Living it up in London ~

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My time in London is coming to an end and yet, here I am with my first post ever on this fabulous, metropolitan city. I’ve always loved this place and so when it came to deciding my next location, it was not a difficult choice to make.

regent street   london bridge

Sadly, my third time in London was not met with a very warm welcome as my stay kicked off with the theft of my phone. Two men on a stolen scooter snatched it right out of my hands while I was attempting to locate my Uber. How did you know the scooter was stolen? Well, apparently, this seems to be a common phenomenon, I am told by the locals and usually, the culprits are juvenile delinquents who steal scooters in order to zip around town stealing phones.

 

 

Don’t even ask. It’s beyond me.

However, despite this very unfortunate mishap, the rest of my time here has been enjoyable! I got to do all the cringey, touristy things while living amongst the locals.
I’ve been to the London Eye and Westminster Abbey, but also shopped in Morrison’s every week for groceries.  I’ve had drinks at the breathtaking Sky Garden but I’ve also grabbed a quick beer at the local pub. I’ve spent an afternoon in a swish South Kensington boutique hotel having high tea but I’ve also spent an afternoon crouched over shelves of books at a second hand book store in Stoke Newington. I’ve spent Saturday nights out in town meeting people on the dance floor but I’ve also spent Saturday nights at home, conversing with my flatmate over wine about life. Chuckle*

number sixteen hotel

I am grateful to the kind lady on the Eurostar who offered me a place to stay after overhearing my telephone conversation about how I might not have been able to retrieve the keys my friend had left for me at his office building reception.
I am grateful to the various people who offered help (and their numbers) “if I ever needed anything in London” and to the peace and quiet I found on the streets. It is an utter relief to wander about the city without an untasteful comment from a poorly educated member of the opposite sex. I’d been living in Paris for so long, I’ve forgotten how freeing it feels!
Most of all, I am grateful to my lovely Airbnb host, Sophia, who rented me a room but gave me a home and also to my flatmate Stella, who filled this home with her warm presence.

 

Three months is in no way sufficient for discovering this ever-changing, dynamic capital but it was a delicious taste of what London has to offer.

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Dear Aletha

It’s been a while since my last blog post but while browsing through Google Keep, my new obsession as I LOVE lists, I came across a letter I had written to my dear friend, Aletha.

It is a recount of my trip to Egypt and was written on my 2-3 hour flight from Istanbul to Paris using my phone. I never sent it. Now two months later, I’m reading this letter, looking back at the photos and am feeling the vibes of the country again so here goes.

Aletha, if you’re reading, this one’s for you! Wink*

 


 

Dear Aletha,

I am currently on the plane from Istanbul to Paris. It has been an extremely long flight that started at 3am this morning and not a particularly comfortable one at that.

A female official in Turkey was trying to make my life difficult and did such a good job of it that I was literally fuming. The problem? She couldn’t find my stamp of entry and was looking at my previous visas.
So I tried to show her and she asked me to step aside! A whole queue of people couldn’t advance as we were blocking the progression of the line and was being watched like a theatre piece because of this foolish woman.
Normally, I’d be a lot more patient but I haven’t slept in 36 hours and I have a huge spot above my right eyebrow.

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Ahhhhh…all complaints aside, Egypt has been a wonderful experience. You’ve probably seen from some of my posts on Facebook and Instagram how much I’ve enjoyed my stay. As a child, I was an avid reader of Egyptian history books and watched almost every Mummy movie there was. As you can imagine, for me to see real life hieroglyphs etched into almost every surface available on every tomb and temple we visited was a dream come true!

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We swam in the Red Sea and saw an aquarium of fish, then took a boat to cross the Nile River the following day. All these important landmarks we’ve heard and read about, I got to see with my own eyes. They are all the more impressive when bathed in the golden sunlight so unique to Egypt!

egypt1However, the country is still fresh out of its civil war/ second revolution but is in full development. The people praise the current president, calling him a “visionary” and it is true! He has built the roads and the housing he promised them but as all this is still work in process, many parts of Egypt look “war-ridden”.
The villages and cities have a worn down, dilapidated look about them and where we were in the south, people are still very religious and traditional.

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To illustrate what I mean, there was a shisha tent on the beach at the Movenpick resort in Hurghada and one of the men employed by the Jamaican Rastafarian looking, Bob Marley loving, hash smoking Egyptian owner called Mustafa told us an otherworldly story about how his first wife was his own cousin and how she spread rumours about how he was unable to produce offspring. He was so heartbroken by what the village was whispering about him that he made his way to the Arabian gulf to work for ten years where he met his second wife. This wife gave him a son who’s now eight months old and of course, he went back to the village to celebrate and “take his revenge”. What an incredible story huh?! Never did I even stop to think for two seconds that there are still people who lead such lives and marry into their own family.

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Anyway, continuing on the topic of conservatism in the country, women still wear burkas like uniforms and the only time I’ve ever even seen women around and about were in schools so at least they have the right to an education but I have rarely seen women in the workplace. When we went to Luxor, it took me a couple hours to figure out why something seemed…off, just not quite right…and then it hit me: there were literally no women. Not in the museums, the souvenir shops, the restaurants etc. And it makes me wonder…do they feel suppressed or is it the whole “what one doesn’t know can’t hurt them” situation? What do you think?

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So all this just to bring us to my one real disappointment on this trip: that there is such a disconnect between ancient Egypt (which was such a progressive civilization during its time) and the Egypt of today, almost completely destroyed by extremist Muslims.
Emphasis on ‘extremist’. I am not at all against any religion, race, colour or what have you but the extremists of each group do not make me feel very comfortable.
This includes vegans who resort to converting others by spreading the “good word”, or rather by sharing gory videos of animal abuse. I sympathise but this isn’t the proper way to go about things.

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One thing has to be said though and that is one doesn’t need much to be happy. The Egyptians embody this humble spirit better than most people I’ve met. It is truly eye-opening when you see those with much less, much happier and more grateful than you are. They have such a hunger and a thirst to succeed so they work very hard but their smiles never falter. I’m sure we all know this but it is easy to forget when you live in such a strong consumerist society and when you have social media and the stress of a fast-paced, city life. 


 

Strangely, I never signed off but then again, in my own bizarre fashion, I never sent this letter either. 

But there you have it!

Aletha, I was thinking of you and didn’t forget about my pen pal but as usual, life sweeps us away.

egypt 6

Developing My Aquatic Addiction At Aquatic Addiction Development 三井 上引水產

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One of the things that I missed the most while in Paris was good, affordable, fresh sushi. Unfortunately, you have one of three options: 1) pseudo-Japanese restaurants 2) chain store sushi places and 3) super expensive Japanese owned sushi restaurants that will easily cost you over 100 euros for two.
Luckily, France is well-known for some of the world’s best seafood so I was able to quench my cravings at places like Bar à iode.

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However, nothing beats Taipei’s Fish Market in terms of affordability and taste. As a veteran, I have tried all four restaurants and feel sufficiently informed to give an opinion.
Legend has it that they were going to demolish the building when it was bought and turned into the seafood paradise we have now; a bit like La Felicità in Paris. The entire space has been divided into the Supermarket, the Sushi Bar, the Seafood Bar, the Charcoal Grilled, the Hot Pot and Trésors de la Mer.

Now, there are a few ways you could go about eating your seafood. You could simply grab a couple goodies from the supermarket where they provide everything from miso soup, salmon rice, mentaiko grilled salmon, nigiri, sashimi and grilled meats – which is what I did today as I was short on time – or you could sit yourself down at one of the many restaurants in the Fish Market, except for the Seafood and Sushi Bar where they were going for more of a standing sushi bar/sushi on the go concept.

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Trésors de la Mer has got to be my favourite as they do everything from seafood platters to hot pot. It is a three floor restaurant on the far end of the Fish Market that overlooks the Charcoal Grilled. The Charcoal Grilled comes in at a close second because having a mini barbecue on your table in an open space amidst all the fairy lights with a huge screen showing old, black and white movies makes for a beautiful summer moment and scores high on the originality scale but lacks the appeal of raw seafood. The Hot Pot rates even lower on my list because hot pot places in Taipei are as numerous as the stars in the sky. However, it needs to be said that both the Hot Pot and the Charcoal Grilled provide quality ingredients and excellent service.

Regardless of whether you end up munching on a skewer stick or swallowing French imported Gillardeau oysters whole, a trip to Taipei is not complete without visiting its Fish Market.

Aquatic Addiction Development 三井 上引水產
Address: No. 18, Alley 2, Lane 410, Minzu East Road, Zhongshan District, Taipei City, Taiwan 10491
Official Website: http://www.addiction.com.tw/

A Little Slice of Italy at La Felicita

Prepare to feast your eyes on the biggest restaurant in Europe~

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La Felicita, from the successful restaurant group Big Mamma, is a DIY, self-service, food market type restaurant in the 13th arrondissement. This huge space is creatively decorated with greenery, fairy lights and food stands. You can find seats everywhere, even in the library area on the second floor which gives you a gorgeous view of the entire space and is the perfect spot for a cosy cocktail.

While queuing up outside, the staff will hand out menus for you to browse as well as a map. You see, the thing is, every food stand offers something different. It might sound like a hassle but the food hunt if actually quite fun! Be weary of going during the weekend as the line was around 30-35 minutes long and would be rather tedious without friends to chat with.

Once the three of us had found a table, we sat down to ponder over the menu. It was decided that we would be having the BBQ ribs (12 euros), the truffle pasta (16 euros), a starter consisting of burrata and fennel saucisson (12 euros – 6 euros for each ingredient) as well as one bottle of white wine (which later became two bottles! – 19 euros for rosé and 21 for white). This added up to approximately 21 euros per person! Not bad especially for the quality of the food: fresh and delicious!

Also, the bar is probably one of the most impressive I’ve seen with hundreds of bottles of alcohol beautifully displayed on its shelves. The toilets are no exception – say hello to your childhood friends, ‘Ken and Barbie’ who will greet you at the door.

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Frankly, 5 out of 5 for this establishment! I will definitely be going back!

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The Parisian Dream: Realistic?

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Where does your mind wander off to when you hear the words ‘Paris’ or ‘France’? Does it conjure up images of endless pavements filled with sprawling terraces, the melodic chitchat of French and romantic fumes of cigarette smoke on a lazy summer’s day? Does your mind drift off into the streets of Montmartre while Edith Piaf’s ‘La Vie en Rose’ plays in the background? Or do you smell freshly baked baguettes instead?

If so, you’re not too far off but you’re not seeing the full picture either. More often than not, tourists and first-timers are shown the shiny side of town. Eiffel Tower, Galeries Lafayettes, Arc de Triomphe, Le Louvre, La Seine, Champs Elysées et tous les incontournables! And do you know what? That’s okay because it is part of what makes up the true essence of Paris.

What’s not okay is thinking that that’s all there is to this city. What about Chinatown aka the 13th arrondissement? The slums around Paris? The colourful graffiti and the kebab restaurants that can be spotted here and there but especially around Gare du Nord where you can also find a colourful array of foreign cuisine? All the places that tour groups avoid because they’re not always pretty?

Perhaps it’s just where I used to live, but people often seem to have a rather distorted image of what a Parisian lifestyle truly entails. They seem to think that life in Paris is the epitome of glamour but little do they know…you have French bureaucracy (which is your worst nightmare and that’s putting it lightly), you have some interesting people to put up with, not speaking French will render even the simplest tasks impossible or highly complicated and the transportation is a mess.

BUT

You have delicious bread. A friend of mine once said, “If it’s not made in France, it’s not a baguette.” I thought it was just arrogance….until now, and while I’m on the topic of food, what about the countless gastronomic restaurants that make this city a chef’s dream? The museums and exhibitions are top notch and there is ALWAYS one happening somewhere. Summertime is when you sit along the Seine and share a bottle of crisp rosé with friends, laughing about life. The architecture is gorgeous and the shopping is great!

I guess what I’m trying to say, and this goes for everything in life, is that one should never neglect the other side of the coin. Falling in love with anything or anyone requires you to accept the flaws just as much as you accepted the beautiful and the positive!

Chateau de Chantilly

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If I had to sum up Chateau de Chantilly, I’d say it is a modest version of Versailles. The chateau, just 45 minutes away from Gare du Nord station in Paris, is a beauty surrounded by a moat with acres of gorgeous greenery and an enormous stable house (Les Grandes Ecuries or The Great Stables) just behind.

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Walking from Chantilly train station, however, you’d most likely reach the stables first. These impressive stables could house up to 240 horses and 500 hounds back in the day and is considered a masterpiece of 18th century architecture. Today, this impressive space has been turned into a horse museum (Musée Vivante de Cheval/Living Museum of the Horse) and filled with a variety of equestrian equipment that look very much like torture devices. Truth be told, the horse museum was not exactly my favourite part of the visit but the sheer size and grandiosity of the building is indeed breathtaking. The first part of the visit stops at a little cafe serving sandwiches, refreshments and crepes so that you’re ready for the next part of the trip which involves crossing the road over to the gardens and the chateau itself.

The gardens itself are so large that you’d need more than the little afternoon I had given myself to escape the hectic ambiance of central Paris. Still, I managed to poke my nose into L’île d’amour. How magical would it be in summer ? The November fog gives the place an almost eery feel, very reminiscent of a 19th century vampire movie.

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Inside, the Chateau is set up very similarly to Versailles. You’ll walk through rooms and rooms lavishly decorated with fancy armchairs, ornated tables and grand chandeliers that sparkle and glisten even hundreds of years later. What sets it apart completely, however, is the Musée Condé that houses the second largest collection of art after the Louvre. In here, you will find gorgeous pieces such as The Three Graces by Raphael and other works of art by famous artists such as Nicolas Poussin as well as my personal favourite: Portrait of Simonetta Vespucci by Piero di Cosimo. Also, can we just take a minute to talk about the library?! #Goals.

 

All in all, a calm and tranquil afternoon away from the hustle and bustle of Paris. Just don’t wear white trainers, haha!

Before I sign off, here is some practical information. The chateau, the stables and the gardens make up the Domaine de Chantilly. To visit the entirety of this domain, take an entire day off and bring 17 euros unless you are handicapped, a student, between 3-17 or unemployed, in which case you pay only 10 euros. If you only want to visit the gardens, it is 5 euros during low season instead of the usual 8 euros but I am definitely going back next Summer to finish my tour of the gardens! See you then!

For more information about tickets and opening times: https://newdomainedechantilly.tickeasy.com/fr-FR/accueil

 

Moving To France: A Quick Glance

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Seeing as I’m rather inspired today, I decided to put pen to paper. Ever since I got my first full-time job, I’ve found it difficult to find the time (nor the money!). It’s starting to make sense now, all those comments that my friends made but that I couldn’t relate to at the time.

“Everyday, I finish work at 8pm, go to the gym and am back at 10pm but I still haven’t had dinner.”

“I literally have zero left in my bank account after paying the bills.”

“I miss my student life! You’re so lucky!”

Well, not anymore! This girl is working a 39 hour week and as a sales associate, you are constantly on your feet dealing with the whims and emotions of female customers who often have an unwilling, uncooperative husband or boyfriend in tow but that’s a story for another time.

Moving to France has been an eye-opening experience in so many ways that words cannot describe. One of them, I’ve mentioned above. I’ve always appreciated the significance of money and I paid my way through university, like so many others. Luckily, my graduation came with a diploma sans debt so I’ve been very blessed in that respect. However, I had never had to fully support myself financially as in I had never paid a day’s rent in my life nor had I ever had to work a full-time job. That’s all changed now!

 

For a girl who’s just moved to Paris less than three months, I would say I’m faring quite well in this bustling city of cigarette smoke, coffee and croissants. My pay allows me to live comfortably enough and to even save some each month. Unfortunately, I have no holidays as I’m working in retail so one day off on the 25th for Christmas, another day off on the 1st for New Year’s and it’s back to the daily grind.

Otherwise, Paris is just breathtaking and it breaks my heart to hear some of my French friends ask me, “Why would you come back?” Little background story: I did my exchange three years ago in Lille, a student town on the northern border of France. Clearly, they’ve become used to the beauty of this historical city and taking things for granted is a straight path to sadness as happiness is the ability to appreciate the little things in life, is it not? Of course, there are things about France, about Paris, the culture and the mentality that irk me but such is life. Downsides are there in every nook and cranny. I have never seen a city without problems, a relationship without issues or a job that couldn’t be better. What changes everything is perspective and how we react to situations.

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All in all, despite my deeply frustrating struggles in the beginning (also a story for another time), my efforts have paid off and I am finally enjoying my Parisian life, starting with a couple awesome bars, restaurants and exhibitions! I cannot wait to discover the rest of the city and have even been able to do so by taking up a modelling job for a Taiwanese online clothing company. We shoot in beautiful locations that are more often than not, deserted on quiet Sunday afternoons. My days are filled with the babble of French and each day, I discover a fun, new word or phrase! I’ve even started tackling a 459 page novel in the language…though that might take a year!

What really takes my breath away, though, is seeing the Eiffel Tower coming out of metro Concorde every morning on my way to work. In my own little way, I’ve made it and it only gets better!