London : Afternoon Tea

English people have tea. And one mustn’t think that tea is just TEA. It’s an event, an art form, a culture and above all a necessity. Well, when in London.

Truthfully, I hardly gave Sketch London a thought since the moment I booked it. You wouldn’t think it’s anything more than a place with comfy seats and delicate crockery but it is so much more. 

  

Sketch is almost like an art gallery that services food. A concept realised by chef Mourad ‘Momo’ Mazouz and his team of talents, an 18th century 9 Conduit St was converted into a combination of art, food and music. 

 From the moment I stepped into the building I was already overwhelmed by the art work in the hall way. And once I was led downstairs I was immediately drawn to the exotic and completely ornate rooms. 

   

It’s not a coincident that they decorated this entire room in a nature green theme, just as I was standing there I could feel a wave of pink surrounding me.

  
   
     

They had the loveliest pink velvet chairs that reminded me of the sponge fingers, and an extensive wall art by David Shrigley, which includes 239 frames of witty and funny sketches.

Even the crockery was trying to say something. You can purchase these handmade gems. You’re looking £100 for four tea cups and saucers. Not cheap, but neither are work of art.
These copper lamps and champagne glasses are exactly what I need at home.

   

And then there’s the food.  

 Here’s the thing, every single time before I enjoy afternoon or high teas like these, I always think there are so little food. These tiny cakes and sandwiches ain’t ever gonna fill this belly up! But every time I walk out of the place and feeling so stuffed that I feel like my belly is about to explode.

Everything is delicious. My special favourite is eclair that I think is hazelnut in case anyone is wondering.

We were fortunate enough to be seated next to the bar, and this picture should sum up the bar pretty well.

  

There is so much gold, copper and brass in here I was practically delirious with happiness. 

Now, under normal circumstances I wouldn’t ever mention the bathroom in a post like this. I’m going to make this post an exception. I knew I had to post about the bathroom about at the time when the lovely staff who directed me towards the bathroom and said ‘Take your camera.’


The first thing you would notice when going towards the bathroom is how prestine it is. It’s curved stairs is white. Blindingly white.
Just as you get mesmerised by the colourful glass tiles in the ceiling, you arrive at the bathroom complete with duck nest and eggs.
Each egg is a cubical and there isn’t a clear men and women, so I think it’s safe to assume it’s unisex.   

 

 Not only is the whole environment feels so far removed from the usual public bathrooms, there is even a staffed dressed up like a French maiden directing you. 

I thought it’s only appropriate to end this photo with a photo of me Instagramming, because that’s what I was doing the whole time I wasn’t eating or photographing. 

  
If you want afternoon tea just for food, go somewhere else. I’m sure you can find cheaper food elsewhere. But if you want an experience of food and art, all within a couple of wonderous hours, go to Sketch. You won’t regret it.

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Packing for Europe

packing for europe trip

 

There is no doubt packing for travel is a fine art.
Everyone has a way of packing for travels and I always love to read or hear about how people do it; you never know what kind of great ideas you’ll pick up.

I have to say I really admire people who travel in a carry-on, and I’m not talking about a night away, I’m talking about 2-3 weeks long holiday. And if that’s how you want to travel then I’d suggest for you go take a look at Oh Happy Day for inspiration. For me, this trip isn’t just to a single destination and it isn’t just site seeing; the things that I pack have to work for me in temperature as low as 4 degrees Celsius, and as high as 23 degrees Celsius. Not only that, it needs to work for a wedding in Bergen and hiking in Iceland. As you may have figured out by the image above, I’ll be hitting 7 cities within 29 days and it’ll include a wedding in Bergen, a campervan trip around Iceland and a dinner at the famous NOMA in Copenhagen.

Thankfully, my work has been halved thanks to my travelling uniform. When I say ‘uniform’, I meant sets of outfits that I’d take regardless of where I go; they usually include pair of jeans, white shirt, white tee shirt, little black dress and a pair of flats. I try to bring items for the predictable weather, for everything else there’s MasterCard. (OMG I’ve been waiting to use that for so long!)
I’ve always liked the idea of landing with 2 empty suitcase and a pair of undies; then just purchase everything I need when I land. But sometimes it’s near impossible trying to find a long coat within 1 hour on a budget. Especially in places like Iceland, do you really want to hunt for a waterproof jacket instead of walking the glacier or getting pampered IN the Blue Lagoon????

So here are just a list of the things I’ll be bringing and the tips I’ve received from my friends.

packing list for europe in autumn

1. Trench Coat : Don’t even both to use the umbrella in London. There’s a reason why Burberry makes trench and it’s from England.
Try this trench from ASOS.

2. Coat : For dressy times like the wedding or my fancy dinner.
Try this coat from The Outnet.

3. Waterproof Jacket : Two friends who returned from Helsinki suggested that wearing a waterproof jacket is a MUST. Not water resistant jacket, but a waterproof one. It’ll all make sense when the rain flies horizontally towards your face.
Try this jacket from Amazon.

4. Shearling Jacket : I’ve trialed this in the Shanghai winter and it’s a life saver. I can’t go back.
Try this jacket from Neiman Marcus.

5. Black Blazer : You always need one. Ask Emmanuelle Alt.
Try any black blazer in Zara.

6. Navy Blazer : Part of my travel uniform and see above. Although I am considering culling this one and just take the black blazer. Need more time to consider.
Try any navy blazer in Zara.

7. Blue Smart Casual Dress Shirt : Part of my travel uniform.
Wouldn’t try any other than Uniqlo.

8. White Dress Shirt : Part of my travel uniform and I’d probably purchase another one when I’m there.
I get mine from Charles Tyrwhitt. Great quality and I can wear them without a slip.

9. Stripe Shirt : Who goes to Paris and NOT wear a stripe shirt? Lots of people. But this is my travel uniform.
Try this from Charles Tyrwhitt.

10. Long Sleeve White Shirt : I wear this out and as an undershirt. Also my travel uniform.
Try this basic shirt from Forever21.

11. White Tee Shirt : Should be self explanatory.
Try this basic shirt from Forever21.

12. Black Sweater : Just as versatile as my white shirt / tee.
Try this sweater from Country Road.

13. Grey Sweater : Similarly versatile, part of my travel uniform.
Try this sweater from Witchery.

14. Black Cardigan : I purchased mine from Zara men. It’s wonderfully oversized and warm substitute for a large coat.
Try this from Uniqlo.

15. Grey Turtleneck Sweater : If you too thinks wearing turtleneck is like someone really weak choking you throughout the day, then disregard this. If you don’t mind and would love to wear turtlenecks instead of wearing scarf and sweater, then carry on.
Try this from The Outnet.

16. Wrap Dress : Or any dress that looks flattering on you. Doesn’t have to be black or wrap. Just, a dress that makes you feel good. Also room around the waist to allow for rapid expansion of the mid-region of my body during a nice meal at NOMA.
Try this dress from Mytheresa.com

17. Black Trousers : Like a black jacket. I intend to wear this with my black jacket at the wedding instead of a dress. But then it can be dressed down with a white shirt and a pair of grey sneakers.
Try this pair from Matchesfashion.com

18. Black Tights : Let me make this very clear, I don’t wear this under a dress. Ever. It’s just a pair of thick skin tight pants or jegging.
Try this exact pair from Uniqlo.

19. Jeans : Believe it or not I don’t wear jeans that often, but it’s definitely a travel essential.
Try this pair from Seed Heritage.

20. White Pencil Skirt : Why white? Why pencil skirt? Because it’s feels a little more formal and less work than black.
Try this skirt from Saks Fifth Ave.

21. Swimsuit : From my research there are lots of natural hot springs around Iceland. I intend to visit them.
Try this from Anthropologie.

22. Black Flats : I wouldn’t know what to do without them. Another usual suspect of the travel essential team.
Try this from Shopbop.

23. Ankle Boots : So comfortable and stylish. Not my usual travel essential, but I’d take it with me when I travel to cold places.
Try this from Witchery.

24. Grey Sneakers : Biggest steal, that I got this pair from Target for $5. Usually I’d take an old pair of comfy shoes and wear it now during the trip, where I’d throw away just before I head home.
You can get a pair too!

25. Black Heels : Some people can get away with dressy flats, but I can’t imagine going to a Hen’s party in Berlin without heels. So I’ve opted for a pair of worn and comfy black heels and as oppose to a pair of sky-high neon pink pump.
Try this from Net-a-porter.

26. Large Blanket Scarf : This scarf saved me from the winter chill of Tokyo. I found it in a boutique shop somewhere in Tokyo and I’m hoping it’ll save me again from the winter chill of Bergen & Iceland. I could use this as a blanket if I really wanted to, that’s how big and thick it is.
Try this from Net-a-porter.

27. Grey Knit Scarf : Wrapping yourself inside a blanket isn’t a solution to everything. I’m thinking of dropping this one, since I’d probably survive with the blanket in the early part of the trip.
Try this from H&M.

28. Black Gloves : Stylish & practical. The only downside is we can’t take use our iPhones without taking it off!
Try this from The Outnet.

29. Beanie / Hat : I’m totally a hat person. I try to bring location appropriate hats with me. Considering I’m heading to mostly cold climate cities, I opted for a beanie.
Try this cap from Country Road if beanie isn’t your thing.

30. Belt : Something that goes well over your jackets, cardi, scarf or dress.
Try this from Country Road.

31. Carry All Tote : Sometimes, it’s just easier to throw it all in and go. This is the bag I bring on the plane, so it’s include all the I intend to get one soft enough so it can be a pillow, too.
Try this from Ever Lane.

32. Dressy Bag : This could be a clutch, a shoulder bag, a mini tote. Whatever that you use for a fancy dinner and it’s not entirely necessary.
Try this from Net-a-porter.

33. Everyday Bag : This could be a back pack, a small shoulder bag or in my case, a small tote. It’s whatever you’d use for your daily travels.
Try this from Longchamp.

Researching for Holiday: The Gathering

holiday research

Ah, Europe. The continent I’ve wanted to see for sooooooo long. Finally, I get to go this May for a luxurious month.

Now, people travel in many different ways (and I won’t even bother going into details about how different travel methods will affect your research), what I will say is after trying many different styles of travelling, I’ve finally found my style: Strolling with a purpose.

I have to say, it took many trips abroad, and many trial and errors for me to arrive at this point. I’ve tried not doing ANY research and just wing it. I’ve tried following excel spreadsheets (no kidding) that categorises NYC into food, sight and shopping. And I’ve definitely tried going with the guidebooks, that brought me (along with some sheer dumb luck) to the most amazing sushi restaurant I’ve ever been to in my life thus far. I’ve loved some aspects of those methods, even the spreadsheets. When I’m armed with spreadsheets worth of info, I’m not afraid of anything except for the single fact that I won’t be able to draw them out and put them back quick enough to pretend to be as a local.

This time, it’s a little different. I went nuts with the researching (FYI, I love researching for holidays) and the information gathering, and there’s no such thing as going to far for research you guys. I’ve literally asked everyone who have been to Europe for their itinerary; even the locksmith that works with me. I really love to hear stories about how people discovered a charming cafe in the corner of London; or how they happened upon the best bakery in Paris.

So what am I trying to tell you here? Stay with me, there’s a point here I promise. But first! A fun fact from Captain Obvious, everyone travel & plan their travels differently.

No doubt, everyone consider their way to be the best way to travel but some plan their trips around shopping, while others plan around eating. Here’s a fun and short anecdote: I turned up to NYC armed with information from my friends and their friends, then I traveled to 2 restaurants with raving reviews listed on this Bible of spreadsheet, and it was closed down. Was I devastated? Sure. Was I pissed? No. I should have checked if I really wanted to go.

That’s the point folks, regardless of what information you get (unless it’s a museum or a volcano which are unlikely to be relocated), check it first before you travel thousand of miles to see it.

One of the challenges I’ve had so far in my information gathering stage is for Iceland. Don’t get me wrong, there isn’t a shortage of information out there; but during the research, I realised there are so many suggested information that doesn’t apply to me. Whether it’s the route, or the number of days required, or even the time of year, some things just don’t apply to me! Then I decided there was only one way to do this: the old school way.

iceland holiday in may research

So I printed a map and comb through all the information to get to a somewhat reasonable plan for my 4 Day road trip in Iceland. While I can’t tell you what’s the best thing to do, I thought I’d share my version of how I plan my travels.


LONDON-map-with-tourist-attractions

The absolute first thing I’ve done when researching is marking all the locations I’d like to see, then I’d travel to a district a day and spend the entire day slowly meandering through the streets and gaps. Perhaps I might not get to see everything I intend to, but at least I’d get to see parts of London really well. And maybe it’s just me, but I feel more relaxed knowing that I don’t have to rush from tourist attraction to tourist attraction.

Then I move onto something with a little more detail. Since all the Europe ones are still work in progress, I’ll show you something I’ve made a little earlier: NYC.

new york travel planning itinerary

Sure that’s going a little excessive, but when travelling to places like New York and London, I have a serious case of FOMO; so I let OCD self run wild and colour code my spreadsheets. So in about few weeks I’ll probably update you with more information I found about Iceland, but until then, I’ll be mapping out Amsterdam, Paris and Berlin.

 So that’s it. I hope now that I’ve shown you the maps & spreadsheet, it may inspire you to plan your own adventure. Then come back and we can talk about why our own methods are better.

Shanghai in 3 Days

China Shanghai

This time I went to Shanghai at short notice and wasn’t able to do a lot of planning; but we did achieve a reasonable amount and tried quite a number of interesting things.

Accommodation

Shanghai Airbnb Accommodation

There are many aspects to shanghai; you could experience both an old and new city at the same time. We stayed at an Airbnb accommodation in the middle of a shopping district. To give you a very quick reference, it’s right next to West Nanjing Rd Station (each red dot is a subway station). The we stayed around the blue line area, but that’s not the ENTIRE shopping street; the shopping district continues, pretty much almost all the way down past the last subway station before The Bund.

shanghai shopping map

I’m pretty happy I stayed in that district, because it was just so convenient. Apart from the high end department store, it was also close to Sephora, Uniqlo, H&M and most importantly, what I’ll show you later, the amazing small local eateries.

shanghai shopping district
Image Above: West Nanjing Road (shopping street) during the day

West Nanjing Road Shanghai shopping district
Image Above: West Nanjing Road (shopping street) at night

Food

Food in Shanghai

I have to say, one of the thing I look forward to the most when I go to China is the food. Chinese people are all ABOUT THE FOOD! And it’s fantastic! While there isn’t a really big coffee culture, I have to say it’s getting better. Let me introduce you to a few things that you HAVE to try in Shanghai.

Chinese Crepe Jian Bing

Chinese Crepes. NOM NOM NOM! It’s a savoury crepe and people tend to have this with their soy milk as their breakfast. It cost $4 RMB and it’s oh so delicious. While there aren’t as many Chinese crepe makers as there are convenience stores, but there are still an abundance of them around.

Mini wonton Food in Shanghai

I can eat this for breakfast, lunch and dinner, 7 days straight.

It’s hard to say what’s a “good” mini wonton place because it’s different taste for everyone, but I had the one above here and it was pretty packed when we went.

Mini Wonton location in shanghai

Marble Egg in Shanghai

Thankfully, you don’t have to go far to get this Marble Egg, you can get it from most convenience stores. I think it’s everywhere because it’s something EVERY Shanghainese would eat, and it’s cheap and delicious. So naturally, it’s a favourite.

Sure, there are lots of other very traditional Shanghainese dishes, but you’d have to go to proper restaurants to try those and the list would be ENDLESS. But let me tell you one thing about typical Shanghainese food, specifically Shanghainese: There are a lot of bones and shells. You’ll see lots of mini snails, mini prawns, little crabs, boney chicken & duck. Like this dish:

River Snails delicacy in shanghai

This is not a delicacy, it’s a street food and can be ordered at restaurants. If you’ve never tried, I’d suggest to not attempt this without the help of a local. Mostly so that a local can show you which part can be eaten, and which can’t.

Attractions

Considering we had limited time, I didn’t get to go to that many places, but I still got a chance to hit a few attractions. I won’t show you the typical stuff you’d find on TimeOut or Trip Advisor; these three places I’m going to show you are place you won’t think of going when you’re in Shanghai.

Feng Jing Old Town

About an hour and half outside of Shanghai city is a city called Feng Jing.
You can get there by bus and it’s a place most residents of Shanghai would know about, so you should get good directions when you’re lost.
It’s not one of those places you’d think of going if you’re not a local (I had to go with family), but I have to say I really enjoyed the atmosphere. It wasn’t full of tourists and people were more relaxed. I didn’t get a chance to walk the entire town, but it’s not small.Feng Jing Old Town near Shanghai Chinese Old Towns

IMG_5188

chinese old heritage towns

Considering I spent the first decade of my life in Shanghai, I couldn’t go pass these delicious Stinky Tofu.
Yes, I do think they are delicious. 

stinky tofu food in china street food

Don’t worry, if stinky tofu is not your thing, you can find lots of other delicious and acceptable things to try.

People always say Chinese are bad drivers, because we do crazy things on the road. Well, I beg to differ; we’re just quick thinkers and very adaptable. I mean, look at this guy here, how else do you want him to move these enormous and awkward sized card boards?

 chinese riding a scooter

Jing An Temple

Jing An Temple shanghai attraction

If you REALLY want to feel what it’s like being a typical Chinese, then you should visit a popular temple like the Jing An Temple of Shanghai.
Going to the temple and say your prayers to the various Gods are no longer JUST a religious event, it’s now a Chinese culture.

03

When you do get a moment to breath through the smoke of incense, or the heat of all the people, look anywhere and you’d be able to admire the work of art around you.

I’ve been told that everything is handmade, and some of those things have been there for hundreds of years.

Jing An Temple

If you don’t have a tour guide with you, I’d say read up on some rules before going in.
Beside the usual rules at religious buildings, here are a 3 things I was told since very young:

1. You should never buy, or light up someone else’s incense for them.
Incense is an extension of someone’s respect for the Gods, so you should let that person show it themselves.

2. Don’t blow out the fire on the incense with your mouth. Do it with your hand.
I believe it’s dis respectable to blow it out with your mouth. 

3. Don’t ever stand on the door ledges. NEVER. EVER.
I was never told the reason behind this one, but I’m going to guess that it’s probably to do bad luck.

Jing An Temple 03

Shanghai Antique Market

shanghai antique market dong tai antique market

Anyone who knows me well knows that I have an unhealthy passion for antiques. I don’t know much, but I just really like looking at antique stuff.
So no doubt, with a few hours to spare, I HAD to check out the antique market in Shanghai.

shanghai antique market

antique market in shanghai

Long story short, it’s not great as an antique market, but it’s a great place to get souvenirs if your friends are into this kind of stuff.
Everything is fake. Even that painting cost $5,000 RMB it’s a fake; but check it out anyway, you might find lots of things to take home for friends.

Unfortunately, I didn’t walk away with anything, but that was because luggage space was limited and I just did not have the energy to bargain.
If I did feel like bring things home, I’d probably go for one of these cars. While I wouldn’t say they are very “Chinese”, you are more likely to get a cheaper price here than anywhere else.

shanghai antique market

Or you could try one of these, but then not everyone is into the figurines.

figurings chinese antique market

So, that’s my 5 days loosely documented.

It’s hard for me to describe or recommend Shanghai; I spent my first decade there so there are a lot of things I still remember and love, yet I rarely go back and I hardly recognise some of areas I frequented but have been completely redeveloped.

Although I might not go back for a while, I definitely look forward to the next time I get to have some more mini wontons…

For other inspirations to travelling in China, check out these sites:

Oh Happy Day

This Is Glamorous

Reiss

The Glamourai