Getting on down in Chinatown

After spending around five hours in a fun bilingual bubble in a London business school, I was back on the tube again, ready for another magical mystery tour (i.e. I randomly got off somewhere that sounded exciting) Throughout the morning and afternoon, I had met some really fun people – including an awesome girl who bonded with me over French camp sites, Dinard airport (read my very first ever blogpost for an insight into the Dinard airport experience!) and… disney princess impressions. Everyone I met had a lot of tips and tricks on what to see and do in London – including where to buy tickets for shows. In fact, the subject of shows and musicals was a great ice breaker and sparked up some lively debate on the best shows to see in London. After saying goodbye and exchanging numbers with my newfound friends,  my first idea was to go and see the ‘half price’ musical ticket booths around Piccadilly Circus to see if I could score any last minute matinee deals – however, at over sixty pounds for an average restricted seat, I wasn’t sold….

Yet. Better deals were to be had later in the week!

Lunch was found at Mcdonalds in Leicester Square – I was originally looking around for ‘Five Guys’, an American burger chain that opened in the UK earlier this year. ‘Five Guys’ is a chain which I’d heard a lot of hype about online (and on “The Londoner” blog), but I eventually caved into my hunger (and the offer of free wifi) and went to McDonalds instead. Casual NB. for the future – Leicester Square actually offers free street wifi to passers by anyway. So if you ever find yourself in London with an unreliable 3g connection and don’t feel like sitting on a coffee shop, head for a stroll into Leicester Square for free wifi! Oh, the excitement…

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As with any city, the London skyline has an interesting fusion of architectural styles! Glass edifices and older buildings from the 1800-1900s nestle together side by side in Leicester Square. After a couple of minutes spent gazing at rooftops, I made my way to Gerrard Street in Soho. Gerrard Street is home to Chinatown, which is only about a minute away from Leicester Square by foot but definitely feels a world away in terms of look and ambience.

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A delicious and odorous combination of spices, meats and sweet treats permeates Gerrard Street. Enthusiastic personnel wait outside their respective businesses in an attempt to entice the passer by to take a seat and indulge in a heady mix of herbal teas, peking duck, sumptuous cakes and… cuttlefish. I was intrigued by the window displays food along the street, displays which often had one or two ‘casual cuttlefish’, tentacles and all hidden amongst a throng of Peking Duck. I wasn’t hungry, thanks to McDonalds – shame on me for not holding out on my hunger and embracing an opportunity to try something different.  My parents visited Chinatown for a meal earlier this year and told me before my visit that the food there is incredible – £20.00 per head will guarantee you an impressive, tasty and unique meal in the heart of London. Next time I go to London, a visit to Chinatown is definitely on the cards… however I might give the cuttlefish a miss. Not a fan of those tentacles! See if you can spot the cuttlefish in my picture below… The character of Dr. Zoidberg from Futurama springs to mind.

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 Taiyaki (top left image) is a little waffle or pancake batter cake which is shaped like a fish – the literal translation of the japanese word  ‘Taiyaki’ means baked sea bream. However, the design is misleading (… is it too cheeky to refer to it as being a red herring?) for the cakes are not fishy in the slightest, being filled with cream and intended to be a sweet pastry accompaniment to coffee! From what I recall, it was around £1.50 for four or five cakes, so definitely a bargain. I was really impressed by the ornate icing which was piped on to the Chinatown cakes and cupcakes – it’s wishful thinking to hope that all the berries cancel out all the calories from the icing, right? Bottom right, you can see ‘Doraemon’ cupcakes.  Doraemon is a blue futuristic robotic cat from a Japanese manga which dates back to 1969. In the bakery windows, Doraemon was a figure that cropped up often as a cupcake topper, only rivalled in number by his popular pal Hello Kitty.

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I did not succumb to iced temptation, but headed back to Covent Garden to gaze some more at the indoor market shops and beautiful christmas lights – I especially enjoyed the 15ft topiary reindeer placed outside the market. Giant baubles adorned the inside of the Piazza, glittering and glinting magically like disco balls in the evening lamplight. I felt a little bit like one of the Borrowers.

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After Covent Garden, I met up with Ollie and his girlfriend Lucy to check out a Blues Bar behind Hamleys toyshop called “Ain’t Nothin’ But The Blues” – it’s an intimate venue with cool blues and overpriced nachos – we listened to the live music and had a drink. We decided to refrain from buying nachos*, instead we found some food  round the corner at a takeout noodle bar called (rather questionably) “Wok to Walk”. We had a few jokes over the name – do you really want savoury noodles on your morning commute? There is also a noodle bar in Durham, our old univerisity town called “Woksup” – it seems to be a running theme or trend for noodle bars to have puns in their name. The noodles from “Wok to Walk” were great though, and I had a lot of leftovers thanks to the portion sizes being so generous. After saying our goodbyes, I was even stopped by a woman boarding my train back to Croydon who found the pun on the noodle box amusing… I guess the marketing ploy worked! On the journey back to Croydon, my thoughts were full of daydreams of Chinatown – I’m already looking forward to a return visit sometime in the future!

*(this could have been a massive mistake! Perhaps the hefty price tag of £8.95 was justifiable. Perhaps we missed out on the best nachos that London could ever offer. I guess  it will remain a mystery for now. The mystery of the ‘potentially’ overpriced nachos.)

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Hustle and Bustle on the Baker-loo Line

After a day of glorious autumnal sunshine came a day of drizzle. My umbrella was whipped out of my satchel and had to report for duty as I traipsed the wet and foggy streets of London – however, the day didn’t remain too dark for very long as I soon found myself surrounded by THE FIRST FESTIVE LIGHTS OF CHRISTMAS. More on that later.

I spent the morning working out my interview route, which involved a stop at Finchley Road station. It’s a small but quirky stop that has a friendly cobbler and a mini fruit market stationed just outside. Once I’d successfully completed my ‘test commute’ I hopped back on to the tube and headed off to Baker Street in Marylebone.

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This street is most famous for being the residence of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous fictional character, Detective Sherlock Holmes, who according to the books, lived at 221B Baker Street. 221B Baker Street used to be a fictional address as the Baker Street addresses only used to go up to number 100, however the address now belongs to ‘The Sherlock Holmes Museum’. Sherlock Holmes is an iconic character from British literature and I loved seeing the influence that his creation has had upon the street itself – from kitsch cameos of his face adorning the tiled walls in the underground, to Sherlock themed memorabilia shops on the street itself.

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Several actors have portrayed the character of Sherlock Holmes over the years – from Basil Rathbone, who inspired the 1986 Disney classic “Basil the great Mouse Detective” ( a childhood favourite of mine, although the film had some terrifying characters. The peg legged bat and the fat cat haunted several of my nightmares) to the most recent Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch, a British actor who has sparked the internet meme “Otters that look like Benedict Cumberbatch” and has achieved an impressive cult following… getting both otters and Sherlock Holmes trending worldwide.

Image(The picture is taken from The Huffington Post and is originally credited as Red Scharlach/Daily Otter) 

There is a new series of ‘Sherlock’ starting on January 1st 2014 with a mini episode previewing on Christmas Day, so if you’re in the London area, why not mosey on down to Baker Street and get yourself warmed up for some festive ‘Sherlock’ viewing!

Baker Street is also a short walk away from the world famous waxwork museum, Madame Tussauds, which is situated on Marylebone Road. I didn’t go into the museum as I think it’s probably an activity best enjoyed with friends or family… It’s recommended to take a camera with you to make the most of numerous photo opportunities with the famous waxworks. Remember – I was ‘the lone ranger’ at this point – I didn’t fancy being ‘that tourist’ taking selfies in the corner with a waxen Kate Middleton. The entry price is steep at around £30 a ticket, however the long queues and positive reviews speak for themselves. You can often save a few pounds by buying a ticket for Madame Tussauds in combination with tickets for other attractions (i.e. otherwise known as a *drumroll*… combination ticket). Definitely an attraction that I will try in future.

Onwards and upwards from Baker Street, my next destination was Oxford Circus. And here is where the bright lights come in! Oxford Street was full of  festive cheer and christmas light garlands – I popped into the Disney Store (those famous words, I can’t ever walk past without going in for a gander) where all the new merchandise for Disney’s new christmas release “Frozen” was on display. The Disney Store on Oxford Street is the largest in Europe – and of course was decked out accordingly for the Christmas season.

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The main aim of going to Oxford Street was to track down an elusive pair of Forever21 ‘Off Roading wedge booties’ (that name doesn’t sound convoluted in the slightest). It took me a while to find Forever21 (because I had been going along the street in the wrong direction, standard) but I got there eventually and made a beeline straight for the shoe section, WHERE ONE SOLE PAIR OF THOSE BURGUNDY WEDGES WERE ON THE SHELF. It was a ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail ‘moment, I was a bedraggled knight (without coconut shells) and those wedges were the Grail. All I had to do was pounce on them before anyone else could – shoes in hand, I was told by a shop assistant that they were indeed the very last pair on Oxford Street. It was clearly fate. Prancing around the shop floor like a show pony*, I knew that we were meant to be… they were even the right size…

*Or a duck. My 15 year old brother likes to say that I walk like a duck in heels. He’s started playing a ringtone of ducks quacking if I even dare wear them in his presence. Teenagers are so sensitive these days. He’s also a great fan of showing me the video clip below.

Slight digression there. I do apologise. Back to the Oxford Street story. Clutching my Forever21 bag contentedly in hand, I spent a good 45 minutes being entranced by the glitzy window displays of both Selfridges and Marks and Spencer. Fairytales and children’s classics are obviously a big trend this Winter when it comes to department store christmas displays. Selfridges have placed giant versions of iconic gifts being skied and clambered on by miniature snow people and the odd miniature reindeer in their displays. The objects vary from luxury items (such as Charlotte Olympia glittery cat ballet flats) to classic childhood toys (a vat of oversized bright pink play-dough, anyone?),  giving the Selfridges windows a ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ vibe.

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Marks and Spencer, meanwhile,  has been attracting a lot of attention with their Christmas advert starring the gorgeous Rosie Huntingdon Whitely.  If you haven’t seen the advert yet, then you can watch it outside Marks and Spencer on Oxford Street, as it is being played on a loop on a giant screen in one of their windows. Throughout the course of the advert, Rosie transforms from Alice (in Wonderland) to Dorothy, looking fantastic from head to toe, clad in her Marks and Spencer glad rags, naturally. The windows of Marks and Spencer on Oxford Street are clearly inspired by ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and feature a decadent Mad Hatter’s tea party, complete with Alice (aka. Rosie), the  Mad Hatter (ie. the dashing David Gandy) and the other usual suspects…

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 I snapped out of my trance/alice in wonderland reverie when I realised that I had to go and buy my Eurostar ticket for my trip to Paris before the price increased threefold. Arriving at St Pancras International, I was immediately awestruck with the beauty and grandeur of the station… so awestruck that I walked straight past the Eurostar ticket desk and went to the check in instead. Whoops… The queue for the Eurostar ticket desk was quite fraught with tension and melodrama, with several passengers being teary-eyed about missing journeys or having to pay large price differences on their tickets. It didn’t put me at ease …. After half an hour in the queue I was imagining being stranded in London and actually having to live out of my suitcase or on top of the St Pancras street piano. But, I managed to get a relatively cheap ticket for the Saturday, thanks to a lovely member of Eurostar Staff who had the patience of a saint and helped me at the ticket desk. After making my purchase, I decided to buy Ellie some roses and headed back to East Croydon, Eurostar ticket tucked safely away in my satchel, tired but with a big smile on my face.

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