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Archive for the ‘Nights out’ Category

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Last Wednesday, I planned to meet up with four friends: two of my London pals and two girls who came into my life during my travels in Asia: Laura, was only involved for a single night on Koh Pha Ngan, but is one of the few who I’ve managed to stay in touch with, the other is Claudia, who, if you’ve been a regular reader of this blog will be a familiar name to you. But I couldn’t resist when what could have been a small, quiet night began rolling downhill and picking up more and more people as it went. It started with Sophie (one of the London pals) messaging our ‘usual’ Wednesday night drinks group on Facebook:

Sophie 12 October at 18:17 Reply

Hello this wednesday we are headed to cha cha moon just off carnaby street for some gorgeous food! We will meet outside at 6.30pm, then head to the john snow pub for 7.30pm!

Lots of love xx

Then I confirmed plans with my two traveling friends, Laura and Claudia; which grew to be Laura, Claudia, Claire, and eventually Emily.

Marianne McPhee 13 October at 09:37
You girls still up for tomorrow? Does Cha Cha Moon (just off Carnaby Street) at 6:30 work? Hope so! See you soon!
Claudia 13 October at 10:36 Reply
yup, def still up for it and sure that is cool beans for me! see you then! xxx
Laura 13 October at 13:38 Reply
Change of location and cuisine… gosh we’re CRAZY. I’ll be there as soon as I can….
Claire is coming as well… I think. I’m SO HUNGRY xxx
Then my friend Chris, who I only know through STA Travel Buzz, announced his presence in London that night on Twitter:
Curiouscheese: on the train to London now… @alice_walkabout @fillingthepages @statravelbuzz drinks later tonight?! X
Since Cha Cha Moon was clearly becoming the place to be, I passed along the news:
FillingThePages: @curiouscheese @statravelbuzz @alice_walkabout What time? Meeting people 4 dinner @ Cha Cha Moon – lots of traveling peeps, can meet there?
Lucky for me, Alice picked it up:
alice_walkabout: @FillingThePages i may well do that, thanks for the invite @statravelbuzz @curiouscheese you up for it? x
Finally, less than two hours before meeting time, my mobile phone began vibrating with a message from Miguel (that suave Portuguese neighbour I’ve mentioned before):
Miguel: I’m meeting Jess at 7 for dinner on Goodge Street, want to join?
Me: I’m meeting friends at Cha Cha Moon around 6:30, come there instead?
Miguel: Ok…I am meeting jess in oxford circus tube station at 7pm and we will meet u there..k?
So I extended the message to Miguel’s housemates:
Me: Meeting at Cha Cha Moon at 6:30pm
Tom: See you there!
So a dinner with four lovely ladies, turned into a meet up of 13 people from all different walks of life. And not once was a word spoken between myself and any of them. All I needed was Facebook, Twitter and a mobile phone.
Not one person at the table knew everybody else there and the evening was spent enjoying great (and cheap!) food at Cha Cha Moon and a few pints at the John Snow Pub. It was a simple night, but sometimes the simplest of things can make for the best memories. Now three of us are headed to Australia, two are off to Thailand, one is aiming for Canada, another for the USA. A rare night that I thought deserved it’s own entry.
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Local pubs, cute English villages and charity runs in the park. Ok so it wouldn’t make headline news, but I had a pretty great English weekend.

After five long days at work, it was straight to the local pub by my office with some of my equally ‘ready-for-the-weekend’ colleagues. After offloading all our typical work frustrations and a few pints I think we all felt a lot better.

After that, it was onto the tube and back to Paddington. Or was that Sheperd’s Bush? Apparently I was a little more exhausted than I thought… After waking up at Shepherd’s Bush, I quickly hopped off, grabbed the next eastbound train and retraced my steps to Paddington. I made sure to stay awake this time. Of course, my night couldn’t end there, so it was straight to The Cleveland Arms, my very own local, to meet up with the neighbours. After catching up with John, the landlord, and a few of the other regulars we headed back home. An ideal night of classic English locals. Not bad.

Next on the list? An English village! So when I eventually did get up, I hopped on a train to Leatherhead, where my good friend Nims hangs her hat. I met her and the lovely Marie-Anne (she goes by Mars, it makes the fact that we have the same name easier) at Mr. Nims’ (or Rich) tattoo shop where the man himself was giving Mars a nice little tattoo on her wrist. Then it was back to Nims’ to cook fish soup, roasted butternut squash with feta and vegetables, and homemade white chocolate rasberry cheesecake. Yum. Finished off by an episode of X Factor. Perfect.

Just to top off the weekend, how about a run in the park? Or how about I just go and support while others run in the park? What can I say, it was early, and well I’m not the one who signed up for a half-marathon anyway. But my neighbour Andy did (he was coerced really), and I am good enough to get up early to be the support team. So it was off to Hyde Park bright and early, where I curled up with a book for a couple of hours while Andy made his way through 13.1 miles of royal parks. Well done Andy. Top off the night with the second X Factor episode and my weekend was complete.

Monday and it’s back to work, but at least I got to enjoy another typical English activity that evening: an Indian. After joining my godparents at La Porte des Indes and eating WAY too much food, I dutifully collapsed into a food coma. Unfortunately, despite the good food, I could have done without the stomach pains.

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A friend’s birthday is always a good excuse for a busy weekend, so this past Friday and Saturday were no exception.

My neighbour, the suave Portuguese Miguel, turned the big 2-4 on Friday which called for an all-you-can-eat buffet in Chinatown a drink or two in Leicester Square and a little shaking at On Anon in Piccadilly Circus. I love Chinatown in London, but I have to say, an all-you-can-eat buffet is not the way to get the best quality food. But certainly the most for your money. Despite the lack of decent cuisine, I managed to fill my plate twice. What can I say, I’m a sucker for a deal.

After that, we bumped into Tom who was enjoying a karaoke farewell night with his ex coworkers before joining us at the Wetherspoons in Leicester Square. Again – I love Leicester Square, but Wetherspoons is not the way to enjoy that place. Overpopulated with tourists who seem to think they are actually hanging out in a cool London bar, and not the overpriced poorly located place that The Moon Under Water is.

We shortly left and entered On Anon to dance to some cheesy pop music for a few hours before heading home on the night bus.

Saturday morning, I woke up to meet the Sellars family, then joined Andy and his father plus a few others for my first EVER British football game. Blackpool @ Crystal Palace. Andy’s family are Blackpool supporters so we were on the visiting (and unfortunately losing) side. Sadly I was beginning to feel a little under the weather, but despite that, I really enjoyed watching grown men resort to baring their teeth and holding their hands up at the opposing fans as if to say ‘come and say that over here.’

Back at home there wasn’t much time before I was getting changed and ready to head to Shunt. Shunt is must-go in London. But you have got to get there before November 14th when they will probably be closing down and (hopefully) moving location. But their current location at London Bridge is to die for. Think enormous underground brick arches, vast open spaces and any number of new corners to look around. There was an eccentric art exhibition in the eerily quiet halls as we first walked in, past the lone girl standing outside a room with a tray of popcorn bags for the film screening that was about to happen. Through the large iron gates at the end and I found myself walking past wooden benches set up stadium seat style, past a small door that led to a space with a billiard table, then through a room where a live band was about to begin, and into a cavernous back room with a DJ and a cornered off section with benches and tables separated by beams. The £10 cover is well worth it; if you’re in London reading this blog, get there now before it’s too late.

Tip of the day: get there EARLY. Doors close to new customers at midnight, and by 10pm the line goes all the way through the London Bridge tube station.

As I knew would happen, Sunday was spent shivering in my bed as my body rejected all the late nights and cold days I had exposed it to over the previous 48 hours. But on the plus side, I got to watch both episodes of X Factor. And yes, just like everyone else who isn’t Irish, I want to throw those twins out of a window every time I see them. I’m sorry. But I do.

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So it’s been awhile, I could make my excuses but how about I just write the blog?

I’ve had a birthday, which means one year older and plenty to write about but I’ll try to keep it short. Plus this write up is more about my amazing night with STA Travel Buzz (follow them here, or read their blog here).

To start things off, how about a reunion with some other all-star travelers from my days in SE Asia? Yes please. Calvin, our Canadian companion, flew all the way to the UK so what better excuse for a meet up with the rest of the English constituency? It all started on Thursday, September 10 when Calvin, Claudia and myself hit Embargo’s in London for some good old partying on New Kings Road. Then it was onto the train the following day, heading to Bristol to meet up with Patrick, Matt, Andy and Zoe. It was an EPIC evening that started out with what I can comfortably say was the best Thai meal I’ve had since, well, Thailand. We’re talking Pad Thai, Panang Curry, Green Curry, Pad Grapow, everything I love. After eating it in record time we realised that it had cost us about 7,000 Baht, and estimated that back in Bangkok the same meal would be less than 1,000. Depressing? Slightly. Still delicious? Obviously. After that we headed to Matt’s friend’s back garden where an enormous bonfire, a huge marquee and several dozen gallons of local (as in, literally from across the road) cider were ready and waiting. Amazing. Needless to say, the night went well, catching up, reliving the good times abroad and listening to Pat’s sweet sweet voice as he strummed his guitar the way only he can. Then it was a night sleeping in the marquee under blankets before a traditional English pub lunch and the train back to London town for more birthday celebrations with my neighbours.

That Monday I went to a fantastic gig at The Scala to see two of my old high school friends who now go by the name Wye Oak. I left it a bit last minute but luckily Andy and Jen (the rockers) got me and a couple of good friends on the guest list to enjoy their seriously good opening act before they were followed by Okkervil River. High school reunion, good music and a birthday all in one night? Not bad.

So, traveller reunion, good music…what could be next? How about going around the world without leaving London? Oh yes. Tuesday, September 15 I met Camilla, Sam and Michelle from STA Travel Buzz (who have been kind enough to plug my blog along with a few other travelers for an STA 30th anniversary celebration. It all started in ‘India’ on Brick Lane in one of the many many Indian restaurants that line that road. Once the whole gang was assembled, we headed to…the kitchen. I’m not sure how the other paying guests felt about some random kids walking into the back to play with food but hey, on Brick Lane, give a restaurant owner enough money and you can do anything it would seem. So learn how to cook onion bhajis we did, before jumping on to the private Route master bus hired for the evening to head to ‘America’ while enjoying our deep fried Indian cuisine. America turned out to be All Star Bowling Lanes, where a game of retro bowling and classic American cocktails were the order of the night. I tried to ignore the fact that our waitress was Irish. As the only member of the posse to have actually lived in the US, there was a lot of pressure on me, and while the girls did lose, I feel I scored well enough to walk out with my head held high.
Next? Off to ‘England’! Okay, so this one wasn’t so hard, but I wasn’t complaining when the piping hot fish ‘n chips turned up on the bus. After a few glasses of champagne on the Route master and it was out again in front of the London Irish Centre where a lovely Irishman named Aiden O’Neill taught us the fine art of Irish dancing. Okay, so we weren’t so fine, or graceful, or good… But I think Aiden appreciated the effort, and we all appreciated an excuse to skip about holding hands without getting weird looks from anyone else. After an embarrassing attempt at our own Riverdance, we headed to the Irish pub for a pint of Guinness. What else?

It was a great end to a great night before crawling home only to wake up a few hours later, back to the grind of a Wednesday morning. But at least I had a good story to tell this time.

For photos of Bristol, my neighbours and Wye Oak check out this link, for STA Around the World, go here.

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Sorry for the gap in postings, I’ve been dealing with getting a new job and moving house all in the same week but I’ll try to get back to regular posts.

For now, this post doesn’t actually include an article so it’s probably cheating calling it the Travel Article of the Week, but it IS about somewhere I’ve never been. I personally spent this week writing about Mexico, so here is some information from what I learned in the last few days.

The only thing I’ve ever associated with Mexico is immigrants coming into the US, tequila, MTV Spring Break…and not much else. Not the case.

One hotel that I wrote about last week- Las Ventanas – has a Department of Romance to create your own personal holiday for two, ideals for honeymooners or just an escape with your love. One of the suggestions that the DoR had was to hire your own personal Mexican Caballero to ride up on his white horse to your private picnic dinner on the beach where he would present your partner with an engagement ring, or whatever else. Or you could take a horse-drawn carriage ride with a picnic meal through the Mexican deserts. The list goes on, literally – if you can imagine it, this place makes it happen. And I won’t even go on about the hotel itself which is the height of luxury. I know this sounds like a cheap plug but trust me I have nothing to do with Las Ventanas hotel, I was just completely blown away by the degree of luxury provided at this place. You could have a private lift to your room where you also had a private chef and butler on call just for you whenever you need it. What?!

My other favourite, for a totally different reason, was Hotel Basico. This place is really quirky and cutting-edge. Definitely caters to a younger crowd, closer to my age, and I would definitely go here could I afford it (although I think it was on the lower end of the price range compared to the other places I was writing about). The rooms kind of look like they’re in an observation tank from the outside although you can put blinds over the windows. Each room comes with a Polaroid camera and it’s own random decorations like massive tires and vintage Coco-Cola paraphernalia. The roof top pools by the bar are actually old petroleum tanks that were cut and filled with water. I’m not sure I would be cool enough to stay, even the website has an exclusive feel to it, like if you’re not good enough to figure out the site then don’t bother coming here.

As it happens, one of my evenings was centred around the Hispanic-Latino vibe as well when I attended salsa dance lessons last Thursday. Although I think salsa has its roots in Cuba possibly, but I’m not sure.
But last Thursday I went to Salsa! on Charing Cross Road with my friends Robin and Olly who go every week. I had wanted to go, although the exterior did not make me feel confident about my decision. The outside looks a little gaudy with poorly coloured neon lights and a rather cheesy sign. But once inside down in the basement, this place is actually not bad. With a bar, some tables and a somewhat small dance floor, the place has just the right atmosphere for an underground dance club. As a beginner I learnt my steps in the centre of the dance floor with the teacher on a mic up on stage where a live band would perform later. I had a surprisingly good time and would definitely think about going again. £8 for two hours of lessons is pretty reasonable in my opinion and I’d say it was worth the money spent! Later on, after the two hours of lessons is over, it becomes a salsa dance club with live music, drinking and dancing, and I believe that if you show up later then you have to pay a cover. So until I go again I’ll be practicing my 1, 2, 3, 4’s in the privacy of my room.

UPDATE 14/09/2009: Hotel article is up, check it out!

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Last night, a couple of friends and I took advantage of some serious discounts for an evening out. After seeing The Hangover (for the second time…it’s VERY funny) on ‘Orange Wednesdays’ where Orange mobile phone customers can get two-for-one cinema tickets, we went to Pizza Express where we used our cinema tickets to get two-for-one main courses for supper. It’s amazing how many money saving opportunities you can find when you are unemployed and running out of money! I even had free entertainment on the walk back to the tube station. On Fulham Road last night, about one hundred rollerblading individuals came racing down the street accompanied by a guy on a bike with a huge sound system on the back blasting techno music down the street. According to the safety vests worn by the parade marshals, they were all from Club Blue Room which, I found out today, is a retail store that sells rollerblades and skates. Quite an advertising campaign!

London can be a seriously expensive city, but there are a lot of ways to save money, like the two I have just mentioned. Especially when it comes to eating, I only find out about deals by walking past restaurants and seeing their signs in the windows advertising happy hours and specials. For instance, there’s a pizza/pasta restaurant about 15 minutes walk up the hill from me on Archway Road that I’ve never been to before, but yesterday I noticed the huge signs in the windows telling me that from 9 – 11 p.m I can get pizza or pasta for £3! I’ll let you know how it is, no doubt I’ll go there in the next few days.

I also subscribe to what is sometimes an annoying amount of mailing lists, but they do occasionally help me find things to do for little or no money. Like the Transport for London e-mail that I get weekly about what’s happening this weekend. This Sunday is Opera Holland Park Open Day apparently, which is free. The 1234 Festival in Shoreditch looks like a great deal as well, with ticket prices including access to several after parties too. I may be attending this one myself.

I just found these two websites that may help too: http://www. londonisfree.com, http://www.londonforfree.net

Anyone else know of any good deals on food or evenings out, or any cheap/free events going on in the city?

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I have returned to England, where it is cold and rainy despite being the middle of July. Welcome home.

Before leaving the States, I spent a day entertaining my friend Naomi in Annapolis and trying to do as many things as possible. When she first arrived, I took her to have a late breakfast at the City Dock Cafe, a great little coffee shop owned by a friend’s mother, located in downtown Annapolis in the Marketplace.

I know that around that same week, the Market House that has been closed and plagued with several problems over the years, re-opened for another try at a successful business model. I did not go to visit the Market House so I don’t know what is inside it, but with such an amazing location I can’t believe it will fail, although I have been wrong about that before of course. There are actually quite a few closed down businesses downtown these days. All around the water and up Main Street there are empty windows, including Riordan’s, an Irish pub/restaurant that yours truly was once a hostess in before the place closed down a few years ago. It is yet to reopen as a new business despite its fantastic location. I am inclined to blame the recession, but Riordan’s and some other businesses closed down long before that word became so commonplace, so what could it be? High rent? Lack of foot traffic? I have a hard time believing that last one because despite a huge new shopping/restaurant complex opening up near West Street, nothing beats the colonial quaintness of downtown Annapolis.

After City Dock we went on a short tour of the Maryland State Capitol House, once the capitol building for the whole country back in 1784 (which is a LONG time ago in American history even if it is a drop in the ocean for other nations). It is apparently the oldest state capitol still in regular use, and the only state house that was once the nation’s capital! Check that link out for more.

To complete her Annapolis day, I took Naomi on a boat tour of the Severn River with Kelly before digging in to a crab feast at Cantler’s where Kelly, my local Annapolitan, taught Naomi the tricks of cracking in to those hard shells. (Here’s a video of another local Marylander with his own instructions. For the record I DON’T eat the guts and crab juice. Just a personal preference).

After saying goodbye to Naomi at the Metro station and having dinner with my parents, Kelly and I headed to McGarvey’s again where Tikki Tuesdays was happening. Once a month during the summer, McGarvey’s run Tikki Tuesday, with decorations, raffle games, cheap drinks and beach themed dress requirements. I couldn’t have asked for anything more typically American to end my holiday here.

The problems started the next day when, after seeing the new Harry Potter movie with my parents (and helping to ensure its fate as the highest grossing film franchise) I arrived at the airport to find that I wasn’t in the Virgin Atlantic system… interesting… After several minutes and various people and computers, the check-in staff finally figured out that my flight was scheduled for July 14. It was July 15. A full 24 hours late for my flight and it cost me $100 and a small part of my pride to grab a seat on the plane that was leaving for London that evening. Not once did I think to double check my booking, not once did I think ‘if I’m supposed to arrive in London on the 15th, surely I can’t be leaving the same day for an overnight flight…’ Not my proudest moment, but I will certainly never leave for the airport without triple checking my confirmation E-mails first and I suggest you do the same.

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