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

Up the mountain

Another highlight of our road trip was to visit the top of Zugspitze – the highest peak of Bavarian Alps, Wetterstein Mountains. The summit was 2,962 m (9,718 ft) above sea level, and could be accessible by cogwheel train and Gletscherbahn cable car.

We left Garmisch Partenkirchen around eight o’clock after a brief showdown with that old woman at the reception. In the end, she offered to knock off €20 from our bill, and I decided to settle the matter without further haggling or making a scene. Life is too short to be unhappy, especially during our precious road trip, mum and I agreed.

Mum poised on a cogwheel train, waiting for the train to move…

There are a few ways to reach Zugspitze. One way is catching a cogwheel train at Garmisch Partenkirchen. The train stops at Hausberg, Kreuzeck-Alpspitzbahn, Hannerbach, Grainau and Eibsee before starting a serious climbing toward its terminal at Zugspitzplatt. Another way is driving to Eibsee like we did and catching a train from there.

Our train was starting from Eibsee and it was schedule to depart at 9:15…

We managed to find the seats by the driver. We could hardly wait until a driver arrived and started the engine.

At the beginning, the track was surrounding by thick woodland…

The climb was rather slow and laborious. We could feel the cogs underneath our carriages biting into the steel tread between the rails and pulling the load up like a powerful farm horse ploughing a field. I had never been on this type of train, therefore, I was fascinated by how it worked.

Then all of the sudden, the vegetation on our right opened and revealed a breathtaking view of Lake Eibsee on our right. The sight made us realised how high the train had climbed already…​

After Eibsee, there were two loops on otherwise a single track. At each loop, two trains, one ascending and the other descending, waited in order to pass one another.

Our train entered Kleiner Tunnel and stopped. The driver turned off the engine. Apart from the driver, none of us on the train knew what to expect in the tunnel, and we were rather excited when we spotted some bright light in the distance…

The light was of the headlamps of the oncoming train. The train approached towards us very slowly and steadily, like two cars passing each other on a very narrow street.

After the tunnel, the cogwheel train climbed another 1,100m and we arrived at the terminal, Zugspitzplatt…


Despite it was 2588m above sea level, the inside of the terminal station was not at all cold. Mum and I were well prepared for low temperature, therefore, we were a little disappointed…

We won’t need any jacket after all!

Our optimism would vanish into thin air as soon as we stepped out of the building…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Mum & (old) Rolling Stocks…

Sorry for deserting the blog yet again for a long time. After mum had returned to Japan, I had a few knitting projects to go through as well as getting my fitness level back for the coming hockey season and, therefore, my plate had been laden rather heavily. However, I kept my journal during the absence and I would like to share it instead of writing a bland new blog post.

10th October
We were off to London Transport Museum in Covent Garden. Had known about this museum for ages but never had an opportunity or excuse to visit. So very glad that mum were willing to get onboard!
Saw a large sculpture at the Piazza. How it was held up, had no idea…

IMG_2343.JPG

IMG_2253-0.JPG

At the entrance of the museum, we saw a large Tokyo subway map printed on the wall and mum was very excited. ‘Take a photo of me & the map!’, she begged…

IMG_2617.JPG

Loads of old rolling stocks were on display.
When I moved to London in the early 90s, smoking on the public transport was still permitted, the double-deckers were free to hop on & off from the rear, and the train doors were not automatic but self-service slamming doors which let passengers hang on in daring & nonchalant style while the train glided into the station. Hooray to all the relics of pre- health & safety madness! While in & out of the trains & buses, I reminisced about London which no longer existed…

IMG_2344.JPG

IMG_2345.JPG

Then off to their gift shop as mum needed an inspiration for gift ideas for her friends in Japan. After much pacing back and fro between the aisles, she settled on 12 double-decker fridge magnets. Together with them, she also bought a tea towel and two trays.
For lunch, we decided upon tartine at one of the restaurants at the Piazza. The tartine was rather tough to cut but it tasted good…

IMG_2261.JPG

After lunch, we shopped at COS on Long Acre and mum bought a zipped knit blouson which suited her well…

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…

20140206-172539.jpg

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…

20140206-172654.jpg

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…

20140206-172755.jpg

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

20140206-172838.jpg

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

20140206-172948.jpg

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

20140206-173120.jpg

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

20140206-173208.jpg

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

We Are In Tokyo!

My apologies for not updating the blog often recently. As I updated in my last post, it had been really really cold in Nagano and my brain seemed to go in hibernation. Mum & I also had head cold and was taking it easy during the last few days in Nagano.

Yesterday, mum & I traveled to Tokyo…

20140114-083342.jpg

I shall update our adventure in Tokyo later on. So please watch this space…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Blog at WordPress.com.