Winter Weekend in London: Saturday

We were hoping to see another show on our trip and checking the usual discount ticket sites wasn’t getting us the results we wanted for Saturday evening. The Gielgud Theatre offers £15 same day tickets for the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, so we made the trek to stand in line before the 10am ticket office opening. We were the tenth or so group in line but there were only restricted view seats left for the 7th group onward, so we decided to skip it. We probably needed to be there ~30 minutes earlier to get the better offers.

There was a Whole Foods nearby so I used that opportunity to pick up a large box of my favorite tea — Teapigs peppermint — and we stopped by Simit Sarayi for breakfast, a chocolate simit (Eric) and meat pie (me).

When we sat down in Piccadilly Circus to eat our snacks, we noticed a play called “The Comedy About A Bank Robbery” at the The Criterion Theatre. Curious, we stopped inside to view ticket prices and decided to try our luck online for the following evening. Back in our room we searched for tickets and thought we had found a good option when I noticed a discount code for half-off tickets on “Band A” seats for Sunday performances. Luckily, we managed to snag two excellent seats for about £25 each, half the price we had expected to pay!

Feeling a bit giddy, we hopped on the Tube to Paddington station to meet Eric’s UK co-workers for lunch.

me with Paddington Bear!
I could not pass up the opportunity to pose with Paddington!

From Paddington Station, we walked up to Little Venice for lunch and drinks at The Bridge House. This area of London was previously unexplored by us and we found the old canals with lots of small gardens quiet and quaint.

a moody day for walking around Little Venice

Just a few minutes walk away has created a very modern steel and glass corridor as well.

Paddington Basin

The weather was definitely not in our favor, so after wandering around looking for the ‘snail’ bridge (hard to find due to construction and then it was locked down. Disappointing) we took shelter at The Mad Bishop & Bear pub inside Paddington Station for more conversation before they headed back toward Reading.

We relaxed in the room for a while before deciding to visit the Tate Modern Museum since it was open until 11pm and we weren’t quite ready for dinner at 7pm. While the Tate Modern is not our favorite museum, as quite a few pieces induce eye-rolling for their ‘artfulness,’ several sections were still enjoyable.

Tate Museum artwork

Plus, the views of London at night are always good.

London at night

London at night

Working up an appetite, we walked to dinner at Est. India. My house lamb curry was very good, with a nice bit of spice. The tikka masala that Eric ordered was OK, a little sweet and underspiced, but with a generous amount of chicken. Eric found that mixing in a bit of my spicier sauce helped his dish considerably. My rose was a good choice with the heavier curry and Eric’s Hitachino Nest White Ale was also good. The restaurant itself was very loud due to a few boisterous tables around us so I wouldn’t recommend this place for a romantic dinner date, but it worked for a quick dinner.

Winter Weekend in London: Friday

Friday was definitely a day of culture! First up was the famous Natural History Museum, with all manner of mineral, animals, and lots of other science. I spent a half day here a couple years back when I had the day to myself waiting for Eric to fly in from France, so I wanted to show him around. Unsurprisingly, there were a LOT of school groups in attendance, so we tried to choose rooms they weren’t in…

what do scientists do?
hard to tell, really

A few hours later we got hungry so we walked a few blocks to the nearby Gloucester Arms for lunch, where we split a meat and ale pie.

Next up was a quick visit to the V&A Museum, specifically to see the small Beatrix Potter illustrations exhibit. I had no idea she was such an accomplished illustrator at such a young age!

Beatrix Potter @ V&A Museum 

After this we split up for a few hours… Eric walked through Green Park, then ducked into National Gallery to hang out with a few masterpieces by Monet, Van Gogh, etc. Cagnacci’s Repentant Magdalene, a special exhibit, was quite impressive.

London  Memorial

Meanwhile, I met my Aunt Kim at London Fashion Week for some ‘window’ shopping and the Mother of Pearl catwalk show. We had far less time than my experience three years ago at the Somerset House location, but I still enjoyed hanging out with my aunt and admiring the clothes and bags. Next time we need the full day to experience the champagne bar and complimentary manicures! :)

London Fashion Week

We had regular tickets for the catwalk show but a nice lady in front of us had two extra front row seats and gave them to us. We thanked her and hurried across the aisle just before the show started.

selfie w/ my aunt  London Fashion Week - Mother of Pearl catwalk
my aunt Kim and I; women who are way taller than me wearing expensive clothes

After the show, I texted Eric and he sent me his location (a wine bar) via Google Maps – love it! I covered the half-mile walk through crowds in about ten minutes, picked up the hubby and headed over to The Duke of York’s Theatre to see The Glass Menagerie, a Tennessee Williams play. The acting was mostly good (the brother was the weakest part, IMHO) but I really love the play so I was probably more into it than Eric was. For the price, I still think it was a good way to spend a few hours. We had third row seats in the first balcony and could really appreciate the staging from up there.

The Glass Managerie

Unfortunately, we didn’t make post-dinner reservations, and several places we tried were either full or had hour-long waits… thankfully, Les Deux Salons (the wine bar I met Eric in earlier) had some open tables in the informal bar area and we were seated just before the kitchen closed. We split a carafe of white wine and ordered a light dinner – Croque Monsieur for Eric and steak tartare & delicious crispy fries for me.

Malaysia: a day in Hong Kong

On trips to Asia it often makes sense to spend a long layover in Hong Kong on the way back (much like we do for London on return trips from Europe) so we don’t have to catch crazy early flights for positioning.

Upon landing at the airport, I was delighted by all of the CNY decorations and couldn’t pass up standing in a short line for a free sample of dragon beard candy. :)

waiting for dragon beard candy at the airport  dragon beard candy prep

We’ve been to Hong Kong many times (2015, 2015 again, 2013, and 2011) so for this trip we made a point to explore a different neighborhood by staying in the Wan Chai area for the night. While we liked our room at the Hotel Indigo, we found the restaurants and shops to be a bit pricier than other neighborhoods like SoHo/Sheung Wan and

our charming room @ Hotel Indigo Hong Kong Island  the view from our room
our bedroom; the view from our room

Once we checked in and got our bearings, we walked around a bit through the Wan Chai market area picking up some socks and gifts in the street market, plus a curry puff and BBQ puff from Kee Wah Bakery. The quickly eaten pineapple cake also caused us to return and buy four more!

Wan Chai, Hong Kong  lanterns!
Chinese lanterns during the day and lit up at night

We checked out the hotel bar happy hour – it had some nice panoramic views of the city but the “buy one get one free” special couldn’t be split between two people, and since we didn’t want two drinks each we skipped it. Instead, we had a pint at Roundhouse – Chicken+Beer where they apparently don’t want you to know how much their beer costs. The prices are not listed on the website or their tap board. So! To be helpful I will tell you that pretty much every beer — even the locally brewed choices — were 88HKD or about $11USD. For a pint of beer.  Considering the prices in Malaysia, Hong Kong was a bit of a shock to our system.

taps @ Roundhouse - Chicken + Beer

After our pricey pint, we walked to Central Plaza for 46th floor panoramic views of the city. It was very hazy so the views were just okay but on a clear day I think it would be worth the stop.

view from 46th Floor Sky Lobby, Central Plaza

For dinner, we got a light meal at 22 Ships, I had the beef tartare (too salty) and Eric had a delicious strawberry and marshmallow dessert with a glass each of a pleasant rose wine. I wanted to see the laser show from a different vantage point so I hiked to the Golden Bauhinia Square around 8pm. The show is definitely better from the Kowloon side – don’t bother with the Hong Kong side!

dessert @ 22 Ships

As usual, we enjoyed our long layover in Hong Kong. Next time we will probably stay on the Kowloon side, likely in the Mong Kok neighborhood.

on our way home...

Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur, day 2

The skies were overcast and threatening rain but that didn’t stop us from visiting the Perdana botanical gardens before we needed to switch hotels on our last day in KL. It was the only time on our trip that we didn’t hear motorbikes, which made it a peaceful respite from the bustling city just blocks away.

Perdana Botanical Garden

Perdana Botanical Garden

The entrance to the Orchid and Hibiscus Garden was a bit tricky to find and it wasn’t clear if we were supposed to pay extra to enter but there was no one at the visitor’s booth so we walked right in.

Perdana Botanical Garden  Perdana Botanical Garden

Perdana Botanical Garden

We wound our way through the park and over to the Tugu Negara war memorial and sculpture gardens before tiring of the increasing rain, so we grabbed an Uber to get back to the hotel.

war memorial

After an easy hotel transfer, I headed over to the Islamic Arts Museum for a few hours. The collection of Islamic art from SE Asia was beautifully curated, including pottery, textiles, jewelry, wood, and paper arts and featured several intricately decorated interior domes.

blue dome

painting  intricate bowl

Gebyok door and wall  ivory cabinet from India

Kashmir shawl detail  Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia

One of my favorite parts was the scale models of famous mosques from around the world. We had seen three in person but I was a tad disappointed that the beautiful Blue Mosque in Istanbul was absent.

Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem  Sacred Mosque in Mecca

The museum is also right next to the National Mosque of Malaysia, so I got to hear part of the call to prayer from the rooftop terrace.

call to prayer @ National Mosque of Malaysia

Quite on accident that morning, I discovered that KL had two Din Tai Fung restaurants so we choose the Pavilions Mall location and got ready to stand in line for delicious soup dumplings. We only waited about 15 minutes for a table and the xiao long bao did not disappoint. Extra bonus – due to the monetary conversion, these were by far the cheapest dumplings we’ve had in our multiple visits to Din Tai Fung in Taipei, Orange County (CA), Beijing, Sydney, and Kuala Lumpur.

xio long bao @ Din Tai Fung!
chicken soup dumplings, truly delicious

We ended the evening with a quick drink in the aLoft lobby before packing our bags ahead of our flight to Hong Kong the next morning.

Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur, day 1

Our flight from Penang to KL was pretty uneventful… we had business class seats for the short flight which included larger seats and a chicken satay snack that wasn’t very good. Since it was a domestic flight no wine or beer was offered.

The train ride from the airport to Sentral was easy once we figured out how to get our QR code tickets to scan (hint: turn off the auto-rotate on your phone!) The subway ride to our hotel was very crowded and getting to the mall where the hotel was located was a bit tricky, with a pedestrian walkway over a large road and several sets of stairs. Oh, and it had just started to drizzle. Thankfully, Eric was able to scout ahead while I waited with the luggage in a covered area.

The Men’s Aussie Open final was on so after unpacking we headed down to the hotel bar for happy hour and to watch the tennis. I opted for a South African white that was just okay and Eric had a whisky sour cocktail that was cheaper than my wine. Our drinks arrived with a complimentary bowl of lightly roasted peanuts that were delicious.

Eric had read that Sky Bar in the Traders Hotel had a great view of the Petronus towers, so we grabbed an Uber and headed over. All the prime window seats were full when we arrived but a table opened up about ten minutes later and we snagged it. Our cocktails, Frosty Ginger for me and Whiskey Passion for Eric, were very good and went well with the chocolate fondue dessert. And wow, what a view!

view of the Petronus Towers from SkyBar  SkyBar @ Traders Hotel
the view of the towers; interior pool and colorful lighting @ SkyBar

The next morning we grabbed an Uber to take us to the Batu Caves about 20 minutes north of downtown. You can also take the subway but the Uber ride was MUCH easier, faster and only cost us about $3.75 USD (17MYR) each way.

This is an active temple, so there were quite a few pilgrims chanting and carrying offerings. There were also a lot of vendors selling traditional Indian snacks and other goods. And, of course, monkeys! Quick note: It was very damp on the stairs and inside the caves so I regretted my choice of sandals as I left with soaked feet.

Lord Murugan Statue @ Batu Caves  money on the steps

Batu Caves

Batu Caves

Batu Caves

At this point, we really wanted some air conditioning, so we caught an Uber to the KL Seria Mall to look around a bit. All the stores had roosters and Chinese New Year decorations and we even watched a brief candy making demo.

 

After taking a quick break in our room to charge our phones and rest our feet, we ventured to the Central Market / Kasturi Walk area for some shopping and gift purchases. I had two stores in mind: Arch (detailed wood veneer art) and Tenmoku Pottery, handmade near the Batu Caves with many items featuring a gorgeous matte black interior glaze. Some haggling was allowed so I also picked up a few other items when I could score a better price.

Kasturi Walk

By the time we finished here it was pouring rain, so we skipped the famous Street Market and instead quickly walked to a nearby Indian restaurant, Betel Leaf, for an early dinner. Eric had biryani rice with chicken leg which was good but my specialty Betel Leaf curry was disappointing, all bones with barely any meat! The naan bread and sauce were very good though, as was my banana lassi, so I would highly recommend ordering only the boneless version of dishes there.

Malaysia: Georgetown

Georgetown Sights

The street art in Georgetown was a big highlight for us, but there were plenty of other interesting sights. Lanterns and incense were in full effect, even in the heart of Little India.

temple in Little India

Queen Victoria Memorial Clock Tower  lanterns

After walking around the Esplanade area, we stopped for a quick ice cream at Chew Clan Jetty — wooden deck passageways above the water with businesses and homes on stilts.


bicycles and two-seater TownBikes available for rent

Where We Ate

We spent a good amount of time in hawker markets on our trip to Singapore, so we felt more or less prepared for the experience in Penang. First you get a table and order drinks from the roving table waiters. Next, you order the food you want at each individual stall, telling them your table number. Food is delivered to your table, and you pay for each item on delivery, so it’s preferable to have exact change as the food runners are very busy and may not be able to make change.

We had good luck the first time at Red Garden Paradise, ordering dim sum, chicken satay, and a large Guinness. Our second visit was a little rougher as it was quite busy, there was a .50 surcharge per dish (because of Chinese New Year), the lady who delivered our beer wanted to be paid on the spot (rather than at the end as is customary), and one vendor delivered the wrong dish. Many places were also out of noodles. Still, the dim sum, fried noodles (that we did find!) & oyster pancake were all fine. The karaoke-style entertainment on that evening… well, let’s call that an experience :)

scoping out dinner options @ Red Garden Cafe food court


brightly lit food stalls and a sea of plastic chairs and tables

 
dim sum and satay @ Red Garden Food Paradise; curry mee @ Mews Cafe

Our other meal was at Mews Cafe for Curry Mee and Beef Rendang. We ended up here after searching for a place that was open on the eve of Chinese New Year. Attached to a smaller boutique hotel, it was more expensive than the food court, but also much more relaxed. Both of us were satisfied with our meals and I liked the outdoor seating area.

Shopping

I couldn’t come home without one Chinese lantern, thankfully there were plenty of places to pick one up. We also purchased some famous salted egg pastries (the pandan one was my favorite), pepper beef pastries (delicious), cracked pepper crackers, and a box of pineapple tarts. I also found a few spices at the Pacific Hypermarket and a small incense burner at a shop in Little India.

choosing a Chinese lantern to bring home  our loot for the day


at about $0.50 each it was hard to only come away with a few of these!

We used the mornings to explore until it became uncomfortably warm, then retreated to the hotel pool area for some shade and book reading. Worked out perfectly for us!

Malaysia: Chinese New Year

We knew that going to Malaysia during Chinese New Year could be disruptive in terms of restaurant closings and such, but we were hoping that a brightly lit Kek Lok Si Temple, thousands of Chinese lanterns, and multiple (noisy and entertaining) Lion Dances would outweigh the negatives.

Pokemon!
Pokemon display @ Dewan Sri Pinang courtyard

The Kek Lok Si Temple was a definite highlight. We were a bit worried about the crowds but we arrived (by Uber of course!) about an hour before sunset and the crowd was still thin. Things picked up as the lights started to illuminate but it was absolutely stunning and we managed to find places to enjoy the views without feeling crowded.

The temple grounds are free to visit but it’s totally worth the small fee to climb to the top of the tower.

Kek Lok Si Temple  candles @ Kek Lok Si Temple

Kek Lok Si Temple

Kek Lok Si Temple

Kek Lok Si Temple

Kek Lok Si Temple  Kek Lok Si Temple

On New Year’s Eve we received an invitation from the hotel to view two Lion Dances the following afternoon… this ritual is performed by two people dressed in a lion costume while another person is beating the heck out of a drum at deafening volume. It’s loud, showy and totally worth seeing in person at least once.

Chinese Lion Dance @ Eastern & Oriental

Chinese Lion Dance @ Eastern & Oriental

Lion Dance @ E&O Hotel

While fun, I think we would not choose this time frame again as many of the temples and light displays were up for a few weeks, so we’d be better off avoiding the general disruption itself.