Friday, February 24, 2012

Tea for a Queen

Yes, the last post was indeed about living on the cheap as a student. And this post is quite clearly about a high-end eating out experience. I know this can be confusing so I'd offer you just one word: PRIORITIES

London has so much to offer that it can be overwhelming. Someone said to me today that you can pick a new place to visit in London every week and not run out of ideas for several years. So I've spent the last week putting together my "must-do" list. Somewhere along the way I also figured that eating out at just another restaurant isn't going to cut it when the city has so much going on. So back to me and my lists - I now have a wishlist going for cafes and restaurants too.

Pretty much near the top of this eating out list was an afternoon tea experience. The Tea is more than just a drink at 3 pm in London. It's a tradition, an institution. And this tea for me last week was at the Langham, the Regent Street hotel that claims to be one of the first to start this tradition in the 19th century.

Like all tea places in London, Langham's tea is served in an ornate, chandelier lit cafe called the Palm Court. Our tea experience began with the restaurant offering us choices of beverages from the exotic white needle tea from China to my favorite Assam. This time around, I settled for a black tea from Ceylon.

But before tea arrived, there was a pre-dessert of rhubarb custard.

Then came sandwiches. I'd said in advance that I was a vegetarian and they rustled up a sample to match.

The scones, when they showed up in the next round, were warm and straight out of the oven. Just around this time, the server brought out our cakes. Pay attention to the tall cake stand - a feature I loved at the Langham. At other places, this rests on the table and you can't see your friends.

Aren't these gorgeous pastries! But by this time, given our rounds of sandwiches and scones, we just couldn't finish these. The hotel knows this happens and they have a solution: a take away bag to carry the rest of the memories (and cakes!) back home.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Definitive Guide to Student Discounts

Everyone knows that we students are eternally short of money. For most students, it's the first time living away from home. And even for the more experienced among us, this is the time with no job, large fee payments and a rather hectic social life. Fortunately, governments and businesses in London understand this and come up with student discounts.

I've had my share of positive surprises but this slew of student offers was completely unexpected. And I must say I am still getting used to the idea of asking restaurants and cinemas if they have a student discount. So I thought I'd get this list going. It's certainly not a definitive list (despite what the title claims). But I will keep on adding to it as I discover new areas to save money.

Here's what I have so far:

If you travel by tube or bus a lot, get a student oyster card. You need to go to to pay a 10 pound fee and apply online for this card. They check back with your school/university and mail you the card. I got mine within a week. Savings: 30% on all travelcards. So now I buy a monthly travelcard and save a cool 30%.

Gourmet Burger Kitchen - 40% off.
Yo Sushi - 25% off

London Walks: This is my favorite way to see London and I now only pay 6 pounds instead of 8 pounds. Day trips (that's when they take you out of London for a whole day) have a 2 pound discount as well.

Most cinemas have student discounts but they vary based on the show and the type of ticket so you just have to ask.

Apple - Around 10-15% off (but only on computers, not on iPads!)
Top Shop, BHS, Wallis and pretty much every fashion store (just ask!) - 10% off
Accessorise - 10% off

Other Misc Stuff
Vodafone - 10% off on monthly rental

And this is just what I've discovered in a month. I know there's a lot more I can get once I get an NUS card (a national student ID) so I'd try that and let you know in a few weeks. In the meantime, do write in if you know of any London student discounts I missed!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Year of the Dragon

If you follow Chinese astrology, you probably know what the coolest sign is (big hint: I am a dragon!)

And guess what, 2012 happens to be the year of the dragon. The real new year's day was January 23. But London has its own set of traditions - new year is celebrated on the first sunday that follows. So early sunday morning, this student headed out to Trafalgar Square. The day started with a parade that went right into the heart of Chinatown. Back into Trafalgar Square, we went through a rather boring set of speeches followed by a rather interesting cultural show - dragons and tigers and dancers galore.

Over in Chinatown, they had their own set of celebrations going with food stalls and restaurant specials and people out celebrating. All in all, a fun sunday out.

Like everything, a picture tells the best story. So here are some snapshots from the day: