Monday, April 29, 2013

Visitors To London

I've visited my friend in Singapore so often that it's about time he and his wife came to visit London. So here they are on their European honeymoon. I was so excited to greet them and just seeing the awe in their eyes they arrived in my neighbourhood was a joy.

Having come from a hectic densely populated Asian city, staying in a villagey place of London in springtime was a happy start to their honeymoon. I'm proud that they loved my area and also my favorite neighbourhood cafe.

On the first evening I took them to Hampstead for crepes, which I promised were better than the crepes in Paris. 

On the last night before departing for Paris, Grant and I took them to Four Seasons which was agreed to have the best Chinese BBQ duck in the world. Afterwards we gave a walking tour of the landmarks of London. 

At night London is even more beautiful with glowing lights and fewer crowds. 

Their stay with us was too short but I was off to Paris to meet them on the following Saturday. Hurrah!  

(Note: Group photos of us are care of my friend who's a photographer in Singapore.)

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Fencing, Clubbing In Mayfair and Battersea Spa Visit

A perk of living in London is that there's never a shortage of new things to do. This weekend I took a 4 hour beginners fencing class. Just to try it out. Grant fences three times a week and he loves it. 

It was on a Friday night and I wasn't keen on going straight from work and getting home late. However the time just flew. I fenced and learnt the rules and etiquette. 

Decked out in the suit, fencing mask, glove and foil in hand, I mastered at the very least, the en garde position. (Even Grant complimented when I demonstrated at home.)

Fencing got me in a killer mode. Stab stab stab! Too bad I'm short. And my opponent was tall and left handed. He jabbed me a few times in the thigh, misjudging the target area. The disadvantages of a beginner. I felt like I was fencing with a toothpick!

Fencing is a social sport. I see how it's easy to get to know people and make friends.

The next morning, I went to Zumba, had dim sum (yum cha) with Grant and went clubbing in Mayfair. It was a huge girls night out, organised by my friend who had so many girls on the guest list, the club gave us free bottles of vodka. However being in Mayfair, a swanky area of London, the cost of drinks is ridiculous. Service charge is obligatory, even if you bought from the bar. Two alcoholic drinks cost £27 (AUD 40!) My friend said that's like buying a round of drinks for eight in Scotland.

We danced until the club closed at 3am.

I slept at 5am and the sun woke me up at 9am. It was sunny so I did a bit of reading in my garden, blooming with daffodils.

In the late afternoon my girlfriend organised a spa trip in Battersea. It's in the Rafayel hotel by the river. I felt sleep deprived and stressed trying to get there because it was'nt close to any train stations and I was rushing to make the pedicure appointment. I worked out a tube/bus route along the way and arrived REALLY needing to be pampered. It all started with a fluffy robe and a cup of tea...

My girlfriend and I had the most amazing deluxe pedicure including a parrafin wax treatment. We had more tea and cake in the observatory room.

The sun was coming down and it was only us in the spa. We hit the hydrotherapy pool, sauna, steam room and a plunge in the swimming pool. Felt so relaxed afterwards, staying until the spa closed.

After a late night out dancing, we needed that spa visit! Pure bliss.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Spring Has Sprung

It snowed the first week of April. I was thinking the flowers in our garden had no chance of a proper spring but the sun finally made it's debut on the weekend. 

It's still cold but when the sun is out, the world is a happier place. And it's like I can see again. When the beaming golden stuff hits the Earth, I'm so overjoyed I feel like ripping my clothes off and doing a chicken dance on the street. Fortunately for the world, I'll refrain but it's an intoxicating feeling. 

I recently joined an amazing gym, Reebok in Canary Wharf and get to do five Zumba classes a week. I love it because it never feels like a workout. On Saturday, they hold a large class in the gym hall and have not one, not two, but three instructors. They look amazing when they dance on the platform and we're all in the zone. There are no mirrors so we don't care what we look like. Although secretly, we are DANCE LEGENDS!!!

After Zumba I treated myself to carrot cake and coffee at my favourite local cafe. I won't name it because my girlfriend and I want to keep it a secret. It's already too popular in the neighbourhood. (Deservedly so.)

I bought this Leander teacup from the charity shop. I don't have a teapot so it's holding my USB charging cables.

I won't name my favourite cafe but I bought one of their tote bags. 

The daffodils look happy in our front garden. Hooray spring is here! 

Photos From Transylvania

We saw many horse and carts on the roads. Mind you not many people were impressed with us staring from the car, anticipating a great shot with iphones poised. 

A view of the Transylvanian hills from Bran Castle. The countryside is beautiful, with snow capped mountains even in spring time. We drove by a few of the ski towns, taking hair pin turns and mountain goat trail roads to get there.

The scary Dracula castle. Ooops I mean Bran Castle, once home of Vlad the Impaler.

When we're not freaking out about insane drivers on the road, we enjoy the sights from the backseat. 

Sighasoara, home town of Vlad. It's a beautiful medieval town, in fact the oldest continuously habited in Europe. 

Taken from the top the Sighasoara citadel.

The town hall of Old Town Brasov.

The house which Vlad the Impaler grew up in. Now it's a hotel.

And finally the obligatory tourist jump shot. On the way up to Bran Castle. 

Eating In Romania

We arrived in Romania and stopped in Sighasoares for lunch. A recommended restaurant in Tripadvisor was a place called Rustic, dark and pub-like. There was a table near the door which was sectioned off by three glass walls and that's when we realised that they allow smoking indoors. 

I HATE that. It destroys my appetite when I'm in a smoky room, not to mention it's unhealthy and you end up smelling like an ashtray. Every where we dined, we asked for the non-smoking area and even walked out of a well rated restaurant because it stank so badly. (Puzzles me how any country allows smoking indoors but I'll get off my soapbox now.)

We took that partioned-off area. Not that it did much but it was close to the front door. We looked through the menu and saw food and drinks are cheap. There's something for everyone which is good because one of us can't have pork, two are prescatarians, and one only wanted to eat Romanian food.

A traditional Romanian dish was cabbage stuffed "forcemeat" according to the English translation on the menu. We were told it was corned beef but I couldn't help thinking it was another meat which it rhymed with. 

My stomach was not feeling well from the beginning of the trip and I only wanted simple comfort food. The only meat dish I ordered, because I was craving it, was chicken soup. 

Homemade chicken noodle soup. The thin noodles were the perfect texture and this was the best soup I had in Romania. An upset tummy needs soup!

We dined twice at Bella Musica, a restaurant close to our hostel in Brasov Old Town. The food was very good and great value. It's in the basement of a hotel and you feel like you're in a cosy cellar. There are three dining rooms so to get your waiter's attention, you push a button by your table. They even had a song menu so you can choose a retro power ballad with your meal!

My favourite dish at Bella Musica was a starter. This is aubergine salad which is chargrilled aubergine paste on fresh tomato. My prescatarian friend had grilled fish and that was amazingly fresh. (And cheap too. £4 for the whole fish.)

The cheeses of Romania at a market stall outside of Bran Castle. The brown ones are smoked (even the ones that look like brioche.) Other foods on offer were cured meats, nougat and other sweets. 

Lunch in Bran with gal pals. We all ate well!

Shopping For Polish Food

When Grant and I had lunch in Kilburn, we noticed there was a Polish grocery shop next door. We were keen to try homestyle polish food so we looked for foods to try like cheeses, dumplings, cured meats and pantry foods. I don't think the salesgirl was expecting to be bombarded with questions like: "Which _____ is best/more popular?" 

Aside from grilled kielbasa sausage, (which we're fans of from Camden market), we haven't eaten much Polish food. In fact when we were in Krakow, the only traditional food we ate was grilled cheese, like halloumi. 

There wasn't much for vegetarians. So here's my haul. Smoked lard (yep, the fat off the pig's back), 2 types of kielbasa, smoked cheese (unfortunately not the grill-able kind), broccoli pierogi dumplings and herring fillets in sour cream.

This is the lard, or szalonna. It sounds gross but it can be eaten as is, with rye bread or used for frying. I first found out about it when my ex-flatmate who's Lithuanian brought back huge hunks of it when he visited home. It's basically bacon fat. As a snack, he'd slice it and eat it like it was cheese. 

I used the lard to fry the pierogis for dinner. And potatoes and kielbasa the next day. I was a bit heavy handed with it at first because the food left a greasy film in my mouth. This was comfort food. Tasty, perfect fat-to-stodge ratio, and fitting for cold weather.