RSSArchive for June, 2006

London Trip Report “The Tube”

“Mind the gap, please” … “Mind the gap, please”.

These words rings in my head everytime I took the tube in London. I have heard of this phrase being used before but not until I really see what the “gap” is like on the London Underground. I mean, it should not be too tough making sure that the train floor aligns to the platform but no, most station does not align at all.

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This gap above was not too bad. I have seen worse. There is a station where there is a six inch gap between the train and the platform. Anyone know why it is like that in the London Underground?

The London Underground is the oldest underground system in the world. It is also the longest in route length. It is amazing to learn that the first line was built way back in 1863 (not 1963!!). Below is the map of the London Underground. There are currently 275 stations in the entire network. It took a while for me to get used to it but once I get myself familiar, it was not too difficult.

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Despite its name, about 55% of the network is above ground. Popular local names include the Underground and, more familiarly, the Tube, in reference to the cylindrical shape of the system’s deep-bore tunnels. That is why you see that the top of the train were rounded.

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Unlike modern subway trains and the narrowness of the train, the seating configuration is not optimum for standing passengers. The aisle between the two rows of facing seats were so close I see that many people don’t even want to move it to make room for others coming on board.

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When taking the tube, you should pay attention to the service updates. It’s because not every line is in operation all the time. So, you need to pay attention on which line is open and then plan your route accordingly. The service updates below are electronically displayed while older stations had them handwritten on whiteboards.

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Find the stations is easy. You just need to look for the familiar red circle with blue band logo — it is called a roundel. You could get to a station in the city centre within not more than 10 minutes walk. It is that convenient.

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Many of the stations were unbelievably deep underground. Some of the busy interchanges were four levels deep. There is also one that was so deep that they had built lifts that shuttles passengers to the surface. The trains and most of the stations were not air-conditioned and you actually can feel the high humidity while in the station and the trains.

I took the tube to the city centre using a 6-zone TravelCard. The card costs 6.30GBP and allows me unlimited rides on the tube and buses for the whole day. I stayed near Heathrow and getting down to the city centre takes about 1 hour.

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There is an alternative way to get from Heathrow to the City Centre in just 15 minutes. It’s called the Heathrow Express. It’s pretty expensive — one way ticket costs 19 GBP!!

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Now, this train is more modern and definitely more comfortable. I took the Heathrow Express just once.

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The Heathrow Express station in Paddington was also much cleaner and nicer.

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London Trip Report Day 2 “Fish and Chips”

Towards the end of Day 2, I was really dead tired after all the walking. The jet lag is beginning to hit me. It’s feeling like I’ve been up the whole night. As tired as I was, I wanted so much to make my way to Covent Garden for Fish and Chips — not just any Fish and Chips but the original one.

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The Rock and Sole Plaice was established in 1871 and is possibly London’s Oldest fish and chips shop. This shop does a steady stream of business at its takeaway and restaurant. Although it did not take me long to locate this place, it was not exactly easy to find. It’s on a rather quiet street away from the Covent Gardens Market.

Despite the reputation, I must say service was awful! The blokes were busy watching football and I had to ask for service. Sheez!

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I took the seats outside the restaurant — low tables and bench for seats, kind of neat. Especially when my feet is so tired from all the walking, I felt so much like putting my feet up on the chair like a true-blue chinaman.

The menu was simple enough but I couldn’t make out one type of fish from another. So, I guess that I won’t go wrong is I ordered the most expensive one on the menu — must have been the Halibut, I can’t remember. Well, it just so happen that they don’t have the Large one and offered me the regular one. I declined because I wanted something LARGE because I was very hungry. I ordered something else, can’t remember what now.

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On every table is the condiments … tartar sauce, ketchup. and malt vinegar. I tried every one of them. I like the tartar sauce particularly.

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The large plate was indeed large. I was so glad it was that big. And the fries were thick.

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The meat was flaky between the crispy batter. I really enjoyed it and worth going out of the way for this. So, can you tell what fish I ordered? Was it cod?

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Enough about food.

I was at the Tower of London before I made my way to this fish and chips shop. I had a great time there. I waited at the entrance to join one of the Beefeater tour guides.

The tower is manned by the Yeoman Warders (known as Beefeaters), who act as tour guides, provide discreet security, and are something of a tourist attraction in their own right. Every evening, the warders participate in the Ceremony of the Keys ,as the Tower is secured for the night.

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The Tower of London is a complex of forts built over time. The foundation of the tower were first built over a thousand years ago by William the Conqueror. I can see the remnants of the older walls and newer ones.

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The centre of the Tower of London is dominated by the White Tower which is the highest structure in the entire complex. It looks pretty bland from the outside but once I got into it, it was a treasure stove of learnings of how life were in those days.

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The building on the far side is the Jewel House. That is where the Crown Jewels were kept. I love to take pictures of the jewels but security was tight and they were very serious about no photography. This must be the most popular display in the Tower of London. The lines were long and we snake our way inside the building watching videos of the biggest diamonds in the world that adorn the crowns.

When we got to the main display room, it was a no-waiting display. Everyone had to get on a moving walkway which will make sure you just get a fair bit of time gwalking (is there such a word?) at the jewels. Fascinating. OK, I am being cynical now … the official story is that the diamonds were the gift to the queen from India — yeah, right.

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Here is where the people poop in those days. No flush … just a hole that leads down the wall. That figures — no wonder I have never seen photos or movies of people leaning against castle walls before. Them poop drips down the walls.

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Henry VIII in his armour. I can’t help but notice that big blob between his legs. Gotta protect the family jewels right?

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I had a difficult time looking for the way up the North Wall. This gave a good view of not only the grounds in the Tower of London but it also overlooks the Thames.

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The Tower of London used to be surrounded by a moat about 50 feet wide and filled with water from the Thames. There is no longer any water in that moat.

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I decided to take the Routemaster bus to get to Covent Gardens. The Routemasters were iconic to London but few remaining ones are still running along a heritage route. I waited for one that came along with no one at the top deck, front seat! When that one came along, I ran and shoved my way up so that I get that seat!

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It was really nothing getting that one seat but I like the idea of being able to say I’ve been there, done that. He he he …

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I don’t know why the heck I took this picture.

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Hope you enjoyed this blog entry today. Cheers!

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London Trip Report Day 2 “South Bank”

OK, this blog entry is not about food. It’s about more of my Sunday walking tour of the south bank of the Thames. I started the morning hoping to visit the Westminster Abbey and the Parliament. It appears that I chose a wrong day to that because Westminster Abbey is closed to tourist because of worship services.

So, the best I could do was to walk around the compound.

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I found a small entrance at the back of the Westminster Abbey and got into the courtyard. It was really quite because not many people ventured to that back entrance.

The corridor was amazing and mesmerizing reading the plaques on the walls and on the floor. Many of them are hundreds of years old. I had a good time reading some of them. The floor of the corridor seems like grave slabs. I am not sure really if people are really buried right under it but the writings appears do say so.

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The Parliament building’s public area was under renovation. So, I did not get the chance to see how the insides were.

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A day earlier, I had booked a flight on the London Eye. The London Eye flight takes about 30 minutes for one revolution. It costs about 12 GBP. People are divided over whether this is an ugly eyesore or if it gives a different character to the city centre. What do you think?

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That being a weekend, it was a good thing I had a pre-booked ticket. The crowd were growing very fast and we can see the lines getting longer.

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The view were spectacular from up high. I could pick out some of the famous buildings around and it does give a different perspective of the beauty of London from up high.

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I next took the Underground to the St Paul’s Cathedral. Bad move — it’s because again, it’s closed to tourists on Sunday because of church services. We get to see the insides from the back of the church but could not get any nearer. Also photography is prohibited in the cathedral.

I badly wanted to get up to the top of the dome to take pictures — dashed!

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From St Pauls, it’s just a 5 minute walk to the new and famous Millennium Bridge. It’s a pedestrian only bridge. When it first opened, I heard that it closed for some time when the bridge wobbled. It seems very stable when I crossed it. Across the bridge is the Tate Modern. I was not interested in the Tate Modern and gave that a miss.

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The view of the Millennium Bridge spanning the Thames and having St Paul’s imposing facade on the other end makes a great shot.

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Further down the South Bank was the reconstructed Globe Theatre — Shakespeare’s theatre. I did not have time for this and also gave this a miss. London had so much to offer tourists and all within a short walking distance one from another.

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This is the London Bridge … well, it clearly says so at the underside of the bridge. Some bloke from the US bought the London Bridge and took it apart brick by brick … had it shipped to the US and reconstructed it. Many people thinks that he mistaken the Tower Bridge for the London Bridge!

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Near to the Tower Bridge was the unique City Hall building. It was really beautiful.

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I walked over the Tower Bridge across the Thames to get to the Tower of London. This bridge is so beautiful and is perhaps the one symbolic structure that defines London. Who doesn’t know the song “London Bridge is Falling Down”?

You can into the top of the tower if you want. Entrance is about 6 GBP.

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This is where I spend most of my afternoon — The Tower of London. Entrance in costs 15 GBP. The Tower of London is a complex of successive forts, armories, palaces built over hundreds of years. I’ll blog more about the Tower of London tomorrow. Enjoy.

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London Trip Report Day 2 “Breakfast”

It was a long trip to London — exhausting, tiring but exciting at the same time. You see, I was in the historic city of London for a four-day company training and at the same time I had some work too which urgently require my attention. I did not have any time at all while in London updating the blog. However, Suanne did a marvelous job continuing to blog with a borrowed camera. I am going to catch up on the London Trip report over the next few days.

One thing that really hit me hard in London was the sticker shock. I mean, although people did warned me how expensive London is, it really did not hit me until I actually had to pull the credit card out of the wallet.

A buffet breakfast in the hotel I stayed in was 17 GBP! At the exchange rate of CAD$2.13, that breakfast costs a whopping CAD$35. It’s Sunday today and I could not rightfully expense breakfast to the company. So, I decided to just go to the city centre and try to get something cheaper.

I travelled via the tube to the city centre (somehow, Londoners don’t call it downtown) and found a Tesco Express outlet. It’s very much like a 7-Eleven except that you see a lot of grab-and-go meals. I grabbed the Cheese and Tomato Pasta Snack for 98p.

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The snack included a folded fork on the lid.

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I know, it’s not much of a “breakfast” but it does fill the stomach for the morning.

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I sat on the steps across from Big Ben and just took my time eating, absorbing the environment teeming with people and cars on the street. I can see that the tourists are beginning to come out from the Underground station. You know they are tourists when you see (1) they are carrying a guide book, (2) a bottle of water in their hands, (3) a digital camera on their belt. Every other person in this part of the city appears to be a tourist.

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I wanted to do the South Bank walk for today. Some of the highlights I planned on was the London Eye.

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… the Tower Bridge, and …

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… the Tower of London.

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I will take the next couple of days chronicling the day … stay tuned.

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London Trip Report Day 1

I left Vancouver for London on an Air Canada flight in late afternoon on Friday. Time wise, the flight was not too bad — it took about 9 hours in all and I did had a chance to sleep quite well.

Grant told me I should have booked on British Airways. Grant was right, the Air Canada plane was a really old plane. The inflight movie was on a CRT TV. The seats although comfortable, has seen many. many years of service.

Right after the flight took off, dinner were served. I was not given a choice at all unless you had special dietary requirements. The meal was chicken with potatoes and some vegetables. The chicken breast was pretty good.

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The meal also came with salad and Balsamic Vinegar for dressing. There were also a small tub of vanilla ice-cream. The meals were passable but I remember many years back, airline meals were a bigger deal.

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I choose red wine. It knocked me out right after — I wanted to sleep throughout the flight and it did the trick.

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About 1 1/2/ hour before landing, I was woken up by the announcement about breakfast. Breakfast was served in a simple box. The box contained a muffin, peach, orange juice, yogurt and dried raisins. I also had coffee.

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I have never been to London before. Right after I checked into the hotel, I quickly made my way to the City on my own. I actually had a great time and seriously wished Suanne were here. I know she would have loved it here too.

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I have tons of pictures I took this afternoon. Check out the link below if you care to read about them …

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Han Ju Hot Pot Tofu in Richmond

Updated: 27th June 2012; This restaurant has closed according to Urbanspoon.com.

For this weekend’s lunch, we decided to finally go to the Han Ju Tofu Hot Pot. We have been saying that we want to try it for a long time but never gotten down to it.

There are actually two Han Ju Tofu Hot Pot places. The original one was in Crystal Mall in Burnaby. They have opened in another location in Richmond the past few months. Lorna told us about this new location a few weeks back and so we decided to check that place out.

The Han Ju is located at 8328 Capstan Way in Richmond. They are opened seven days a week, 11am to 9pm. It’s a small restaurant, just slightly larger than the cramped one on Burnaby. There are perhaps about 12 tables in all. It is a very popular place and often you need to wait for a table — we had to wait about 5 minutes.

Although this place is made out to be a Korean style restaurant, I think they are Taiwanese owned judging from the fact that they speak Taiwanese brand of chinese.

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Their signature dish is, of course, the Tofu Hot Pot. We ordered the Korean Style Kimchi Pot and asked that it be made spicy — you get an option on how spicy you want it. This dish is served with rice although the main staple is the green bean noodles in the soup. Other ingredients are Korean Kimchi, Mussels, Squid, Tofu, Sliced Pork and an egg. It’s quite a big serving, more than what I normally take for a meal. The dish is served in a metal hot pot — gotta be careful handling it because it’s very, very hot. This dish costs $5.95.

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We decided to order a side dish and opted for the regular sized Spiced Tofu. This costs $3.95. It is not too bad but for us, it’s too much tofu because the rice dish we ordered also came with this.

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We also order a dish called Braised Beef Briskets on Rice. The rice dishes are served in a flat pan-like bowl — very much like a dog food dish! This dish contains the beef briskets, spiced tofu, fried egg and two different vegetable. This is a non-spicy dish and costs $6.95.

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The Korean Style BBQ with Rice dish looks very similar to the one above. The only difference is in the meat — this has pork instead. Costs the same too, $6.95.

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Han Ju Tofu Hot Pot on Urbanspoon

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Red Star Seafood Restaurant

Andy Lai and family from Portland visited Vancouver this week. Andy was Ben’s primary and secondary school mates. They only found each other back last year through the wonder of internet. Andy and Ben has not met one another for more than 25 years. It was very unfortunate for Ben as he was in London this week and unable to meet up with Andy.

Nevertheless, Andy met up with me and the kids while they were in Richmond on Wednesday. We went shopping at Parker Place and Aberdeen Centre. Andy and family love to come to Vancouver for shopping and food. According to Andy, there is not many Chinese restaurants in Portland. Andy will go all the way to look for good food.

After a day of shopping, we went to Red Star Seafood Restaurant on Granville St and West 67th Avenue for dinner. Andy’s friends, Tom and Marina recommended this restaurant.

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Andy and Tom ordered a lot of dishes that evening. Here are some of the dishes they ordered.

Lobsters stir fried in ginger and green onions.

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Crispy Chicken.

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Spicy long beans.

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Mushrooms braised with scallops.

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A fish dish on a platter of vegetables.

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There were more dishes like a pork chop dish, deep fried sea bass with melon salad and a pork and herbal soup. The dinner ended with a green bean dessert soup with some cookies and sesame seed fried dough.

It was a scrumptious dinner. As Andy said, nothing beats good food with good friends. Thank you Andy and Kathy.

Red Star Seafood on UrbanspoonBusiness Hour

Mon to Fri: 10:30 am to 3:00 pm; 5:00 pm to 10:00 pm
Sat & Sun: 10:00 am to 3:00 pm; 5:00 pm to 10:00 pm

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Spanakotyropita

Jenny, who is Panos mom (and Panos is Arkensen’s best friend) had agreed to show me how to make a Greek dish a few months ago. Jenny was very busy and only until now she has the time to show me. Jenny is a Canadian and her husband is Greek. Jenny lived in Greece during her early marriage and she learned to make Greek dishes during her stay there.

The dish which Jenny showed me is called Spanakotyropita, The word Spanakotyropita comes from the Greek word spanaki (spinach); tiri (cheese); and pita which is a hand held snack.

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Other pitas which you may be familiar with are the round cooked dough type typically filled with cooked meat, onions, tomatoes and a dab of tzatziki and are often served at Greek festivals or tavernas.

Ingredients

  • two packages frozen chopped spinach
  • one package phyllo pastry (in the Grocer’s freezer section next to frozen pie/pastry shells)
  • approximately 1/2 cup and 2 tablespoons extra virgin cold-pressed olive oil or vegetable oil
  • one large cooking onion or 1 leek, rough chopped and sauteed or 1 bunch of fresh green onions which can be added directly to the spinach.
  • 1 teaspoon bouillon (powder form, not cubes)
  • 1/2 fresh lemon
  • 1 large sprig of fresh dill or approximately 1 tablespoon of dry dill
  • 1 teaspoon salt and ground pepper (or according to taste)
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan chesse
  • 1 package (1/2 lb) Greek style feta cheese
  • 3 or 4 large eggs

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Click on the link below for the instructions.

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