The Nags Head – London

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My last night in London was bittersweet. It meant leaving Europe after 4 months, but at the same time, I was so excited to see my friends and family again. A must for shopaholics is to visit Oxford Street in London. It’s a street just full of shopping, including my personal favourites – Selfriges and Topshop. Selfriges has huge sales after Boxing Day too!

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Since it was my last night, K and E said we might as well get the most out of it. After dropping A and C back at the hotel, we took the Tube back to Covent Garden. Covent Garden is near the Soho area, so there’s a variety of pubs and cafes. It’s also where the huge market and Royal Opera House is located around. We found The Nags Head just a block away from the Tube, so we quickly seated ourselves. We’re not huge drinkers, so K and I just got an Apple Cider which was on tap. Really good and crisp.

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K was also in this total British pie mode after trying Pieminister, so she insisted we needed to get another pie. We went for the Chicken & Ham Pie this time, since she was really looking for something along the lines of a chicken pot pie. This came with peas, carrots and gravy. It was also supposed to come with potatoes, but they ran out, so we were given fries instead. The pie was flaky and fully filled with juicy chicken and a delicious sauce. Very good for pub food!

Overall, The Nags Head was a nice bar with average prices and a very convenient location. The interior was all wooden, giving it a traditional British pub feel. Service was average given that at most bars, you need to seat yourself anyways. The bartenders were pretty nice to us even though we weren’t sure what to order and took the time to explain to us. You’ll also find a mix of both locals and tourists here.

And that ends my posts for Europe. I am so grateful for this experience, and am happy to say that I’ve discovered some new cuisines and dishes that I am now craving for. Until next time! Now back to Vancouver we go!

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Paramount Afternoon Tea – London

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I was only in London for two days, which really isn’t a lot. Everyone stayed an extra day, but I had to make my way back home to Vancouver! So on my last day, we set out to finish all the tourist spots! First was the Buckingham Palace. When we got there, we actually caught these men on the horses. Not exactly sure what the purpose of them were though. I believe it’s something to do with the Queen’s Life Guard.

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The Buckingham Palace is the official residence and workplace of the monarchy of the UK. I actually didn’t think the palace was that impressive. After seeing the ones in France, like the Versailles Palace, the one in London really doesn’t seem as luxurious. I was imagining some fancy, magnificent building!

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If you look closely, you’ll see the guards in grey. Changing of the Guard happens at 11:30 am daily, but from August to April, it occurs on alternate days. Unfortunately, on the day we were here, it was one of the days which the ceremony was not happening.

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We then made our way to Winter Wonderland. Winter Wonderland is hosted at Hyde Park. It’s basically like a PNE for Vancouver, but at a greater scale. With rides, markets, an ice rink, restaurants, and many other activities. Hyde Park itself is one of the largest parks in London. It’s also a Royal Park!

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They also featured a Magical Ice Kingdom, where there were ice sculptures. We found the admission a little pricey, so we skipped it. Regardless, just walking through the park is lots of fun since it’s really festive and entry to walk around is free! I would imagine that at night, the wonderland is even more amazing with the lights on.

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If you continue walking through Hyde Park, you’ll end up at Kensington Palace. Do keep in mind that Hyde Park is quite big, so you’ll walk for quite some time, but it’s quite relaxing and a nice stroll. The palace was the residence of the British Royal Family beginning in the 17th century and is now the official residence in London for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and many others. Again, you need to pay for admission to visit the state rooms, but we were not too interested in it. I personally would skip this attraction if I was tight on time.

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And then I came upon this window display! Love this picture just because my two favourite British icons are in it – Paddington Bear and Mr. Bean! I used to watch these two on TV as a child!

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For the afternoon, we had made reservations for afternoon tea at Paramount, which is situated at the 37th level of the building. You get a 360 degree view of London. Unfortunately, we weren’t seated by the window. That sort of took away our whole experience. Afternoon tea is pretty pricey in London – much more than Vancouver in fact. Around the holidays, most of them are also fully booked, so you need to reserve well in advance! The inside is pretty fancy, sort of like a hotel restaurant setting. It’d probably be smart not to show up in your gym clothes, but it’s still relatively casual where you can wear jeans. Many people were just having a late lunch or a snack with drinks, so their menu is not just solely for afternoon tea.

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Earl Grey, Sri Lanka

The afternoon tea set it pretty much set and costs Β£28, which includes a choice of tea. I find that pretty expensive since we can get afternoon tea for CAN$28! For my choice of tea, I chose the Earl Grey, since I was feeling something more classic. It was a really good Earl Grey, with a Ceylon tea base and a hint of citrus flavour. I found it odd how they didn’t offer me any milk or cream though. The pot is also relatively small, so you don’t get a lot in one brew. I also found it annoying how they didn’t ask if we needed more hot water. We were the ones who had to ask for it, and it took forever to come. I wouldn’t say the service was that great.

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Here we have some clotted cream and homemade strawberry jam. Also in the back, we have some brown and white sugar cubes.

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This was the bottom layer. All savouries, and also a layer I enjoyed the most. It included Smoked Salmon and White Cheese on Rye Pumpernickel, Dry Cured Ham with Piccalilli on Sour Dough, Free Range Boiled Egg with Grain Mustard, Mayonnaise & Cress on Toasted Brioche, Poached Chicken with Spring Onion Mayonnaise on Multi Gran Loaf, and Quiche of the Day. I enjoyed all of them except for the Quiche of the Day. I believe there was goat cheese in it, and it was too strong for my liking.

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The middle layer were the desserts. It included a Baked Cheesecake with Rosemary Infused Blueberry, which was my favourite. It was so light and fluffy! There was also Chocolate Battenberg Cake, a Creme Brulee like dessert with caramel at the bottom, a raspberry cake, and cinnamon donuts.

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At the top of the tier were warm Handmade Raisin & Plain Scones. I’m not a huge fan of scones just because I find they’re too dense. You get pretty full from this set, so I could barely finish my scones by the end of the meal.

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And this was the afternoon tea set. This tray consisted of two sets.

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And here was our table! It was pretty cramped though. They should’ve given us a larger table, knowing that we were here for afternoon tea. I find that their service is just lacking. You don’t really get checked up on unless you wave down your server.

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But near the evening, you get a beautiful view of London. It’s a shame we weren’t seated by the window. I had to get up to take this picture. But regardless, I think it’s safe to say that it’s a must to take some time out of your busy travels to relax and have a traditional afternoon tea in London!

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London Fish & Chips & Wicked

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In the evening, we continued exploring the main tourist spots. We found the famous London Eye, which is the tallest Ferris wheel in Europe. You’re supposed to get some pretty spectacular views of the city from the top, but we didn’t feel like paying the price and to wait in line for this attraction.

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We headed over to see the Big Ben instead, which I was actually really disappointed about. I have no idea why, but I always thought it would give me some wow factor, but I immediately thought…”really, that’s it?” I guess I had just expected a lot more in terms of details since it’s so talked about in pop culture. Anyways, the tower itself is really known as the Elizabeth Tower. Big Ben actually refers to the bell of the clock.Β  The four-faced chiming clock is the largest in the world. The clock tower as a whole is the third tallest free-standing clock tower in the world.

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It began to get dark, but we still made it to the Westminster Abbey. It’s a huge Gothic Church and has traditionally been known to a be a place for coronations and burials. I don’t think we were able to enter the church, but the exterior details were quite impressive. In this area, you’ll also find many important buildings. There is this little map on the street that shows you what each building is.

 

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We walked towards the Trafalgar Square after, which wasn’t a very impressive view at night. We had a Broadway show to catch, so we quickly looked for some food around this area. We found London Fish & Chips on Bedford Street, and since London is supposed to be famous for fish and chips…of course we had to try some! K and I shared the Big Ben, which was battered fish fillet with six tiger shrimps. The shrimps were basically like popcorn shrimp. It also came with some chips, ketchup, tartar sauce, and a drink. The fish was lightly battered, and I thought it wasn’t too bad. I wouldn’t say it was amazing though. Just average and not too oily. I rather go to Pajo’s at Steveston in Vancouver though, since this meal cost around 10 pounds.

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We had bought tickets online for a Broadway show prior to arrival. We were watching Wicked at the Apollo Victoria Theater. Luckily, this was not the Apollo Theater on Shaftesbury Ave, since the ceiling of that theater had literally collapsed just a week before we arrived in London.

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Wicked was a pretty cool story. It was funny and whimsical, and although I got confused at the end, I’m sure if you’ve read the book, you would have no problem understanding it. It’s also known as The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz. You’ll get some references about Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz since it’s told from the perspective of the witches of the Land of Oz. You’ll find both adults and kids in the theater since it’s very family friendly.

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This was inside the theater. The set up was pretty cool. Even though we didn’t have amazing seats, we were still able to see everything clearly. You can’t really see the facial features of the actors, but other than that, everything is pretty clear. We found the prices in London much more expensive than say in New York, but it was still a great experience!

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Pieminister at Borough Market – London

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My last stop in Europe was London. It had always been on top of my list, but I hadn’t had time to visit this famous city. We stayed at Travelodge since it was more affordable. Finding accommodation in London is extremely difficult just because they are extremely pricey! Even a hostel can cost you double of what you would pay in the rest f Europe! Immediately, the first thing I noticed was the iconic red telephone booths. I’m not sure if people still use these today, but I just had to get a picture of it! The red double decker buses are also everywhere. Another famous feature are the underground trains. However, I find that they arem’t exactly trustworthy, just because they constantly have construction or there are accidents, meaning you must take a reroute. It also took almost an hour just from the Heathrow airport to the city center.

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From there, we just did a lot of walking and wandered towards the Tower of London, also known as Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress. Β The castle was actually used as a royal residence, but was also used as a prison! When we went, there were huge lineups, but I would assume there are huge lineups at anytime since London is filled with tourists year round. We didn’t have much time, so we did not end up going in. Outside, there is also an outdoor skating rink in place.

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The castle actually houses the Crown Jewels too. This is the entrance to the castle. You can see there is already a huge lineup to enter. There are also two lions at the entrance.

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From the Tower of London, you’ll also get some beautiful views of London since it’s right by the water. One structure that really caught my eyes was The Shard. It’s a glass pyramidal tower and is the tallest building in the EU! It has 87 floors with 72Β  being habitable, but it seems that not many people have purchased it due to its high price. I believe there are some restaurants in use currently.

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Then we come to the famous Tower Bridge. It’s definitely an icon of London and I even have a 3D model of this structure! It’s a suspension bridge supported by two towers with a higher level walkway at the top. Pretty cool since you can walk on the top there. Contrary to what I had always though, this is not the “London Bridge” that every one talks about. Personally, I think the London Bridge is really not as impressive as the Tower Bridge.

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We then made our way towards Borough Market, which was just a 10 minute walk away. Borough Market is a wholesale and retail market and is one of the largest and oldest in London. It carried a wide variety of food and was very international.

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We love trying the local food, so first thing we thought of in London were pies! Luckily, at the Borough Market, we found a line up at Pieminister. Props for a cute name too. Anyways, Pieminister makes pies and they show up at various farmers markets as well as selling them at restaurants all over the UK. At the market, they sold both hot and cold pies. Cold pies would be perfect to take home and heat up on your own. Those hot pies on the other hand sell out really quickly! We had wanted to try the Moo pie, but it was already sold out! When you see a new batch coming out, you’ve got to beat that line!

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We ended up resorting to the Shamrock, which is a pie filled with tender beef steak and Irish stout. It was super hearty, but so delicious! You could taste that slight hint of beer, but it wasn’t overwhelming. The pie itself was flaky and the crust was thin, so you got a lot of filling! It was perfect on a cold day! Definitely recommend!

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Teacup Kitchen – Manchester

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The next day, S and N took me around Manchester to do some sightseeing. There isn’t that much sightseeing though, and compared to other cities I’ve visited, I would say that the city is mostly locals. I felt sort of silly taking pictures and acting all touristy. One of the more significant attractions was the Manchester Cathedral which is a medieval church located in the city center. It’s a Gothic style church and has undergone restorations various times. The inside was being restored I think, so we weren’t able to go inside. Other than that, we just did some shopping at the huge Primark at Piccadilly Garden!

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After shopping, we met up with their friend C and we went to the Teacup Kitchen. They told me it was for afternoon tea…since we’re in the UK and you have to have a British-style afternoon tea! However, the Teacup Kitchen was quite different from what I had imagined. Most of the afternoon tea spots in Vancouver are all decked out and quiet, but Teacup Kitchen was more like a cafe and very casual.

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They offered a large variety of different cakes. It was more like a cake cafe where people could just lounge and chill here with tea and cakes. Some people were on laptops and working away. I actually really liked this casual environment and the waitress was extremely nice and friendly.

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Although I found most people ordering just a cake and a tea, or some of their lunch menu, which included sandwiches, we still went for the Teacup Special Afternoon Tea. This came with a choice of any loose leaf tea and a selection of savory and sweet snacks. It’s available from 2:30 pm. At first, we were each going to order a set, since that’s what normally happens in Vancouver, but our waitress was a little shocked and suggested us to just order 2 sets between the 4 of us. She said there was quite a lot of food, and good thing we stuck with her on that. However, each of us still got our own individual teapots. I chose the Blue Sky Earl Grey since it seemed to be the most British… The description was “a quality blend of black teas, infused with bergamot but then given a hugely aromatic boost of grapefruit”. I liked how the tea separator was on top of the pot, rather than inside, since it really avoided the tea leaves getting in the tea. They were also very attentive in providing us with hot water refills.

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This was one set of the Teacup Special Afternoon Tea. Instead of having the sweets at the top, like I normally see, they had the savory sandwiches at the top, then moved into some sweets in the middle, and then some sweeter cakes and scones at the bottom layer. This was beyond filling between two people. The only problem was it was a little difficult sharing some of the items.

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The top layer was filled with all savory items. It’s been a while, so I don’t remember exactly what each item was called. There were two Egg Salad Sandwiches, a Cheese Quiche, and a Sausage Roll. There was also this Cheese Twist type of pastry.

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The second layer was already filled with sweets. I believe the cupcake was a Flourless Chocolate Cake. It was a dark chocolate ganache and was gluten-free. Surprisingly not too sweet too. Next was a Lemon Meringue Tart. The pastry case was crisp and sweet, and was filled with lemon curd. On top, it had peaks of meringue. The last was a Flapjack. It was very dense and extremely healthy. It was made with rolled oats, pumpkin seeds, mixed fruit, cinnamon, crunchy pecans, and put together with honey and syrup. It was a little chewy but I really liked the texture and flavours.

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At the very bottom were the sweetest treats! The Hearty Scone is their famous classic English scone but with a twist. It’s baked in a heart shape! They slice it in half and fill it with a raspberry jam and clotted cream. I liked how the scone wasn’t as dense as the typical ones, and the top was crispy. The yellow baked good was a Lemon-Licious. Its a lemon sponge cake with a zesty flavour to it and topped with citrus icing and white chocolate curls. This one was a little too sweet for my liking. Lastly, it came with two mini Battenbergs. Battenberg cake is a light sponge cake and is covered with marzipan. When cut, they show a checkered pattern. This one was a red velvet and vanilla sponge cake.

By the end of our afternoon tea, we were thoroughly full even though we only ordered two sets. I can’t imagine having the whole set alone! I wish I could try some of their other cakes. It seemed like such a cool place to chill after school or on the weekend if the weather isn’t so great.

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