Posts Tagged ‘london’

Not many updates on here recently, but then again, I’ve had an unprecedented six weeks at home.  I’ve just about gotten into the swing of things in Basel.  I’ve stopped asking Aude to arrange a ‘wake-up call’ each morning.  I don’t look for my newspaper outside the bedroom door anymore.  And I’ve grown accustomed to the fact that, no matter how hard I try, the cats simply will not give the same respect to the ‘do not disturb’ sign on the doorknob that housekeeping does.

Back on the road again for a very quick trip to Bangkok to host a two-day workshop, then onto London for a day of meetings.  It was my first trip to Bangkok since the riots, and it was reassuring to see that everything was getting back to normal.  Same friendly faces in the hotel (many of whom now recognise me) and same smiling faces in the streets.  It’s always a pleasure to return to Thailand.

Since I was stopping over in London, I decided to throw some business BA’s direction.  It was the weekend after the Basel Tattoo, and it turns out the entire Royal Air Force Fife & Drum Brigade was on my flight.  That excitement aside, arrived in London and briefly got my first taste of LHR T5 – but, disappointingly, it was only an amuse bouche as my flight was leaving from T3.  Headed to the lounge for a quick massage and a light dinner, then boarded the flight.  Managed to snag my favourite seat, 63K, on the upper deck and settled in for a great flight – it reminded me again of how much I like BA’s product and service, and I still think that their seat is wonderful for its privacy and their bed is the most comfortable in the sky.

I arrived in Bangkok mid-afternoon.  I had a great seafood dinner, and treated myself to a two-hour massage – the perfect antidote to a thirteen-hour flight.

My workshops went well, although my head nearly exploded after a four-hour discussion of the finer points of Thai Withholding tax.

Another great BA flight, this time shared with the Australian Men’s Volleyball Team, and a short-sleep later I was back in London. Aude took the opportunity to join me in London for the weekend.  We hit the sales hard and came back loaded with full suitcases, and we also had a chance to visit with old friends and Aude’s brother and sister-in-law. 

A full English breakfast

Back to London to enjoy a healthy full-English breakfast


I’d forgotten how grubby London is.  Maybe I’m spoiled because I live in Switzerland, where everything is clinically clean, but London really is gross.  Streets covered in rubbish, dust, newspapers and vomit.  Is this really the cultural capital of Europe?

We arrived back in Switzerland on Sunday evening, just in time to be treated to a wonderful fireworks display for Swiss National Day, also marking our first year in Switzerland.  It was quite a week.

Another journey on Eurostar and another chance to catch up on some of my blog writing, which I never seem to have enough time for these days.

They are currently remodelling Gare du Nord, which meant that my outbound journey was absolutely chaos. They did not open check-in for the 08h07 train until about 07h45 – and with only five passport inspectors. I did a quick calculation, and figured that they were trying to process nearly 1,200 passengers in 20 minutes – the 08h07 train is nearly always full. Needless to say, it all ended in tears. My train pulled out ten minutes late, with hundreds of passengers failing to make it due to the huge delays at customs and security. Others have pointed out that I am anal to the point of being compulsive about arriving ahead of time for trains and planes – but I made my train, unlike the many stranded behind.

Had a good set of meetings in London. It was a good chance to catch up with old friends and colleagues, plus a chance to meet all of the new people they have brought on board while I was away in Singapore and subsequently in Paris. After our meetings (marred only by the fact that one of our guys had his laptop stolen – gallingly, from inside a church) we headed out to the pub for a few pints – a tradition that I really miss about the UK.

My office mate in Paris overhead me talking to a colleague about going out for a few beers, and he practically begged me to invite him along next time. So I will. Never let it be said I am not importing British best practice!

They have just completed the new Eurostar terminal in St Pancras. While it is lovely, I don’t find it terribly user friendly, and the location is very inconvenient for most of the places I need to go. I really miss the convenience of Waterloo.

Most annoying, though, are the new lifts they have installed. These are modern times. Most people are used to lifts, and how they work. A single “ding” to indicate the arrival of the lift is normally all the prompt we need, plus a flashing light if they are feeling really generous.

But not the new lifts in the Eurostar lounge. No, these are lifts with Tourette’s.

“Lift has been called. Please wait.”
“Lift arriving soon.”
“Lift has arrived. Doors opening.”
“Doors closing. Please stand clear.”
“First floor. Doors opening.”
“Doors closing. Please stand clear.”
“Lift has been called. Please wait.”

Bear in mind that this lift only travels between the ground floor and the first floor, a total journey of about 4 meters. It hardly requires the entire commentary included above. I’m surprised they didn’t insist on all the announcements being in French and English, just for the sake of completeness.

Jerome will be here for the weekend – in fact, I understand he is in the Eurostar just behind me. If I had known, we could have travelled together.

There is a family of American tourists sitting head of me. They are reading their guide book to Paris out loud. It makes me smile that the biggest concern they have about coming to Paris is stepping in poo. According to their book, it’s everywhere.

From my experience, I think the book is spot-on. Now please excuse me while I find someplace to scrape my shoe.

It’s another Monday morning and I’m whizzing across the French countryside at 260km/h on my way to Zurich, courtesy of the TGV. I’m nibbling on a lovely pain au chocolate and a hot espresso and thinking to myself what a civilised way this is to travel. Breakfast in Paris, lunch in Zurich, and none of the associated aggravation that comes from having to deal with security at the airport. My only complaint is some slightly misleading advertising – my “window” seat isn’t a window at all, but the pillar between two windows. I can just about see out the window if I lean back far enough. Maybe this is my company’s way of encouraging me to work on the journey.

It’s been a busy week. I started off in the Paris office on Monday, the last time I’ll be in before Easter. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were spent in Blois, in the Loire Valley, holding a series of meetings with my client’s finance team. Our accommodation was less than glamorous, even making allowances for the fact that it was the middle of the off-season and we were the only ones in town. The hotel was right out of the 1960s (which was probably the last time it was renovated, or the duvet changed) and was only just clinging on to its three-star rating.

The factory was interesting – as factories always are. I was busy with a workshop when everyone else got a factory tour, which was a little bit disappointing – I was expecting something very much out of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, right down to the Oompa Loompas, but it turned out that most of the factory was staffed with normal-sized men and women wearing green boiler suits. My colleague was a little too interested in the rejection chute of one of the production lines – he got such a fright when one of the chocolate bars shot out that he jumped back and landed on one of the other machines, setting off the alarm. Way to keep a low profile, fella.

As promised, the entire site smells of cocoa, which they bring in by the truckloads and load into enormous silos. One of these days, someone is going to drive in with a truckload of milk…

I’d barely unpacked on Thursday night when I had to head to London on Friday morning for another workshop. I’m earning Eurostar points at an alarming rate and can now recite most of the timetable off by heart, and I find myself wishing they would change their menu more frequently as you can only eat the same meal so many times before you become desperate for a change.

London was a day trip – I caught the evening train home, which ended up being part of the “Snow Train” service (which carries British skiers down to the French ski resorts) and was loaded with noisy Brits carrying cases of beer and doing their best to get in the spirit. Not exactly the relaxing end to the day I was hoping for. I slumped down in my seat next to a similarly-dismayed investment banker about my age, and we both did what anyone would do to remain sane – we pulled out our Blackberries and started a game of Brickbreaker.

I got home about 10pm and headed straight for bed, shattered from a long week.

After a sedate start to Saturday, we went out exploring, me with camera in hand. We had lunch at our local (a nice steak), then headed down towards Notre Dame to explore some of the bookshops. I ended up with a few French textbooks to improve my business French (which currently consists mostly of me pointing and asking whether “I can do the stuff with the thing, or whether it would be better to use the other thing instead? In England, we used another thing to do the thing.”). I continued my walk up the Seine while Aude headed back towards home for a haircut. Saturday night was dinner in and a movie (Juno) – in “V.O.” because 1) I hate dubbing and 2) I wouldn’t understand the dubbed French, anyhow.

Another sedate start on Sunday, then off towards Chinatown for a big bowl of Pho at a restaurant called (wait for it…) Pho. It was pretty miserable outside, so we headed back home for a leisurely afternoon and evening. And like that – it’s Monday again.

Good hotel design is becoming more affordable, and it’s about time. As someone who spends more than their fair share of time living out of a suitcase, finding an affordable hotel (eg, within expense account limits) with a boutique feel is a nice change from the carbon-copy hotels that exist across the country.

This week I faced a conundrum. My client was in Basingstoke, about 45 minutes from central London by train. Basingstoke, for those who don’t know it, is a relatively industrial town with lots of mid-tier companies calling it their home. Consequently, there are quite a few business travellers spending the night on any given day.

There are two major chain hotels in Basingstoke – a Hilton and a Holiday Inn. Both wanted over £150 per night for a room, and according to most of the web reports I could find, both were absolute dumps – 1960s motels which had been franchised in the 80s, with little improvement since then. Anecdotal reports from my client confirmed my suspicions: I knew exactly what to expect before I’d even set foot inside the door.
I’ve stayed in hotels like these across the world.

By chance, we’d had a management team away day the previous week, held at the new Park Plaza hotel just opposite Parliament and right on the river. We’d selected the hotel because they’d offered us a good conference rate, and the hotel itself was lovely.

A cunning Plan B emerged. Stay at the Park Plaza, just beside Waterloo, and catch the train each morning. Room rates at this 4-star hotel were only £119 per night. The rooms are all very modern, spotlessly clean, and very well designed with all the toys. I had a mini bar, flat-screen TV, DVD player, and a river view to top it all off. There was a great cocktail bar downstairs and a Latin-Japanese fusion restaurant off the lobby. They served sushi from a Nobu-trained chef.

Is it the greatest hotel I’ve ever stayed in? No. Customer service could use a little work, and the location isn’t the most convenient for public transportation. But for £119 per night in Central London, it must represent one of the biggest bargains around. And a welcome change for a weary business traveller.

Park Plaza Riverbank

Park Plaza Riverbank

Park Plaza Riverbank

Park Plaza Riverbank

Park Plaza Riverbank

Park Plaza Riverbank

Park Plaza Riverbank

Park Plaza Riverbank

Park Plaza Riverbank

The restaurant in the Park Plaza Riverbank

Park Plaza Riverbank

A working man’s dinner — a gin & tonic and a few bar snacks

Park Plaza Riverbank

My light reading for the evening. After a gin & tonic or two, “SPIN” selling takes on a whole new meaning. It literally spins.

Gung hei fat choi and a very happy Chinese New Year! It’s the Year of the Pig, and as always, we gathered a gang together to join in the traditional celebrations in Chinatown. The celebrations were earlier this year than they were in previous years, meaning at 7:45am start on a Sunday morning. Rousing the troops and getting them all pointed in the right direction took some doing.

We arrived at the (normally deserted) train station to discover that we were not the only people in Canterbury with the idea of celebrating the Chinese New Year. The platform was absolutely heaving with people all headed to Charing Cross for the celebration. We settled in and made our way up to London.

After a brief discussion about logistics, we took our positions for the (very short) parade. We were pleased to see that there was a group from Chartham participating, just down the road. It turns out that jumping isn’t the only thing that white men can’t do… they’re rubbish at dancing with a dragon, too.

Despite having no reservations, quick thinking and an early start mean that we were seated at New World restaurant for dim sum by 11:45am – just in time to beat the hordes of people. They do trolley service of the dim sum, and I think we must have hit every trolley twice. Stuffed to the brim, we went out to watch the dragons dance from restaurant to restaurant in search of food and offerings.

The gang for CNY

The gang take their position for the Chinese New Year parade down The Strand

Year of the Pig

It’s the Year of the Pig, so it’s no surprise to find this fellow as part of the parade


A dragon, part of the procession down the Strand


Dancers make their way down the street


Jerome finally arrives to enjoy the festivities. The phrase “better late than never” springs to mind!

Gerrard Street

Gerrard Street, in the middle of London’s Chinatown, is decorated for the New Year and filled with visitors


They say a picture is worth a thousand words!

Little dragon

Anne Marie is very happy with her little dancing dragon


Celebrating the Year of the Pig

Darren in Chinatown

Darren in the middle of Chinatown

A dragon

A dragon enters a shop in search of food!

A dragon

The dragon finds what it’s looking for!

The happy shopkeeper

The happy shopkeeper


Jiri relaxes after a long day

We woke up to a beautiful, sunny Sunday morning, so we decided to get out of Canterbury and spend the day in London. It was a chance to catch up with Aude’s brother for some lunch, hear all about his various trips around the world, and to begin doing some wedding shopping.

Aude on the train

Sitting on the train, Aude can barely contain her excitement about travelling to the big City

Matthew on the train

Matthew, on the other hand, rides this train to work every morning and is a little more apprehensive…

Of course, this being Britain, by the time we were up and dressed it was pouring with rain – and it remained that way for most of the day. We caught the train to London Bridge and met Jerome, then caught the underground to Oxford Circus where we walked to Soho for lunch in a Korean restaurant. I was quite excited about this, because I’ve got the sort of naïve sense of excitement that is easily satisfied by having my food cooked in front of me. I’m equally impressed in Mongolian Barbeques, Japanese Steakhouses, and any French place that flambés anything. Having ordered barbequed chicken, pork, and beef, imagine my disappointment when everything was simply served on sizzling platters. It was like Coke without the bubbles – it may taste the same, but it lacks a certain pizzazz.

Jerome and Aude

Jerome and Aude, not yet fully appreciating the disappointment of not having their lunch cooked at their table.

From there, we went around the corner for a quick coffee at Liberty’s, then Aude and I set off for a series of disappointing shopping experiences across London. It reminded us of two things: first, it’s harder to spend money in London than you might imagine; and second, this is still a city where the majority of stores are closed on a Sunday. Demoralised, we grabbed some shopping and caught the train home.


Jerome looking relaxed after several weeks off lounging in the sun. Still, give him two weeks at an investment bank and he’ll be his pale, tired self! 😉

Matthew and Aude

Matthew and Aude have to make due with a cup of coffee in Liberty’s for their relaxation.

Aude does some window shopping

Aude does some window shopping

The highlight of our journey (and maybe our day?) was an onion falling out of one of our shopping bags (stored overhead) and landing in the lap of the rather surprised, but very good-natured, Scottish woman sitting opposite us. Having just re-read the last sentence, please believe me when I tell you it was funnier if you were there.