Romping through Europe

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

one last post i owe

i owe a last post to close out this travel blog, i promise i will get to it.

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

there's no circus at Picadilly

* i also wanted to name this entry "Tea Party For One" or boringly "London day 3 - sat 5-30-09"*

Saturday, i am exhausted from walking so much in Italy and London. i decided to go down to Picadilly Circus tube stop, where everyone and their mom seem to have a store front trying to sell me discount show tickets of all shades under the rainbow - and see if i can score some discount tickets to shows.

Of all the shows, Les Miz and Miss Saigon were my all time favorites. Miss Saigon because K and I watched it when we were 17, and the main character was 17 when she fell in love with the american soldier and sung her sad life story - and for some reason we felt a personal connection to that... we knew all the words to all the songs, so if ever Lea Salonga couldn't make the show, we were ready to step in. because it can happen that way, yo.

I recall a school trip to see Les Miserables - except because we got the group student tickets, we sat way back in the theatre, and as my bad memory recalls, i think there were no stadium-level seating, so the people were my pinky size from an arm's length. i knew and love the music, and we sung many of the songs officially and unofficially as part of Vocale Ensemble. (those were the days!)

so i was excited to see that Les Miz is playing in London, and apparently the longest running broadway show in London. i got a decent price and really wanted to see it so i got the matinee tickets.

trying to figure out what else to do in my day, i felt so drained that i decided to take myself to a 3rd broadway show in London and got tickets to We Will Rock You - which is a musical based on songs by Queen.


Before Les Miz, i decided to finally get myself to Knightsbridge station and check out the famed Harrods department store. i took so many photos and it doesn't even describe 1/20 of the foodhalls! I'll post all the harrod's pics at the end.

i was going to sit down to have some authentic fish and chips at Harrod's foodhall... £19!!!! which isn't the craziest thing - was that i was willing to pay that much, but the seafood section was full and the servers were snobby (yes, yes, it's English afterall), so i decided to wander the rest of the store to forage for good food.

i figured if i were willing to pay £19 for fish and chips, then i should treat myself to a Big Girl luncheon, so i sat at the Veuve Clicquot champagne lounge for lunch.

the 2 girls next to me asked me to take their picture, so in return i asked them to take mine

slightly tipsy, i went to my Les Miz show...
a bit of a bummer, my seats were only 4th rows from the back on the 1st balcony. I had a good general view of the whole stage, but would have LOVED to sit closer...
wasteful still was that on both sides of the balcony first row (sides only) there were one person on the left and 2 people on the right - all other seats were empty.

towards the end of intermission, the guy on my left struck up a conversation... he's seen Les Miz a handful of times, his wife and daughter went shopping so he's here alone. He says the show is sooo different from various vantage points in the theatre.

i confessed that i'd been eyeing both sides of the 1st balcony row and kind of wish i was seeing the show from there instead. If i knew the tickets were available, I would've bought it, but the ticket counter i went to said my tickets were the best, so there you have it.

** In London, there are as many "discount show tickets" booths as there are Fisherman's Wharf booths selling you "San Francisco" fleece jackets (or for my Canadian readers, as many souvenir shops on Ste Catherine trying to sell you "Good Girls go to Heaven, Bad Girls go to Montreal" T-shirts - incidentally, in my opinion, bad girls COME from Montreal.. "bad" being the "good" and "fun" definition, of course - but perhaps that's another blog entry discussion to be had **

The guy next to me said he'd move down with me if i wanted, so i moved to the 1st row, and lost sight of him... turned out he squatted a seat right in the middle of the 1st balcony row (which were all sold sp when the original owners returned, he sheepishly came by but thought our farther seats were better and went back...

As for me, i sat at my new stage-right 1st row balcony seat, and got to really see the actors and actresses' faces, and even overlook the orchestra pit, saw how everything was cued... it was a lopsided view but i felt SO close to the actors, i saw their sweat!! i got to lean over the balcony, especially during the love songs - Les Miz is familiar like an old friend, i'm fighting the urge not to sing along, since I know almost every word... i didn't, afterall, pay for a ticket to drown out professional Broadway actors with my very non-professional voice.

Les Miz was comforting, tragic, romantic... My heroine isn't the obvious Cosette - who had a bad childhood but lucky in love). I prefer the tragic heroine Eponine, born unluckily into a bad family... she's clever, loyal, street-smart and foolishly in love. the most moving of all songs is Little Fall of Rain, which stole my heart.

after Les Miz, i stopped by Richoux to have Traditional Afternoon tea. it was good but i'm sure it wasn't as good as tea-ing at The Ritz. i didn't have much time so i'll settle for a solid tea party of 1.

in the evening, i watched We Will Rock You at a surprisingly un-airconditioned theatre. it is a very tongue in cheek (and often interlaced with comical editorial commentary about the music culture, past and present, mocking or genuine. Fun story, including sing-alongs and hand clapping... I will never hear We Are the Champions or We Will Rock you the same way. As the encore, the main thread of the story, Bohemian Rhapsody...

the musicians were awesome, the story is intertwined with suble and not-so-suble lyrical references as normal storyline.

off topic, the house wine that they sold at the theatre - and they encourage fun times and sold alcohol of all kinds so people will be able to have a relaxed atmosphere at the show - the house wine was awful. i had 4 day old wine that turned slightly sour better than this wine.

a funny line from the musical:

"I'm both a roadie now, and a groupie... so i get to have sex with myself - ha! hmmm, not much change there..." - main hippie guy.

here are some food pictures from Harrod's Foodhalls (these are maybe 1/20th of all there is at the foodhalls!)

Monday, June 8, 2009

London day 2 - fri 5-29-09

i woke up determined to see a little bit of history in London, so from the variety of choices, i picked up the London Walk tour for Westminster Abbey...

part of the tour included seeing the Changing of the Guards... the surprising (nicely) thing was we got to see them as they marched on the ROAD towards Buckingham Palace (most people stand in line at the Palace gates and get to see the person's head ahead of them...) We saw both the foot guards and the horse guards. Instead of swords they had guns, so even though the guard changes was traditional fanfare, they are real soliders and up to date with the latest gears.

We took a scenic route to Westminster Abbey and heard many a great story on the way...

since i've been bumbling through most of my trip unplanned and unresearched, i had never realized what is here at Westminster Abbey... but so many people are buried here amongst the royalty. Newton, Darwin, Faraday and Kelvin, to name a few. Chaucer, Bryon, Tennyson, Robert Browning, to name another few in the Poet's Corner. Then Queen Elizabeth and her sister Bloody Mary. if you ask me, it's a real melange of various cultures, religions, cross sections of the famous and infamous.

by the way, the Guiness family is still rich enough to have donated many Waterford Crystal chandelier to the Abbey.

on the alter of the Westmisnter Abbey, there's the coronation floor where the coronation chair is placed in the middle for the coronation of kings and queens. the floor there is mosaic and beautiful, and has a picture of the universe - the coronation chair is supposed to be placed at the center of the universe - which in the mosiac, is earth. because we all know the center of the universe is the earth right?! Hello Galileo.

"But there is that within me which shall tire, torture and time and breadth when i expire" ~Lord Bryon.

"Is all in life, then, but a dream?" - Lewis Carroll.

What's most interesting and touching is the tomb for the Unname Soldier, that represents some 60,000 men who died during WWI walking into lines of machine gun fire. This is the only tomb in the Abbey where no one can walk on - the coronation, marriages and royalties, all happen stepping around this tomb.

I'm tired from all the walking, walking everywhere!
Ok, i see the Big Ben in the background. Here's another self-portrait trying to get both my face and Big Ben in the picture.

En route towards Traflagar Square, i found this cool memorial.

I pass by some more guards with tall tall boots (un-bendable) and on horseback.

I passed by Obika which is this Mozarella bar that TW had wanted to take me to for brunch in Milan, but we never had a chance... it's a sign! (and a sign for lunch menu!) so i decided to have lunch there...

I got the mozarella and porchuitto salad

dessert of the day was heavenly - pineapple carpacio!!! thinly sliced pineapple with a super light syrup that had vanilla beans in it, strawberries...

one of the things on my personal list is to visit 2nd hand bookstores, so i spent 2 hours on this street with the bookstores (each had its own specialization)...
halfway through, in a Children's 2nd hand bookstore, i found a Dalek that was used inn filming of 1972 Doctor Who!!! I asked the nice owner if i can take a picture, he looked up surprised that i know what the heck this was, and said of course.

so after browsing the book stores, i went back to my hotel to take a break before my friday evening date with myself at the show Wicked!!!

in the underground, i saw this cute poster

I also saw this amusing poster - who knew Jerry Springer was in Chicago?


i decided to get semi-dressed up for Wicked. with all the tourists in town, who knows what's the proper attire anymore...

i LOVED the show... it's so much about friendship, then love, and mostly about pushing boundaries beyond the labels society give you or how people perceive you. I will stop with the editorial commentary, but needless to say, i had a fun time, LOVED the story, loved the singing and performance...

i came out of the theatre on a high high note - i think Wicked just added a spot on my favorite musicals list!!
i had the stupid smile on my face, getting ready to walk back to my hotel.
on the side street, i saw 5 other girls giggling near... so i took a look. the door said "Stage Door" so i asked one of them, are you waiting for the Wicked Cast? and they were. it was unbelievable that there's not mobs of fans clammering out here waiting for the cast!!! So i decided to give it a few minutes, what else have i got to do anyway?!

within 10 minutes the cast came out! talk about superman quick in changing!!!
Oliver Tompset who plays Fiyero came out, and i didn't realize he's so gorgerous in real life until up close and personal (you know, stage shows always put so much makeup on you can't tell what is Maybelline and what is nature's blessings!)
my jaws dropped... he's hunky GORGEROUS! our kids would look equally gorgerous.

Here's Dianne Pilkington who played Glinda the good - she was too quick, i only got a picture of her instead of with her...

and me with Natalie Anderson, who played the role of Nessarose - Alphaba's sister


i'm high on a kite at that moment... loved the show, such an unexpected surprise to have almost run right into the cast afterwards and they were nice enough to take a picture with me! plus there's no big crowds and lineups to do so!

when i got back to my hotel, i decided to have a drink at the hotel bar in the lobby. On the Alleyway walking tour, some woman ordered a "Pimms and Lemonade" so i tried to order that... but the bar was out of Pimms (which is surprising for a british pub). i asked the bartender what's a typical british drink, and he in turned asked the few people who were sitting in the bar area... and an older British couple sitting at the table replied "Gin and Tonic" merrily, so that's what i ordered. they emphasized: "With lemon and ice, dearie!" - yes sir.

the couple turned out to be very entertaining (and halfway tipsy) - as we exchange stories on the London sights we've seen and visited, the history, and eventually, i seek out their advice about the etiquettes of tipping in London ("we're British, we almost never tip. unless i am exceptionally happy with your service, then i might give you something" was the advice i got. and they both thought i was rudely ripped off by the Black Cab driver giving himself £5 tip.) On a side note, the gin and tonic was VERY good - surprisingly light. I've only had a gin and tonic once before but the alcohol was so strong that i felt like i was inhaling just rubbing alcohol and never finished the drink. And the man recommended that i ask for the tonic water on the side so they'd give you a bottle. add half to your drink, and then on your second round, you only need to order a shot of gin to add to the remainder of your tonic water, to save a few bucks.

the night turned out to be adventurous and memorable, unpredictable and lovely.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

London day 1 - thurs 5-28-09

Milano airport security line is like Great America ride lines (La Ronde, for my Montreal readers) - twist and turns to deter your thoughts from how long the line is if everyone stood directly behind each other.

The custom official guy was cute and gave me a nice smile after seeing my passport - where were they when i spent the 4 weeks in their country!!!

the plane landed at Heathrow airport, and as it lands, i thought i saw the words "TOILET" big on a building near the airport.
but i think it said:

anyways, with 2 rolling luggages, and remembering how far the terminals were to the tram, and possibly all the levels of stairs and escalators i might have to encounter in the London underground (and not having taken it yet so unsure of what to expect) - i decided to bite the bullet and take a cab to my hotel. the line for Black Cab was convienently right outside - it's like a supped up mini van except there's only 2 seats in the back and plenty of leg room.

upon arriving, the driver took my bags to the hotel front door. the meter said £54, i handed him £60 expecting change ( i was going to tip £2 or £3 remembering the conversion at some point was about 1 £ to 2 $ or some such), and he had the audacity to say 'yes that's right, thank you. the meter was £55 and the rest is tip'
and he walked away!

how very rude, i think he over tipped himself, and i am dazed and confused since everything in Italy was included in the bill so i came from a country where really tipping was already included.

***side note, even though i didn't speak italian save to ask for directions and order food, the sound of italian is strangely familiar. now in london, even though i am hearing lots of english language, it sounds sooo foreign to me. not to mention that in London, people speak ALL sorts of language on the street, it's really not like being in an english speaking country, but rather, like any-language-speaking country. ***

-------- Apparitions, Alleyways and Ales -------------

so my friend at work found this great source call London Walks which is a group that offer very interesting guided walking tours - you don't need to book ahead of time, and the meeting location is always at a tube station. This gives great flexibility so you're not locked down to anything should last minute schedule changes, and i think London is such a walkable city, so i can get some exercise too.

my first tour was the Apparitions, Alleyways and Ales tour... London ghost stories... haunted mansions, theatre, haunting dogs.. the stories were entertaining, the guide was good, but i wasn't sure i believed all of them..

haunted alleyway near the stage door of a theatre:

Tom Cribb pub - Tom Cribb was a famous English bare-knuckle boxer and apparently haunts his pub to this day

this poor doggy died and was haunting a certain cross section of town at 8am, 2pm or 8pm at night, times when his owner used to walk him in life. his tombstone existed but was knocked over and grass grew over it. after many reports of car accidents caused by sightings of a dog run out into the street, investigators found the tombstone and put it back up - after then, no more doggy hauntings.

St James park - London Eye in the background. St James park is said to be super haunted due to all the bodies buried here, including a whole lot from a nearby monastery.

Sting (the singer)'s house - not haunted. When the tour end, the guide said "this way to the tube station, this way to the pub for a good drink, and around the corner is Sting's house, he lives here" we saw his butler peering through the windows like good stalkers that we are.

On my tour, i met this really cool woman named Anne who worked for Universit of Minnesota (we exchanged information but i reset my phone contacts accidentally so now i'll never be in touch with her) - who was here for work but stayed a few extra days... we really had fun, so the tour guide MENTIONED 'you can't talk about Haunted London without talking about 50 Barclay Square...' we knew we had to go there.

after the tour ended, Anne and i adventurously found our way to 50 Barclay Square (walking through Green Park gave us the willies, for no reason. all of a sudden we both felt a hush of unease... i took out my trusty mini flash light and we hurried and joked loudly to ease tension and half ran through the park)...

eventually we found the place... it's in a decently busy area of town even at night, though i did feel 'weird' when we walked by. A second hand bookstore is located on the first floor of this building, but the top floor middle room with the four poster bed is where a lot of strange things takes place... so many stories that the 'hauntings' weren't even associated with a single story. It is said to be confirmed that the bookstore has policies, even to this day, that there can never be just 1 person manning the store, and also that top floor middle room is always locked and no one is allowed to ever enter.

Anne and i looked at it, then ran across the street so we can take a picture of it from far. we both snapped our digital camera..
then my camera does a split second preview of the last picture, and i saw a flash of white in the photo, that was not in Anne's photo. i kind of freaked out a bit, i turned to Anne and asked if she saw the white in the photo too and she did. we quietly squealed like school girls in light horror. i half wanted to leave my camera on the pavement and walk away...

then i started noticing that cars were curving as they came by us (when we tried to cross the street). i told Anne my theory that i happened upon a set of car headlights that is driving towards the house, and with my camera flash i managed to capture the light reflecting off the window glass.

we both 'bought' this explanation and felt a lot less spooked (and in return a lot more stupid).

you tell me if you believe there's something supernatural here:

so ends the first half day in London. heart pounding excitement, mostly self induced i think.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Last Supper at Milan

time flies, it barely hit me that my last day in Italy was here...

i lunched with TH, then had lemon granita again from Grom...
then i shopped a bit and walked around my 'old stomping ground' in Milan - by now i OWN Milan in terms of knowing how to get places and where things are around downtown!
of course, i had to go to Peck and get some lemon and pistacchio macarons. SOOOO delish.

since i've done the whole shopping thing (Florence and Venice were out of control!), i just walked around and enjoyed Milano on the last day.

the big department store La Rinascente is literally across from the Duomo, so i decided to have a snacky-drink there late afternoon.

I didn't even realize it was Apertivo time! I ordered Creme Royal - sparkling wine Brut Bellavista, Creme de Cassis and Guava juice. it was yummy

what was even yummier was that since it's appertivo time, they brough me free snacks!! rolled buffalo mozarella cheese with rucola and speck, sliced roast beef wrapped around asparagus, cucumber dip served with a slice of toast point and a cucumber slice, and tomato sauce pasta that is soooo flavorful:

and the honest to goodness view was amazing, i see the top section of the Duomo RIGHT across from my seat, in the beautiful near twilight, afternoon breeze still helping creat the perfect scenary

having appertivo here was a gem of an accidental discovery - i truly recommend if you're ever in Milan, this is a must do.

So now Amy is a bit buzzed (yes, still a light drunk) - and what next? of course, the last day isn't complete without a 2nd Grom run. i had to go with my favorite flavors: Crema Di Grom, and Nocciola...

by the time i stumbled back to the house, i was pretty satisfied with my day. TH and TW asks: 'Amy, do you want to go see your italian chef "boyfriend" for your last meal?' and there was only 1 answer: 'give me 10 minutes to put on my face!'

we walked into ZeroDuo (zeee-ro-due-eh) and the chef's table was open - i guess people aren't as crazed foodie fan as me !! - when we sat down we saw my chef plating something delicious looking...
we tried to find it on the menu and guessed at it... upon asking the waitress, she came back to tell us what they made was a test sample for next month's menu, it wasn't yet on the current menu yet - but they would be happy to make it for us if we wanted... so we ordered it:

Layer of fried eggs then aspersgus, chopped red onions with lemon zest, then beef tartare (ever so slightly cooked by the heated rings). Topped with more aspersgus and thyme and basil!!! it was delicious and rich and smooth and just perfect balance.

of course this being my last night i was unabashedly gawking the whole night at the kitchen. (and yes in retrospect the glass is TWO WAY amy, they can see you gawk at them the whole night). TH and TW were egging me on to talk to the chef since during slower moments he would come out of the kitchen to his friends at the table behind me to chat. i was mortified and embarassed (and slightly buzzed from the 2 glasses of sparkling red wine from dinner) - and kept thinking, this is how it starts, the Cougar life, of older woman embarassingly flauntingly hitting on the younger 'staff' - waiters, gardener, repairmen. Goodness gracious, let me not be one of those...!

On the chef's 2nd visit to his friend's table, i finally turned (after much much encouragement and peer pressure from TH and TW) to the chef and asked "Photo per favore?" (in my mind i think i said 'per favore' but i've noticed that in my attempts to speak italian i've often forgotten and left out 'per favore' and 'grazie' in the excitement that i've gotten the other words right...)

at first he was asking if we wanted HIM to take a photo of the 3 of us, but i handed the camera to TH and said no, and pointed me and him. he leans over for the photo:

after that, he turned to me, pointed to his cheek and said "bacio??"
so i gave him the kiss on the cheek.

by this time i was blushing like mad and about to DIE of embarassment, but TH and TW insists this makes good travel stories...

after that, we walked around near the Versace Teatro area (lots of good bars)

and had more drinks...

we rounded back to the bar where i had my first drink in Milan that first evening - thus coming back full circle symbolically and physically for my trip. we also went to a spanish place for 2nd drinks of which i had none and gave it to TH because by then i was happily tipsy. i think we all were...

Ciao Milano...

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