Gare de Toulouse-Matabiau

After circling around our hotel in a state of semi-panic more than a few times because all the approaches we should have taken in order to access a car park were blocked by extensive roadworks happening on Allée Jean Jaurès and Boulevard Bonrepos.

Eventually, we decided to park at a multi-story car park next to Gare de Toulouse Matabiau.

Must take a picture so I won’t forget where our car is.

The mainline station was undergoing a major facelift…

After checking in at the hotel, we headed back to the station. ‘Mum, why don’t we try the metro?’ We needed to do some shopping and there weren’t many shops around our hotel.

There were two policemen in the station concourse when we walked in. So I asked one of them if he could point us towards the metro entrance. He told us to use the stairs further up and to follow the sign. I thanked him and we headed to the stairs.

Which ticketing machines are for the metro???

I can’t remember which one was the correct one but eventually I managed to buy two sets of the returns for us.

Down the escalator…

And on the platform…

We used the line A from Marengo-SNCF to Capitole.

Our little adventure in Toulouse commences!

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Gare de Limoges-Bénédictins

The mainline railway station in the southeast part of Limoges was one place I managed to visit while I was in the city.

It was a great shame that mum hurt herself at the very beginning of our adventure and as a result, she could not accompany me on foot to see this ornate station.

The station was less than 10 minutes walk from the hotel. A park which separated the station from the city centre seemed to be a small oasis to local people and I could see students and office workers here and there, enjoying a little “me-time” on the benches and the grass.

The first Gare de Limoges-Bénédictins, which was built of wood, was opened in 1860. The present station was designed by a French architect Roger Gonthier in 1917 and the building was listed as a monument historique in 1975.

The style of the building was distinctively Beaux-Arts. Opulent decors adorned the various parts of the exterior of the station.

Bénédictins, the part of the name of the station was due to the presence of a Benedictine monastery nearby which was closed during the French Revolution.

I entered the station, expecting the interior to be as ornate as the outside. However, I wasn’t so lucky.

Apart from the entrance and the ceilings, nothing was very notable.

The vastness of the ceiling somehow emphasised the emptiness of the interior.

After all, it was a working railway station, not a museum or a theatre. A business-like interior was more appropriate, I supposed.

A dome above the passenger concourse was constructed with a metallic framework covered in copper.

Limoges is a part of the Orléans-Montauban railway. There is the intercity services from Paris to the city which typically takes a little less than 4 hours.

A sight of railway tracks disappearing into the distance always made me feel nostalgic, and the sight I saw from Rampe des Bénédictins bore the same effect.

Before we leave the city tomorrow, I shall bring mum here by car so she can see the famous station from outside, I thought.

So she won’t feel too missed out…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Afternoon tea @ St Pancras Renaissance

The last afternoon tea I had was at the Lanesborough during last July. My friends were visiting London and they wanted to have a traditional afternoon tea (who wouldn’t?), therefore, I recommended there. This time, I wanted to take my girl Bella with me, therefore, I picked St Pancras Renaissance. In London, there were more than a few dog-friendly afternoon tea venues to choose from. However, most of the places were in West London and St Pancras Renaissance was the only hotel which was close from our place and also welcomed four-legged guests open-armed.

Hurry up, you all!

Even though her legs were short, she climbed the stairs much quicker than me. Why is that? Would I run up the stairs much faster if I got down on all four?!

Behind the present building, there are platforms for Eurostar…

The Victorian style building has Grade 1 listed status and the original structure was constructed in the late 19th century.

I distinctively remember how the place used to be before all the regeneration works transformed the entire area. It was in the early 90’s and the station just looked dirty and unloved. I think I was on my way to visit Cambridge and the train route was starting from St Pancras. The journey was made on one very cold February day and in my memory, the platform was utterly devoid of human beings and as cold as a tomb.

During the 1960’s, there were serious discussions regarding the future of the station. Some wanted the station to be closed and demolished altogether for inner-city redevelopment. However, the station was spared, thanks to fierce opposition by the Victorian Society.

The fortune of the station improved further in 1996 when LCR – London and Continental Railways won a contract from the government to reconstruct St Pancras. The company was to build a 109-kilometre (68 mi) high-speed railway between London and the United Kingdom end of the Channel Tunnel as well as to refit the existing St Pancras for accommodating 300-metre+ Eurostar trains.

After eleven years, during which there were a few ups and downs and the cost of £800 million, the station was reopened on 6 November 2007 by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

Before the present St Pancras Renaissance opened its doors in 2011, the site was occupied by the remain of Midland Grand Hotel. The original hotel which was in the elaborate English Gothic revival style was designed by the architect, George Gilbert Scott in 1865. In its heyday, the hotel was known for expensive fixtures and luxurious decor. The place was decked with a grand staircase and every room had a fireplace. The hotel also sported the latest innovations of the time, such as hydraulic lifts, concrete floors, revolving doors and fireproof floor constructions. However by the 1920’s, all the utilities became out of date and it was decided that the hotel was to cease trading in 1935.

After the hotel was closed down, the place was renamed as St Pancras Chambers and it was used as railway offices by British Rail until the 1980’s before the building failed fire safety regulations.

In 2004, planning permission was granted to redevelop the existing boarded-up building into a new five-star hotel complex. The specification for the new hotel, which was to contain 244 guest rooms, two restaurants, two bars, a spa and a gym with a swimming pool, required a much bigger footprint than the former structure, therefore, a new bedroom wing was created on the western side of the Barlow train shed.

Steps leading us to a beautifully decorated hotel lobby…

The afternoon tea was served in their Hansom Lounge…

It was used to be the spot where the wealthiest passengers were dropped off during the time the place was used as a train station.

Bella wanted to explore the place. ‘Let me gooooo!’

No Bay-Bay! You behave yourself!

Then she went into the sulking mode. Oh no…

I don’t care. I’m gonna make you all feel guilty. Her turned back shouted her silent protest. Oh well. Never mind.

The lounge was very Christmassy…

We ordered their classic afternoon tea. For the actual tea, I ordered Earl Grey, Hubbie opted for Rooibos tea and David went for Darjeeling.

The first plates they brought to our table were sandwiches…

There weren’t any customary cucumber sandwiches but we were given a plenty of savoury fillings filled slices and rolls, such as salt beef with mustard & pickles, salmon with dill crème fraiche, roast chicken with fennel & orange, beetroot with goat cheese and so on. They were all very delectable.

For scones, I asked them to include a few scones without raisins or sultanas…

So Bella could join in our feast.

Then for the cake selections, we were served trays of coffee & amaretto panna cotta, lemon mousse, mini chocolate eclair, pistachio Madeleine and raspberry Victoria sandwich…

They were all great. However, I much preferred to have them, the sandwiches, the scones and the cakes, served altogether rather than to be brought separately. Also the time between each plate was served was a little too long for us. Therefore, for those negative points, I had to say the experience was 7 out of 10.

By the way, their dog-friendliness was 10/10…

One of the staffs brought a bowl of water as soon as we were seated and everyone was very attentive to us and Bella.

It was around 5:30pm when we left the hotel…

That meant we spent nearly two and a half hours chatting and drinking tea?! Wow, time flies when we’re having fun, we all laughed…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Tokyo Character Street, Ichiban Gai @ Tokyo Station

After completing my most important task at Jinbōchō, we headed back to Tokyo Station.
Adjoining to Tokyo Station was a subterranean shopping district called Tokyo-eki 1bangai (東京駅一番街) – First Avenue Tokyo Station. The area used to be known as Tokyo Meitengai (東京名店街) – Tokyo Best Shopping Town, however, it was redeveloped and rechristened in 2005.
The district covers 73,253m² and is occupied by more than 100 shops.

The most popular arcade was undoubtedly Tokyo Character Street (東京キャラクターストリート)…

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The arcade was lined with 14 shops each dedicated to well-known popular characters.

A Rilakkuma shop…

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Rilakkuma (リラックマ) , the name was made from an English word “relax” and a Japanese word “kuma” (meaning a bear) combined, it was a character designed by Aki Kondo, produced by San-X in 2003. The character was described as “huge hits in Japan” by The New York Times and voted as the fifth popular character in Japan in 2010…

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The items on sale were sweets, stationary, stuffed toys, smartphone straps, handkerchieves, etc. They were so numerous, nearing spilling out from the shelves.

And a Hello Kitty shop…

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Personally, I am not a fan of this world-famous kitten. I can’t explain why but this character has never appealed to me, and I find her blank expression rather creepy.
Anyway, I checked the shop from outside only.

This shop, Donguri Garden, mum & I liked the best in the arcade…

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Donguri meant “acorn” and the shop was specialised in Studio Ghibli merchandise. Each famous character created by Mr.Miyazaki was employed to grace every adorable item on the shelves.

Then, there was a row of antenna shops run by Japanese TV stations.

Fuji TV (フジテレビ)…

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Sadly, I couldn’t make myself very knowledgeable about every Japanese TV programmes during a mere 3-weeks stay. Therefore, many of the characters didn’t make much sense to me…

TBS (Tokyo Broadcasting System) store…

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I had learnt that this Hanzawa Naoki (半沢直樹) featured at the front was a very popular TV series of 2013. The drama unfolded as a protagonist, Naoki Hanzawa, a banker, struggled against his oppressive superiors at Tokyo Chuo Bank. The show proved to be the most watched programme in the past two decades, recording 42.2% viewing rate for the final episode.

Nittere-ya (日テレ屋), Nippon TV shop…

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Antenna shop as a concept is to provide opportunities to test the popularity of new product. By presenting it directly to the public and receiving honest feedbacks before launching it to a larger market, manufacturers can not only avoid a costly blooper but also create a hype if the product is a bullseye. To the consumers who are susceptible to catchphrases such as “limited-edition” or “season’s only”, are likly to respond to this kind of direct-marketing. And all depends on their responce, but it may help the product to grow as a mega-hit…

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Mum & I were wandering shop to shop with our eyes twinkled and mouthes gaped. We didn’t realise that there were so many characters in Japan…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Shinkansen @ Nagano Station

For all winter sport enthusiasts, tomorrow is the day, isn’t it? As an ex-ice hockey player and skier – after all, I am from Nagano, I do look forward to the Sochi 2014 and do hope the event will finish without incident.

One of the most definite legacies of the Nagano 1998 Winter Olympic Game is undoubtedly the Nagano Shinkansen (長野新幹線) – bullet train / the Super Express Asama…

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Despite the fact that the distance between Nagano City and Central Tokyo was only 230km, the city lacked high-speed rail link such as the Shinkansen, and a motorway was yet to be extended to the city at the time of the IOC’s host city selection for the 18th Winter Olympic Game. Therefore, solving the transport problem was an utmost imperative factor in order to invite the game successfully. As the result, the very first Nagano Shinkansen ran on its tracks which were raid over the existing route on the 1st October 1997. The journey time to Tokyo Station from Nagano station was shortened from 2 hours 45 minutes to 1 hour 20 minutes…

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This reduction of travelling time was welcomed by many as it made a journey to Tokyo much easier. However, the old Nagano station which was modelled after Zenkō-ji was replaced by a bland custard yellow clad monstrosity in order to accommodate high-powered trains such as the Shinkansen and the locals mourned the loss of well-loved character from the cityscape. I suppose the Shinkansen required a much higher calibre in accuracy and engineering, therefore, integrating the existing local terrain must have been too uneconomical. Still, I can’t see why the modernisation in Japan tends to choose the path of bulldozing predecessors rather than conserving them as pieces of history…

Mum & I boarded our train around midday. Ohhh, we must buy bento-boxes for lunch…

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Next door to the bento stall was a kiosk, selling sweets, newspapers, magazines and souvenirs…

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We grabbed the ones which were the most pricy, believing they would be the tastiest…

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However, we were bitterly disappointed. The bento appeared to be packed well, but…

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Most of the contents were just the epitome of culinary betrayal…

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Two diamond-shaped brown stuff turned out to be pieces of extremely tough beef. In the left lower corner were two konjac slabs with miso paste. A pinky thing on the upper left was salmon & sliced onion, marinated in oil & vinegar. Next to the salmon was Kimpira Gobo – stir-fried burdock, tree branch-like vegetable, very common in Japan. And that yellow lumpy thing was frittered apricot! The rest of the spaces were occupied by cold taste-less rice balls. How could they charge ¥1500 for this miserable bento box? Mum & I pecked at them dejectedly while hen-pecking bitterly…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

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