Thursday, December 12, 2013

Europe 2013 (London, Manchester, Nottingham, Paris)

Hello! I’ve just returned from Europe yesterday after spending half a month there on holiday. It was so amazing yet tiring as we (family) moved around A LOT. We went from London to Manchester, Nottingham, went back to London before taking a train to Paris, and then headed back to London for the flight home. We stayed in six different hotels in a span of fourteen days, so that’s an average of a new hotel every two days. You can imagine how much lugging around of luggages on and off tube (Underground) stations there was. Also, the train stations in England/Paris aren’t like the ones here in Singapore, as there are only lifts and escalators on certain stations, not all. This means that we had to carry the heavy-as-bricks luggages up and down staircases, which was mighty exhausting after a while. Nonetheless, I had a great experience and feel immensely blessed to have been able to travel to such countries twice in a span of four years. (^_^)
P.s. I apologize for the inconsistency in photo size/quality. In this aspect (photo uploading), Blogger does a waaay better job.
IMG_7278First stop: Primark!!!
Primark has really affordable clothes and I love love love shopping there. Even with the exchange rate (GBP1 ~ SGD2), it’s much cheaper than most of the clothes sold in Singapore at F21, New Look, H&M etc. Also, I had to buy winter clothing there as I didn’t bring one with me. Reason being winter stuff in Singapore is super expensive because its in high demand, especially around the Nov/Dec season where everyone is jetting off the exotic countries during winter.
I got a super pretty wine red coat with a leather ribbon/belt for about SGD50!!! Most of the ((nice)) coats here are at least SGD70 so I think I got a pretty good deal. :-) I also bought fleece-lined tights to wear with skirts (jeans are surprisingly not very warming) and also a lot of other stuff to wear in Singapore. I was tempted to get a polar bear onesie which was SO CUTE but then I probably wouldn’t wear it in hot and humid Singapore, so practicality trumped cute…ability (?) Anyway, my brother got a grizzly bear onesie so yeah life is unfair.
After a day in London, we took the train to Manchester!
This is literally the view from our hotel room window.
Went to the Manchester United stadium and took the stadium tour and visited their museum. The tour guide showed us around the football club, including the players’ dressing rooms, press room and of course, the stadium itself.
As we went in the late afternoon, the sky was pretty dark thus the photos of the stadium (natural “lighting”) were dark and not-incredibly-nice, but still nice. I love the way the seats spell out “Manchester United”.
IMG_7442The Home Team’s locker room.
 IMG_7487Harry Ramsden’s World-Famous Fish’N’Chips.
It was truly the best I’ve had and we visited the restaurant twice during our stay in Manchester. We also had the less-photogenic pork ribs which were delicious as well. The area we lived in (Old Trafford) was relatively ulu (read: deserted) and our dining options were limited to KFC, Pizza Hut, Harry Ramsden’s or the hotel restaurant. Maybe that was why we went there twice…
 Christmas market outside the Manchester Town Hall. We went pretty early in the morning so the burgers/hot dogs weren’t ready yet. :-( But we had a mince pie and it was gooooood.
After 3 days, we left Manchester for Nottingham!
And of course, the first thing we had to do was to check out the football club there. Apparently the Nottingham Forest FC was my dad’s childhood favourite team, and he had gotten us all tickets to watch a match (Forest vs. Reading) the next day!
Nottingham is actually really beautiful, almost countryside-like. By Singapore standards, of course. (Our hotel doesn’t even have a telephone!) A very rustic, laid-back, chill kind of place. It’s incredibly small as well, and we never once took public transport while there. It was only about a fifteen minute walk to get from one end of Nottingham to the other!
Bought a bag of roasted chestnuts from the Christmas market in the “happening” area of Nottingham. They were so hot, water had condensed in the bag when we took it out back in the hotel.
Our tickets to the match!
(It’s now my bookmark)
The next morning, we visited the Nottinham Castle, which also houses a museum in it. It was threatening to rain and there were really gusty winds about.
Found this bust of D. H. Lawrence at the entrance of the museum. I studied a few of his poems during lit in secondary school (funny how that seems so long ago) and read Sons and Lovers, so I am quite ((not really)) familiar with his work, I suppose. Anyway, he is just one of the few outstanding Nottinghamshire-ans so it is apt that he is commemorated there.
The Nottingham Castle. The history behind it is actually very fascinating, with all the ingredients for a great television drama or soap opera. There are murders, affairs and all that woven into the timeline of the castle.
Another famous Nottingham tale: Robin Hood. No one knows if he really did exist or not, but it is so embedded in Nottingham’s culture that his existence doesn’t really make a difference. I personally don’t believe that he exists, but was in fact a fictional character created by one of the people in Nottingham then, as a symbol for justice. This is entirely my opinion and imagination, so please don’t take it too seriously. :-)
After walking about the castle, we headed to Prezzo for lunch. We’ve dined at Prezzo two years before in London and had a wonderful experience. So imagine our excitement when we saw PREZZO just along the road, down Nottingham Castle!
King Prawn Pasta. It was really really good.
Nutella-and-banana-filled pizza with Vanilla ice-cream. It was PURE HEAVEN. Pity it isn’t on the regular menu, but on the kids menu. :-( I would’ve ordered more of this! ((There really needs to be a Prezzo in Singapore))
That night was soccer night. The atmosphere was truly awesome. I don’t use the word “awesome” a lot but it is the only word I can think of to describe it right now. We were seated with the Home team supporters (Forest) and we surrounded by enthusiastic (and opinionated) fans. They cheered and jeered (that wasn’t very nice) and shouted instructions to the players in frustration. Whenever a Forest member was close to scoring a goal/scored a goal, the whole stadium would erupt into cheers and everyone would stand up and sing the Forest FC cheer. I have a video of it but it’ll take eons to upload to WordPress.
My brother and I joined in the cheering, yelling “Come on, you Reds!” every time someone else started cheering. It was really an enjoyable experience. Perhaps the only regrettable thing was that Forest lost 3-2 to Reading. The fans, being hardcore, diehard fans, left almost instantaneously once the final whistle sounded. Wow, so much for support! (I’m just kidding)
Anyway, after watching a soccer match live, I have come to enjoy it (just a little). But that could be because I’m not at home, surrounded by emptiness with just a television to accompany me. That makes all the difference I guess: watching it on TV without the atmosphere vs. watching it in real time, soaking in the atmosphere and catching enthusiasm from fellow supporters.
Before we left Nottingham for London, we felt adventurous and tried both the Wild Boar burger and the Venison burger. It was meh.
We spent Saturday night with my father’s ex-student (from secondary school!) who is in university in London. She took us to a Belgian restaurant (Belgo) and we ate about 3kg of mussels among the five of us.
While the grown-ups were engaged in conversation, this four-year-old boy, who we would learn later was George, started chatting to my brother and invited him to play with him on his (or his parents’) iPad. It was cool. Awkward initially, but cool. George’s parents apologised, worried that he was being too much of a nuisance and explained that George enjoyed making friends with other kids as his two brothers were way older than him. He also has four girlfriends, for the record.
 After a weekend in London, we took a EuroStar train to Paris!
 We went up the Eiffel Tower after checking-in to our hotel/apartment (ApartHotel!) as it was literally a 10-minute walk away. It was freezing up there!!!1!11! The view was all right, nothing that spectacular I suppose. At the highest deck, there is a stall selling champagne to visitors! How cool, sipping on champagne while on top of the Eiffel Tower.
Also, I learnt that the guy who designed the Eiffel Tower, Gustave Eiffel, built an apartment on top of the Eiffel Tower for himself to entertain his ((prestigious)) guests, such as Thomas Edison! Imagine that.
The Eiffel Tower from my room at night. And every hour, it would SPARKLE. It’s incredible.
Our first breakfast in Paris. I was really looking forward to visiting the boulangeries and patisseries in Paris as they are famous for them. I was expecting to have to travel far and wide in search of the very best boulangerie/patisserie. Instead, the best I had was at the small shop a 5-minute walk away from our ApartHotel?
(Also, there seems to be no Delifrancé in Paris)
 The place where Napoleon the Emperor was buried. Also, it’s the Musée l’Armie, how apt. We happened to pass by this on our way to the Musée d’Orsay ((we took lots of wrong turns and such)).
 There was some sort of military ceremony on the day we went, and the military band was performing. I thought it was interesting how they had two conductors conducting simultaneously. Also, check out that french horn (at the back)!!! (I’m not exactly sure it’s a french horn but still)
The largest museum in the world, the Musée du Louvre. Approximately 8.5million visitors visited the Louvre last year! I read that even if you spent one entire day in the Louvre, you won’t be able to see all the exhibits.
Obligatory shot of the Mona Lisa. There were so many people crowding around the Mona Lisa snapping photos so I took a photo of them taking their photo hahahaha but I shouldn’t upload that. Suffice it to say that living in Singapore has given me great pushing-to-the-front skills and pretty soon, I was right in front of the Mona Lisa, with only the little barricade separating us.
 Do I look solemn enough yet?
These were Napoleon III’s drawing room and dining room respectively. The dining room could seat 46 people! (I counted) There were huge crystal chandeliers in almost every room, and the ceilings were all adorned with intricate paintings. Everyone screamed splendour and majesty and it was pretty overwhelming. However, the dark, heavy velvet curtains and carpet made the rooms a little…I don’t know how to describe it but it isn’t a place I would wish as my permanent place of residence.
We spent a whole day in the Louvre without audio-guides (which were in the form of a Nintendo DS3!!!), which was unfortunate as most of the information panels were in French. No English, aside from the more popular works I suppose. Also, our feet were dead tired after combing through the different wings and levels of the museum and we left around 4pm even though the museum closed around 9pm that day. Personally, I felt that the Musée d’Orsay was much more interesting than the Louvre. At the d’Orsay, there were Van Goghs and Picassos which were more modern than the artwork in the Louvre, which were mostly painted around the early 15th century and the like. Furthermore, I’ve been to many of such museums in Rome and so the marble sculptures in the Louvre, though splendid, held no attraction for me. After a while, you begin to feel a little sick of all the painting as such as they all are more or less similar. Most of the art were about either Christ/War/Women/Cupid/Royalty. That’s it. Maybe back in those days these themes were the only themes worth painting but oh well.
(Disclaimer: what I just said is just my personal opinion and I do not mean to offend anyone. I confess that though I do appreciate art, I am not an art-buff.)
The outside of the Notre Dame from across the River Seine.
The inside of the Notre Dame. The high arched ceilings, stained glass and dim lighting made for a wondrous atmosphere. It was really, really lovely.
That said, we were in and out in twenty minutes.
Berthillon is said to have the best ice-cream in France and since it was pretty close to the Notre Dame, we decided to give it a try!
There were many other places that sold “Berthillon” ice-cream but thankfully, I did my research and by tracking down the unit number, we found the authentic Berthillon.
For GBP2.50 a (((very small))) scoop, it was by no means cheap/reasonable/affordable. I tried the Speculoos flavour (it’s a brand of caramel biscuit by Lotus) and it was pretty good, but definitely not worth the price. The scoop was SO small. Oh well. At least we gave it a go!
 The “Lock Bridge”, where couples/whoever may buy a padlock, write down whatever they want (usually “A+B forever” etc. etc.) and throw the key in the river.
I saw one lock which said “Pie + Cake” HAHA that was pretty cute.
We then had lunch at this really expensive but authentic French restaurant called Beaurepaire (?) for a proper French meal.
Foie Gras. It tasted like ham with lots and lots of butter mixed in it. It’s an acquired taste and I won’t say that I have “acquired” it.
We also had the grilled duck and a salmon fillet. The duck was absolutely divine but the salmon was drenched with so much olive oil that it masked out the salmon’s flavour. :-( The whole meal, (1 entrée and 2 mains) added up to about SGD100. Paris is crazy expensive.
 Even though there’s a Laduree outlet in Singapore, it’s still nicer to try it in Paris where it originated from. (or at least we convinced ourselves that)
Bought four macaroons to try: Coffee, Blackberry, Praline and Salted Caramel. SALTED CARAMEL WINS HANDS DOWN.
We were eating our macaroons on the street outside the shop, and unknowingly blocked the entire pavement. However, this old lady walking by just smiled and us and said “It’s good, isn’t it?”
Haha! I guess eating macaroons is a legit reason to be blocking people’s way in Paris.
Immediately after Laduree, we went to the even-higher(ly)-raved Pierre Herme.
 We bought three macaroons: Dark Chocolate Truffle, Hazelnut and Passionfruit Milk Chocolate. The queue at Pierre Herme was longer than Laduree’s and that was justified by the macaroons which were, IMO, much nicer than Ladurees’. The flavour was in the macaroon shells, instead of just in the cream, unlike those from Laduree. Also, PH’s were less cloyingly sweet.
We bought seven macaroons that day and spent nearly SGD30 on them. Oh well, when in Paris, do as the Parisians do, no?
Bought about 40 of the Eiffel Tower keychains as well as a huge Eiffel Tower model in a souvenir shop near the Notre Dame, run by a Cambodian couple. Maybe it’s because we’re Asians that they gave us a huge discount on our purchases. Hehe. That being said, it was still quite expensive, especially the huge model which was 17 euros. And, as with most souvenir shop items, it isn’t exactly of top-notch quality…
Sacre Coer
This was in Montmartre, which is known to be a district where there are many conmen, pickpockets and the like. My brother was so frightened of getting kidnapped by gypsies that he was close to tears the night before we went to Montmartre. There were enough horror stories of tourists being scammed to make me feel a little nervous, but thankfully our trip was safe and we didn’t encounter any of the scammers.
Which was good, because Montmartre is absolutely beautiful. The cobblestone streets and street-side shops and cafés make for a beautiful morning walk. It is my favourite place in Paris (so far).
Place de Tertre in Montmartre, which is basically a square where all the street artists show off their works and sell them to passers-by. There are many artists who will try to draw a portrait of you and sell it to you at high prices. They are literally EVERYWHERE. So you just have to be careful and turn your head often…ha ha!
 We were planning to buy a huge oil painting to put in our living room for when we moved house, but didn’t find anything without the Eiffel Tower/Notre Dame/etc. in it. So we ended our search and headed to this little restaurant called Creperie Broceliande for lunch.
As the name suggests, this restaurant specialises in crepes, and is the 13th best restaurant in Paris (according to TripAdvisor). They had a set menu which offers a drink, a savoury crepe (or galette) and a sweet crepe for 10 euros. We ordered two of these sets, intending to share, but the waitress kicked up a huge ruckus, demanding that “Four person sit, four person eat”, meaning that we had to order 4 set meals. A bit of raised voices were involved before she backed down and allowed us to share. Honestly, I don’t see the logic behind that “rule”, as we are all going to eat…there are 4 crepes in total, remember??? Perhaps she just wanted to get more money out of us. That’s the best explanation I can think of.
Other than that little incident, the food was great and suffice it to say I had the best crepes I’ve eaten there.
Also headed to the Moulin Rouge, just to snap a photo of it. It’s basically a cabaret where naked women prance about and do silly things while you eat your dinner. The entire district is very sleazy as well and made me feel quite uncomfortable. I was glad to get out of there. Although I must admit the windmill is pretty nice hehe.
Next up was the Arc de Triomphe, where French troops march through after a battle/war/whatever in celebration (I suppose). It was ordered to be built by Napoleon the Emperor himself so that’s pretty cool. After WWI and WWII, the French soldiers also paraded through this arch, making it a much more meaningful landmark than the Eiffel Tower, which is basically just a giant radio antenna.
Paul bakery is actually pretty common here, like how a Starbucks is in Singapore. Still, this giant pistachio macaroon was delicious (but too sweet after a while).
Bought a box of churros at the Christmas market along Champs-Élysées, which is like the Orchard Road of Paris. Think Prada, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co. etc.
Anyway, this was my virgin experience with churros and it was DELICIOUS. I shook off most of the sugar and boy oh boy was I in heaven. I wished be ordered more. :-(
So that basically concludes my holiday in Europe! Notice I didn’t blog much about London because truthfully, I am a bit bored of London already, having been there twice. It’s like Singapore, a bustling city with limited things to do. However, the markets are always interesting, and the shopping is good. Supermarkets there (Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda) sell really cheap groceries (I got a whole bottle of Herbal Essence shampoo for SGD2) and there is this sportswear shop called SportsDirect which sells sports attire at discounted prices! (No, they are not rejects) ((and no, they aren’t fakes either)). I got a pair of Adidas shoes for SGD60 when it costs about SGD100 in Singapore! #cheapthrills indeed.

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