Sinikka's snippets

Finland and travelling, a woman's life, cultures, languages, photography plus family recipes


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Trendy breakfast in London

During my April visit in London, I decided to skip the traditional fry-up breakfast included in my hotel deal, and head for a different experience instead on a Sunday morning. For a small-town girl from Finland, who knows more of less every café, eatery and restaurant in her hometown, the endless choice in London is quite overwhelming. That’s why I’d done my homework online before leaving, and found just the place for me. For a long time, I’d wanted to try an acai bowl for breakfast. Acai, you know, the hailed “super berry” from Brazil, which surprisingly grows in palm trees and not in bushes or on the ground as other berries. The Huffington Post even called these bowls “The World’s Best Healthy Breakfast” a couple of years back. As these berries are not easily available in Finland, I decided London would introduce me to this wonder food.

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THE GOOD LIFE EATERY, 59 Sloane Ave, London SW3 3DH

I chose this café for the location – I love the area around Sloane Square! – and for the good online reviews, but, most of all, for having acai bowls on their breakfast menu. On a sunny Sunday morning, I took the tube from Pimlico to Sloane Square, and then walked leisurely along the very quiet streets, admiring the blooming spring trees along the way.

A rare sight for us Finns - gorgeous magnolia trees!

A rare sight for us Finns – gorgeous magnolia trees!

In a side street from the Kings Road, I found The Good Life Eatery, small and cosy, with a welcoming smell of freshly baked scones and rolls wafting to the pavement through the open door. Mmmm, spelt croissants! I knew I’d chosen the right place.

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Inside, the café was furnished in the typical, rather minimalist, modern style. The brick walls, old-looking wooden tables, lines of hanging metal light fitments and colourful, patinated metal stools pleased my eye. Service was efficient and very friendly and all in all, I can warmly recommend this eatery to anyone who is after a slightly different breakfast experience. The clientele seemed to be mainly young women in their 20s-30s, having breakfast in twosomes. Most of them seemed to go for bread topped with lots of pureed avocado and either salmon or a poached egg. Interestingly for a Finn, the bread seemed to be dark rye, just like at home! Even though all this looked really tempting and delicious, I had made up my mind, and ordered a cappuccino with an acai bowl, as planned.

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Being an English teacher, I can’t help eavesdropping on people’s conversations whenever in an English-speaking environment, to pick up all the latest catch phrases and popular sayings. Sipping my coffee, waiting for my breakfast, I quickly noticed that the male waiters’ favourite seemed to be ‘cool’, which can apparently apply to anything positive, and also mean the same as ‘OK’. The young ladies, on the other hand, gossiping about their Saturday night events, kept repeating “… and then he was like…”, “… and then I was like…”(I gather meaning ‘he said’/’then I said’), with a fashionable, Ozzie-like upwards tilt in their accent. Aren’t languages just so intriguing!

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And then my long-awaited treat arrived. A big bowl full of cold, velvety, thick smoothie-like, purple acai puree, decorated with strawberries, chopped banana, whole acai berries and some bee pollen. It was heavenly, and definitely lived up to my expectations! The taste reminded me of a mix of blueberries and maybe blackcurrants (mind you, I think the colour affected my tastebuds a little bit, too) but I didn’t get the hint of dark chocolate often associated with these berries. After slowly savouring every last bit, I felt well nourished, energised and ready for a day of London sight-seeing. I probably looked a bit younger, too, as, apart from many other health benefits, acai berries are also claimed to have an anti-aging effect. I wish I could find frozen acai in Finland to prepare this at home!

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BLOC hotels – the UK mini hotel

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For my recent leisure and conference trip to Britain, I was happy to find a new hotel chain to check out. The BLOC hotel concept reminded me of the Hong Kong mini hotel we stayed at last summer. According to the hotel brochure, the founder of Bloc hotels was inspired by the so-called capsule hotels in Japan. This did worry me a bit before seeing the rooms but luckily, they were a decent size, and not at all claustrophobic as I had feared.

At the moment, there are only two hotels in the chain – one in Birmingham, and the other one at Gatwick airport – but more may be in the pipeline.  And as it happens, I stayed in both during my UK trip. The rooms turned out to be almost exactly identical, and I read that they are actually constructed elsewhere, and then stacked together with the exterior built around the ready-made “room boxes”. Basically, each room is a simple cube, with a “wet room” (i.e. joint toilet and shower) built in one corner. No wardrobes, no frills, which is just fine for me when I only stay for a few days. I’m quite comfortable with “living out of the suitcase” as it also saves the time and effort of constant packing. The hotel brochure describes their style as “pared-down chic”.  I must admit that the modern and minimalistic decor was quite pleasing to my Scandinavian eye and soul. However, maybe they’d taken the ‘bloc’ idea a bit too far, with everything in a square shape, from the lights and stools, to shower knobs and even minuscule soaps in the bathroom! Made me smile, though.

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The king-size beds were luxurious for a solo traveller, and very comfy indeed. What’s more, I enjoyed catching up with British TV programmes on the HD LED screen integrated in the wall at the foot of the bed, and even the free wi-fi worked like a dream. No breakfast facilities but vending machines for small snacks at the reception. BLOC hotels hadn’t quite gone to all the lengths of the Hong Kong one with a spacious and interesting lobby area but the reception was quite fine, and efficient, nothing to complain about. And as icing on the cake, quite affordable prices, too!

The only downside I could mention was the wet room arrangement, fascinatingly described as “a monsoon-drench shower wet room”. No separate shower cabinet, just the shower on the wall, which meant that afterwards, the whole toilet area (floor, walls, seats, the lot) was soaking wet. Took some planning not to keep getting your feet, socks and clothes wet!

BIRMINGHAM BLOC – Caroline street

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Very nicely located in the old Jewellery quarter, and only a 15-20-minute walk to the centre of town. There are enough cafés, restaurants and pubs in the vicinity to cater for all your needs. I actually found a wonderful breakfast place, advertised on the traveller’s map provided by the hotel. As a bonus, showing the Bloc hotel key card gave you a 10 % discount, too. I liked to so much that I ended up having breakfast at Saint Kitchen every morning during my stay in Birmingham!

The Jewellery quarter still showcases beautiful Georgian houses, and the streets are nice and quiet.

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At the end of the street, lovely St. Paul’s square with the church.

Some of the restaurant nearby were quite popular in the evenings!

Some of the restaurants nearby were quite popular in the evenings!

I opted for the slightly dearer room with a window, and was really happy about that choice. I loved seeing the view, and the sunrise in the mornings when it wasn’t grey and cloudy.

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View from my window in the evening

View from my window in the evening

And sunrise in the morning

And sunrise in the morning

All in all, a very pleasant stay. Good, friendly service, and everything worked. Would definitely stay again!

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GATWICK AIRPORT BLOC – South terminal

Very easy to find, with clear sign-posting, soon after the exit from the Gatwick Express trains from London. The same familiar square light fitments at the reception, which was, however, much smaller as all the airport facilities are at your disposal, just behind these walls. In fact, I felt a bit like Tom Hanks in ‘The Terminal’, going for my evening meal, snack shopping and breakfast around the airport.

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A windowless room this time, which did make it feel slightly boxier, but luckily not too disturbing!

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For once, I could sleep properly before a flight, and feel relaxed and rested in the morning. I totally enjoyed the ease of having breakfast and checking-in just a few steps from the hotel. Quite interesting, too, watching the planes take off outside the window at the end of the room corridor. I can warmly recommend this reasonably priced hotel for anyone travelling to and from Gatwick airport.

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My oyster

“The world is my oyster”, as the saying goes. Maybe that’s where London transport authorities got the name for their versatile ‘Oyster card’? I was going to write an ultra-positive post praising the usefulness of this card. However, I had to add a warning at the end of this post, having learned the hard way how important it is to be fully aware of all the conditions of use.

But, let’s start with the positive. Compared to the old system for tourists and visitors of 1-day or 2-day travel cards, now having access to the “top up as needed” Oyster card was a really welcome change during my recent visit to London.

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Arriving at Gatwick airport, I simply went to the train tickets counter, and bought my card: £5 deposit on the card itself, and £30  credit, which I reckoned should be enough for my four-day stay. And it was enough although no problem if you spend more, you can top the credit up at any tube station. The card is good on the tube, and London buses, too. Very handy.

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I especially appreciate having a card in my pocket to use on the buses. I never know exactly where I will be getting off, which is why having to buy individual tickets from a driver is always a bit complicated. Not to mention, having the right change as well. I love just getting my card out, flashing it to the reader, and I’m ready to hop on, and off, wherever I want!

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Unfortunately, my “thumbs up for the Oyster card” spiel has to come with a serious warning! Buying my ticket, I was told that if I didn’t want to keep it, I could hand the card back, when leaving the country, and get the £5 deposit back. Brilliant, I thought at the time. Yet, trying to do this, at exactly the same counter at Gatwick airport, I was told that there was still 90 pence worth of credit on the card, which meant that I couldn’t get my money back. WHAT? “This is why we put this warning on the card”, said the irritatingly know-it-all assistant at the counter. And blow me, there was the sticker on the card, printed in tiny letters as usual, reading:

REFUNDS for unused credit MUST BE completed at a London underground station before travelling back to Gatwick Airport. NO REFUNDS for unused credit can be given at the airport.

So there, quite clear, no point in protesting even though, of course, I tried. Quite honestly, how many of you always read all the small print on everything? Why on earth wasn’t I warned about this, when purchasing the card? Or is this an intentional scheme to earn £5 extra from each unsuspecting traveller? Looking at the card now, in its plastic cover, this small print is quite conveniently partly obscured by the text on the cover. I was furious for a while but then, we are not talking about a fortune, and no doubt, I will go to London again, and be able to use this same card, and all the ease it provides me with getting around Britain’s lovely capital.

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Lesson learned, though – to avoid unnecessary disappointment and frustration,  carefully read all the small print on anything you buy!


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Shiny future

I’m on a joint leisure and conference trip to the UK for a week now. I took this picture during a guided walking tour in the East End of London, and I thought it fit this week’s Photo Challenge perfectly.

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Behind the old and dark Georgian buildings, the sparkling, bright glass walls of a brand-new City of London high-rise office building shine with the sun.

The present atmosphere in Europe is not as positive and forward-looking as one would hope. Unemployment and continuing austerity measures keep hitting the middle and lower classes hard. People despair and lose hope, which easily results in a negative cycle of complaining and looking for scapegoats. Consequently, the unfortunate refugees and asylum seekers arriving in Europe at the moment are often met with hostility and rejection.  Their tragic plight is forgotten and ignored when people are busy protecting what they feel is theirs, and theirs only. Globally, climate change poses ever-increasing threats on our earth. The future may seem gloomy, even frightening.

Despite all the doomsday clouds hanging over us, I still want to see light at the end of the tunnel. The world keeps changing and evolving – it’s never stood still. And we should be happy about that! I remember a lecture by a Finnish astronomer, Esko Valtaoja, in which he quite convincingly proved how life on earth today is better, more prosperous, and safer than ever before in human history. Yes, there are still disasters and catastrophes but, in the end, things keep improving all the time. Mr Valtaoja based his findings in cold facts, and also said that he unquiveringly believed in human potential. I can remember how listening to that lecture changed my approach to the future.

The old and the new sometimes co-exist side by side for some time, just like these buildings in London. A day will come, though, when it’s time for the old to disappear, and let the new and shiny take over. Learn the lessons from the past, and then welcome the future with open arms and mind.