Friday, September 30, 2016

YummY! - Fireworks Char Koay Teow @ Simpang Taiping (华顺烟花炒粿条)

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Fireworks Char Koay Teow @ Simpang Taiping (华顺烟花炒粿条)

Taiping, Perak, Malaysia - Semptember 2016
While on a cycling tour from Taiping to Parit Buntar, we managed to try out Taiping's famous Simpang Fireworks Char Koay Teow. Fireworks? Now then, don't start conjuring images about eating while viewing a sky full of colourful fireworks!

But there sure was a display of fireworks as Ah Soon fries his koay teow over the hot charcoal fire. And every now and then, with tugs to a manual pulley fan he stokes the fire and a spray of orange embers come flying out, just like fireworks!

The other thing that make his koay teow special is that this 70-year old operator still traditionally use "Kam Yuit" green leaves ("Simpoh Air" in Malay) to serve his dish on. He has baskets of this cut, clean and ready. He has been frying for fifty years, so one can understand his traditional ways.

These are leaves from the Dillenia Indica shrubs, one that grows very well in the wet marshy lands around Taiping. These plants together with yam shrubs are more common than banana trees in this locality; so the dillenia and yam leaves are more often used than banana leaves for serving hot fried food from food stalls or fresh food (fish, meat) at the wet markets. They are also used for wrapping of Tempeh.

He may be old, but Ah Soon is still a quick-draw McDraw! With deft movements of his hand that seem to blur out the fryer ladle, he quickly fries the koay teow. And he only fries for two or three plates at one go to ensure the quality of his food. He is helped by his son who does not do any frying, but does the serving and packing for take-aways.

And here's my plate of koay teow, looking very well presented on a large green leaf. The koay teow is slightly wet and the egg has been well stirred into it. Crispy bean sprouts and fresh looking cockles lined the surface. Taste-wise it is good with a burnt smell and also a strong garlicy taste.

One can choose the dish with either chicken or duck eggs. I went for the duck eggs as they have a stronger unique smell and taste.
Ah Soon's famous fireworks char koay teow is a favourite among locals, so do be prepared for a wait of up to half an hour during peak hours.

Roadside, Jalan Simpang, Taiping, Perak Malaysia.
(This roadside stall is close to the Simpang KFC)
Hours: Mon - 8:00pm - 11:30pm (Closed on Sundays)
GPS: 4.82145, 100.70789
(Click here for Google Street View)

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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Europe 2016 - Day 2: Getting To Know London

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Europe 2016 Day 2: Getting To Know London
5th September 2016 - London
The previous day we had arrived in London and had a good introduction to the city through visits to a market, a museum. In the morning, Camden Market did show us a peep of the daily life of the locals. Later, in the afternoon, we did learn much of the history of the world and the British Empire with a long and captivating visit to the The British Museum.

This is page 2 of a 14-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.
 Go to Day 1 London        |         Go to Other Days         |       Go to Day 3 London >

But before I go rambling further, here are some London Travelling Tips:
1. We stayed connected using a pocket wifi which we got from Travel Recommends.
2. Accommodations in the city can be expensive (especially for those from countries with poor exchange rate against the Pound Sterling). We stayed at the Travelodge King's Cross Royal Scot at about MYR360/= per night. It is quite centrally located being walking distance to the King's Cross Station which we would use frequently to travel around London. Please note that there is a charge for using the hotel wifi.
3. We travelled frequently with the Oyster Card but avoided the peak periods (Monday to Friday (except public holidays) from 06:30 to 09:30 and 16:00 to 19:00) as fares then would almost be doubled. Also we did use the HopOn/HopOff buses to get around since we had already purchased a 48-hour pass.
4. London is a cosmopolitan city, with lot's of international food available. Lunch were sausage & mash, and fish & chips at the Slug & Lettuce Vicotria; dinner was a sumptuous lobster noodle at Mandarin Kitchen Bayswater.
5. Points of interest for the day:
Sandemans Free Walking Tour of London.

- The Original HopOn/HopOff (HoHo) Bus Tour of London.
  We bought the 48-hour pass as it cost only an extra £10/- for the second day. The single day pass cost £30/-. Buy it on line and save £4/- for each pass.
- Free River Thames Sightseeing Cruise, it's not actually free but is include free with the Ho-Ho bus tours.

To help get orientated, above is a map showing some of our destinations for the second day.
Today we were keen to get to know London more - more of it's famous attractions and perhaps even beyond that. And what better way to do that than through a walking tour, a Thames River cruise and a Ho-Ho bus trip around the city.

We were heading for Covent Garden where the Sandemans Free Walking Tour of London starts. Being unfamiliar with travelling in the city, we decided to start early at 8:00am to head to Covent Garden by the London Tube. It was a mistake, our unfamiliarity costed us; it was peak hours and our fare came to £4-90 pax, almost double the usual fare. It was a lesson learnt, and later days we avoided the rush hours.
Arriving early we decide to take a walk around the vicinity and ended up in Leicester Square. Since there we dropped by the TKTS ticketing booth to buy tickets for The Wicked theatre musical show for the following evening. Unfortunately, although it was pass 10:00am, their booth was not opened yet; fortunately there were several other theatre studios around that sold tickets too. We popped into the Ocean Studios where we were able to get our tickets - AND better still they offered a 10% discount!

10:45am - Here I am with Carlotta, a pretty guide with a beaming smile originating from Madrid, of the Sandemans Free Walking Tour of London. But too bad she's not our guide, she leads the Spanish-speaking tour.

Sandemans' guides are locals or long-term residents who are familiar with the culture and history of locality. They are witty and sometimes share local gossips too. Do note that they do not have a fixed salary and rely on tips of patrons for their living; so do tip them fairly if you feel that they have done a good job.
Our guide was James, a local. Here he is at our first destination Goodwin's Court, looking very Harry Potterish. Goodwin's Court, with its black ornate shop windows, was the inspiration for the magic shopping street of the Harry Potter movies.

One local titbit he shared with us - London's road crossing have the words "LOOK RIGHT" or "LOOK LEFT" for a reason. Sir Winston Churchill when he visited New York got hit by a car when looking the wrong way while crossing the road resulting in him spending several weeks in a hospital. Learning from his error and not wanting others to suffer as he did, he required all pedestrian crossings in London to have these words painted. And all the time I had thought that the locals were a bit lacking to have this to tell them where to look, when actually they were for the benefit of tourists.

Trafalgar Square was our next destination, there Nelson's Column was soaring up high.
Another snippet - Nelson died at sea just at the end of the Battle of Trafalgar; as he was looking our to sea at his defeated enemies he was shot. They wanted to take his body back to England for an official hero's burial; back then there was no ice-box so they put his body into a drum of French wine to preserve it. A crew, unknowingly drank the wine barrel empty and without it the body was not preserved - this is probably where the term "a stiff drink" came about. 

The Admiralty Arch. James gave us some history of the place and also mentioned that this famous and solid looking landmark has been sold on a long lease to a Spanish investor. Did we hear a tinge of sadness in his voice when he was mentioning this. Such is how history make turns of events; the Spanish together with the French lost in the Battle of Trafalgar. Now centuries later, they are taking up prime properties in London within view of Nelson high on his column in Trafalgar Square, the poor man must be sighing in despair.

We took a walk across Green Park (it's a very green park, hence the name) and saw the Queen's Horse Guards riding on their way to Buckingham Palace.

And here's Buckingham Palace; although not one of the most elaboratelu designed and beautiful of palaces, it is one of the world's most renown one. I think people are drawn to it not so much for it's design but more because of what it represents, and that the beloved Queen of England stays there.
But it was not always a palace; in fact it started as a large townhouse built by a certain Duke of Buckingham. The then ruler, King George III like it so much that he acquired it for his queen. Well, who can refuse a royal order, in fact one should be honoured by it - house or no house.

Leaving the palace, James took us on a walk through his park, the St. James's Park; no it's not his park, it so happened he is named James also. We enjoyed this part of the walking tour most; the large park is so beautiful - with shaded walkways, lakes full of birds. In fact, there are birds everywhere: swimming in the lakes, flying around or just hopping around on the greens.

There are even squirrels scampering around, coming near to people to be fed. They, like the birds, after centuries of exposure are used to having people around.

It's really a beautiful park, and the lakes surrounded by green trees give a good shimmering reflection.

Next: Westminister Abbey; a landmark and very historical building. It is here that the British Royalty gets crowned in a grand coronation, it is here that they get married and it is even here that their funerals are held. In fact, some royalty and famous people are buried here.

At the main entrance, a red-robed church marshal greets visitor, ready to take them on a guided tour of the cathedral.

Impressive as the front of the cathedral may be, it's detailed side columns (that goes on the support the barrel vault of the interior) was even more eye-catching. And most of all the elaborate side entrance was really imposing. To the left of this side entrance was another separate building, the St. Margaret's Church.

And now for the most iconic British landmark; the Big Ben. This easily recognisable clock-tower sort of represents England or London; one look at it's photo and anyone will shout out "England!"
The odd thing is Big Ben is not the name of this clock tower but rather the name of the bell within the tower. Officially, the tower is called the Elizabeth Tower. Why it is called the Big Ben is a subject of rumours which could be true. One version says it's named after Sir Benjamin Hall who oversaw the installation of the bell; another says that it is named after after boxing's English heavyweight champion Benjamin Caunt, he must have been a big fellow to have a big bell named after him!
Next to it are the Houses of Parliament; the view from here does not show the full extent of the houses; but no worries, we will later see it while on a cruise of the Thames.

A shock-looking me, on being "nabbed" by an English Bobby policeman!

On my request, he was just play-acting with me, the English are not so straight-jacketed after all.

Our walking tour ended at the Slug & Lettuce, Victoria outlet. It's a British pub, not one of those older ones but a one with a bright new interior catering to a contemporary crowd. The look may be new, but here one can still grab some pub grub. Here, I had my craving for Bangers & Mash satisfied, we also had Fish & Chips.
(.... read more about the Slug & Lettuce meal)

With lunch over, we took a short walk over to Westminister Abbey to meet up with Lynn's sister, Choo. She had flown in from Poland to meet up with us and will be with us for the remainder of our stay in London. She had worked in London previously and would be helpful in guiding us two green-horns around.
We walked over to the Westminister Pier to begin our river cruise of the Thames.

Off we went sailing down the Thames, and the first thing we saw up close was the London Eye. Well, since we won't be going up on it, might as well do the next best thing - view it from the river.
By the way, that launch boat is similar to the one that we took. Tip: it's best to go up to the open upper deck for a great view.

Okay, as promised, a more extensive view of the Houses of Parliament, with Big Ben standing at one corner. The building is actually called the Palace of Westminister.

And Big Ben close up. I just love this clock tower, standing upright there light a grandfather clock overlooking the Thames and the city, like an old man looking lovingly at his children.

The Millennium Bridge, a modern engineering feat which makes this pedestrian bridge looking like a thin magic carpet flying over the river. It was opened in June 2000, hence its name.

At the Pickfords Wharf, we passed by a medieval ship. This was the Golden Hinde, a full-sized reconstruction of the ship Sir Francis Drake used to circumnavigate the globe between 1577-80.

And further down, modern battleships - the HMS Belfastmuseum ship, originally a Royal Navy light cruiser, it's permanently moored on the river and is operated by the Imperial War Museum. Next to it is a ship of ultra modern design; the pure white and sleek looking luxury yacht the Hamilton.

And definitely not to be missed is the Tower Bridge, looking like an old dame, old but strong, guarding the river. It is another icon of London.

A nice view of the Tower of London; it's here that the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom are kept. Among the notable jewels adorning the crown is the famed (or perhaps ill-famed) Koh-i-Noor diamond.

Well it's time to say goodbye to the Thames and goodbye to this gull. It had docilely stayed at my side, accompanying me through the whole cruise. "Goodbye Birdie!". We disembarked here at the appropriately named Tower Pier.

Upon disembarking, we had a better view of the Tower of London. It's a view of the whole building, but I still preferred the river view which was a more sober, serious view.

We boarded a Ho-Ho bus and zoomed around the city. There is so many sights within the city that the bus tour guide had to quickly describe one before we approached the next. Below us were cyclists cheerfully cycling along the road; being an avid cyclist, how I wish I were them.

Pass by the city crowds ...

... and caught a glimpse of No. 10 Downing Street. There seemed to be a demonstration by some some physically impaired people on wheelchairs going on.

The Ho-Ho bus was a good way to get around the city too. We used it to get to Queensway, where we had this sumptuous lobster noodles dinner. I had had lobsters and the ones I took previously did not leave much of an impression on me as I found their meat a tad tough and not as flavourful a large prawns. But these one here were so much different - meat softer and easy to bite, and full of succulent essence.
(... read more of the Lobster Noodles)

It was another good day, seeing and learning more of London, and having two great meals.
.... I can't wait for tomorrow to come again!
(For more photos of the day Click Here)

This is page 2 of a 14-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.
 Go to Day 1 London        |         Go to Other Days         |       Go to Day 3 London >

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