01 – The Second Honeymoon
02 – Conquering Medieval Stairs
03 – Urinating in Brussels
04 – On to Paris
05 – Seeing Louvre
06 – A Police Story
07 – The Sun King’s Blingy Home
08 – Her Majesty’s Beverage in the Sky
09 – Hangin’ with Our Royal Neighbors
10 – Sending Ourselves to the Tower
11 – Raining on the Parade
12 – Her Majesty’s Beverage in the Sky Again
After two nights each at two hotels, this type-A couple was done with Paris and ready to move on to our next city: London.
Gare du Nord. Not sure if I should make a third reference to Jason Bourne at this point
It was here that we got an UK entry stamp on our passports, roughly 10 feet after officially exiting Paris
Non-participating selfie on Eurostar
Arriving at King’s Cross St. Pancras International, 2.5 hours after departing Gare du Nord
London was what I looked forward to the most on this trip. It was the only one among GaWC Alpha++ and Alpha+ cities (meaning having the highest global economic importance) that I hadn’t been to. For someone who loves big cities, this meant a lot.
Our first stop was the Borough Market, a “whole sale & retail food” market with a history of 1,002 years. Think about all the dead fish that has traveled through here! Wow! Of course, now it’s overrun with tourists looking for a bite to eat.
Pretty sure that “smell me” sign wasn’t intended to point at the lady’s head
From meat pies to Olympic-sized paella, the stuff looked good. We love street food, but didn’t eat anything here. In fact, the reason we hung out in Borough Market was that we were waiting for our afternoon tea reservation next door. By next door, I mean the Shard.
The Shard. At 309.7 meters, it barely makes it into the world’s tallest 200 buildings list. However, it is the #1 tallest in the entire European Union. It’s rather strange that the Europeans just don’t seem to like skyscrapers.
Ground-level reception at the Shangri-la Hotel, within the Shard
Shangri-la elevator lobby
microwaving x-ray scanning our bags
Everyone and their grandma knows that the British are big on tea. Therefore, the tourist-in-UK experience can’t start better than starting with some afternoon tea. Hong booked us two opposite experiences: a traditional one tomorrow, and a posh modern twist today. It can’t get any more posh modern than to have the drink on the 35th floor, far above the palaces and churches. I could care less about tea, but being able to chill on a high floor by a giant glass window got me really excited.
Shangri-la Hotel lobby, on the 35th floor in the Shard
The restaurant Ting with the afternoon tea service was on this floor
Live music in the sky, to complement the tea
Urinals 150 meters above River Thames where I assume lots of excess tea got offloaded
Exceptional presentation kicked off our afternoon tea experience
Our two food towers
Let me pause here and say that, when it comes to this British thing, I was completely uncultured. I understood snacks – some people eat more of it than others. But taking half of an afternoon to sit down and pay $100 for some sandwiches was just an activity that I could not fully comprehend. But Hong also introduced me to other cultural things that I find puzzling, like eating raw fillets of fish stuck to white rice. Certain things in the world can seem completely illogical and yet people love them to death. Well I suppose love is never about being logical, is it?
And for those of you who, like me as of yesterday, are clueless about this tradition, here’s how it works – you get (1) a pot of hot water with some dried leaves in it; (2) a plate of savory sandwiches; (3) some scones, which are really dry and crumbly bread that you’re supposed to eat with clotted cream; (4) a plate of sweet desserts. Some or all of those can be refilled, I’m not entirely sure, but it seems to depend on how much the server likes you. You are supposed to take time to enjoy these items, but some of them do dry out or get cold quickly and become less nice to eat. There’s a long list of teas to choose from and you can switch in the middle of the service, but 2-3 seems to be the limit in a two-hour window.
Ting, this Shangri-la restaurant, offered two food menus. On the left was a more traditional take on the afternoon tea concept, while the one on the right was an Asian-inspired set of food. Ting was known for its Asian fusion stuff, and I suppose you can look at it as a hyper-glorified version of dim sum.
Getting ready for the first sip!
This view alone made it a very happy meal for me
Ready to go for my Asian fusion desserts
(if you have to know, they weren’t that good)
This pot of pu-erh was the best tea among the three that I tried
Let me pause again and comment on the food. British food is known to be bad, and our first meal lived up to this expectation. It wasn’t terrible, but it was just the least tasty food that we had had on this entire trip (except for two of Hong’s sandwiches, apparently). I think it says a lot for a 5-star hotel restaurant to lose out by a wide margin to all the random Parisian cafes in terms of the tastiness it provided. Don’t get me wrong, however – it was still a great experience. Sipping tea leisurely like a modern royalty in the Shard was pretty awesome. If Her Majesty gets by eating tasteless sandwiches in the afternoons, so shall we!
Moving on… since the Shard was quite close to the Tower Bridge, we walked to and crossed it. Note: the Shard was even closer to the London Bridge, the Thames crossing that was both historically significant and boring to look at. We preferred the aesthetically more appealing one for our selfies.
This isn’t the bridge that’s falling down
In the late afternoon, we had tickets to the Sky Garden at 20 Fenchurch Street. We walked by the Monument to reach this white (and rather ugly) building that the Londoners nicknamed “the Walkie Talkie”, as featured in one of the afternoon tea pictures above. The top portion of the building was designed into this awesome urban garden that doubled as an event space.
The Monument (to the Great Fire of London (of 1666))
This column itself was almost 340 years old
Selfie in the sky – with Tower of London and Tower Bridge in the background
The Sky Garden was a fantastic way for lovers of urban jungles to temporarily pretend that we enjoyed real nature as well
Later on in the evening, we grabbed dinner at an Indian restaurant near our hotel. Chor Bizarre supposedly was a top restaurant in New Delhi that also had this location in London.
Interior decor was real fancy
The food was hands down amazing
For the remaining of the trip, we’d be staying at a hotel called The May Fair, located within Mayfair, London. It was quite a posh establishment in a neighborhood that can hardly be overstated. Our short walk from the hotel to the restaurant made me seriously question whether we could afford dinner, just by judging the average cost of cars parked by the sidewalks.
The May Fair’s black sheep
The May Fair’s white sheep, and me plotting on stealing it
Our room at the May Fair
In Mayfair, there were more R8’s than Accords and more Range Rovers than CRVs
Driving here must be stressful as any collision you may have was likely with a $100k car
Our drinks at the May Fair Bar