Sunday, June 21, 2015

British Airways First Class LHR - SFO

This is a continuation of our London & Paris trip. You can find the full trip itinerary here. 

We had a 1 night layover in London on our return home, so we stayed at the Radisson Blu Heathrow. The hotel was a bit older but very crowded and actually quite lively that night. We ordered room service and then went to bed to get ready for our morning flight.

We were both excited to fly in First Class! This would be our second time ever, and hopefully not our last. :) We were able to find availability using miles, and even though the surcharges/taxes were quite expensive, we were glad to be able to experience flying in first class again.

I had read that the Heathrow airport had a dedicated first class lounge as well as a spa area, so we were excited to check it out.

The first thing we did once we got in was to put our name down for the complimentary spa treatment (chair massage or facial). Thankfully they had 2 spots open so we put our name down.

We then went to grab breakfast. At this lounge, we actually ordered food, restaurant style. All the booth seating was occupied so we sat at the bar. It was a nice treat to be able to eat a full breakfast at the lounge.

Breakfast at British Airways First Class Lounge

After breakfast, it was time for our complimentary spa appointment. Dan got the chair massage while I got the facial. I believe the treatments were 15 minutes. During my treatment I kept thinking how nice it was to get a facial as part of your pre-flight experience! If only we can do this every time we fly...hehe

After our treatment, we lost track of time and our flight was actually boarding. We rushed to our terminal and made it just in time!

The plane was a bit older, but the seats were nice and quite spacious (though not as spacious as Cathay).

We were offered a pre-departure drink, and I opted for white wine. They also provided pajamas as well as an amenity kit.

We both changed into the pajamas and then food service started. I would have to say that the service throughout the flight was excellent. The attendants were very polite, helpful, and friendly. 

For the appetizer, I got Asparagus with egg and truffle sauce, it was great. Creamy and refreshing.

For the main course, Dan ordered the salmon and I was excited to get Indian food! I actually love Indian food and I love to order it when available -- I think Singapore Airlines has Indian food as an option, too.

Here's my dish! It was chicken tikka masala with lentils, spinach, rice, and fried shallots. Yum! Portion was big so I wasn't able to finish all.

However, I did save room for dessert, which was chocolate torte with vanilla ice cream.

Overall dinner was pretty good. Afterwards I watched a couple movies and then took a nap. After I woke up, I was SUPER excited to try their Afternoon Tea. I LOVE afternoon teas and would eat it everyday if I can! The sandwiches were all really good - I almost asked for seconds.

The scones were served warm with clotted cream and jam. Just how I like it!


Overall it was a great flight. I mean, no major complaints. Service was outstanding, food was good. If anything, the hard product itself could use some improvement. The seat was not that spacious considering it's a first class seat. It almost felt like a business class seat. Don't get me wrong, it's still spacious, but it definitely does not compare to Cathay which almost felt like twice as big.  Overall, we had a really enjoyable flight with great service.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Activities & Where to Eat in Paris

This is a continuation of our London & Paris trip. You can find the full trip itinerary here. 

Paris - Day 1

Sandemann Paris Tour

Similar to London, we did a Sandemann Paris tour. Our guide was Nancy from the UK and she was great! Very energetic, passionate, and had lots of information.

We started at the St. Michel fountain. While we were waiting for our guide, we grabbed a quick crepe from this shop close by  the fountain, and it was amazing! It was a simple nutella crepe, but I don't know how they make it taste so good. :)

St. Michel Fountain

The tour was 3 hours long, a bit tiring since we covered a lot of ground. Make sure you wear good walking shoes! There were a lot of people on the tour, so we were split into 2 groups.

It was a good overview of the city, and I think well worth our time since it was our first time in Paris. One thing to note though that during the tour, we mainly only saw the "outside" of monuments / famous places. Entrance tickets to museums, etc. were not included and must be bought separately. These tours were mainly to give a taste of what's around the city, and you'll need additional days to actually go visit the sites you want to see.

Picnic at Beautiful Parisian Gardens

Well, we didn't get to actually do one, but this would be an activity that I would recommend if you have extra time in Paris. The gardens in Paris were just SO pretty and beautiful! Everything was so symmetrical and just so gorgeous.

The main garden was the beautiful Tuileries Gardens, which you would very likely see during a trip in Paris due to its central location and proximity to the Louvre.

Snack at Angelina's

I heard about the famous Angelina's cafe and made sure that this was on our list. They are famous for their hot chocolate as well as their pastries. We came in the afternoon around 4 PM, and I was worried about long lines, but it turned out they were able to seat us immediately.

We ordered the famous hot chocolate, a croque madamme, and a millefeuille.

The hot chocolate was very good. It was very thick and rich - just how I like it. :)

Angelina's Hot Chocolate

The Croque Madame was also yummy! It was served with a small side salad.

Croque Madame

The restaurant was busy and definitely full of tourists. There's also a small shop by the entrance that sold their famous hot chocolate and other goodies to bring home.

We didn't realize it at the time, but there's a LOT of Angelina's stores -- they had one at the Louvre as well as at Versailles. So you'll definitely have a chance to try it at least once.

Walked along Champs-Elysees to Arc de Triomphe

We didn't realize it at the time, but this was a pretty long walk (2.25 mile one way!) and actually up hill, from the Concorde to Arc de Triomphe! If you want to do this walk, definitely start at Arc de Triomphe so you are at least going downhill. :)

The walk was actually quite tiring. You can do a leisurely stroll, stopping along the way and doing some shopping, but we didn't really take breaks and ended up being super tired by the time we made it to Arc.

Dinner at Breizh Cafe

For dinner our first night, I booked a reservation at the famous Breizh Cafe. I emailed our concierge at the hotel to help make the reservation. We unfortunately arrived at the Cafe a little later than our reservation time (we underestimated the amount of time it would take to get there!), so they ended up giving away our table -- but they were able to seat us a little while later at an outside table.

It looked like there's a restaurant area (reservation only), as well as a store with communal tables for people without reservation. If you plan on coming, definitely make a reservation in advance. 

This place is famous for their buckwheat pancake. We ordered the "Amuses Beurre Fume" which was bread with Bordier butter, Bretonne savory pancake and the Vannetaise (caramel pancake) to share. Dan also ordered a cider which was supposed to be famous as well.

I was expecting to get actual bread, but was surprised to receive a crispy crepe instead. :)  It was a nice surprise. This was basically a simple crepe made crispy, with the famous Bordier butter. It was good and definitely a different way of eating a crepe. It tasted good by itself, without any toppings.


We asked the server for recommendations and he suggested this Bretonne crepe, which included bacon, mushroom, cheese, and cream. :)

Buckwheat pancake

For dessert, we shared the Vannetaise crepe, ice cream and caramel topping. It was FANTASTIC! It was so simple, yet so good. I think the quality ingredients truly shined here. I was telling Dan that the caramel tasted like real locally made caramel, not from a store-bought bottle of factory-processed caramel-flavored sauce. We realized over the time of our stay in Paris that the reason why the food was so good was probably because majority of the ingredients were higher quality and more "real" than what we get in the US.

Caramel pancake

Paris - Day 2

Shopping in Paris (Chanel & Christian Louboutin)

Buying a Chanel Bag in Paris

We really didn't have much time for shopping in Paris, so I only budgeted one morning to do some shopping. Dan was nice enough to allow me to buy some luxury goods while in Paris...hehe. The USD exchange rate had been pretty strong against the euro, which meant I could save some $$ when buying in Europe versus in the US.

I had been eye-ing the Chanel classic bag, and decided to finally pull the trigger to buy it during this trip. I figured the price would only keep going up, and with the good exchange rate, this would be as good a time as any.

This would be my first ever Chanel, and I had to do some research (and ask some of my friends) to get familiar with what I wanted. Similar to buying a diamond where there are the 4 Cs (Carat, Color, Clarity, Cut), there are different combinations when buying a Chanel classic bag. They are as follows: Size (Medium, Jumbo, Maxi, etc), Color (Black, Nude, Red, etc), Material (Lambskin or Caviar), and Hardware (Gold or Silver). I specifically was looking for this combination: Black Caviar Jumbo in Silver Hardware.

We actually found the exact combination of the bag that I want while we were in London (at Harrod's), but we decided to wait until we got to Paris (which turned out to almost be a huge mistake). We actually had the hardest time looking for the Black Classic in Silver hardware in Paris! It turned out the inventory in Paris was very limited as lots and lots of tourists go to Paris specifically to buy luxury goods. So a word of advice: If you are looking to buy a Chanel bag, and if you happen to find the right combination that you are looking for at a price you are willing to pay, you should just get it and not wait because you never know if you will ever find that exact combination again.

The first store that we went to was Rue Cambon, which was the main flagship store. We came around 10:15AM and only had to wait for a few minutes for a Sales Associate. I told her what I was looking for and she said that they were sold out of the Black Classic in Silver. :(  I asked if she could check other stores, and she came back and said that the store in Avenue Montaigne had a couple in stock, but that I had to go there immediately since she could not guarantee how long they would have them.

Chanel Avenue Montaigne

So we took an Uber to the other store, about a 10 minute ride. The Avenue Montaigne store was much quieter than Rue Cambon, and we were able to get helped immediately. One thing I learned from shopping at these high end stores was that we first encountered a "greeter" when we first entered, but this person was not actually the Sales Associate. She then asked us to wait, and then found a Sales Associate to help us. There may be a wait to actually get a Sales Associate, but once assigned, she was solely dedicated to you for all your shopping needs at the store. Since we came early enough, we fortunately didn't have to wait that long. However, after we left, the wait for a Sales Associate was around 30 minutes.

I told the Sales Associate what I was looking for (Black, Classic, Caviar, Jumbo, Silver Hardware), and that I was at the other store but they only had the Gold. The Sales Associate said that they were all sold out of the Silver and only had Gold as well. My heart sunk. So I reluctantly tried the Gold hardware. It was nice, it was really nice....but it's not what I was looking for. I didn't want to spend that much money, feeling that I was not getting exactly what I had in mind. I mulled it over for a while, and then I asked her to double check again, as the other store told me this store should have it. She said she would double check, but was pretty sure that they didn't have it. After a few minutes, she came back holding a bag and I knew that was it!!! She said a shipment had just come in 10 minutes earlier, and now they have a few in stock. YAY!


I was super elated and purchased the bag! Afterwards she took me to the cashier who helped with the payment & VAT refund process.  

Some shopping tips I learned from this experience.  :)
  • Try to arrive early at the store to avoid longer wait times
  • When you enter the store, you will have to wait your turn for a Sales Associate. Don't interrupt a Sales Associate who is helping other customers as it turns out that they are solely dedicated to one person (or group) at a time.
  • Make sure you bring your passport with you because they need it to provide the VAT refund documents
  • Make sure to let your credit card company know that you will make a large purchase so the transaction does not get declined
  • I mentioned this earlier, but will re-iterate, if you find the combination that you like, don't wait around to buy it at another store - you should get it immediately :)
  • With the VAT refund, we ended up saving around 20% of the cost by buying the bag in Paris versus the US.

Christian Louboutin Shoes

Our next stop was the Christian Louboutin store. :)  Louboutin shoes are those with the red soles-- they are very popular and supposed to make your legs look skinnier (it's true!). Similar to Chanel, we went to two different stores to get the exact color and size that I wanted. I got the classic style, which is called "Simple Pump". I purchased one in Black Patent, 100 mm and one in Nude Patent, 85 mm. They were not super comfortable, but they are not meant to be worn for long periods of time. They are really beautiful though. The best part, they were MUCH cheaper than in the US.  I calculated the price and we saved about 35% in cost buying in Paris versus the US.

Beautiful shoes :)

Overall it was a very productive shopping trip! It took a bit of effort going to multiple stores to find exactly what I wanted, but it worked out in the end. :)

I wished we had more time to look around to be able to shop more leisurely, but we really didn't have much time -- and I'm sure Dan was happy that this was our only shopping time...hehe.

Lunch at L'avant comptoir

Our friend highly recommended this place (said she went twice during her trip!), so we gave this place a try for lunch.

This restaurant was actually a standing room only wine bar, hidden behind a crepe shop. We came during lunch time, and there was a long line for the crepes (and I thought the line was for the wine bar). To make things more confusing, there's a restaurant next door called "Le Comptoir" with its own long line.

Dan stood in line for Le Comptoir thinking that was it, but I wasn't convinced since the restaurant didn't look like the Yelp pictures. :)  I asked around and finally realized that the wine bar was behind the crepe store! How confusing! There was actually NO line for the wine bar and we went right in.

All the menu items were hanging from the ceiling, so we had to look up to figure out what we should order.  All the plates here were tapas style and prices ranged from 3.5 to 9 euros.

We each started off with a glass of white wine -- both excellent!

Our first dish was the croquette jambon--portion was a bit smaller than I expected but it was really creamy and delicious.

Ham Croquette

Next was the beef sandwich. The size was actually VERY tiny (2-3 bites), but again, excellent. The sandwich was toasted and served with a creamy horseradish sauce.

Beef sandwich

My favorite was the foie gras burger. The burger was cooked very rare (much more rare than what I usually order), but was so perfect for this dish! The foie gras was actually not too overpowering and the burger was put in a sandwich press so the bun was warm and toasty.

Foie Gras Burger

We ordered a couple more dishes, and overall, everything was just amazingly tasty and fantastic. Dan said this was by far our best meal in Paris.

We highly recommend this place!

Louvre Museum

This is probably the most famous museum in Paris. The sheer size of the museum was quite overwhelming.

We got the Paris Museum Pass (2 days for 42 Euros), which gave us access to multiple museums and skipping the ticket line. This would be a good option if you just want to check out a couple museums and was cheaper than buying individual tickets from multiple museums. The price per day was also cheaper if you buy the longer pass (4 days or 6 days). Be ware that there's another pass called "Paris Pass", which was different from the Paris Museum Pass. The "Paris Pass" included a LOT more but also cost way more. I wouldn't recommend getting the Paris Pass because it's just too expensive.

We didn't rent the audio guide and just walked around ourselves. There were lots of paintings, sculptures, and artifacts. We wished we had more time to look around, but we only budgeted 1-2 hours and it did feel a little rushed.

The most famous painting is of course the Mona Lisa! There were TONS of tourists around the Mona Lisa, with everyone trying to take selfies, ha!

The Famous Mona Lisa

Dinner at Les Cocottes

Another friend recommended this place, located not too far from the Eiffel Tower. This restaurant was owned by the famous chef, Christian Constant, who also owned several other restaurants around the area.

We were worried it would be super crowded, so we came in right when they opened for dinner, and it was empty. :) We got seated immediately.

We ordered the Langoustine Ravioli, Shellfish Bisque for appetizers, the skirt steak and pork with potato for entree, and the waffle with caramel for dessert.

The Langoustine Ravioli and the Shellfish Bisque actually tasted somewhat similar. and the soup part was surprisingly lighter than I thought, but still really good.

Shellfish Bisque

The beef was really good and tender, and the accompanying carrots are cooked beautifully. Dan's pork dish was also delicious.

The caramel waffle was also really good, again -- very simple ingredients but cooked really well.
Overall we had a great dinner here.

Eiffel Tower

After dinner, we walked to Eiffel Tower. The area around Eiffel Tower seemed to be very pretty upscale. There were lots of people picnicking on the grounds right by the tower, and I wished we had more time so we could spend an afternoon here.

We also didn't have time to go up the tower (line seemed really long), so we just walked around and then headed over to our next activity, the Seine River cruise.

Bateaux Mouches

During my last trip to Paris, we did a Seine River cruise and I thought it was a great way to see the city. There's a lot of tour operators, but we went with the original one called Bateaux Mouches. The boat runs every 30 minutes and takes about one hour. We just bought tickets at the dock for around 13 Euros each.

Our Sandemann tour guide recommended we do the cruise around 8:30-9PM (around sunset), so we could see Paris at night. This turned out to be an excellent recommendation, as we saw part of the cruise in daylight, and the rest of the cruise after the sun had set with the wonderful city lights.

One of the most amazing parts of the cruise was when we passed the Eiffel Tower at 10 PM and the tower not only lit up, but also "twinkled" for a good 5 minutes. It was kind of cheesy ("Disney"-like), but so pretty!

There were SO many tourists on the boat though, as this was a very touristy thing to do, so just beware. :)

Eiffel Tower at Night

Paris - Day 3

Eric Kayser Bakery

Eric Kayser is probably one of the most favorite bakeries in Paris. They have several locations and there was one right by our hotel. We tried their croissant, quiche, and other pastries and almost everything we had was excellent. I really recommend this place.


I really wanted to visit the Palace of Versailles. We went on our last day which was a Tuesday, since they were actually closed on Mondays. We didn't do any guided tours, went on our own by taking the RER train to Versailles.

The palace opened at 9 AM, and we arrived roughly around 10:30 AM. The line was already SO LONG! We already had tickets from our Paris Pass, so we didn't have to wait in line to buy tickets, but the longest line was actually the security line to get it. It took us 1.5 hours to get through security. Looking back, we should have tried any of these other options to avoid the long lines:
  • Come 10-20 minutes before opening time. We're not sure how the line might have looked then, but I'm sure it's better than our 1.5 hour long line.
  • Come in a group tour. There's a separate entrance with MUCH shorter lines for people in groups.
  • Visit the garden first and visit Petit Trianon, etc in the morning -- and then do the palace tour in the afternoon. When we left Versailles at 3 PM, there was NO line for the Palace. Had we known, we should have done the garden first, and then do the palace at the end and we could have saved 1.5 hours.
Anyways, we sucked it up and waited in line. :)  Once in, we walked around for a little bit. There were hoards of people everywhere, and at times it felt a bit overwhelming. The most popular room appeared to be the King's bedroom and the Queen's bedroom. Usually I could already tell when we were getting close to the bedroom as it got harder to walk and fight the crowds...hehe.

After the palace, we took the Petit Train that took us to several different stops around the gardens. This turns out to be a good option as Versailles was HUGE! Walking around would have probably taken forever and killed our feet. Other than the train, you can also rent bikes or golf carts to get around Versailles.

Petit Train

With the Petit train, the train made several stops, so we could hop on/off at our own leisure. We stopped at the second stop, Petit Trianon, which was Marie Antoinette's little section. There was actually a separate entrance fee, which covered both Petit Trianon and the Grand Trianon.

Petit Trianon

We walked around the smaller palace, which was definitely a lot smaller and felt more like a big house. Afterwards we took the train back. The train's last stop was the Grand Canal, which was SO beautiful! There were lots of people rowing on the canal, as well as people eating lunch on nearby cafes. Unfortunately we didn't have time to stop at all because we had to catch our train back. I really hope next time we can come back to Versailles and really budget a day to look around as the grounds were so beautiful.

Galleries Lafayette

After we got back to Paris, I told Dan I wanted to check out Galleries Lafayette, which was a famous shopping mall.

Galleries Lafayette

The mall was actually a little underwhelming. It was a bit hot inside, and super crowded. The layout was also a little confusing as they have different buildings for everything, and we got lost trying to find the "food court."

This was actually our last activity, and then we headed back to the airport.


We LOVED Paris so much! The food was excellent, the city was soooo beautiful, and the gardens were just so pretty. We only had three nights here, which was not enough. We both said that we definitely want to come back and hopefully can visit some other places that we missed during this trip, and just didn't have enough time to explore.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Park Hyatt Paris Vendome

This is a continuation of our London & Paris trip. You can find the full trip itinerary here. 

After London, we headed to our next destination: Paris! We took an evening flight from London and arrived really late to the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome. The hotel appeared to be in a nice/upscale area of Vendome.  Location was very close to the Opera metro station, which is somewhat central but not right in the middle of everything. It's a good enough location to do sightseeing, but if you really want to be in the middle of everything, probably better to stay around St. Michel/Louvre area.

We stayed a total of 3 nights at this hotel, using all points (otherwise room rate starts at 800 Euros/night!), in which case we probably would have chosen a different hotel....hehe.

We took a taxi from the Airport, and for some reason the cab driver could not process our credit card transaction. As we did not have Euros in cash at that point, Dan was in the cab for a bit while the driver tried to get the card to work. One of the concierge noticed this issue and offered to pay for the cab and have it charged to the room, which was a really nice gesture!

Our original reservation was for a regular Park Queen room, which was tiny. We were barely able to move around, especially in the bedroom area. The size was actually much smaller then our hotel in London. However, when I came in, I noticed a pretty strong cigarette smell. I wanted to make sure it's not just a one time whiff so I went back out and in again, and still noticed it. We called the reception to request a room change, and they came back 10 minutes later with the room key, an apology, and told us we have been upgraded to the Park Deluxe King room for the inconvenience, which we thought was a nice touch.

The Park Deluxe King room was definitely much roomier.

King size bed

There's a separate closet area where we could put our luggage, as well as a separate seating area -- we definitely appreciated the extra space. Other than that, the decor appeared very similar. The room and hotel appeared to still be in pretty good condition, although I could see some minor wear and tear.

Seating Area

 The bathroom was also pretty spacious. There's a bathtub as well as a separate shower area.

Gold bathroom :)

The theme of the room/hotel was "gold", everywhere we saw gold color. :) This was especially noticeable in the bathroom area where all the fixtures were gold. After walking around Paris for a couple of days, we understood why gold was actually very Paris -- so I understand now why the hotel was designed as it was.

Service in general was pretty good, everyone was pretty helpful and polite. Housekeeping provided complimentary bottled water everyday, which was really nice. Dan & I weren't actually sure if the water was included or not, as there was no note whether or not they are included, but it turned out to be the case.

Since we no longer had Hyatt diamond status, breakfast was not included. We ended up just buying breakfast on the go, as the breakfast buffet at the hotel was quite pricey. Our favorite place to grab breakfast or just snacks was Eric Kayser bakery which was only a couple minutes walk.

Even though our overall impression and experience at the hotel was a good one, we did have a couple incidents while staying at this hotel:
  • First was the room switch because of the smoke smell in our first room, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise as we got upgraded to a better room
  • Second incident was that our upgraded room had blinds that did not work and could not close. :) So we had to sleep with the blinds open and woke up with the sun right in our eyes the next day. Not a big deal, they sent someone the next day to fix it.
  • Last incident was probably the one that caused Dan a bit of un-needed stress. Dan rented a pocket wifi to be shipped directly to the hotel the day that we arrived, but the hotel staff weren't able to find it. Dan contacted the wifi company and they said it had arrived a few days earlier. There were several back and forths and finally on our second day in the afternoon, the concierge found it. It was a mistake on their end as they had a hotel employee with a similar name as Dan as they thought it was for him! This caused unnecessary stress and I wished the hotel had handled it better.
We spent little time at the hotel, as we were out and about during the days. Overall we enjoyed our stay here and thought the hotel was nice, in pretty good location, and good service.  Not sure if it's truly worth the 800+ euro rack rate, but if you have some extra Hyatt points, this is not a bad place. :)

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Activities & Where to Eat in London

This is a continuation of our London & Paris trip. You can find the full trip itinerary here. 

London - Day 1

Covent Garden

Covent Garden is a pretty happening area in London. There's the actual "Covent Garden" market with lots of shops and restaurants, and the theatres were all pretty close by.

Iconic Phone booth in front of Covent Garden

From our walking tour, I learned the following interesting facts about Covent Garden:
  • Historically, Covent Garden used to be a garden run by convent/nuns 
  • The Covent Garden area also used to be the red light district in another historical period, and prostitution is apparently legal in England (but solicitation is not). So in the past, there were yellow guidebooks that listed all the prostitutes address and how they were like, etc. :) 

Covent Garden

Shake Shack

Our first food stop in London was Shake Shack! I know this is not a true English food, BUT I love Shake Shack and not sure when I'll be in London next. So we ate here. :)

Shake Shack London

We really liked Shake Shack from our last trip to New York. I got the 'Shroom burger, Dan got the ShackMeister burger, and we shared cheese fries.

The taste was consistent with New York, and I'm glad I got my Shake Shack fix.

Hawksmoor Seven Dials

For dinner our first night, we went to Haksmoor, which is a famous steakhouse near our hotel. We went in a little later, without reservations, and were able to get a table. The restaurant was packed and obviously very popular.

We ordered the bone marrow appetizer, Ribeye steak (450 gr), creamed spinach, side salad, and sticky toffee pudding for dessert.

The bone marrow appetizer was pretty good, but the grilled onions on top were a bit too overpowering.

Bone Marrow

The Ribeye steak was pretty good, not the best we have ever had, but still pretty tasty.  Interestingly  they precut the steak for us.

I was disappointed with the spinach side, it was not as creamy as in the US and it had a slightly strong flavor that I didn't like.

The dessert was really good though. We got the Sticky Toffee Pudding! This is a traditional English dessert. It tasted like warm toffee cake. I also asked for vanilla ice cream on the side, and it was just heavenly!

Sticky Toffee Pudding

London - Day 2

Sandemann's Free Walking Tour - London

We did a similar free walking tour when we were in Munich a few years ago. The premise of these tours is that the tour itself is free, and the guide does not get paid by Sandemann.  They get paid by tips from the people on the tours.

The meeting point was at Covent Garden Piazza, which was close walking distance from our hotel. There was a big group that got separated English vs. Spanish speaking. Our guide was Charlotte and she was a really good guide. She was originally from New Zealand but had lived in England for quite some time.

Buckingham Palace

A couple interesting points/areas we covered during the 3 hour tour:
  • We watched the changing of the guards at St. James palace, which was much less crowded than at Buckingham Palace. Interestingly enough, the guards during our visit was actually the Gurkhas--from Nepal who actually serve in the British Army. Very interesting indeed.
  • We walked to Buckingham Palace, which turned out to be originally owned by the Duke of Buckingham, and was then taken over (somewhat forced) by the King at the time. This is also the Queen's residence when she's in London.
  • The roads in front of Buckingham palace were reddish in color, to signify the red carpet (for royalty).
  • I have always been intrigued about the succession rule in the English monarchy. So I asked Charlotte about the rule and whether only men can rule or why/how a Queen comes to power. She said, in general, if there were only female heirs, then they would rule as Queen. But if there was a male heir, then he would take the throne, even if he had older sisters. This rule has recently been changed and now the oldest would be the heir regardless of gender.
Overall definitely a good overview of London and would highly recommend it.

Afternoon Tea at Corinthia Hotel

After the 3 hour walking tour, we were SO tired! We went back to our hotel to change for afternoon tea at the Corinthia Hotel, which enforced smart casual dress attire (no jeans, sneakers, etc).

I am a big fan of afternoon tea, and wanted to get the full English afternoon tea experience. My top choice was actually at Claridge's, but they were fully booked for the dates that we were in London (even though I checked 1.5 months before our trip). So I then decided on the Corinthia Hotel. The hotel looked so beautiful and elegant, and I was looking forward to this.

Since our feet was still so tired, we took Uber. We reserved the 2 PM seating and were seated immediately. I didn't realize that the cost was actually quite pricey (50 pounds per person), so roughly $75 USD per person! lol. Definitely the most expensive afternoon tea experience, even more expensive than our steak dinner the night before. :P

I ordered the Pomegranate tea and Dan ordered the Afternoon tea blend. We were then served a selection of sandwiches (and we could order more as many times as we wanted), and then scones and dessert. The sandwiches were good--my favorite were the egg mayonnaise and the smoked salmon sandwiches (which I asked for second servings).

The scones were also amazing! Served warm with clotted cream and strawberry or raspberry jam. There were also a huge selection of desserts (macaroons, lemon pie, brownie, chocolate mousse, carrot cake, etc.), but I actually thought the desserts were just so-so. The scones were much more memorable.

Overall it was a good experience, but I honestly couldn't tell much of a difference between afternoon tea in England vs. in the US. I feel like the US serves very comparable afternoon tea, and there's nothing "different" or more special having afternoon tea in London.

I probably wouldn't recommend this place specifically, since it wasn't anything special, but we still had a great time.

Rock & Sole plaice

We wanted to try traditional British fish & chips, so we went to this place near our hotel. The place was very low key. Dan & I shared the traditional large Cod, mushy peas, and extra curry sauce.

We were SO glad we shared! The large Cod was HUGE and definitely enough for two. :)

The batter was good, very crispy on the outside and fish was soft on the inside.

I wasn't a fan of the mushy peas, tasted like baby food :), but the curry sauce was a good condiment for the chips.

What was interesting here (and seems common at places in Europe) was that they had different prices for dining in vs. take out. Sometimes the cost is almost half!

Piccadilly Circus

Piccadilly Circus is like the Time Square of London (smaller scale version).  It was 0.5 mile away from our hotel, so we walked there. And it was a pretty nice stroll, passing through Chinatown.

Piccadilly Circus

There were lots of typical American stores (Gap, Toms, etc.), as well as the luxury brands on Bond Street (Chanel, LV, Burberry, etc). We went at night time after dinner, so a lot of the stores were already closed. But it was good to get a feel of that area.


London - Day 3

Stonehenge & Bath Day Tour

I found a Groupon for a discounted Stonehenge & Bath day tour. I thought it would be good to spend a day in the countryside, away from the city for a change. Plus, I wanted to see a bit of the countryside and visit the famous UNESCO world heritage site, Stonehenge.

The Groupon I got was for 65 Pounds for 2 tickets from Day Tours London, which was actually a pretty good value. It included the coach bus ride, narration/guide to the two sites as well as ticket entry to Stonehenge.

We met quite early, 7:45AM at the Gloucester Road tube station. There were a total of 25 people. Our guide was a lovely English lady (forgot her name), but she was excellent! She had been a guide for a long time and used to do the Hop on/off bus tours.

She explained to us about the town of Bath, the Georgian period (named Georgian because of the various King George's), and that Bath was the "in" town for rich people/landowner to socialize.

We stopped by a "Pasty" shop per the recommendation of our tour guide, called Pasty Presto. A Pasty is basically a pastry with various fillings, we tried the beef & potato one which was the traditional one.

"Pasty" :)

We then went to the Pump room to try the warm Bath water. It just tasted like warm mineral water. :)
There's also a museum for the actual Roman Bath, but we didn't want to pay the entry fee so we just went to the Pump room for free. Afterwards we walked around the town, which was very beautiful, but a bit too commercialized. I wasn't expecting to see a Gap store there!

We took the route that was suggested by the tour guide up to the Circus and the Crescent, which is like a millionaire's row of beautiful townhouses. Very beautiful!

Dan in front of the Circus in Bath

Afterwards Dan did a cider testing at Westgate Pub, and I convinced him to try Sally Lunn Bun for lunch. Dan had the salted beef bun and I had the bun with clotted cream and jam. The bun basically tasted like a French Brioche, and was pretty good.

Sally Lunn Bun

After Bath, we went on our way to Stonehenge, which was located not too far away from Bath. The bus dropped us off at the coach lot, where we got our the audio guides. We then walked to the main entrance where there were restrooms, a bookstore, small museum, and cafe. From the entrance, we took the shuttle bus to the actual area where the stones were.


I'm sure you've probably seen a picture of Stonehenge before. I wasn't quite sure what it was actually, and it turned out no one knows 100% what it was for. The theory is that it's some kind of memorial/cemetery.


It was nice to be able to see this place!

Overall it was a great tour. I would highly recommend doing a tour of Bath & Stonehenge while in London. It's a great way to see the beautiful countryside, and was a nice change from the hectic & busy city.

Gauthier Soho

I booked dinner for us at Gauthier because I wanted to celebrate somewhere nice for our anniversary. We got back to London around 6:30 PM and headed back to our hotel to change into nicer outfits and then walked to Gauthier. Thankfully, the restaurant was located not too far away from our hotel (10 minute walk).

I didn't know much about the chef, but apparently he was either in Top Chef or Master Chef or something like that. :)

The restaurant was located in an old townhouse, and we had to ring a doorbell to be let in. Since I made a note that this was our 5 year anniversary, they set up a private table inside their wine room for us, which was a very nice touch!

Private dinner setup

They had a three-course option for 40 pounds, four-course for 50 pounds, and five-course for 60 pounds, or the tasting menu for 75 pounds. I thought the price was pretty reasonable for fine dining (same price as our afternoon tea, haha!). Of course, drinks were additional. We ended up choosing the four-course for me and three-course for Dan--my fourth course was dessert, of course. :)

The meal started with several amuse bouches--a parmesan crisp which was yummy, and mousse in a cup. I also loved that they served the bread warm!

My first course was scallops, and Dan's was asparagus with salmon. Both dishes was excellent, though we both favored Dan's slightly more. It was so light and wonderful, and the fish was cooked beautifully.

My second course was risotto with truffle (10 pounds extra), and Dan got truffle pasta. Both tasted very similar to each other, very rich!

My third course was sea bass with pesto, and Dan's was the filet (15 pounds extra). I actually preferred Dan's steak and ended up eating most of it, haha!

We were so full at this point, but still had dessert left. We ordered the famous Louis XV, which was a chocolate mousse with hazelnut crisps. It was actually not as heavy as it looked, and we finished it off!

Total bill was 141 pounds, which we thought was pretty reasonable and definitely a great meal to celebrate our 5 year anniversary!

London - Day 4


This is one of the more famous Indian restaurants in London. We tried going for dinner one night, but the wait was over an hour. Every time we passed this restaurant there always seemed to be a line, so we decided to go on our last day for breakfast/brunch (hoping for a shorter line)!.

We went around 10:30 AM and there was one group in front of us. We ended up waiting about 15 minutes. The restaurant was already full at 10:30 AM! :)

We ordered the Bombay Breakfast and the Bacon & Egg Naan. The Bombay Breakfast was a good mix of everything. I loved the scrambled egg; it has a unique flavor to it.

Bombay Breakfast

The bacon and egg naan was also yummy. Very unique, and it came with a sweet & spicy jam.

I also ordered the Masala Chai (they make the best one!). Definitely get this if you go to Dishoom.
Overall we both liked the food and would recommend this place.

London Eye & Walking around River Thames

We didn't have much planned for our last day, and I wanted to at least see the London Eye. We made our way via underground tube to the Waterloo station, and then a short 5-10 minute walk to the London Eye. The line was SUPER long, plus I wasn't planning on going up anyway, so we just took a picture and then walked along the River Thames. It was a nice stroll.

London Eye

Mathilda the Musical

Since our hotel was by the Covent Garden area, we kept seeing lots of ads for different West End shows, and I wanted to at least catch one show while we were here.

We ended up getting really good discounted tickets for Mathilda by purchasing on the day of from this company called London Theatre Booking. I found this company online, and was a little worried if it was legit or not. They had an actual retail outlet in Covent Garden, so we went there to buy the tickets. Interestingly enough, we first tried the Mathilda theatre box office directly, but the cheapest available tickets there were much more expensive than what we got from London Theatre Booking. I believe we paid 66 pounds total for two tickets, which was a really good price!

Mathilda the Musical was a very cute story and very child friendly. We went to the Saturday matinee show at 2:30PM, and it was a great way to spend our last afternoon in London.

Mathilda London

Bone Daddies

For our last meal in London, we went to Bone Daddies. We were considering Ippudo and Bone Daddies, but decided to try this place since we hadn't been (we already had tried Ippudo in New York). Bone Daddies is a hipster ramen restaurant located in Soho. The restaurant was quite full when we arrived at 5 PM, but we got seated immediately.  The restaurant only has bar seating, so it would be hard to bring kids here.

Dan ordered the sour ramen, and I got the tonkatsu ramen. Dan liked his sour ramen; it definitely had a unique flavor.

My tonkatsu ramen broth was VERY thick. Overall was pretty good, but not the best that we've had.

Bone Daddies London