Monday, June 30, 2014

London 2014 Day 3

Before I talk about our third day in London, I want to give you my take on the London Pass. So what is it? It's an optional tourist's pass which allows you to get discounts and fast pass entry and other privileges around the city. You can view, ahead of time, what attractions and sites are included on the pass to decide if it's worth the cost to you. Not knowing exactly what we wanted to do in advance and also after reading some favorable reviews, we figured we better get the pass. 

In hindsight, we would have passed on the Pass. We just didn't end up doing many of the things featured on the pass.

The good side of it was that we made an effort to do more things on the pass than we probably would have and that the optional travel pass add-on we purchased was WELL worth it. The travel pass is a separate card that we used on the local buses (not the Big Bus Tour) and the metro. We used the heck out of those passes. 

So that's my two cents on the London Pass. But you can decide for yourself if it's worth it to you. Just do your research online before your trip and make sure ahead of time what you want to do and see. We're a little more laid back about pre-planning exact sites to see. We did research and made more of a wish list before we left then planned what we'd do each day as we had breakfast.

Speaking of breakfast, our mornings started off with a yummy little cup of caffe from the Krups version of the Nespresso machine in our hotel room kitchenette. Like a Keurig, you drop in little pods and hit the "go" button. We were lazy this third morning and slept kinda late, so we just sipped coffee and snacked on some things we had in our mini fridge and planned our day.

So the plan today: Portobello Market, Baker Street, do a little window shopping around Soho, then fish-n-chips for dinner. 

You may have noticed Jamie rocking' new 'do. She was in her element with the fashion in London and started to experiment with her hair too. The kid's got guts, I say. And she fit right in.

We noticed this placed called Wagamama the other day and thought it looked interesting. Sort of casual semi-fast-food Asian. So we decided to check it out for lunch. I tried these mushroom fritters encrusted with panko and served on a bed of wakame, a Japanese seaweed, with a chili sauce on the side. And of course, my favorite side: edamame. Delicious! And inexpensive. They have quite a vast menu, but they specialize in noodles. You can imagine my delight when I returned to the States and found a Wagamama cookbook at Barnes & Noble. Yay for me! I'll be testing out two recipes this week and will let you know how they are.

We popped into this very interesting shoe store for a few minutes after lunch. There wasn't a "normal" shoe in the place....

Of course, I looked at all the shoes like these in particular and thought to myself, "I could make these." Jamie and I both loved looking at all the fun styles.

This bunny-heeled shoe cracked me up!

And this one would be perfect for Miss Dyan Reaveley, don't you think?

After the window shopping, we hopped on the metro to Baker's Street.

Baker Street is special to Jamie and I...

221B Baker Street!  Sherlock! (We're huge fans.)

Had to snap a quickie outside the Beatles Store right next door. We didn't go inside. Just window shopped.

We were told that every Saturday Portobello Market holds one of the largest outdoor shopping experiences with a vast array of vendors selling everything from high-end antiques, vintage collectible books, clothing, jewelry, prepared foods, fresh produce, and so much more. So we had to check it out. We spent a couple of hours strolling the bustling market street. It was fantastic! I purchased a small printer's drawer (fashioned from a larger drawer, I think) which had the word London etched into the wood. I'm sure it will get worked into a project soon.

It was getting late and we were getting hungry (again) so we made our way back to the hotel to rest a bit (and for Jamie to make a wardrobe change) then we headed out for fish-n-chips at a local Wetherspoon pub (White Lion) for a late dinner. I had high hopes, but didn't find them to be extraordinary. I'm just not much of a deep-fried type of gal and these were pretty greasy. However, I did eat every last bit because they WERE good nonetheless. Oh! And I remembered that someone had messaged me and told me to make sure to put vinegar and salt on the chips and when I tried that, it was indeed delicious!

Jamie likes Boba tea, and there we plenty of little shops around to try out so we popped into this one and she got her sweet fix. 

Back to the hotel after another long, lovely day. Our evenings always consisted of updating our Facebook friends and Instagram followers about our trip, catching up on email, surfing the web and watching a little TV. The free wi-fi in the hotel was speedy and reliable (most of the time). You can see that Paul has dozed off on Jamie's bed over there. 

Stay tuned tomorrow when I share our visit to Buckingham Palace and lots of other common London sites. We packed it all in!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

London 2014 Day 2

After a solid twelve hours of peaceful sleep, our first official full day in London began with breakfast at L'Eto Caffe, which quickly became a favorite of ours during our stay in the city. A small, beautifully modern French cafe just around the corner from our hotel.

First I have to talk about coffee. I'm a die-hard espresso-based coffee drinker. My daily choice: Americano. Basically a few shots of espresso and hot steaming water to top it off, then a light bit of cream. It's simply the best cup of coffee in the world (well, in MY world anyway). So you can imagine my delight when everywhere we dined in London there wasn't an automatic drip coffee machine in sight. ALL espresso machines! And the basic cup of coffee: Americano. Yes! The big difference is that creamer doesn't seem to exist. We quickly learned they don't call it cream they call it milk, and that's what it is. But not even whole milk. It's "part skim." I guess that's a good thing to keep the fat content down, but I did miss the cream. But darn-it, the coffee was unbelievably good anyways. Dark, deep and rich. A beautiful thing. Sweeteners were not readily available on the tables like here in America. My poor hubby had to keep asking for it everywhere and most of the time the waitress would bring the coffees and forget the sweetener. It just didn't seem that popular there.

So back to L'Eto. The menu was simple which I like. This is just the egg portion of the menu below. You can see what I chose. It was not only delicious, but also served beautifully. It was probably the only meal I didn't photograph from the trip, and I still don't know why. I wish I had.

Soft boiled eggs with milk bread, avocado salsa and butter £7.9
Egg White omelette with spinach and tomatoes, sourdough toast, Feta cheese £8.9
Fried eggs with avocado tartines, fresh tomato, Feta cheese £9.9
Poached eggs on toasted milk bread with avocado, fresh tomato, Feta cheese £9.9
Scrambled eggs with avocado tartines, fresh tomato, Feta cheese £9.9
Eggs benedict on sourdough toast, fresh tomato, avocado £10.5
Eggs royale with lightly salted herb salmon on sourdough toast, £12.5 fresh tomato & avocado
Eggs Florentine, Feta cheese & spinach seasoned with cumin & chili flakes £10.5 

While waiting for our orders, we usually goofed around to kill time.

Another interesting thing was water. My daughter usually drinks water with her meals and when she ordered it, she was always asked "Still or Sparkling?" We're used to being served a glass of water from the tap in the States and it's free. But we didn't seem to have that option (maybe we needed to ask specifically, I don't know) so we paid for fancy water which she enjoyed and drank every drop.

After breakfast we walked and walked. We made our way to Chinatown and popped into a couple stores. This grocery was fantastic! (Sadly, I never got the name of it.) My hubby, for those who don't know, is half-Japanese and daughter is therefore a quarter, which she takes great pride in. They both love Asian groceries and sometimes will drive an hour into Orlando just to go to one together. They buy little noodle packets and candies and snacks. On this particular day, Jamie bought some mochi (sweet rice cakes) and other candies to take to her friend in Brighton (to come).


I just couldn't pass up a photo of this place. Sure made me miss my baby Suki who was back in the States in the good hands of K9 Kampus and staff.

After our walk, we headed back to the hotel to plan the rest of our day. The Big Bus Tour was on the agenda, but first we had to grab some lunch.

This ended up being another favorite of ours. We ate here about three or four times I think. Tonkotsu is a very common Japanese dish, usually a noodle soup made with a salty pork broth. 

Steaming bowls of homemade ramen noodles were served with choices of vegetables and/or meat and always included this lovely marinated egg. I chose a soup on this particular day, but hubby opted for noodle salad option. (Can't remember exactly what it was called.) It was also ramen only chilled and served with veggies, chicken and that glorious egg. 

I'm gonna make that egg this week. I found a recipe online. I'll let you know how it goes.

As we ate, I happened to notice this graphic on the wall indicating where the bathrooms were located. LOL! That's another thing, they don't call them "Restrooms" they call them "Toilets." I would say this graphic makes it pretty clear what's what, wouldn't you?

After lunch, we made our way on foot to Picadilly Circus which reminded us a little bit of a mini Times Square with all the lights and hubbub and traffic. There we found a vendor cart to purchase Big Bus Tour tickets. In case you're curious, it cost us £93 for the three of us. The open-top bus tour on the Red Line took about 2 1/2 hours and was a great first-day thing to do. I highly recommend this tour, not to be confused with The Original Bus Tour.  

Our bus top had a shaded section which is nice when it's really hot and sunny (which it was the day we toured). This informative tour took us all around the city of London as a sweet gentleman narrated interesting facts and funny stories about the sites. The bus stops at several sites along the way where passengers can hop off and then hop back on another Big Bus when they're ready. They arrive every 10 minutes or so. We opted to stay on for the full bus tour, to get an overview of everything, then planned to set off to desired sites throughout our stay in London.

I told you about the architecture. Such a history here!

Our bus tour guide prepared us for this wonderful shot of the London Eye as we rode through the city. We all got our cameras ready and he said, "Now, to the left!" and we all snapped a picture.

Big Ben rising over our heads.

Cheese it, it's the cops! (friendly chaps)

Approaching St. Paul's Cathedral.

The front view of St. Paul's.

The Tower Bridge, which many mistake for the London Bridge. 
(But that fell down, remember?)
This is the River Thames which was quite busy all the time and especially beautiful at night, which you'll see another day in our journey.

Here our bus is about to go over the Tower Bridge with a shot of the very modern London skyline.

A look up as we pass over the bridge. See that beautiful blue sky? It was a gorgeous day!

After the bus tour, we walked and walked some more and found a Tai Yaki shop. Jamie was super excited when she saw this. I had no idea what the heck it was.

Tai Yaki is basically a Japanese fish-shaped cake, usually filled with red bean paste made from sweetened azuki beans, but other common fillings are custard, chocolate, cheese or sweet potato. This little one was filled with custard and the overall taste reminded me of our traditional eclair pastry in the States.

The shop also featured some seriously cute and colorful treats.

After quite a bit more walking around Soho, it was time for dinner. (we seem to eat constantly, don't we?) We found another Asian restaurant to try. Tao Tao Ju on Lisle Street where Jamie and I shared pork dumplings and crispy squid cakes (the adventurous ones) while Paul had friend rice (boring). Finally a stop at "Paul's" a chain pastry shop where Jamie got a big pistachio macaroon which she loved, then we stopped at Patisserie Valerie where Paul and I shared a piece of chocolate mousse pie.

It had been a long full day and by 8:30 p.m. we were ready to settle down in the hotel, have a glass of wine, post photos online and watch some TV. On this particular night the streets were especially full of pub-goers. Why? England was set to play their first game in the World Cup. That game aired at 11:00 p.m. London time, so the folks were already getting good position as we passed by to our hotel.

Stay tuned tomorrow for Day 3's adventures and my take on the London Pass. Worth purchasing or not? You'll have to check back to see.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

London 2014 Day 1

Sorry for the delay in case you've been waiting. I'm finally getting around to posting our London trip here on my blog. Those of you who follow me on Facebook and Instagram are probably over it by now, but I promise that many of the photos I'll be posting in the next several days haven't yet been posted. Plus, I'd love to share a little narrative, if you don't find that it puts you to sleep.

As anyone who travels knows, there are things you learn along the way. And those things are usually quite helpful to pass on to others who might eventually travel there. So I feel it's my responsibility to share. So for the next several days I'll share our London trip and if you don't want to deal with it, then I'll be back to normal blogging mode in about a week.

Before I start, I must mention that I was very concerned about this trip not being fun. I say that because our little threesome has a difficult time getting along sometimes. And especially on trips for some reason. We're all very strong personalities with opinions and stuff. So it can create issues, and I really didn't want this very expensive trip to go badly. (It's happened to us before) So we all spoke about it here at home before the trip and agreed on one simple rule: "Think before you speak." 

Well, let me tell you those were magical words because it truly worked! We got along fabulously and had a wonderful vacation!

Here we are all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed ready to fly to London from the Orlando International Airport. We purposely took an evening flight, thinking we'd sleep on the plane. (Um. Nope.)

It's been a long time since I've had an actual meal on an airplane. British Airways did it up right! Ravioli, salad, roll, dessert, coffee. And it was delicious!

Ohhh the flight was a long one though. 9 hours. I have a hard time sitting still for 10 minutes here at home, so you can imagine how I was doing on this flight. I watched a movie (12 Years A Slave), did some crossword puzzles, read a book, tried to sleep, read a magazine, walked around, tried to sleep, drank free wine, watched another movie (American Hustle), tried to sleep, played on my iPhone, walked around...

...then finally the sun came shining through the windows and we were landing at Gatwick Airport around 9:30 a.m. their time. (About 4:30 a.m. to our American bodies.)

We got some British pounds (do you spell it out like that? I don't know.) from the ATM machine in the airport. Then got some round-trip train tickets (cheaper to do it this way) for the Gatwick Express to Victoria Station (about a 30-minute ride), lugging our suitcases along the way, then hopped on the nearest metro to Oxford Circus close to our hotel.

This was the metro station at the late morning hour. Busy as hell! People are bustling and rushing here and there, trying to dodge the American tourists with their big suitcases. I learned pretty quickly that if you've got a giant suitcase and you're on the escalator in the tube station, you need to stand to the right so the speedy people can rush pass you on the left side; rather than firmly plunk your suitcase to the left of you, blocking everyone. But even still, the locals were quite polite about it.

After hopping off the tube we pulled our suitcases quite a ways down busy Oxford Street to a few smaller streets that led to our hotel in Soho. The Nadler. Only a year old, this hotel was fantastic. Very modern, ultra clean, quiet, exceptional staff, wonderful room. The best! By the way, I highly recommend staying in Soho if you visit London. It's the very heart and hub of London. Tons of little streets to explore, restaurants, markets, and you're within walking distance of everything London has to offer.

We were SO tired, but since it was too early to check into our hotel and we were excited to start exploring, we left our bags at The Nadler and set off. You'll hear me say it many times: I was truly enamored with the architecture of London. The age, the mixture of styles, the beauty. It was just wonderful everywhere we went. 

We suddenly came upon Covent Garden, which happened to be on my wish list of places to check out. The market was going on and it was quite a festive atmosphere. Food vendors, music, and various sellers. The food smelled so good we had to sample something so we shared an empanada...

Then some dessert and coffee.

We were now refueled and happy.

Although we were getting a little punchy.

We grabbed an early dinner at a local Thai restaurant, walked to Trafalgar Square and picked up our London Passes (more on that tomorrow), grabbed a few items from the Tesco market to stock our kitchenette and started back through the streets to our hotel.

On our way back we noticed quite the phenomenon. All the pubs were filling up and spilling out onto the streets. ALL of them. This was a common sight every night of the week. Yes, even Sunday. They started as early as noon and continued well into the wee hours of the next morning. 

You know the saying, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." So we did. (Only in London. Duh.)

I have to say this pint put me over the edge and I couldn't keep my eyes open much longer, so we checked into the hotel and unpacked, took hot showers and fell into bed by 9 p.m. exhausted.

See you tomorrow for Day 2's Big Red Bus Tour and more. Thanks for stopping by.