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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Capital hopping with ‘La Valise de Louise’ – London Calling

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As you can tell by the title of this post… I’ve been a bit busy. But fear not! It’s all been worth the while. Read on to voyage with me and learn of my latest ventures… it all began once upon a November…..

November is a strange month, sandwiched between the autumnal novelty of Halloween (which arguably dominates October) and the unavoidable festive buzz of December. November  stomps in and announces the beginning of Winter with fireworks and the ritual burning of things. In some ways, it is like an eager child begging for acceptance –  encouraging us to embrace the warmth of bonfires on cold nights, and to let the decadence and glitz of the Christmas season slowly creep up upon us. It all starts with those fireworks.

November was a rather spontaneous month for me, bathed in the glow of the premature Christmas lights of London and Paris – forget about Christmas tiptoeing into my 2013, I have already spent the past few weeks being duped into believing that Christmas Eve has come early. I’ve been raptly listening to jazzy festive tunes being pumped out of sleek city sound systems and gazing up in awe at big bling-bling baubles.

Rapture? Awe? Being captivated by baubles? I’ve written a lot of posts on this blog (the majority written when I was a student, held captive by the shackles of studying) about my yearning for travel and more importantly, my desire to live life to the full as much as possible. This has been the first Winter in the past decade where I have not had to pull off the dreaded ‘nuit blanche’, those indeterminably long nights where students become essay writing machines in order to meet harrowing end of term deadlines. For me, this has often meant necking back dubious cocktails of diet coke, black coffee and Proplus tablets, silently willing the dawn chorus to pipe down and setting up over 21 alarms on my phone just in case I didn’t wake up from that ten minute power nap. Thoughts of Christmas were always on the back burner until those gloomy essays were done and dusted. However, this year there have been no academic papers to submit. I can completely focus on glittery Christmas sparkles!

So a few weeks ago, when I was asked to go to an interview in London, I decided to turn a day trip into a fully blown holiday and embrace my newly found festive freedom. I packed my suitcase (although I would later find myself cramming most of my belongings into my bright purple satchel as I surfed from sofa to sofa, hopping from tube to metro) bought a last minute ticket, got on a plane and was on my way – on the run! Ready for a big glittery adventure… first stop… London!

I arrived on Saturday 9th November, leaving a deserted Guernsey airport on a cute little local plane with puffins painted on it – I was one of five passengers. Forty five minutes, a copy of ‘The Guernsey Press’ and a free diet coke later, I was warped into a different pace of life, surrounded by jets and queues for passport control. After being ‘stranded’ for a couple of months in Guernsey, it always takes a couple of minutes to adjust to the comparative hustle and bustle of … *in melodramatic tone*   the Mainland.  After walking for miles, I located my case and got on the train to East Croydon – home of Dub-step, ‘the Croydon facelift” and Kate Moss – where Ellie, a friend from Durham University was waiting for me. I had forewarned her of my intentions to visit London and she had very kindly offered me a place to stay. THANKS ELLIE.

Ellie welcomed me into her very fancy student house (which was the Ritz in comparison to the house we shared together during our second year at Durham) where we had the quickest of catch ups before heading out to … Clapham. I was getting to know quite a few boroughs of London in a short space of time.  We sat down in a restaurant and ordered food at 10pm after a little traipse around the area ( i.e we got a bit lost on Clapham High Street), ate with Ellie’s fellow teacher pals and then all of a sudden our plates were whisked away and the place turned into a dance bar. The staff pushed the tables to the wall, and a torrent of people appeared from nowhere and started jiving away in faux fur coats to 1direction. It was slightly surreal. I found myself being handed cocktails, accepted my fate (…having to listen to 1direction) and the night was off on a roll.  We ended up leaving the bar in the early hours of the morning to get the train – we were entertained whilst we waited at the station by the characters of East Croydon who were asking us incessantly for ‘cuddles’ (no cuddles were had) and fighting over pasties – obviously a rare delicacy at three o clock in the morning. Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of this pasty frenzy – you’ll just have to take my word for it.

When we got back to East Croydon, I crashed into bed… my head full of plans to see musicals, sightsee, be reacquainted with KFC popcorn chicken (no KFC on Guernsey *woohoo*) and perhaps most specifically to head to Forever 21 on Oxford Street and track down a ridiculously high pair of burgundy wedges that I’d fallen in love with on the internet. Did I find those wedges? Did I get to see a musical (or… two?) You’ll have to wait for my next instalment to find out! 😉 Although in the meantime here is a picture of an excited tourist in front of Buckingham Palace… yep, it’s me.

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St Peter Port

Monday afternoon, I found myself in town with a few hours to kill. The sun was shining and although there was quite a strong breeze (i.e. strands of my hair were dancing in the wind like the tentacles of a hyperactive octopus) I decided to soak up some much needed vitamin C.  I bought some vegetable sushi and headed over to Havelet to look out over the Channel.  It was high tide and the waves were hitting the shore quite aggressively, however I was feeling happy about the sunshine and so instead of catching the bus home, decided to kick off my shoes and go a paddlin’.  The temperature was surprisingly mild for October and I almost wished that I’d brought swimming stuff with me. I say almost. Being a weekday, most people were indoors, leaving me alone with… the gulls.

THE GULLS.

Guernsey gulls, by the way, are quite savage feisty creatures. They have no fear. They will rip a sandwich from your hands in a flash ; many a St Peter Port office worker has been left alone on a harbour bench to mourn the loss of their M and S Prawn Mayo on malted brown. After about a minute of poking the water tentatively with my foot, I decided to walk around to the Bathing Pools. The pools in question are two historic Lidos that look out towards Castle Cornet and the islands of Herm and Sark. Originally they were intended to be used separately by the Victorian sexes i.e.. one pool for ‘gentlemen’, one for ‘ladies’, however they are now open to all members of the general public all year round and also feature as an arena for….. underwater cycling. Apparently, footage of this sport taking place was featured on Blue Peter, back when I was at school in Guernsey. I don’t remember being very aware or concerned about the cycling at the time, just being a bit miffed that I didn’t get to miss school to go and admire Gethin Jones, who was presenting the segment.

ANYWAY. At the bathing pools, I soon found myself encircled once more by a circle of the sea vultures, who were very intrigued by the sudden appearance of another creature with food. They looked at me with their beady eyes and razor sharp beaks approaching closer every time I turned my back. Eventually they realised that all I had to offer was a bit of chargrilled pepper wrapped in seaweed and they lost interest. I can’t really blame them. Chargrilled pepper is a little bit of a letdown if you’ve set yourself up for an M and S sandwich. I almost got hit by a wave (the pictures above look deceptively tranquil) and I headed back home with a smile on my face and sea-salt in my hair.

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Scintillating Summer Nights

Happy August to one and all! Oh how I love the summer… and this year’s summer festivities in particular are shaping up to be rather glorious. Admittedly in the last couple of days there have been a few rainy moments – including the one day where I faced an unexpected cycle ride in a thunderstorm, but on the whole I have had the chance to bask in sunshine reading good books and I even appear to have a tan! It only seems like yesterday that I was bidding farewell to my student days living on the Bodensee, enjoying the last summer parties with my Konstanz friends before returning to Durham to knuckle down and get my degree… what a whirlwind of a year it has been. This year I’ve had the pleasure of graduating, I just received some good news regarding a job, and will be hitting up the South of France later this week! I am ridiculously excited. I haven’t written a decent blog entry in a while because I’ve been concentrating on soaking up the sunshine (wearing my sun screen of course) but I am breaking my silence to share a few of my July/August favourite things!

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Let’s start with beauty products, SHALL WE. I bought a new perfume to celebrate the summer (perhaps a lame excuse to splash some cash, but I think every girl needs a signature summer scent… or three). I chose Elixir des Merveilles by Hermés to be the scent that embodies my summer 2013. The fragrance actually came out in 2006, so it is not technically a new perfume, but it’s fresh to me! I fell in love with the warm orange aromas and the beautiful glittery bottle – it looks like Hermés managed to bottle a sunset – excuse the poetics, but just look at the sunshine glow in the picture above! 😉 I also decided to buy a light coverage Chanel foundation to accompany Mr. Elixir on my summer travels and received some great travel size skincare samples with my purchase. I have a ‘sophisticated summer lipstick’ in the form of Chanel Rouge Allure Velvet 33, La Distinguée – however my brother presented me today with a funny little present in the form of ice-cream flavoured lipbalm, which will probably be a lot more convenient down on the beach! I have included a photo below – growing up the Twister ice lolly was my summer corner shop standard!


So many flavours! I think 'Feast' is my favourite!

So many flavours! 

Entertainment wise, I have quite a bit of summer reading to get through in preparation for my new projects. However I’m also looking forward to reading “Tender is the Night” by Scott F. Fitzgerald (which coincidentally takes place on the French Riviera) and “The Little Book of Chanel” which was a chic and unexpected present from my friend Flo. The most recent film I watched was “Le Camping”, a hilarious French comedy that takes place on a campsite – I definitely recommend watching this film for an insight into French campsite culture!  If you are more of a discerning film critic (i.e. inflatable lobsters and campsite banter are not your scene) and you’re feeling in the mood for a sophisticated summer film classic then I would recommend Hitchcock’s “To Catch a Thief” for stunning panoramas of Monaco and scenes showcasing timeless elegance from Grace Kelly.

Grace Kelly

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I’ll leave you with a clip of my favourite fashion campaign from this summer – Dior Addict. I have not tried the product, but I love the fun, flirty video campaign that in my opinion captures the essence of a French seaside summer perfectly – it’s just a shame that I can’t find my heart shaped sunglasses – they would pay a perfect homage to Daphne Groeneveld!

“Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”

The motivation for this post comes from Dr Seuss’ book “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” – if you’re feeling a little hazy, unsure of where your life is taking you or like you need some guidance, pick up this book and have a peruse. It’s a book aimed towards children, however underneath the bright colours and wacky drawings, the words contain Dr Seuss’ famous wit – a wit that knows no age boundaries. It’s not a book that I came across during my childhood but I think reading it as an adult is quite enriching and uplifting – as Dr Seuss says himself, “Will you succeed? Yes, you will indeed. (98¾% guaranteed.)”

So, where do I want to travel and what paths am I going to take? I’m still unsure. There are so many places I want to go, and sometimes I just want to be in a million different places all at once. I want to inhale floral air on hawaiian beaches, take the tram in San Francisco, explore the graveyards, vampire tours and jazz culture of New Orleans, drink butterscotch milkshakes from Zak’s Diner in Ottawa, dance on tables in Konstanz, live in Disneyland Paris and discover countless other countries. As I’m writing this, a Disney animated short springs to mind – have you ever seen “The Three Caballeros”? It’s an old classic from 1944, (including a cigar smoking parrot, ah what you could show in the old days*) where Donald Duck goes on a tour of South America and encounters various different characters along his way, including Pablo the penguin… who is a penguin (no way, Sherlock) who despairs of the prospect of spending all his days in the cold and dreams of living on a warm tropical island.

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When he gets to the island, he kicks back, has a mojito or three (ok, no cocktails are actually specified but you get all inclusive holidays these days so I’m sure he would have indulged a little) and after a while the glow of the tropics starts to wear off and poor Pablo starts to miss the South Pole… the moral of the story being enjoy what you have, live in the moment, as the grass is always greener on the other side!

I have big dreams, that’s for sure, dreams of exploring, meeting new people and living in hot climates. But I’m also grateful for the present and need to make the most of every day, wherever I may be! 

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*Check out this French bear. He loves his tobacco.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jIPSmufiM4g

I used to watch this programme when I was small, (random fact coming up) and the voice reminds me of my French grandfather!