Fellow Travellers

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

London July 31 to Aug 3 2009

Friday July 31

G and I arrived in London very early on a Friday morning, endured a ridiculous queue for tickets on the RER, became utterly lost upon leaving the RER Station but nevertheless we were on the doorstep of our hotel by 8:30 am. Fantastic time! We stashed our bags and headed directly to the Tower of London which was a couple blocks from our hotel.

The Tower is a must for the first time visitor to London. The Tower was most often a prison during the course of its history and many of her famous guests never made it out alive. The Tower was witness to some 1700 beheadings among those Ann Bolyn and her cousin Jane – perhaps you’ve seen the move with Scarlet Johansen? Most of the grisly deaths actually took place outside the gates of the Tower and only 7 of the rich and famous were beheaded inside it’s gates.

The Crown Jewels are on display at the Tower and can be viewed by the general public. There is a conveyor belt that whisks you past the display which I imagine if you cannot return for a second or third look is pretty annoying. As we were among the first visitors we were able to view the jewels a few times. I particularly though I would look good in the Star of India scepter – with a 500 carat diamond. The tiara’s weren’t bad either!

We backtracked after the jewels and joined a tour lead by one of the Beefeaters. These gentlemen are all former British Army and have very unique credentials. They actually live inside the Tower of London with their families and act to protect the building and the treasures inside. The gates lock everyone inside at 9 pm each night although they still have a side door access in case they need milk! The tour was extremely entertaining and I highly recommend it. You’ll see me with a picture of our gracious guide, Dave.

At this time the Tower is also displaying artifacts from Henry the VIII – Dressed to Kill. The suits of armour were fantastic and showed that Henry gained a little girth over the years. I suspect all that home cooking with 6 wives! http://www.tudorhistory.org/wives/

After the tower to dashed to Moro in the Exmouth Market for lunch. We settled into a lovely glass of Spanish red wine and tucked into the most delicious meal I’d had in ages. The restaurant is owned by a husband and wife team, Sam and Sam. They both are influenced by Spanish, Moroccan and Turkish flavors. I bought the cook book so if you visit you’ll likely enjoy something from it’s pages.

We meandered back to the Apex hotel to check in and change. We were both impressed by the room, contemporary and big. Price was even reasonable for London so if you want the particulars do ask me. After a freshen up we walked to the Tate Modern and took a look through the permanent collection. Permanent collections are free in British Museums which makes them one of the best bargins in London where everything is far from free!

After the Tate we headed to Shakespeare’s Globe Theater to see Troilus and Cressida. The theater is outdoor therefore it is critical to have a nice evening to enjoy the play. We were very luck and it was a brilliant night. This play wasn’t one I was familiar with and some musings on the internet suggested it was one of Shakespeare’s least polished works. Between the challenging plot, language and my energy slump I have to say – next time I’ll book a musical! Mama Mia here I come!

Saturday Aug 1

Our main reason for the timing of our London visit was to catch up with our favorite Calgary neighbors, Yvonne and Steve Segal. They were over visiting family and broke away to show us “their” London.

We started out in the Docklands where Y&S use to live. It was interesting to see as I think Amsterdam has some visions of trying to create the same vibe in our neighborhood. I hope they succeed! They area is choke full of restaurants and services which draw all the Brits out and about.

Y&S took us to their neighborhood gastro “Gordon Ramsey” pub and then to the neighborhood “pint’ pub. We then trapsed down to the Borough Market for a foodie adventure. Steve hit his old favorite stop; me spies a pot pie! And we found some new ones; that cheesey potatoe thingy was disgustingly good! It was foodie heaven!

We continued to work our way across London via wine bars until we reached our dinner restaurant, The Cinnamon Club. Yvonne had done a ton of research on fabulous eats and had booked us in. The food was fantastic – and again I ended up with an new cookbook. The recipes are a bit more demanding and to get it right I will need to find an Indian market here in Amsterdam.

We rounded out the night with yet another wine bar but 12 hours of eating and drinking our way through London was taking it’s toll. Alas after sharing one last bottle we said good night to our good friends and bayed them farewell.

Y&S – Do call us for another foodie adventure! Perhaps Paris or Barcelona next time?

Sunday Aug 2

After two days of crazy busy we decided to just do a little shopping at a relaxed pace. London has a reputation for exclusive department stores so we decided we would make sure we stopped in on those as well as seeking out a few boutiques. We took a stroll through Harrods but I have to say I didn’t warm to the separate rooms and the exclusive prices. We both like Harvey Nicols much better and Selfridges was G’s favorite.

We parted with a little dough as the Euro was not too bad against the GBP but overall a tame trip compared to my shameful trip to Paris.

We had a nice dinner that evening along the dock near the Tower and enjoyed a fabulous sunset against the bridge. Ahhhhh…..(oh was that my screaming as we found out our glass of champagne cost $15 GBP each – no no that was a sigh)

Monday Aug 3

The British Parliament buildings open only one month a year to the public and luckily opening day was Aug 3. I ordered tickets over the internet for an early 9:30 start so we would get moving. It was very interesting to see the inside after having toured Ottawa the fall of 2008. Lots of similarities except this one the “Queen” opens parliament.

We then went directly to Westminister Abbey and spent an hour and a half gobsmacked by the number of tombs inside the church. Where do they worship? So different from the Catholics. It was worth a visit and we really enjoyed it.

I was once again craving Indian so we decided to try it on the cheap on Brick Lane. It was definitely a rustic area but the prices were great. We unfortunately got there a little late and had to make due with a somewhat picked over buffet. Next time we’ll hit it a peak lunch to find out where the crowds are going – a sure sign of the best food.

We finished our stay with a walk through the Financial District which lead us to a beautiful covered arcade. We found a delightful little pub, the Lamb Tavern, to enjoy a final pint. As luck would have it, it was a historic spot as Charles and the Queen Mum had both poured a few cool ones at the draft bar. Fun Fun!

London – you have two new fans!

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