Sightseeing in London can be a battle. A battle against the oppressive July heat, against the huddled masses of tourists on the Tube, against the sticky humidity that leaves you feeling like you just spent days in the jungle when you’d only showered an hour before. Sometimes when I stood in line for hours at a particularly popular tourist attraction, I became lost in thoughts about how I was just another cow in a herd of tourists, and sometimes I started devising an escape plan in case the swarms of tourists around me succumbed to Black Friday syndrome and proceeded to simply stampede their way into whatever monument/museum/palace I happened to be at, much like the wildebeests in The Lion King. Still, these morbid thoughts didn’t stop me from visiting every tourist attraction in London that I could manage, including, of course, the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.
Dolph, Pickles and I arrived at Buckingham Palace by walking from Green Park station through Hyde Park. We were an hour early, but of course there were already swarms of tourists lining the gates. We managed to get decent spots near the gate to observe the changing of the guard, and the Guards band played the title song from Skyfall, which was fun. To be honest, it was a lot of waiting, but it’s not everyday that you get to see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. In any case, we spent the rest of the day doing some more touristy things, including purchasing tea at Fortnum & Mason and visiting the National Gallery, which houses, among other pieces, Van Gogh’s Armchair. I’m not much of an art critic, but I have a special love of Van Gogh, so I was a happy camper. One of the best things about London is that many of the museums and galleries, including the National Gallery and the British Museum, are free, which is always a bonus when you’re on a tight budget.
We ended up wandering into Blue Lagoon, a small Thai restaurant nearby. It was a relatively small restaurant, and we were the only patrons when we walked in, which was relatively early, possibly around 5 PM. The three of us spent a short amount of time perusing the regular menu before deciding to order the 2 course set dinner, which was on special for £10 and included a set of three appetizers and a main dish of your choice. We then waited for our food to come, and in addition to the usual awkwardness of being the only table of patrons at a restaurant, I found the waiting process particularly awkward here. For one thing, there was a server who was leaning against a wall opposite our table for the longest time, without doing any work. We had the uncomfortable feeling that he was watching us, and while it’s generally considered a good thing for a waiter to be keeping his eye on you, it was excessive here to the point that we found it uncomfortable. In any case, onwards to the food…
First to arrive, of course, was our plate of Appetizers: some chicken skewers, spring rolls, and toast with prawn paste. Considering that this was essentially a plate of grilled and fried foods, it was oily and satisfying. It also came out piping hot, which is great except that I hadn’t expected it and ended up burning my tongue. In any case, I found the toast with prawn paste especially interesting, since I’d never had it before–the toast was crunchy and was also topped with sesame seeds, which added a nice texture. The chicken was moist, while the spring rolls were fried up nicely, and the peanut sauce was a good balance between creamy and chunky. Greasy food is so comforting after a long day of walking.
Our main courses arrived soon after. Pickles had chosen the Yellow Curry, which was accompanied by a bowl of rice. We were disappointed to see that the rice was short-grain, as opposed to the long-grain rice that is usually served at Thai restaurants. Pickles also found that the yellow curry wasn’t aromatic enough, and that there wasn’t enough of a signature curry flavour to it, either. I generally enjoy the strong flavour of coconut milk in yellow curries, but it wasn’t too apparent here.
Dolph went for a classic in the Pad Thai. Out of the three of us, I think she was the most satisfied with her meal. The noodles had a very pleasing, chewy and bouncy texture. Although the prawns were more on the mushy side than having a natural snap, she thought that the plentiful amount of prawns included more than made up for it.
I, meanwhile, opted for my usual favourite, the Green Curry, which included aubergine, chicken, and red and green peppers. I liked that it tasted strongly of coconut milk while still retaining a nice spicy aftertaste. However, soon after finishing this meal, I felt light-headed and a bit queasy. You could blame this on the heat and the fact that I’d been walking all day, but I do have strong suspicions that our meal had copious amounts of MSG, which I suppose is to be expected. Too much MSG makes me feel light-headed and thirsty, though, which is pretty much what happened here.
Would I recommend a meal at Blue Lagoon? Probably not. Although the food was passable, it wasn’t authentic Thai food. Plus, the service was awkward to the point that it was a bit intimidating. I actually had a much more pleasant experience at another Thai restaurant nearby the next week, so I would recommend you pass on Blue Lagoon.
London SW1Y 4DG
After a nightmarish trip, we finally arrived at our hostel in Dublin about 24 hours after our departure from Paris. I won’t bore you with all the details of why this voyage was the lowest point of our entire Europe experience, but it involved, among other things, a missed ferry that was completely the fault of the company that had sold us our ticket package, as well as landing at a different port than the one we’d planned on. Despite all this, our hostel in Dublin, Abigail’s Hostel, was quite lovely. The staff members were accommodating and the room was clean and had an ensuite bathroom. The three of us had booked a private room for three a couple months in advance, and ended up sharing a room for six, so we also had some extra room, which was great. The complimentary breakfasts were decent and included hard-boiled eggs, toast, cereal, and yogurt, among other things. And everyone needs a hearty breakfast before they go out sightseeing, right?
I really enjoyed my four days in Dublin. It was a nice change of pace from Paris, as all of the tourist attractions we wanted to see were within easy walking distance from our hostel. While the transportation system in Paris is efficient and convenient, just the general heat and crowded nature of it (especially in July, when it’s crammed with tourists) was a bit irritating. In Dublin, we mostly just strolled around, and there were helpful markers all over the city to help you find the more popular tourist spots. On our first morning in Dublin, we briefly stopped by Dublin Castle on our way to what is arguably the most popular tourist attraction in the city…
…the Guinness storehouse! I’m not much of a beer person, but I’d definitely recommend the experience. The building is a multi-floor, air-conditioned monument to Guinness, with the top floor being a sort of bar where you have a fantastic view of the whole city. Included in the price of your ticket is a complimentary pint of Guinness, which you have the option to pour yourself with the guidance of a helpful staff member. There was also an extensive gift shop, which is the perfect place to buy souvenirs for boyfriends, brothers, and dads (always the most difficult family member to buy gifts for, at least in my family). Although it was quite a bit of a walk from our hostel, we had a really great time learning more about Guinness.
We spent our afternoon lounging around, checking out some local shops, and sitting by the Liffey. We also wandered Temple Bar, where there were many stalls set up in a sort of street market. There were lots of pretty, hand-made knickknacks to buy and street musicians playing a wide range of instruments. And, of course, true to the Irish spirit, there were so many pubs and bars, their customers spilling out onto the street with pints of Guinness clutched in their fists. It was a little bit early for us to indulge in a drink, so we headed off for dinner instead.
During my stay in Dublin, I’d found out that Urbanspoon, while being every Vancouver food blogger’s holy grail, is not as well-established in Europe as it is in North America. In any case, I still trusted Urbanspoon to find our dinner spot: Gallagher’s Boxty House. The ambiance comfortingly reminded me of a restaurant in Vancouver, specifically Gastown, and the adorable slogan on their napkins made me smile. I (like most other people) love potatoes, and I was excited to try out a traditional Irish potato pancake in a clean, modern atmosphere. The menu is quite extensive and has several vegetarian options, and there were many different variants on boxty as well.
I’d been longing for something spicy and hearty for a while, so it didn’t take me long to decide on the Boxty House Chilli (€15.90), vegetarian chilli served with grated red Irish cheddar, chive sour cream, and a stack of coriander and paprika mini boxty pancakes. The chilli itself was hearty, had a spicy kick, and was chock full of ingredients, including beans, peppers, and tomatoes. It was a delicious and very filling vegetarian option. As for the sides, I didn’t really use the cheddar, which simply reminded me of nacho cheese. I liked how the sour cream tasted light and refreshing, with the chives adding texture as well as some flavour. As for the pancakes, they were slightly crisp just on the outer edges, and completely chewy on the inside. I wasn’t sure how to eat this, so I ended up kind of creating my own tacos, but the different components tasted fine on their own as well.
Pickles had the Chicken and Smoked Bacon Boxty (€16.90), featuring a more traditional Leitrim boxty pancake. She was surprised and also pleased with the amount of thick slices of chicken inside the boxty. Like me, she found her boxty to be crisp on the outer edges, while being chewy on the inside. She commented that most of all, boxty reminded her of pannekoek, a Dutch pancake which you can easily find in Vancouver at De Dutch, a popular chain restaurant. Like me, Pickles was well-satisfied with her meal, and we both found it interesting to see two different interpretations of boxty.
Lastly, Dolph opted for the Seafood and Boxty Potato Dumplings (€18.90), with fresh salmon, wild smoked coley (usually called pollock in North America), and Dublin Bay prawns in a red pepper and black olive sauce. At first, I thought that the portion size was quite small, especially for the price, but it ended up being very filling. The dumplings were reminiscent of gnocchi, being soft and chewy, with potato on the inside. The sauce was your typical tomato sauce and tasted like marinara. The dish as a whole was simple but tasty.
Overall, the three of us were quite satisfied with our day of sightseeing in Dublin, as well as our dinner at Gallagher’s Boxty House. It was interesting seeing a reinterpretation of traditional Irish fare, as Irish cuisine isn’t something that I’m too knowledgeable about. If you’re ever in Dublin, be sure to drop by Gallagher’s, and maybe stick around Temple Bar afterwards for that traditional Irish pub experience.
Gallagher’s Boxty House
20 Temple Bar
Since we had a relatively short stay in Paris, our days were scheduled to be jam-packed with sightseeing. And of course, we had to visit the Eiffel Tower. To be honest, I found the experience a bit underwhelming, especially when you’re being herded into an elevator with a billion other tourists. Although you can get a great view of Paris from the top of the tower, photos don’t really come out well since you’re taking photos through a glass or through a chain link fence. On the plus side, though, it only cost me €13 to get to the top, which is quite inexpensive for such a world-famous landmark. Afterwards, we stopped at Champs de Mars, a small park right across from the tower, ideal for picture-taking. Here’s a photo of me in my gawking tourist persona.
Done with our picture-taking, we headed to Champs-Élysées to do some shopping, which our days in Paris had been noticeably short on. We didn’t end up doing much shopping, but of course we stopped at Ladurée, one of the most famous macaron makers in the world.
Although the three of us purchased a box of six macarons to share, we didn’t end up eating them until we got home, and by then two of the six had been crushed/melted by the heat, and not fit for picture-taking. Not to fear, though, we also stopped by the Covent Garden location once we got to London, so there will definitely be some macarons on the blog in the near future.
We ended up having a late lunch/snack at Paul. I’d never heard of Paul before this, but considering that there’s a location right by our lodgings in London, it seems to be a world-wide chain. Owned by the same people as Ladurée, Paul also specializes in baked goods, than the former. We sat out on the patio, where pigeons pecked about freely and landed on our chairs and tables. The eating area was admittedly not very clean (being covered with garbage and pigeons), but there were only two or three employees who were often busy inside the store and couldn’t quite abandon their stations to tidy up the outside patio. I found this to be a constant theme while I was in Paris: many stores seemed to be understaffed, resulting in long lineups and frustrated employees.
To be honest, I don’t remember the name of this pastry. It was some sort of Apricot Danish (€1), and I ordered it because I love apricots and it was so cheap . It tasted pretty much like what I expected–layers of flaky, buttery pastry with apricot in the centre. There was some other sort of fruit pieces spread out throughout, but it didn’t taste exactly like apricot, and I’m not sure what they were. It wasn’t too sweet, which I appreciated after days of indulging in pains au chocolat.
I also had the Mini Brioche with Chocolate (€1), again because it was cheap. It was decent, but I honestly don’t remember much about it. I felt that the goods at the small local bakeries by our apartment, which we visited in the mornings, were vastly superior to what I tried at Paul. I mean, this mini brioche was good for what it was, but it was nothing memorable. It definitely wasn’t as rich and tender as I expect brioche to be.
Pickles had a Petit Pain de Menthe. I was curious about it because I adore anything with mint in it, but I was wary because this looked like it could be stale. We were both surprised that it wasn’t at all stale, and actually tasted quite substantially of mint. It was a decent size for a snack, which is how I felt of what we tried at Paul, although they also carry sandwiches and more meal-sized options.
Overall, we weren’t blown away by our experience at Paul, but it’s not like we expected very much from it, either. Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure that I saw a couple locations of Paul when I was in Seoul last summer, so I suppose it’s a larger chain than I thought. That being said, I don’t think it’s a huge loss that we don’t have Paul in Canada–I would take an Iced Capp and a box of Timbits over Paul any day.
75008 Paris, France