Tag Archives: Chinese

A night in Essex

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Surprises always carry some element of risk. So when I headed off down to Essex I just had to cross my fingers and hope for the best. But that made it exciting.

It required careful planning and some subtle questions. I booked time off work and the ticket. Then I asked where to send a birthday card, and whether it would be ok if it arrived a day early. I was arriving then as I had plans on the Friday – my friend had booked time off work to visit me and as she lived in London had kindly agreed to make it a road trip. I knew which station was closest as I had visited my boyfriend before. Then I had to find out what sort of birthday cake he wanted. So I said I was going to buy him a cake slice after work, what sort did he want. He was home the weekend before, back from working down in Essex. We had a rather heated discussion with him saying he didn’t want me to buy anything and with me still trying to find out what he wanted. I probed further at Birmingham, when as chance would have it we walked past a Patisserie Valerie counter in the Bullring shopping mall. I had already decided this was the most suitable option. I had previously spotted the cafe whilst trying to locate Boots in both stations to get an urgent product for a friend. Instead of having a cake going off on the train journey down I could buy it fresh there. Perfect! I love Patisserie Valerie. It’s so pretty and tasty and the cakes are unlike anything else I have seen.

So once at St Pancras I walked over to Kings Cross as the cafe is larger there. I picked up the fruits of the forest tart which I had discovered was the ideal birthday dessert. I was a bit worried it would get squashed on the connecting tube journey but luckily it was fine and in good packaging. Five hours later I was at a station in the middle of nowhere. I tried to call my boyfriend and it went to voicemail. I paniced a little. Plan B had not been settled upon, as I knew where my boyfriend was staying and what time he finished work. So I text him and then read a book about walking through Istanbul. It recommended the Galeta Bridge for a view of the ancient buildings. I decided Plan B was waiting until 9pm when he would have finished work at the latest and then getting a £25 taxi. This would cost as much as the cheap advance fare down covering two trains and the tube, for what was a 40 minute bus journey.

I breathed a sigh of relief as I saw my boyfriend calling. He didn’t sound as delighted as I had hoped, but that was due to a 6am-6pm day. He assured me in the car that he was delighted and seemed surprised by the Patisserie Valerie bag. He said he had no idea what it was. He’d obviously forgotten our discussions on two occasions on the subject with the amount of 12 hour days he had worked.

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We checked in to his lovely four star hotel and had a family room with two double beds. I looked forward to a good night’s sleep without the covers being pulled off me or being rolled into or trying to fit around a sleeping starfish. Like the Marriott the bathroom was all marble, with gold taps. They could have been cleaned a little better but after 027reading a microbiologist’s recommendations on hotels I knew that didn’t really matter, walking round in my flip flops. I was annoyed I’d forgotten antibacterial wipes which the article had said should be used for wiping down door handles and remotes. I’d checked it when I last stayed at the hotel when wondering whether to use the bath, and in the absence of a “chlorine bleach wipe” decided not to.

We went out to a Chinese restaurant, as the hotel’s restaurant menu is a bit limited. It looked like a former pub and had the words “Chinese, Thai and English cuisine” plastered on the front. The decor was lovely, all red Chinese lanterns. I chose the Thai menu and had a lovely creamy coconut and green curry soup with prawns and some rather 042interesting meat that tasted a little too slimy to be chicken. It was delicious though. Then I ordered pork sweet and sour. I imagined thin beef sirloin strips but instead I got fatty deep fried pork. I struggled through it as I didn’t want to cause a scene for my boyfriend’s birthday meal. An hour or two later I felt quite queasy- as I have IBS my digestion doesn’t cope well with fatty food. I made myself try a bit of the birthday tart – I wanted to see whether it was value for money. However it was just a biscuit base, some cream and some fruit. I was a bit disappointed but it looked great and my boyfriend enjoyed it. He saved some for work in his hotel fridge.

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When I settled down onto the bed once again I was disappointed that it was a firm mattress. This meant I couldn’t sleep. My boyfriend can sleep whenever he wants to, as long as he’s not too hot or cold. But I woke up every hour or so and in the morning awoke after a fitful sleep with a sore back. A double-blind study has confirmed this link. Jonny rushed off in the dead of night taking the tart for his colleagues to enjoy.

I now had the mission of getting to Edgware station. I had to take a bus in the middle of nowhere. Google said it was opposite the hotel but after walking around for some time I couldn’t see a stop. So I waited on the grass verge with cars whizzing past, one honking its horn at me. I started to feel a bit silly and wished I could hitch a lift. But miraculously the bus appeared from nowhere. The first one had not been until 9am, so I had told my friend the earliest I could arrive was midday. This meant we had more motorway traffic. I was the only person on the bus and told the driver to tell me when we got to the destination. I got off on a narrow country lane and walked round the corner to the next stop. Thankfully this time there was a bus shelter. No information though and I was unsure if I was on the right side of the road to do the next leg of the journey.

Then some old ladies turned up, all made up with bouffant dyed hair, talking about how they were going on holiday and how one of them had been exploring the local area with her free bus pass. It was a small village and they clearly knew everyone. I relaxed a bit when I heard one of them say that she was going to the station I was going to.

After winding round country lanes I queasily arrived at the station and felt proud of myself for getting there and saving £23.50 in the process. I did miss a train due to a typically slow bus but luckily the next train was delayed by a minute, arriving just a couple of minutes after my scheduled one. Then I took two tubes to complete the three hour journey. It was wonderful to make it to Edgware solely on public transport and to be able to plan with accuracy using transportdirect –  I had reliable times, maps and plenty of details.

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My friend then drove us with her friend for five hours up to London. It was a Friday and traffic meant a stop-start 071ride. I ate chocolates as I watched the entertaining sight of a bus going backwards – it looked like it was being driven instead of towed. I also enjoyed a hot spiced apple drink with cinammon and star anise in Costa Coffee, my favourite drink.

I had a lovely time in Essex although next time I think I’ll order something different at the Chinese, or perhaps try pub food.

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Filed under Days out/nights out, Food, Life of Lydia

Looks are deceiving

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On Saturday my boyfriend booked a “Royal” “Hotel” in Birmingham. The rooms looked modern and clean and the price was reasonable, reduced by £20.

As our taxi drove up the road we spotted a prison and a housing estate with an equally high fence. Then we stopped in front of a rundown pub. There were people hanging around it smoking with their beer. We both checked whether this was indeed the “Royal” “Hotel”. The pub’s car park was labelled as the hotel one. As my boyfriend crashed up the kerb entrance, we saw youths in tracksuits smoking and drinking outside the pub disco – all 90s music played through a sound system of the same era. Asbestos hung out of the car park ceiling where something had crashed into it.

Making our way past the leering locals, and already feeling rather out of place, we squinted in the disco lights as we were assaulted by noise. I wondered if the car would last the night and what delights we could expect in our accommodation. Trying to find reception, we walked through the disco and into the main pub. We spoke to the barman, and minutes later a pleasant, thin, anxious young man appeared. He took payment at the bar and then accompanied us. It was a bizarre experience being in a pub disco waiting for our hotel lift to arrive.

The second floor was completely different. There were modern-looking hotel rooms and framed pictures of the city centre in the cleaned corridors. We were shown into our room. The bed was a decent size and I was impressed with IMG_0853[1]the cleanliness. Instead of a kettle they had a “Tea-Mate”, a fast boiling tea pot. This looked fancy so I took the pot out and had a look. Mould floated in the water. I poured it out. It was marked with multiple drinks.

We left for Birmingham city centre. I was amazed at the size of the buildings, towering around us. I felt as small as an ant in a human’s world. The taxi driver remarked that there were too many people in Birmingham. He said there was a big problem with illegal immigrants putting a strain on the city, and that developers had demolished the beautiful old buildings and replaced them with ugly new architecture like the Bullring. He took us to Chinatown, as we wanted a reasonably priced restaurant meal.

496We found a diner, China Town Noodle Bar, off the main street. The decor was basic, just laminated wooden tables and plastic chairs. I was put off, but my boyfriend was keen. I was persuaded when I noticed the customers were mostly Chinese. We were seated in front of a roast duck, complete with head and legs, and a roast chicken, shining as they rotated. I’d never seen a whole cooked duck before. I ordered some in a noodle soup. It was delicious, and I had it with cream soda, not generally available when eating out.

We had a great night. When we collapsed into bed in the “4*” “hotel” we realised that our “bed” was in fact beds put together. A thin sheet covered the mattress.

At 7.40 there was knocking on the door and incoherent shouting. My boyfriend was asked to move his car as it was in the way. He’d only parked in the space because someone was reversing out of it. I opened the curtains to our grit bin and road view. My throat, dry like paper, demanded a drink. There was none due to the bacteria-laden pot. So I had a shower with the “toiletries” – two thin pink soaps. It was really powerful and I enjoyed it until I began wading in the previous occupant’s dirt from the partially-blocked drain.

I avoided the exfoliating towel and used my own. With filthy feet we went to breakfast. There were no staff around, although we were 5 minutes before closing time. Finally the cook came down and grumbled as much as our stomachs. He told us he had cooked for 15 but only 9 had booked, so it was a case of “making do” with what was available. We had never experienced this sort of customer service before. Apparently when guests complained about the noise keeping them up, he told them they “should have slept in the day instead”!

I sat down expecting scraps. In fact we got a lovely cooked breakfast, so it didn’t matter that the toast was burnt. “Was everything ok?” asked a barmaid as we left. I didn’t have the heart to comment.

The moral of the story? If you’re booking a hotel, check it out on Google Map street view first. Our “hotel” had good reviews on our booking website, so always check Trip Advisor first.

On the other hand, don’t be put off by the appearance of a diner/restaurant. It may serve excellent food despite the decor.

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