April 16, 2016

#OMGB Great Value Travel to London – Day 1

London Eye, Skylon Restaurant, Covent Garden, Tuttons Restaurant, Premier Inn

When your stars aligned and miracles appeared, you’ll realize that every single effort, hard work and sleepless moments that you have gone through are truly worth it. Having just been to London last November 2015, I was actually still reminiscing over the glorious trip of my gallivanting days in the England’s capital city.

They say, ‘When A Man is Tired of London, He is Tired of Life’.

That could possibly be true, at least in my sense. Listed as one of the most visited cities in the world, it garners such a life of its own in full glory. I still look back at all my photos of London and dream of one day returning back to this city. Well, it happens that Someone was looking out for me and my dream turned reality again last month. Excitement, anticipation and eagerness couldn’t even describe how I felt that moment when I knew I was heading back to London again.

This time, it’s different. I was told by by VisitBritain (VB), our gracious host, that we are going on a Great Value Travel to London. Whenever anyone mentions London, the question that comes to mind often would be that it would be expensive to travel to UK. Considering our currency exchange rate at this moment, some might even just deem this impossible. Well, I am about to change your mind.

There are plenty of ways to travel to London on a budget. Travel these days is not as impossible as one may deem, even to London. All you need to a plan, some research, a budget and some advance actions. Thanks to Visit Britain and CIT Travel Malaysia partnership, they have actually planned out a Great Value Trip to London and I am about to share what this trip has to offer in hope that many of you can also experience the city itself.

The day to fly to London went on without any glitch. I met up with Alice from Jom Makan Life, my traveling partner to London, and we arrived early in the wee morning hours in the city. It was barely 7am in the morning and already Heathrow Airport was buzzing with travelers. Families waiting for their loved ones, lovers hugging like they would never ever let go, friends grinning ear-to-ear, business travelers seeking their counterpart, Heathrow Airport was a sight of emotions. We then met up with Zura, another fellow traveler and Gill Pearce from VB as well as Ryan, a videographer, who was also joining our travel. The weather wasn’t too bad, a bit chilly but I do happen to love cold weather.

At the airport, its best to get a SIM card for your phone. I got the 1GB data plan with 750 minutes and it did lasted me through this 5D4N trip.

Day 1 Summary
  • Arrive London
  • Travel to Central London Paddington Station by Heathrow Express
  • From Paddington Station, take Bakerloo Underground Line (Southbound) to Waterloo Station
  • Leave luggage at Premier Inn County Hall for check-in later
  •  Visit London Eye for a ride of the best views of London
  • Lunch at Skylon Restaurant
  • Big Bus Tour
  • Visit Covent Garden
  • Dinner at Tuttons Restaurant
  • Rest at Premier Inn County Hall

Heathrow Express

At Heathrow Airport, your best bet to travel on a budget would have to be the Heathrow Express to Paddington Station. It is the fastest connection between central London and Heathrow Airport and travelling time is about 15 minutes. You can purchase your Heathrow Express ticket via their self-service ticket machines using credit card. A return ticket cost £36 for an adult on regular express ticket.

The Heathrow Express runs every 15 minutes so literally, we didn’t even have to wait that long. There were plenty of seats available and it was a very comfortable ride with the free Wi-Fi too.

For more information, visit www.heathrowexpress.com

Paddington Station

We arrived at Paddington Station and head on up to the ground level. Then we headed towards the Bakerloo Underground Line and used our Oyster card to take us to Waterloo Station (which is the 7th stop from Bakerloo).

Remember to get an Oyster Card in advance before you arrive in London for easier access to all the London Underground trains (Tube), Buses, Docklands Light Rail and Overground Trains. You can also buy the tickets at the station individually but that will cost more per ride.

Download a Free Underground Line Map at www.londonpass.com/free-download-centre.php

We arrived at the Waterloo Station within 15 minutes. Since our hotel is only a few blocks away, we simply walked to our hotel, the Premier Inn County Hall located at a prime area in central London. I must commend the locals because a few of them offered to lug our luggage down the flight of stairs at the station when they saw us girls struggling with it. A simple and kind gesture like this simply made our first day in London!

Premier Inn County Hall turned out even better than my expectation. Since we were early, our rooms were not ready for check-in. However, the hotel staff offered to store our luggage for us so that we can roam the streets a while and get some coffee.

The value-for-money hotel is definitely a great place to bunk in as it is just around the corner from the London Eye! One would think that with such a strategic location, the hotel would be expensive but it is not, especially if you make your booking with CIT and Visit Britain.

The hotel main lobby is kept to a minimal with a small counter offering personalized check-in or one can even check themselves in with the Quick + Easy Check-In machines.

The London Eye

London Eye is literally behind our hotel building. A quick morning stroll around the corner and we came to a halt at the majestic sight of the striking Ferris wheel. Launched in 2000, the world’s largest cantilevered observation wheel was conceived and designed by Marks Barfield Architects. It is definitely a must-visit for any visitors in London. After all, it offers everyone a glimpse  of London from its impressive 135m height.

We roamed Jubilee Park, taking in the cool weather and all the surrounding ambiance. Surrounded by plenty of green hedges, there were art sculptures, bare trees graced with sweets and more, all backed up by the amazing sight of the huge Ferris wheel.

While one can buy the London Eye ticket at the counters, its best to save a bit by buying them online in advance as one can get some discount. You can opt of the regular ticket or the Fast Track Tickets. The difference is that with Fast Track, you don’t have to queue that long for the ride. It might be worthwhile to take the Fast Track like we did to fully utilize your time through the day. Find out how to book online through their website.

Now many may not know of my fear of heights but even I had forgotten about it for a while after being so amazed at the London Eye. We were ushered to our capsule by the friendly staffs and I notice that the Ferris wheel actually does not come to a full halt. However, it is pretty slow enough so one can just hop into the capsule at ease.

Each capsule, out of the 32 capsules on the wheel, can hold up to 25 people comfortably. It’s a 30-minute rotation ride to experience the 360 degree sight of the cosmopolitan city. Currently, the London Eye is sponsored by Coca Cola, hence the splash of red brightened up the capsule beautifully.

The sight was simply mesmerizing.

I can see Big Ben and Parliament House set majestically along the Thames River. Spots of London’s famed double decker red bus was seen queuing with lots of cars along the Westminster Bridge. Luxury yachts, big liners, barges, cruisers and boats were also seen on the Thames River. Skyscrapers stood in the distance among all the buildings, creating an unforgettable sight of what the city of London is today.

While the 30 minute ride flew by, I must say it was one of the most exhilarating experience that one simply should experience. If I ever visit London again, I would definitely visit the London Eye again…

I spotted this Merry-Go-Around near the London Eye and couldn’t resist wishing for a ride on this classic amusement ride!

Besides the London Eye, you can also catch the other attractions nearby such as the River Cruise, Sea Life London Aquarium, London Dungeon and DreamWorks Tours Shrek’s Adventures (which I did during my first trip in London).

Find out more on their opening hours, available tickets and packages and more at www.londoneye.com

Riverside Building
County Hall
Westminster Bridge Road
London SE1 7PB

Skylon Restaurant

After our London Eye experience, we went back to Premier Inn to check-in real quick and freshen up before lunch. Then we took a quick stroll to the Royal Festival Hall which is about a brisk 10 minutes stroll away.

Skylon Restaurant is set on the third level of the Royal Festival Hall and offers diners a value-for-money dining area as well as a fine dining area. Both dining areas are separated by a stunning centerpiece bar. Coupled with the beautiful floor-to-ceiling windows that offers a gorgeous sight of the city, the restaurant is worthy of a visit whether you are dining casual in their grill dining area or indulging in their finer modern British menu by Executive Head Chef Tom Cook at their fine relaxed atmosphere.

For lunch, we decided to splurge a little at their fine dining and opted for a 2-course menu for £28 (+12.5% discretionary service charge). There is also a 3-course menu at £32. After all, we are on a holiday so it’s always good to be able to splurge a bit and save on other meals. From this lunch set menu, one can select your course from starter, main or dessert.

Grilled Cornish Mackerel with beetroot, broad beans and watercress dressing

I went for their starter of Grilled Cornish Mackerel and main of Duo of Beef. The Cornish mackerel was delightfully delicate in flavour, unlike our local mackerel. Its crisp skin and tender flesh was deliciously accompanied by splashes of colors from pickled beetroot, sweet broad beans, micro greens and a tasty watercress dressing.

Duo of Beef with pommes puree, glazed grelot onion, girolle, baby turnip and spring greens

The beef was already impressive at sight with its glorious hunk of beef cheek and sliced ribeye cooked to medium perfection. Accompanied by a creamy and smooth pommes puree , sweet and smoky glazed baby grelot onion, girolle mushroom, small wedges of unctuous baby turnips and some wilted green, both beef are scrumptious as well as worthy of every penny it cost.

Here are what the others ate from the same lunch set menu…

Cured Salmon with grapefruit, pickled radish, ginger and samphire

Pan Fried Sea Trout with pea and basil puree, fresh new season’s peas and baby carrots

Saddle of Rabbit and Beignet of Rabbit Leg with braised baby gem, broad beans and mustard veloute

Rhubarb Cheesecake with Yuzu Granita

Royal Festival Hall, London SE1 8XX
Tel: 020 7654 7800

Big Bus Tours

After lunch, we took advantage of the famous Big Bus Tours to catch a view of London’s famous hotspots on the open double decker bus. Our nearest route near our hotel was York Road. However, there are plenty of stops along the routes of the Big Bus Tours that one can hop on or hop off at any time. These buses start at 8.30am and there is a bus every 10 to 20 minutes at all the stops (subject to change and traffic).

There are several packages available depending on your preference and time available. We opted for the 48 hours package priced at £33 per adult that includes:

·         48 hour hop-on, hop-off sightseeing tour of London

·         Free Night Tour - available until 30 September 2016 (inclusive)

·         River Thames Cruise to Greenwich

·         3 walking tours

·         Reward booklet

There are two routes – Classic Red Tour or Big Blue Tour on the Big Bus Tours. Both are quite similar with all the main landmarks but the Big Blue Tour offers more stops at more landmarks.

We did a quick short tour of the Big Bus Tour route that covers St. Paul’s Cathedral - Tower of London - Westminster Bridge (Big Ben & Westminster Abbey) - Buckingham Palace - Oxford Circus - Piccadilly Circus - Trafalgar Square  - Victoria.

Though we didn’t manage to complete the whole route, we continued more the next day as we have the 48 hour package. That is why it is very convenient to book this tour as it allows us the liberty to go along depending on our time.

There is also a Night Tour to entice you in the evenings. You might want to catch that one to see the gorgeously lite Tower Bridge at night!

Find out more about Big Bus Tours and make your booking online at their website: www.eng.bigbustours.com/london/home.html

Covent Garden

After hopping off from Big Bus Tours at Covent Garden, we explored what London’s West End has to offer. Filled with shopping, theaters, restaurants, bars, history and culture, Covent Garden is also filled with lots of eccentric shops, delicious cafes and restaurants, street performers as well as a market place fill with lots of knick-knacks and art.

We headed straight to Covent Garden Market piazza which is also section into various halls. Along the North Hall, we came to sight at the how amazing this bustling place is. Musicians were belting out soulful songs that travels and fills the space with much entertainment. People were just enjoying a cup of coffee or tea and a snack while taking in the glorious ambiance and its entertainment with pleasure.

Apple Market, located at this hall, is filled with lots of kiosk selling unique jewelry pieces and art and craftwork.

Locals and visitors mingled among the crowd, all united by the purpose of shopping for trinkets and art. As we walk through the lanes in the hall, our nostrils were lured into delicious temptations of freshly baked Ben’s Cookies as well as the sight of queues for Italian gelato. Specialized Tea Shop nestled among other clothing stores as well as souvenir stores.

I succumbed to the temptation and bought a Ben’s Cookie. Share this piece of happiness with Alice as we both giggled and vie for the last bit of the sinful soft and gooey cookie. A priceless moment…

I also spied Jaime’s Italian restaurant here too…

Covent Garden
Telephone: +44 (0)20 7240 578

Tuttons Restaurant

We dined at Tuttons Restaurant located nearby Covent Garden on Russell Street with the group. Overlooking the hustle and bustle of the Covent Market, Tuttons, arguably one of the most famous and long standing restaurants in that area, is located on the east side of the historic piazza.

As we walked into Tuttons, we were greeted by the warm smiles of the wait staff as they quickly sorted out our reservation and led us to our table. There are several sections of dining area that consist of the main dining, bar, private dining rooms or al fresco dining area set along the cobblestones of Covent Garden.

Tuttons offers a classically English menu focusing on seasonal dishes from Great British suppliers. While there are a la carte menu as well as a Pre-Theatre menu or Bar Menu, we opted for their 3-course menu for £22 inclusive of a Bellini Cocktail. If you are not up for alcohol, ask the non-alcoholic version.

I chose Corned Beef Hash for starter, Roast Salmon Fillet for main and Glazed Lemon Tart for dessert.

Corned Beef Hash with fried egg & homemade pickle

The corned beef hash was robust with a moreish note of sweet, savory and tangy. Paired with mashed with pickle vegetables and topped with a sunny side up egg, this starter really whet my appetite for more. I did wish for some toast though to pair up with all the unctuous flavours of this starter.

Roast Salmon Fillet with celeriac mash, Catalan style spinach and sauce Vierge

Despite my salmon fillet looking rather thin on the slice, it was beautifully cooked just right. Crisp skin with a moist and flaky soft flesh. Accompanied by creamy mashed celeriac and sautéed spinach, the fish was easy to enjoy and was not heavy at all, hence leaving me with some space for dessert.

Glazed Lemon Tart with blackberry cream & berry sauce

Dessert was divine. The lemon tart certainly lived up to its name. Refreshingly tart and vibrant with citrusy lemons, it was certainly well baked as it had a thin short crust as well as caramelized top. I enjoyed this a lot with the creamy blackberry cream and fruity berry sauce.

Alice had the Tuttons Maple Cured Salmon, Vegetable & Cannellini Bean Casserole and Passionfruit & Vanilla Crème Brulee.

Tuttons Maple Cured Salmon with Avruga Caviar, Horseradish and Dill Crème Fraiche

Vegetable & Cannellini Bean Casserole with crispy Tortellini, Savoy Cabbage & toasted Pine Nuts

Passionfruit & Vanilla Crème Brulee with Shortbread Biscuits

Tuttons Restaurant
11/12 Russell Street, Covent Garden
London WC2B 5HZ
T: 0207 632 2081
E: tuttons@cgrestaurants.com
Website: www.tuttons.com

Premier Inn County Hall

After dinner, we were quite exhausted since we have been out from the wee morning hours upon arrival. We headed back to Premier Inn County Hall hotel as was happily greeted at the sight of our plush bed in the pretty spacious room.

I took a good soaking at the long bath to ease out the chinks in my whole body. Then I even turned on the TV to catch a short movie while multi-tasking on the complimentary WiFi service available in the room. Made myself a hot tea and before I know it, I was off dreaming about London and what I did today…

Premier Inn County Hall
County Hall, Belvedere Road,
London SE1 7PB

Since I was so near London Eye, I even took a quick stroll and caught London Eye at its majestic night aura!

*Stay tune for Day 2 - Buckingham Palace, Hache Burgers Camden, Camden Market, Bill’s Restaurant, Lyric Theatre

For more information and to plan your Great Value Travel to London, check out Visit Britain at www.visitbritain.com/malaysia or CIT Malaysia at www.cit.travel/europe/united-kingdom

**This trip was made possible by Visit Britain. All stories and comments in my posts are purely derived from my own experiences through the trip.

Great Value Travel to London Stories


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