London Series: Eurostar from London to Paris

I thought I had everything planned out for the day. It’s St Paddy’s day and I had planned to go watch the parade in London before taking the EuroStar to Paris in late afternoon.

However, the day before I was supposed to leave for Paris I heard on the news that there was a fire inside the Eurostar tunnel and that the tunnel had been closed for at least 24 hours. Initially, I was not concerned because the tunnel was supposed to be opened at 4pm while my reservation is not until 6:30pm. Well, it turned out that to be a day wasted in waiting … and it just had to happen to me!

When I got to the Waterloo Station, I can see that this is gonna be a long day. There was already a huge crowd and the Eurostar officials were trying their best to attend to each and every customer. What they told me that despite me having a confirmed reservation, they will NOT honour it — it will be a first come first serve and to add to the uncertainty, they refuse to say when the service will resume or if Eurostar will even operate on that day.

First, I tried to find an alternative way to get to Paris. There were no flights between London and Paris. Every flight was booked solid — I am not surprised at all. I thought I just grab a bite while trying to work out an alternative way. I went to Burger King to get a sandwich.

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I was not particularly hungry but remember how thirsty and tired I was. I had been lugging my luggage all the way from Heathrow for about 3 hrs now. This gave me a chance to relax.

My other alternative was to take the train and ferry but I could not get real help at all from the Information counter and ticketing office. Basically they told me to get a train to Dover and then a ferry to Calais but cannot tell me how to get to Paris. I know it must have been a frustrating day for them too because of the crowd but hey, they are supposed to be there to help. I was really disappointed with them.

I also took the tube to another station to try to get on a coach. Tough luck as the earliest coach is not leaving until after 11pm and the journey takes 7 hrs! No siree … I went back to Eurostar to take my chances.

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By the time I got back to the Waterloo Station at 3pm, the queue had already stretched all the way to outside the station on the overpass. There must have been hundreds of people already ahead of me.

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I was on the queue for almost 1.5 hours as it slowly inched the way back into the station.

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London Series: The Pheasant Pub and Restaurant

A trip to London is never complete without a visit to a pub. The word pub is short for Public Houses and has been a traditional establishment in Great Britain. This is where the community gathers in social settings and where alcoholic drinks are served.

There is a pub around where my hotel is, about 10 minutes walk. Many people in my company recommend that I try this place as they serve very good meals too. It’s called the Pheasant Pub and Restaurant. I went just as the sun set and took a few HDR shots of the colourful pub. This is one of my favourite HDR shots. It’s so sharp that I could literally see into the windows (click on the picture below and see for yourself). I heart his shot.

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Pubs sell a wide range of beers, wine and soft drinks. I did not get any alcoholic drink as I went past the bar and straight to the back of the pub where the restaurant is. There were hardly any moving room as there were some soccer game on the TVs. I think it was the Euro 2008 Qualifying matches going on. The English are so soccer crazy … OK, football crazy.

I am surprised with the wide range of food served there. I expected this to be a lot of snacks and finger food but they are all full meals. There were a lot of deliciously sounding menu items that I find it hard to decide what I want.

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I had the image of pubs being a smoking place. I am glad the restaurant section had no smoking signs all over. Anyway, I place my order at the counter, paid up and was given a wooden ladle with the number “11” — that was my order number. When they come around shouting my number, I am supposed to put the ladle up to show the server that it’s mine. How’s this for informal dining?

Hey, errr … the three squeeze bottles, I am sure they are color coded and for a Brit they know what’s in it. I can guess that the red one is ketchup and the yellow one must be mustard (them Brits love their mustards, don’t they?). But what is in the one in brown? If I hazard a guess, I would say it’s BBQ sauce … am just guessing.

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What’s the pub grub I ordered? I was a bit adventurous and ordered the “Best English Calves Liver and Bacon”. It came in a large squarish plate. The meat were served on top of some of the tastiest mash potatoes I had tasted and there were lots of it.

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London Series: Roast Duck at Four Seasons, Bayswater

Before I left for this trip to London, I asked for recommendation from the readers of chowtimes. One of the comments left was from Eileen who recommended that I should try the roast duck from Four Seasons Restaurant in Bayswater. I replied that I didn’t think I would want to travel all the way to London to taste chinese food … well, I went anyway, no regrets whatsoever.

I had read a lot of reviews of Four Seasons — almost all of them commented about the long queues everyday and that they serves the best roast duck in London.

Finding Fours Seasons was much more easier than I thought. I took the tube to the Bayswater station, got out of the station and there it was … literally right in front of the station entrance.

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I would have expected that there are a lot more Roast Ducks and other BBQ Meat on display. Perhaps it was because I was there at about 4pm way before the dinner crowd starts coming in. I read so much about the long queues that I played it safe to come this early.

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This is the best condiments that I have seen in any BBQ Meat restaurant. It’s such a simple idea that I am surprised not many restaurant had thought of doing it. The moment I sat down, they came by with a pot of Chinese tea and the plate of three types of chillis.

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I cannot recall this completely. I think this is not free soup and that I ordered this. It was great. Actually, I was pretty dehydrated because I had only a small bottle of drinking water the whole day. This was a really welcome bowl of soup.

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London Series: An English Breakfast at Guidos

I had a full day all planned out in London. I wanted to climb the dome at St Pauls, visit the Westminster Abbey and the Victoria & Albert Museum. These are the places that I missed visiting the last time I was in London because I timed it all wrong.

When I was planning for this trip I wanted to include a visit to a place that serves traditional hot English breakfast. I simply think that English breakfasts are the best — definitely not the healthiest but sure the best.

I found one place near the St Paul’s Cathedral called Guido’s. What drew me to this place is the smell of frying bacon. Oh man … that smell so good …

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It’s small, cramped restaurant and looks exactly like the place that a Londoner would go for their breakfast — seems authentic and not some touristy restaurant to me.

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I ordered their Full English Breakfast. The toast were buttered and toasted well done … or in Suanne’s words over-done! I like it. Hey … by the way … what is your opinion … is it true that such over-toasted bread is carcinogenic?

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London Series: Chicken Tikka Masala from Sipson Tandoori

I was so intrigued. When I first heard that the national food of England is Chicken Tikka Masala, I thought that someone was pulling my legs. In a few days I was in London, some people (mainly Indian taxi drivers) told me the same thing too. Here is what I learned the past few days — let me know if I get this correct.

Masala is an Indian term that refers to a mixture of many ground spices. What does the word Masala mean? Spices? And Chicken Tikka Masala is really invented in Great Britain. So, I figure since I am in London I must simply try the national dish. :-)

I had blogged on the Sipson Tandoori the last time I was in London here. I vivid remembered making an unkind remark about the “pretty dumb” paper bags the delivery came with. I had the tendency sometimes to be brash, I admit. He he he … the paper bags I guess will always be there but at least this time, the curry did not leak all over the place.

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Got a question for you, Rukya. How many pieces does people normally order the papadam? When I ordered ONE piece, the person who took my order sounded so surprised. I mean, the papadam is such a large piece that one is more than enough for me. Guess what, when they delivered to me, they game me four pieces. Hey, I have no complain. I must say that Sipson’s papadam is simply one of the best I had tried … they are so crispy and flavourful … and they tastes just as good the next morning. 50p per piece but they charge me only for 1 piece — nice!

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You know, most curries looked and tastes the same to me. So I really can’t figure out what Chicken Tikka Masala is. It looked and tastes like Butter Chicken but am sure it is not. Rukya, can you tell us about Chicken Tikka Masala? Continue reading

London Series: A Night Out at the Theatres

Thursday … last day of training and what that means is the training is over and my real vacation starts! The class ended earlier than normal at 4pm and so, I decided that I’ll go to the city and catch a theater show.

I had planned to watch Les Miserable while I was in London. A few days prior, it was advertised on lastminute.com that it costs 29 GBP for the show PLUS a dinner at Planet Hollywood. I never got down to the place to book. By Thursday, the 29 GBP deal was no longer available.

So I went to Leicester Square to get the ticket. I thought that the best way to get a ticket would be to go to the the “tkts” booth. But when I got to Leicester Square, I saw a lot of places selling tickets too. Anyway, not knowing how all these work, I thought I better get it from the “official” source. The price for Les Miserable had increased to 40GBP … and without dinner too.

Not wanting to spend so much money for a show, I went for a show called Jump. That one costs only 19 GBP.

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I was quite awed by the whole place. When Mama Mia came to Vancouver to perform about two or three years ago, Suanne and I caught that show. We enjoyed that show a lot and told ourselves we should catch these shows more often. Here, in and around Leicester Square there are 60 such show! The place was teeming with people and it is not even the weekend.

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The show is at the Peacock Theater which was quite a walk from Leicester Square. I had a lot of time. Went looking for food and found a place called Caffe Amici.

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The place is really busy. I guess there are some who are there waiting for the show to start. They basically serves coffee, sandwiches and pasta.

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I had the Spaghetti Bolognese (minced meat, tomato and herbs). It’s “only” 5.50 GBP.

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London Series: Room Service at Sheraton Skyline

Despite the perceived excitement of managing projects with remote teams and having to travel often to different sites, all I can say that it’s not as glamorous as it seems. For sure, there are benefits & opportunities to this job but sometimes it really takes a lot out of me. I am not sure if I can do this for life. Here is how it was like one of the days I was in London.

I was already struggling trying to keep up with a highly technical 8-hour training course each day. Mind you, the course starts at about midnight Vancouver time — a time when I should be soundly asleep in bed.

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Needless to say, it’s hard trying to stay awake sometimes. I must have taken something like 10 cups of coffee over the course of the day. I tell myself this is bad for me but I could not help it. After a couple of days, I was really sick of the coffee from the machine in the training rooms and bought “real ones” from the cafeteria.

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Right after that training, there were three conference calls that I need to get on. That three conference calls took a total of 4 hours with the first one starting at 6:00 PM (LON time) and the last one completed at midnight. I stayed in the office the whole time because I did not want to take conference calls with my cell or the hotel — it would have been enormously expensive to do so. Moreover I always need to take conference calls hands free.

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I did not even get the chance to grab dinner because the cafeteria had already closed. That one day was a really long one. At least the calls that day were “easy” ones — ones that I was not beaten up on. :-)

By the time I got back to my room, I was famished. All the restaurants are closed at that time and what I had available is the hotel’s room service. There were not much choice on the menu — just pizza and grills. The Grilled Beef Sirloin Steak sounded good … 10 oz some more … just what I needed.

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London Series: Breakfast at McDonalds

After a couple of mornings of breakfasts at the Hotel’s Al Dente Cafe, I decided to take a 5 minutes walk down the street to the McDonalds for a change. I could not see any other food outlet or restaurants serving breakfasts than this Golden Arches outlet.

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I had the very familiar Bacon & Egg McMuffin meal. Like the McMuffin at home, this included the sandwich, a coffee and a hash brown. It’s 2.40 GBP … definitely much cheaper than the 19.00 GBP for the breakfasts at the hotel.

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London Series: Breakfast at the Sheraton Skyline

I told you I’ll blog about food today … here it is. :-)

I stayed in the Sheraton Skyline Hotel in Hayes, just next to the Heathrow Airport. This is very much a business class hotel with very little tourist. It seems to me that people who stays here are very much people who works for the airport or aviation industry.

I had some of my breakfasts in the hotel’s Al Dente Cafe.

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The cafe is very spacious, bright and cheery. I don’t know … to me this makes a difference in setting the day right. I always wanted to have an unrushed morning breakfast in a bright place and a newspaper to catch up on the news. And like to have breakfast alone … hate people talking to me during breakfasts! :-) So this is perfect.

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Service was excellent in the Al Dente Cafe — very prompt and polite. Somehow I wish every place is like this. I noticed that service is much better in such business hotels in that people dresses better and the customers are working professionals. Also, perhaps these type of customers tip better because they could expense the tips. I don’t know …

First came with a cup of coffee and a glass of orange juice. The coffee is really strong and smells good. A characteristic of a good cup espresso coffee is the layer of crema … and this has it. It’s a big cup too. Fantastic.

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London Series: War Museums in London

Got to really apologize to all … there is no food in this blog entry. So, you gotta bear with me for one more time OK?

I had a whole Sunday to myself before I start my training course. There were a few things I wanted to visit for the day. Planned everything to perfection and guess what? I overslept and woke up at 10am. I wanted to wake up at 7am to have an early start. Gosh. I was soooo upset and kick myself for oversleeping. Despite all these travelling, I thought jet lag is not a problem. I was wrong.

There is a theory concerning jet lags which I have not fully figured yet … see if you agree with me. I was told that jet lag is worse if I travel from west to east (i.e. from Vancouver to London) than the other way round. I find that quite true.

Anyway, what I wanted to do was to lug my camera gear and see the changing of the Queen’s Life Guards. Sigh … it takes at least 1 hr to get to the city by tube. By the time got there, everything was over. I just can’t get over it … sigh … sigh …

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For that day, I wanted to cover the two war museums — the Cabinet War Room and the Imperial War Museum. I love history — especially war history. Anyway, most history is centered around wars, right?

The Cabinet War Room is also known as the Churchill Museum. This is the exact location where Churchill and his cabinet conducted the war during the Second World War.

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The Cabinet War Room is engineered as a bunker with underground links to 10 Downing. The Cabinet room (below) is where Churchill’s inner sanctum cabinet meet. I had a audio guide which describes in stunning detail each of every exhibit and room.

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