Singapore.

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

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Happy 50th Birthday Singapore!

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Singapore became independent on 9 August 1965 and this year marks its 50th birthday. There are many events happening all along this tiny cute island to celebrate its well deserved 50th birthday this week.

I have been living in Singapore slightly over 2 years now and I should say that I feel really privileged to live in this country. Having lived in Turkey, United Kingdom and Switzerland (for a short period of time), Singapore is really unique in many ways.

Imagine a country which was established only 50 years ago and it ranks at the top of the tables for many important aspects of the life such as education, health system, ease of doing business, etc.

To be honest with you – I was not aware of many of these positive attributes of Singapore before coming and living here. (I should say it was a nice surprise to find out!)

Singapore is a small country with 5.3 million habitants. The population is quite diverse with primarily Chinese, Malay and Indian ethnicities and its first official language is English.

Singapore is only 714.3 square km but it attracted almost USD 850 billion foreign direct investment whilst USD 500 billion of Singapore’s investments is invested abroad. Its sovereign wealth funds, Temasek and GIC, are the vehicles to invest abroad. It should not be a big surprise why Singapore tops the list of ease of doing business!

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According to OECD global education report, Singapore is number 1 in education. Same report puts Sweden number 35, United Kingdom number 20 and United States number 28! You may be wondering who is the 2nd and 3rd; they are Hong Kong and South Korea respectively! No wonder why this millennium is Asia’s time!

Singapore healthcare system is ranked 1st in the world by Bloomberg in 2014. Of course, it comes at a cost! If you are brave enough not to have a private insurance in Singapore, you are definitely pushing your luck.

Singapore is one of the least corrupt countries on earth. According to Transparency International, it ranks 7th out of 175 countries in 2014. Same report ranks Turkey 64th, UK 14th and Switzerland 5th.

Singapore is running constant current account surplus (21.3% of the GDP 2015) and it has a very low level of unemployment. World Happiness Report ranks Singapore 24th in 2015.

Statistics are important but nothing can be more important than the people. Singapore is full of hard-working, intellectual and warm people.

Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of Singapore, will be remembered for generations to come not only by Singaporeans but also by the world. He proved the humanity a leader with the right skills, can build a country from scratch up to a very high level.

I strongly suggest you to come and visit this beautiful country!

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It is a very nice coincidence that my first blog post happened to be an article on Singapore. Through this blog, I am planning to be writing on economics, politics, finance, life style, history and travel.

I will be updating my blog regularly every Saturday and you can follow me on twitter (@sukru_haskan).

Best from beautiful Singapore!
Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

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