All aboard the Eurostar!

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And so, the time came to bid farewell to London, embark on a journey through the Eurotunnel and say a big hello to beloved Paris…

 Going on the Eurostar was one of the events on my trip that I was most looking forward to.  Considering that I often make trips to Paris to spend time with family who live in the city, a lot of friends were surprised by the admission that I’d never been on the Eurostar before. The ultra speedy train journey from the heart of one city to another was to be a new experience for me. Living on Guernsey, you become used to travelling primarily by ferry and by plane (my first flight was to France at the age of three months old!) – when I was younger, going on a train journey was something very exciting indeed.

I was particularly looking forward to a journey from one country to another without stringent baggage restrictions – you can take up to two cases and a piece of hand luggage (which can contain liquids) on the Eurostar. Being able to pack as much as I wanted, however I wanted (without having to remove the majority of my clothes at security) felt quite refreshing. The Eurotunnel and Eurostar service were both established in 1994 and so it is has been possible to get direct trains from London to Paris (and even direct trains to Disneyland Paris in Marne La Vallée) for two decades. Eurostar will celebrate its 20th anniversary later this year – Happy 20th Birthday Eurotunnel and Eurostar!

I spent the morning and early afternoon with Ellie (who made sure that I ate some food by treating me to Lunch, thanks Ellie!) before I left East Croydon for the last time and got the train to London Victoria. My friend Nick was in central London for the day and came to see me off, helping me with my suitcase from Victoria to King’s Cross St Pancras tube stop – what a gent! We had a bit of time to spare before I had to go to the Eurostar departure lounge, so we decided to soak up the atmosphere of Europe’s “destination station” for a while.

Stepping into St Pancras International, which was built in 1868 and renovated quite recently during the 2000’s, is a perfect way to escape into a sophisticated little bubble just a few steps away from a tube stop. St Pancras is widely considered to be the crown in the jewel of London’s railway stations, and has even been referred to as being the “cathedral of railways”.

A trip to St Pancras really is a magical experience – although you find yourself surrounded by the hustle and bustle that comes with any station or transport link, when you look at the beautiful Victorian architecture, it’s almost as if you have stepped back into the sepia toned glamorous heydays of traveling. With bilingual signage in English and French, it really does feels like a gateway between London and Paris. Last minute presents and souvenirs can be bought from the beautiful boutiques (such as Fortnum & Mason, which opened a new shop and tea salon in St Pancras on the 8th November 2013) found downstairs in the atrium. Alternatively, you can wait for your train with a flute of champagne on the Grand Terrace, listening to the sound of piano playing drift up from the floor below. Nick and I decided to do just that – we stopped at Searcys Champagne bar, which is situated opposite Searcys St Pancras Grand (restaurant and whiskey bar). We had a great view of the famous golden platform clock – this opulent clock is the handiwork of Dent London – the clockmakers behind Big Ben. Dent London had the task of building a replica of the original station clock which smashed in the 1980s (you’ll be pleased to know that the original clock has since been restored – you can read more interesting facts on the St Pancras did you know facts page http://stpancras.com/the-station/did-you-know/ )

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After our champagne break, it was time for me to head to departures… via Marks and Spencer’s! I was going to be staying with a friend in Paris who has a bit of a soft spot for mini bites – mini bites are little petit four sized cakes that Marks and Spencer’s sell in plastic tubs (ooo glamorous) . They come in varieties such as rocky road, flapjack, chocolate cornflake clusters and chocolate mini rolls… and are quite the party pleaser. I also bought some lilies, which would sit next to me throughout the duration of my Eurostar journey. The train left at 17:45, so it was already dark by the time we left London. I settled down with a copy of Eurostar’s in-house travel magazine “Metropolitan” – written in both French and English, I found it both fascinating and informative – just my kind of culture magazine. After a brief stop at Ashford international station, I could vaguely make out the lights of Dover before we entered the Channel Tunnel. It wasn’t long before we were in Paris, and I was reunited with Florence!

We escaped the rather hectic Paris Gare du Nord and got on the tram – the Parisian buildings passed by in a blur a bit too quick for my tired eyes, so I can’t precise too much other than to say that everything looked beautiful. After a Mcdo meal in Paris’ Chinatown, we made our way to Florence’s twin sister’s apartment, where we were greeted by amazing floor to ceiling Jacques Demy ‘Les Parapluies de Cherbourg’ film posters and freshly brewed tisane. The twins fell asleep, whilst I stayed up a bit later to work on an article – happy to be in the City of Light once again.

I really enjoyed travelling with Eurostar and hope that there will be more opportunities to do so in future!

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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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