September 30, 2012

London Calling (Day 5, Sep 29)

There must be something wrong with me because I spent half a day at an outlet village and didn’t buy anything much!

This morning I made my way to Marylebone Station to take the railway line to Bicester North where the Bicester Village outlet shops are located. The cost was £32 pounds and train ride was about 45mins followed by another 5min bus ride.
I arrived first thing when the shops opened and thanks to Nick’s PPS membership card, I was able to obtain a 10% VIP card usable at all the outlets except Prada. I was optimistic about buying something for myself but truth be told, I didn’t really need anything and thus when it came to browsing I wasn’t really into it.
I did buy a bunch of things at Cath Kidston but as mentioned before, all the clothes are now autumn/winter hence nothing appealed. There were some dresses at Coast but somehow or other, they didn’t fit properly. I think I need the petites. I was disappointed by the prices and range at DVF and Tory Burch which were small stores. Cheaper on eBay!

Towards lunchtime the shops started getting really crowded. I had narrowed down my choices to getting a Tod’s or a YSL bag and broke for lunch at Carluccio’s to mull it over.

I’ve seen Antonio Carluccio on TV so I was keen to try his food. They had a 2-course meal going for £9.95 which I felt was reasonable and I added a glass of Martini Moscato D’Asti…yummy.
I had a bruschetta and a Milanese di Pollo, a breaded chicken breast served with green salad. The bruschetta was really fresh and whet my appetite for more. The chicken was crispy yet moist but a tad tasteless so I think I should have tried one of the pastas instead.
After lunch I went back to Prada to help Swana get something, there was a queue to get in and the shop was overwhelmed by Chinese tourists who were snapping everything up!

It took 30 mins to pay and then I went back to Tod’s and YSL and decided against getting anything as the Tod’s bag was the last piece and there was a snag in it, plus I couldn’t justify spending $800 on a leopard print YSL easy bag which would be hard to match.

So I made my way back to London and got off at Bond Street and checked out Debenhams and John Lewis. Tried on a number of things, again they didn’t fit quite right because they were too long for my upper body. Bought some toiletries instead and rushed back to the hotel to change for dinner.

I had an appointment with Aunty Yvonne at York & Albany in Camden. It’s a Gordon Ramsay-owned restaurant which she had suggested. I was 15 mins late thanks to a delayed bus but managed to find the place easily enough.

I passed her my leftover sago ingredients so that they wouldn’t go to waste. The restaurant was really dark so I couldn’t take nice food shots.

Ordered Salt and Pepper Squid with Green Chilli and Lime for my starter and Roasted Cornish Cod, Shellfish Cassoulet Cherry Tomato Sauce for my main. I wouldn’t say the food was fantastic but it wasn’t bad either. 
We shared dessert, a lemon tart with raspberry ice cream which was refreshing and were stuffed by the end of the meal. She gave me a lift back and her car actually has a seat warmer function, which she calls the butt warmer! LOL!

September 29, 2012

London Calling (Day 4, 28 Sep)

Am back in London, in another hotel called Park Grand London Hyde Park. After another half day session of discussions and brainstorming, we left Pettistree House at lunchtime to catch the train back to London.

Ate a sandwich on the crowded train and it stalled at one of the stops when a passenger had a medical emergency so we transferred to another train. Though my bag was lighter, I still struggled with it on the platforms and staircases especially when switching to the underground.

It was drizzling by the time I reached Paddington and I lugged my suitcase the 200m or so to the hotel in the rain. Found the room tiny, but at least it was clean and cosy. After a quick freshen up, I was out the door and on my way to Oxford St via bus, just a 5 min ride.
Went to see the horse head sculpture and Marble Arch up close before strolling down Oxford St. Went in and out of shops like Next, Dorothy Perkins, Mothercare, Monsoon, Marks & Spencer, Primark, Boots.
Didn’t really buy much as the fashions were already autumn/winter so I was a bit disappointed to end up empty handed. Just focused on the kids stuff and that was a tad more productive.
Primark was a like a pasar malam the way they lelong their prices, super cheap but quality questionable. Went into the food hall of Selfridges and found what I was looking for, also treated myself to a Pierre Herme macaroon.
I took the bus back and found a fish and chips shop to tapau dinner from. It was pretty cheap, £5.95 for a meal and I added a fish cake and mushy peas. Ate in the room and was appalled at a show I stumbled upon, “Spartacus…Blood and Sand”. The people were nekkid, full frontal for the women! Thought it was porn but it was actually a TV series!

September 28, 2012

London Calling (Day 3, 27 Sep)

It was a beautiful day in Ipswich, we’ve been really lucky with the weather.
This morning we had a half day session of briefings followed by eating yesterday’s leftovers for lunch. Then we hired taxis to take us to Skirmish Paintball, an outfit in the woods where we had a team-building activity.

Passed by some blackberry bushes as we walked into the woods, how nice to see them up close.
We had to sign indemnity forms and put on camouflage overalls, I looked horrible, especially since the girls had an extra vest to protect our ‘assets’ which made be look bulky, like a ninja turtle!
2 team captains were chosen and they chose the rest of their team mates. Felt like one of those reality shows, where you wish your name isn’t called last because that means nobody likes you…luckily was called somewhere in the middle! LOL.

I’ve never paintballed before so I didn’t really know what to expect. The guns are heavy and in this instance, we had a series of challenges to get through. Every round was about retrieving a flag and bringing it to your enemy’s base but our team didn’t really have a strategy.

My own strategy was to find the best place to hide the moment the game starts. I crouched behind branches and tree trunks but still got hit 3 times in the first round.

It was freaking pain, you know I am not the swearing kind, but in those moments after getting shot, I wanted to curse and swear! The pain is stinging as the bullets fly at 300 feet per second! I got whacked on my neck, bare skinned and also on my calves.

For the next 2 rounds, I did quite well, managing not to get hit or if I did, I didn’t really feel it thanks to the vest. But in the last round I got hit another time and gleefully surrendered.
The bruises were starting to show when we got back to Pettistree House.
After a quick shower, it was time to start preparing dinner. We had been divided into 4 teams to prepare appetisers, mains and desserts and I was in the dessert team. My team wanted to incorporate something Asian so I volunteered to make sago gula melaka and brought the ingredients with me from Singapore.
 My sago turned out well and so did the other dishes, there was a butternut squash risotto and spaghetti bolognaise, really good ‘spag bol’ as the others were calling it. The dessert team also made a blackberry apple crumble and Mexican flan but the flan did not set. 
One of my colleagues who’s danced salsa in competitions then proceeded to teach some of the girls some moves and then later, a few of us played a round of ‘Articulate’, a board word game somewhat like Taboo. That was fun, although I think I am better at guessing than describing! 

September 27, 2012

London Calling (Day 2, 26 Sep)

Guess where I am? Ipswich!

Never did I think I would ever come to this neck of the woods but this is where we are spending the next 2 days.

The whole of today was spent at our Paddington office where I finally got to meet the rest of the global colleagues. We did training all day and were stuck in a meeting room so I didn’t really get to see our headquarters.
I was caught dozing off at one point by a male colleague! Lunch was at the employee cafeteria…very nice, food was good though and very cheap. We rushed off in the late afternoon to board the tube from Paddington to Liverpool Street where we changed to the rail service to Ipswich.
Passed by the Olympic Stadium on the way, and saw a couple of rainbows too during the 1-hr plus ride. When we reached Ipswich, we boarded taxis to Pettistree House, a big country house that we are currently staying in. I am sharing with my colleague Sarah from Beijing, we volunteered as there were not enough rooms.
 A couple who live on a neighbouring property prepared dinner for us. They specialise in tapas and paella and everything they made was sooooo good, I kept topping up my plate!
The head of marketing made everyone write something bad/interesting about themselves anonymously and then we had to pick from the bowl and guess who wrote what. I couldn’t really think of anything and wrote that I used to own 150 pairs of shoes and the person who picked my paper was right in guessing me! Others had stolen and crashed their parents’ cars, been arrested etc…I’m such a boring person!
Some of the others stayed up to drink and chat but I retreated to the room to read…again, how boring am I?

September 26, 2012

London Calling (Day 1, 25 Sep)

Pinch me, I’m in London! Didn’t think I would be in jolly old England this soon but thanks to the company’s recent merger and acquisition and migration to a new email marketing tool, approval was obtained for the whole marketing team to gather for some training and team-building.

I didn’t want to get too excited about the trip till I was actually here as I was worried about Aunty Sarda but she’s well at the moment so there was no stopping the trip.

Though the company policy states business class travel for flights above 10hours, approval wasn’t granted for this event due to tight budgets but I wasn’t complaining…a trip is a trip! We’re even spending the night in a budget hotel, Tune Hotel in Paddington. It's cheap and good, clean and modern.
Arrived early this morning and managed to get an early check-in for an extra £15. The flight was really loooong, I watched ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’, ‘Friends with Kids’ and ‘Mirror Mirror’ and slept the rest of the time.

Swana kindly sent me to the airport when I couldn’t get a cab, she happened to be in the neighbourhood as I left the house. But I forgot my medications, and Nick had to drive all the way to the airport to pass them to me before I boarded!

I brought my orange suitcase and it was a struggle to lug it around Heathrow to the express trains…I didn’t think of taking a trolley! Duh! The struggle continued from Paddington Station to our hotel 400 metres away. I am so getting a new bag after this!

I spent the day recuperating from the flight and acclimatizing to the time difference by sightseeing with Anjali. She moved here a couple of months ago to do her Masters at London School of Economics and today was the only day we could meet as she had a wedding in Cornwall to travel to.
We did a hop-on/hop-off tour, but didn’t really hop off much! I just snapped away from the top of the bus, the weather was lovely – not raining as predicted so at least I have some nice blue sky pictures!
We boarded near Regent Street and stayed on while the bus went round Hyde Park, Knightsbridge, Royal Albert Hall, Baker Street, Picadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square before we got off at Covent Garden to search for Neal’s Yard. My colleague recently posted a picture on Facebook of a colourful courtyard and I just HAD to see it for myself.
A bit anti-climatic when we finally found it…it was tiny and the plants prevented me from taking any clear shots. The weather got a bit erratic then, it started raining so Anju and I took cover in a pub and decided to just lunch there.
They claimed great British pub food but the fish and chips couldn’t make it…too rubbery.
We waited ages for our bus line to come so we could hop on again. Passed by St Paul’s Cathedral and got off at Tower Bridge where is started to drizzle again. Love this bridge! The last time I was here was 16 years ago, can’t remember a thing!
The tour ticket entitled us to a cruise down the River Thames so we hopped on to a boat that would bring us to the London Eye. Passed by the HMS Belfast and went under London Bridge before we alighted at Embankment.
Took a few quick shots with the observation wheel and Big Ben before we hopped into a taxi to The Berkeley Hotel - I had made reservations for afternoon tea. But not just any afternoon tea, theirs is a fashion-themed one inspired by the season’s collections called ‘Pret-a-Portea’ and I was lucky to secure one a week before the trip when usually they are booked months ahead.

There was name card in the shape of a shoe waiting for us, with my name on it. Chinaware was Paul Smith and I had a Funky Fruits tea infusion.
There was an assortment of savoury sandwiches and canap├ęs along with the cakes and desserts from the 2012 Spring/Summer collection. They were almost too pretty to eat but they tasted as good as they looked. But one round was enough for both of us, sugar overload! Before we left, we got doggie bags of some of the desserts, how nice of them.

Harrods was a short walk away, took a quick tour of their food hall and the ladies fashions, I think we spent less than 30 mins in the store…it was just to have a glance plus it had been a long day.
Anju followed me back to the hotel to pick up the curry powder she asked me to bring, I bought a salad from Tesco’s in case I was hungry and that was the end of Day 1!