Saturday, June 14, 2014

Au revoir, Paris, hello again, London!

Day 10 (Wed, 11 June 2014)

All too soon, our Paris holiday had come to an end and we would be taking the Eurostar back to London this morning. But before we left, we squeezed in another very French meal - croissants for breakfast! These were bought from the local boulangerie (bakery) a few doors down from our hotel. They make their breads fresh every morning and open shop from 6am.

If you buy croissants in France, go for the croissant au beurre, which is a croissant made from butter. I can't tell you how good the croissants are in Paris. Even though this is no famous bakery, the croissants are light, flaky and the inside extremely fluffy and buttery. So much yum for just €1 (S$1.70). We're really going to miss French food.

Just for a treat, we also bought a French meringue from the same bakery. A large cloud of happiness.

Finally, time to leave. We dragged our suitcases across the street to Gare du Nord. It's an easy ride up the escalator to the London-bound station.

Gare du Nord, like most old train stations in large cities, is very picturesque. There's a large departures board which gives the station an old-world charm. If you've watched the movie Hugo, you'll know what I mean.

Before coming here, I'd read all sorts of horror reviews online about the state of Gare du Nord, how it's dirty, rife with pickpockets and a slum compared to London's five-star St Pancras. I found it all completely exaggerated. Sure, it's a tad shabbier than London but the check-in area was clean, with plenty of seats and little shops. The process was smooth and pleasant, and the customer service staff polite. I don't think it's any more dangerous than your typical big city train station.

Which brings me to the topic of safety in Paris in general. Again, I'd read all sorts of scary news reports online about how the Chinese were being targeted by criminals and I'd imagined there were pickpockets at every corner waiting to steal from us. The reality was, we experienced nothing of the sort. We were warned about gypsy children but we never saw them once. In fact, after a few days, Andre asked, "What do these gypsy children look like?" lol.

I'd also heard about the survey ruse, where people come up to you asking if you could do a survey and then pick your bags when you were distracted. We were actually approached by a group of teenagers near the Paris Opera House, holding what looked like survey papers. The girl who come towards me was blatantly staring at my bag! However, I was instantly on alert mode and waved my hands, saying "No, no!" very loudly. They immediately walked away and gave us no trouble. I'm not saying that pickpocketing doesn't happen. I'm saying that because we only hear of cases that get reported, they tend to be magnified in our minds and blown out of proportion. Just stay alert, keep your bags in front of you if you can (mine is constantly strapped in front of me) and don't do silly things like leave your bag unattended or flash expensive equipment or jewelry. I guess it also helped that we were in Paris in Summer where the sun only set at 9.50pm. Naturally, you should be more careful after dark.

We said goodbye to Paris and took the 2.5 hour trip on the Eurostar back to London.

Andre enjoyed the last croissant he had saved on board.

During this trip, I found the Parisiens much friendlier and more courteous than 15 years ago, especially the service staff. At no time did I encounter the stereotypical uppity Parisien with their insistence on not speaking English. In fact, we met quite some French folks who tried to speak a few words of Mandarin to us!

I asked Lesley-Anne whether she preferred Paris or London. Her answer: she likes London for its functionality - the trains are cleaner, the city feels safer, things work better. But she prefers Paris as a city because it's more artistic - everything from its architecture and exhibits to its culture and people. I would describe Paris as the soul of an artist. Temperamental, gritty and not the most sanguine company. But it's bursting with character and poetry. You just can't help falling in love with it. I ♥ Paris.

We arrived back at St Pancras International and changed at the Tube station to go to Earl's Court.

Our next accommodation was in this lovely residential area.

We checked into this two-bedroom apartment that I found on airbnb.

It's a fantastic rate considering it has two bedrooms and a large living area. It comes with a kitchenette and all the amenities we could possibly need, eg washer and dryer, stove, dishwasher, fridge, oven and microwave. This is the main bedroom with a tv:

Second bedroom:

Living room. We can watch the World Cup on the big screen and at sane hours!


The host Peter, loaded the apartment with all sorts of conveniences - coffee, tea, sugar, milk, bottled water and a pack of chocolate cookies. Towels and toiletries are provided, even a bookcase full of books and DVDs!

There are two disadvantages I thought I should mention: 1) the apartment is three flights of stairs up, which was a little tough, especially with our luggage 2) it has no air-conditioning which means it can get very warm on hot summer days, even with the windows open. I think it's probably comfortable up to 25 degrees celcius. But the pros far outweigh the cons: the apartment is less than 5 mins away from two Tube stations - Earl's Court and West Brompton. It's in a central location close to many shops, supermarkets and restaurants, yet only about 20mins from the city centre. It's very spacious and best of all, it has super fast free wifi!

Having checked in and dropped off our luggage, we took the Tube to Piccadilly Circus. First stop - M&M's World! I know, I know, it's just a large chocolate shop. Four storeys of it. We weren't looking to buy anything, we only went in to gawk, for the heck of it. .

Next, we were ready for a late lunch and that was at Burger and Lobster at Dean Street. There is no food menu here because there are only three items, all £20 pounds each: 1) A whole lobster 2) Lobster roll 3) Beef burger. We came here because it had great reviews. We were there at about 2.30pm and the place was packed. Funnily enough, the customers were mostly Asians!

This was one of the splurge meals for us. We ordered two lobsters (one grilled, one steamed) and one lobster roll to share (I was wondering why anyone would pay £20 for a burger). The lobsters were, how do I put it, freakin' fantastic. Huge and fresh, served with butter sauce, fries and salad.

The lobster roll may not seem like your money's worth but it was stuffed full of lobster meat and that brioche roll, gosh, it was crumbly, slightly sweet and had a melt-in-your-mouth quality. You can also drown it in the same butter sauce.

A very, very enjoyable meal. Wish we could have more!

The rest of the afternoon was reserved for shopping and window shopping. We walked down Regent Street to Hamley's, the world's oldest and largest toy shop. Founded in 1760, it features seven floors of toys for all ages.

Of course there's a section for Paddington Bear from the beloved British children's book.

The top floor is dedicated to Lego. Check out the royal family made entirely from Lego bricks!

And this classic phone booth, also made from Lego.

Strolling down Oxford Street.

Stopping for a ice-cream cone.

And because we now have a kitchette at our disposal and were too tired to go out again, it was tv dinners from Marks and Spencer's for dinner. Cheap and not half bad.


Rachel Tan said...

I have just booked Premier Inn at Earls Court (I think it's called Kensington or something) for November. Is there a big supermarket there and lots of eateries/cafes? If not, I'll switch out to the St Pancras Premier Inn instead.

One thing - Premier Inn rooms do not come with refrigerators or microwaves or washing machines, though as far as I recall - if one really needs a Laundromat, you should be able to find one quit easily.

I haven't found AirBnB to be very much cheaper than B&Bs/Premier Inn/Hotels.

monlim said...

I suspect your Premier Inn Earl's Court is on the other side (close to Earl's Court station but not West Brompton), though I'm not certain. Most of the eateries are along Earl's Court Road. There's a massive 24-hour Tesco somewhere in that area but again, you'll need to check if it's near where you are.

Airbnb is not necessarily cheaper than Premier Inn but if you're in London for a while, then having an apartment is very convenient cos of the washing machine, kitchenette, fridge, etc. Ours was quite good cos the location was fantastic. We found it cheaper than b&bs though cos b&bs tend to sleep only 2 in a room, meaning we would have needed to get 2 rooms. And we generally don't have big breakfasts so that second "b" wld have been wasted on us!

btw, I love the King's Cross area cos it's sooooo convenient and happening. Tons of shops and restaurants within the train station itself and within the area. I liked it better than Earl's Court which is more a residential area, but both my kids preferred Earl's Court for exactly that reason - it's quieter :)

monlim said...

I just checked: your Earl's Court Premier Inn is very convenient too - 200m from Earl's Court Tube station and Earl's Court Road, where all the restaurants are. The big Tesco is at the corner of Warwick Rd and West Cromwell Rd, which is probably about 800m from Premier Inn.

Rachel Tan said...

Hi Monica!
I took a google walk around Earls Court. And I saw the Earls Court Tavern that you ate at!
It's got everything one would need just exiting the station - fast food, sandwiches (Pret and Greggs) and I saw an M&S Simply Foods, and a Chinese Restaurant. The google walk to Premier Inn looks completely manageable.

I see you didn't go to Chinatown for Chinese food fix huh :p oh yes but you had the 4 Seasons Duck. 4 Seasons opened in Bangkok but is having a tough time competing with MK Duck :p

monlim said...

Earl's Court Road is great. There's also a large Boots in case you need any pharmacy items.

I didn't go to Chinatown cos my friend Lilian told me to avoid it. She said the Bayswater outlets are better and with friendlier service :)