Sunday, December 07, 2014

Paris & London 2014 (Day 10) 

After 3 evenings of musicals, we're kinda pooped actually. Weather is cold and all that stuff so it gets sooooooo enticing to just stay in. Today, We'll be going to a really British institution. Harrods.

 Harrods is so instituionalised, it gets it's own direction listing in the tube (or maybe they are just so helpful over here in London).

Harrods is really busy on a weekend near Christmas. We made our way to The Tea Room to have tea at Harrods. Seriously, ifyou like tea, this should be included in your itinerary. This and tea at Fortnum and Mason's.

After Harrods, we went to Penhaligon's! I wanted to get a bottle of Quercus from Penhaligon's and my friend wanted a bottle of Zizonia. I picked the older shop hear Covent Garden, not the one at Covent Garden marketplace to go to. It's really an experience just stepping into the shop.

After that, we popped by the marketplace area. It's like a flea market of sorts. If you like to shop, this is probably a good place. My friend wanted to come by so we dropped by the area.

One of my friends hung around the area while myself and another friend went over to 221B Baker Street. You read that right! We went to look for the most amazing of detectives! You can find a door with a knocker (and a bell for modern day usage). And you can also find a Sherlock Holmes museum there. For fans, you really should drop by. Then again you probably already know this!!

And that's about it for today! Had Mac's for dinner. Heheh. Couldn't resist trying out all the different burgers!

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Saturday, December 06, 2014

Paris & London 2014 (Day 9) 

Dreary days and laziness. Heh. Winter in London is really whatever they say of it.

Today we head off to St Paul's Cathedral. That's the place where the Prince of Wales married Lady Diana Spencer. Happy times back then, I guess. It's a really pretty cathedral inside. The entrance fee is $16.50 and that includes an audio guide so you can explore the cathedral at your own pace. If you are able to, you can climb all the way up to the top where you can get a great view of the London surroundings. That's more than 500 steps to the top. Worth it when you finally get there though!

Photography is not allowed inside the cathedral so you will have to come to this beautiful cathedral yourself you enjoy it. The art in the dome is very nicely done. It's flat art but looks like sculpture. The Quire is very beautiful as well. The crypt has some military mentions, so if you are a military afficionado, you might want to take a look here.

After visiting St Paul's, I really could not help it but want to eat at Paul's right next to St Paul's. It's corny, I know but who can resist eating at Paul's at At Paul's? Ok not me.

And tonight's show is.... WICKED!!! Boy were we surprised when we got into the Theatre. It was the largest that we have been in this trip! Little wonder that there was a crush outside in the theatre lobby while we were waiting for the house to open. It was really crowded!!

The Wicked production is quite good. Elphaba had a couple of notes slightly lowered but I don't think it was due to the fact that the actress couldn't hit the notes, I think it was just how they wanted it done. Point to note, the Apollo Victoria Theatre is really large, so if you are seated in the Dress Circle, it can be quite far. i personally don't mind, but after you've been in theatres like Her Majesty's theatre and Queen's theatre, you'd suddenly be surprised at the distance.

Come to West End for the shows. It's really worth it.

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Friday, December 05, 2014

Paris & London 2014 (Day 8) 

Today, we will be going to Tower of London and Tower Bridge (London Bridge). Or at least look at London Bridge.

So we took the Underground to Tower Hill Station and once we got out of the station, we crossed the road and found ourselves in the Merchant Navy Memorial. I've always got a soft spot for war memorials. That's probably why I like Berlin alot, cos they seem to be so open about it. "Hey guys, we screwed up. Ooops." No covering (or at least not that severe?)

Anyway, the Merchant Navy Memorial is a rather nicely done up place. There is a small lawn with a compass rose, and a small building with inscriptions.

After a brief visit to the Merchant Navy Memorial, we moved over to the Tower of London. Before buying the tickets, we had lunch (Cod and Chips) and bought some souvenirs.

Tickets to the Tower of London cost GBP 22 with a voluntary donation. They will ask you if you want to donate. In the event that you do not wish to donate, you can get the ticket for GBP 20.  The Tower of London is a pretty nice place and I do recommend this as a visiting location when you come to London. For starters, the Crown Jewels are displayed here. They are so pretty! And they are worth a gander, unless you absolutely hate things that sparkle. It also gives you a fair look into the history of England and the Royalty, as the Tower of London is still considered a Royal Palace. Follow the Yeoman warder on the guided tour, ours was so funny it was enjoyable! I hope you get one as enjoyable too!

I didn't get all too many photos of the Tower of London as the weather was frightfully dreary... but on a better day (maybe in the summer or something) I'm sure this will be a very nice place.

The White Tower will take you an hour or so. The Crown Jewels will take at least half an hour. Cater your time accordingly. I travel slow, so my timing may seem too long for you. I should say that at a comfprtable pace, the Tower of London should take around 3 to 4 hours. For a quick blitz, just whack the Crown Jewels and the White Tower and you can be done in less than 2 hours.

We didn't go to Tower Bridge, but we were close enough to get some shots of it. Probably good that I didn't go on the bridge, I think I would be tempted to sing a song....... Hmmm.

We pretty much went around the whole of Tower of Londn, or so we should like to think. This brought us to around 5 pm, where we decided to move onto the West End.

We had dinner at this place called Muriel's. It's a really nicely appointed place and the food was quite good as well. Really relaxing dinner before the show. Really enjoying the West End gig we are!!

The show for tonight is Les Miserables. It's like one of the pegs in my Trinity of Musicals. Unfortunately, I felt that Fontaine wasn't very good. Either that or it was her style of presenting I Dreamed a Dream. The higher notes sounded like there were forced out but maybe that's her style. I didn't really like Cossette either but I never really liked Cossette. Jean Valjean was ok..... He's not Colm Wilkinson but I guess it's not fair to label everyone. Colm Wilkinson is just mega large shoes to fill, really.

Javert was good. But no one clapped for Javert's Sololiquy... but they appluaded Marius' Empty Chairs at Empty Tables that followed, and Marius stuck a wrong note in there too! Tsk. The discrimination. Javert, I support you! Sorry I didn't clap. I usually clap at the end.

So, Les Miserables. A minor disappointment but the show was not too bad. Just that I think we need to adjust expectations. We can't always have the best cast. Even the best cast have off days. Maybe the voice is just not performing that day etc.

The next time I come to London, I'll still be watching!!

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Thursday, December 04, 2014

Paris & London 2014 (Day 7) 

First full day in London! So exciting that we are starting our West End escapade!! First thing we did inthe morning was to go off and buy ourselves tickets to Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables and Wicked.

This is what we were planning for the entire trip!! I've always wanted to watch musicals in West End and Broadway. So now.. I next need to plan a trip to Broadway!

We got our tickets at Leicester Square. There are tonnes of discount ticketing booths there. You can just buy tickets from any of them. They are official. If you choose to buy from a random person standing in the streets... I don't know how that will turn out.

Afte getting the tickets, we went to get lunch at this place called Steak . Co.  The food there isn't too bad and the service is really good. Only problem was when the beef on hot stones came out, it can get really smokey if there are a few plates of em at the same time. The ventilation is a bit shot.

After lunch, since we still had some hours to go before Phantom, we decided to walk around the area. We went to Foyles (a huge bookstore), TKMAXX, Primark (really cheap clothing and accessories here!!) and that made the hours pass by real quick. Dinner was KFC and then... it was onto the main event!!

Phantom of the Opera needs no introduction. But if you need an introduction, feel free to google it. Our seats were 5 rows from the front, which was amazing to me cos I've never sat so near the front before The theatre was rather cosy as well. I suppose that with such a long running show, you don't really need such a large theatre..... maybe. Phantom is a non discounted show, meaning that you probably won't be able to get discounted tickets at the half price booths. I'm not sure whether this is true all the time, but just a note for you.

Lovely Day.

And Phantom was good.

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Paris & London 2014 (Day 6) 

We are departing Paris today for London. So in the morning, we were mainly just packing and stuff. We did enjoy the stay in the accomodations in Paris. The location was good, the place was comfortable, the only problem was that the place was up on the 5th floor of the building and the stairs got rather narrow at the top. That meant that it was problematic if you had a large luggage. Fortunately, I made it.

Airbnb is really worth a try. I do suppose that there will  be hits and misses. Be careful what you pick on Airbnb, and always go with the expectation that things may not be what you expect. The accomodation that I booked this time round was a definite hit.

If you plan to book via Airbnb and have never signed up for an account before, you can grab some Airbnb credit via this link. The credit gets applied to your next airbnb booking.

 Unfrotunately not applicable if you already have an account I think.

So after we checked out of the accomodation, we took the metro to Gare du Nord where the Eurostar station was. We'd have to 'exit' France and 'Enter' UK at the station by getting our passports checked and stamped. Somewhat like what used to happen at Tanjong Pagar Railway station (before the Singapore Immigration moved to Woodlands while Malaysia stayed in Tanjong Pagar). The UK immigration person was unexpectedly humourous, and while going through the security scans, the French official noticed a tiny corner of a euro peeking out of a pocket and told me to be careful. mSuch a nice experience going through Eurostar check in.

Now, the waiting area was another story entirely. It was just crowded because there were people waiting for 2 trains basically. Well, we just stood around till it was time for our train. The Eurostar was a pretty nice ride, and we got to London well in time for afternoon tea (had we wanted it).

We checked into our hotel which was about 5 mins away from the station. Really close. Costs a pretty penny too but it is convenient I suppose. It's not as wonderful as our accomodation in Paris. It's a room with 3 single beds, and a toilet / shower. Very functional. Very convenient.

Once we dropped off stuff at our hotel, we went out to explore the areas near out hotel. There are really a lot of shops, but the one place that ealmost everyone mentions to us once the know where were were staying... was Platform 9 3/4.


We did go there.

They even have this station for you to take photos. Free if you take your own, pay for official photographer. They have scarves for you to wear while you take a photo of yourself pushing the trolley with a birdcage on it onto Platform 9 3/4. I thought that was a nice touch. I did not take a photo of myself though lol.

My friend also noticed a seller for The Big Issue standing near the British Library. I did not know what The Big Issue was about but it's cover was about streetcat Bob (the cat of a previously homeless man), so I decided to buy one copy as well. In total, we bought 3 copies and the seller was so happy he wished us a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I was like .... um.. I know Europe is big on Christmas but still, isn't it a little premature? That was when I found out that The Big Issue is a magazine for the homeless to sell so that they can earn a living to work their way up. Now I know why the seller was so happy and I am glad I parted with 3 pounds.

After the walking around the area, we settled into Fortnum and Mason's at St Pancras International for a break. They ran out of the afternoon tea though, so we could not have crumpets. So sad. Had a chocolate ice cream with my tea though, so it wasn't all that bad in the end.

And so. First day in London.

Dreary weather incoming. 

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Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Paris & London 2014 (Day 5) 

Looks set to be Notre Dame today!

Before that. my friend wanted to visit a Chapel that was recommended to her by someone. Took us a while to find it but along the way, we came across this Chocolate Boutique that was called Jacques Genin. The chocolate there seemed to be lovely (the staff let us try the chocolate) and they have this interesting fruit gum jelly stuff. I bought the chocolate. Very nicely packed.

After the purchase of this most wonderful of foodstuff, we continued onto the Chapel that my friend wanted to visit. Along the way.. we stopped in a supermarket to buy bread to fill our tummies. Bread on the go, convenient and affordable!

We finally made it to the Chapel that my friend had wanted to get to, and I must say that the decor inside was really nice. the colour was a beautiful shade of baby blue / sky blue, white and some gold. Mass was going on so no photos!

After about 15 mins or so, we continued onto Notre Dame.

There is a quaint little bookshop near Notre Dame that we had noticed the other day when we made our rounds around the Notre Dame area. It was recommended by a friend and so it was decided that we would visit the place before Notre Dame.

The bookshop is called Shakespeare and Company and they sell both old and new books. On the upper level, they also have some nooks and crannies which seems to be for people to sit in and write. Quite a packed area that is absolutely full of books in every space that you could see.

It was a really unique experience, seeing books fill every nook and cranny from the floor to the ceiling in every direction imaginable.

After the bookshop, we popped over tothe cafe next door to have a hot drink before continuing on.

Notre Dame is really impressive. If you thought the outside facade was impressive, wait till you get inside. Really. The stained glass windows are beautiful and there are so many areas (I believe they are called chapels) within the main hall itself that it is mind boggling to someone like me who is not familiar with Catholicism.

Truly the magnifence can only be truly felt by physically being present in the cathedral.

The next item on our itinerary was the Arc du Triomphe. And so we headed off on the metro to view this monument. As we got there, we noticed that there were people who were dressed up in uniforms, so it seemed that there was going to be some sort of ceremony happening at the Arc. Turns out that it was a rather fancy affair with observers walking over tothe Arc from the Avenue des Champs Elysees. There were so many people, it felt so official. Not too sure what the ceremony was about, but I think it might be related to WWII, given that there was a significant number of elderly people. Then again i seem to have read somewhere that this might also have relation to Napoleon. Oh well. Anyway it was cold and the wind was biting. So after about 45 mins out there, we left before the ceremony ended.

We then went for Quick and Chips. This is a fast food restaurant whose poster we have been seeing for a few days. I wanted to eat the Chicken and Chips burger, so when we saw that the restaurant was available, my friend and I made a beeline for it. I must say that the chicken and chips burger was pretty unique and tasty. Such a shame that it is limited edition. Would be an interesting item to have on any regular menu, I reckon.

With such a filling meal, it was time to work off some calories and what better way than to stroll down the Avenue des Champs Elysees? Less than 5 mins later we nipped into a Yves Rocher and bought stuff! Yves Rocher is really quite nice and the trial packs are nicely priced at 5 Euros, so you could buy a series and try it out to see if you like it before committing to a full sized bottle. Naturally I bought some trial packs and I shall be using them while in Europe.

The Christmas market along Champs Elysees nearer to Place de la Concorde was alos a place where many good deals could be had and my friend finally had her crepe that she was planning to have in Paris. And that was a pretty nice ending to a rather full day.

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Paris & London 2014 (Day 4) 

And so, today is the designated Louvre day.

Yes, I do want to go to the Louvre. Be underneath the Pyramids, so to speak. So we got ourselves to the metro station next to the Louvre in the late morning and we wandered around the outside areas (which are free!) for quite a while to spam photos.

Like everyone says, the Louvre is really huge and contains many artifacts. I cannot even begin to imagine how they got so many items, but I suppose that is through years of collection, plenty of hardwork or maybe a little plundering back in the day.

The entrance ticket to the Louvre Museum costs 12 Euros, but if you really like museums, you should probably get a museum pass which is a pass for a set number of days but unlimited access to 60 locations. 2 day pass for 42 Euros, 4 day pass for 56 Euros and 6 days pass for 69 Euros.

The Louvre is really sprawling and... alot of people do go for La Joconde (The Mona Lisa). Her eyes really do track you around whereever you go. Kinda creepy. so many people there taking selfies with her!

I should think that if one were to take in everything, you should need a couple of days. Maybe can squeeze into one day if you start really early. You can also choose to go one Wednesdays and Fridays because the Museum closes late at around 2130hr on those days. Extra hours for you to walk! The Louvre is closed on Tuesdays.

After the Louvre, we hopped over to a restaurant that was a recommendation to my friend. It's this place called the Bouillon Chartier, accessible by Grands Boulevard Metro. The food is pretty good and prices decent. The waitor that was attending to our table was also rather efficient. If any tells you dining in France is slow, it is definitely not so here.

The restaurant was rather large and sits alot of people. The waitstaff are just constantly running around, but service is still quite good. Kudos to them! Just be prepared to squeeze with someone else at the table if they assign it.

For starters, I had eggs with mayonnaise. It was really quite good. For main course, I had roasted Pork with baby potatoes. the baby potatoes were nice but the pork could be a bit better. Then again, it's not easy making roasted pork.

My friends had escargot, Steak, roasted duck (1 friend had both the steak AND roasted duck) and a prune dessert. They were just simply beaming with pleasure at the good food. Even the pepsi tasted better here. Maybe it was drugged.

After dinner, we popped over to Gare du Nord to get our Eurostar tickets and we are ready to move on to London!

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