Posts filed under ‘England’

A Perfect Last Day in London

So I sort of forgot that I had just one post left to finish my Europe trip. My Europe trip from summer 2011. Oups? Anyway, better late than never. Story of my life, right?

On my last day in Europe, I woke up in London alone. It was a little unsettling, actually. I had a vague memory of my hostel roommates coming in after I’d already gone to bed, but the bunks had these scraps of fabric hanging around them for privacy, and I felt weird poking my head out from my privacy screen to view my roommates. Plus, when I’m as exhausted as I am at the end of a long trip, if I wake up in the middle of the night, I only have about 8 seconds of semi-coherency before I pass out again. So passing out won, and when I woke up the next morning, the room was deserted.

So I enjoyed the luxury of having my own bathroom, and got ready to spend a perfect last day in London. I was on my own, so I was determined to make the most of the day. And as can be expected, I had a lot of food-related goals for my last day in Europe in the foreseeable future. So I fired up my laptop in the pub downstairs, charted a course, and set out for the Tube station to buy a day pass, by way of Caffe Nero. I’d started a punch card at Nero on the first London leg of my trip, and I was so excited that I’d filled it up and got to begin my perfect last day with a free frappé.

I headed to Oxford Street first, where I ducked into Selfridge’s, one of London’s fancy department stores. Reason? Macarons. I knew that I couldn’t leave Europe without one more batch of real macarons, and Selfridge’s had a Pierre Hermé boutique. The toughest part was choosing just six flavours, as I had a very limited amount of funding for my final day in London. This wasn’t just a question of which flavours I wanted that day, but which flavours did I want to remember for an indeterminate amount of time until either I was able to return to Europe, or I could go to Japan, or Pierre Hermé finally opened a boutique in the States, preferably Chicago, preferably in the Fulton River District. I would love to tell you which six flavours I finally chose, but I wrote that information down in my magenta journal, which I have regrettably misplaced. When I find it, I’ll come back and edit this post. Until then, please enjoy the photo and imagine how amazing those little cookies were. Flavour explosions with the perfect macaron texture. I’m sure one of them involved hazelnut.

Macarons are best when they’re fresh (fun fact: they actually don’t keep beyond a day or so, unless you freeze them), and I didn’t want to risk them getting smooshed in my bag, so I decided to enjoy them right away. I walked up one of the side streets off of Oxford Street, found a makeshift bench, and devoured them. Of course, there weren’t any trash bins around, so I folded up the bag and put it in my jacket pocket. I still have it.

Even though I’d only been in London for two weeks that summer, I’d managed to find a favourite coffee shop. Not just a favourite chain, but a favourite location. I went to it 3 or 4 times during those two weeks, and I was determined to go back, even though I probably passed about 8 Caffe Neros on my way to the shop on St. Martin’s Lane between Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden.

Caffe Nero makes a mean latte, and it’s even better when you tell them that you’re staying for a while and they put it in a tall glass. After my latte and some writing time, I meandered through Covent Garden, where I’d previously enjoyed an amazing day of music, cupcakes, and frozen yogurt, but I had a different froyo goal this time.

I needed Snog! In my extensive frozen yogurt research in London, I determined that it was Snog that I needed to have. I went with my traditional order: tart yogurt with strawberry, kiwi, and banana, and it did not let me down! Despite the creative framing of the above photo, the Snog in Soho was packed with tourists and locals alike, and the speakers were pumping really obnoxious music. It would have destroyed the experience if the froyo hadn’t been so good. Fortunately, the froyo was delightful, and I happily logged another food victory for the day in my journal.

After Snog, I was pretty stuffed, and I decided that a stroll through a park was just what I needed. I hadn’t been to Buckingham Palace on this trip yet, and despite it being a magnet for aimless tourists, I decided to join the masses (after a stroll through Green Park).

Of course, I can’t blame the masses for being enamoured with something so gorgeous. I’d been by it on my 2007 trip to London, but I didn’t take time then to really appreciate all of the details. I mostly just peered into the gate and tried to take photos of the guy in the fuzzy hat. This time, I had a nice walk while I tried to ignore the crowds. At least I wasn’t there for the changing of the guard; I’ve heard that’s madness.

I loved the giant monument to Queen Victoria, because I’m a little fascinated by monarchs, and she’s one of Britain’s most notable ones.

Buckingham Palace opens part of its doors to the public each summer, but unfortunately, I was just a couple of weeks early. Next time I go to London, I’ll have to go later in the summer! With, you know, the rest of Europe on their August holidays.

It was late afternoon as I sat at Buckingham Palace and wondered what to do next. I looked at the map and decided to stick with the Victoria theme and walk to Victoria Station, since it was one of the big rail stations in London that I hadn’t passed through. I’m a bit of (more than ‘a bit of’) a transit nerd, and I just really like being in train stations. I like photographing them, too.

Neither the exterior nor the interior of Victoria Station was a disappointment. Rush hour started to creep in as I wandered around, so I found a quiet corner: a pub on the second level had a balcony, and I sat and drank a pint of Bulmer’s cider, which was also on my list of things that I wanted to do on my last day in London. I’m glad that I picked Bulmer’s, as Magner’s and Strongbow are imported here and not too difficult to find in the autumn, but I haven’t seen Bulmer’s since I left London.

After about an hour, the cider was gone, and so was the foot traffic, so I decided to call it a day. At Paddington Station, I made one last trip through Simply Food and picked up my favourite salad with quinoa for dinner. I went back to the hostel, and sat in the pub downstairs for a while, catching up on email, chatting with friends, and looking through some of the photos from an amazing trip. I had another cider (but they only had Strongbow), met some other travellers, triple-checked my flight time, and called it a night.

Back in my room, I had a new set of roommates, a trio of Americans who were backpacking across a whole lot of Europe, which was my dream trip at one point. I listened to some of their stories and gave them a few London recommendations, as well as the map that I’d been carrying around for a month. I packed up my things as best as I could and apologized profusely for having to get up so early to go to the airport.

At Heathrow, which is tied with Philadelphia as my least favourite airport ever (I’d rather hang out in the airport in Fargo, ND…at least they have couches!), I fell asleep sitting in the overcrowded holding pen that is the international departures hall. They don’t release your gate until it’s actually time to board, so everyone has to sit in a common waiting area, surrounded by high-end shops. I had a few pounds left to spend, but actually had a hard time spending them, since my 10 pounds weren’t going to go far at Prada. I ended up buying some overpriced postcards and some snacks, as well as a cup of coffee (sadly not Nero, but Costa), but the coffee still barely kept me coherent as I tried not to fall asleep while I waited for my gate to be announced.

Seeing Brad Pitt helped a bit, though. He looked a lot more well-rested than I did. He was being led somewhere, surrounded by an entourage. I bet he got a couch.


November 5, 2012 at 8:50 pm Leave a comment

Adieu, Paris!

On day 20, Mom and I bid adieu to Paris. I always feel a little weepy when I think about leaving Paris, because I’m always a little worried that I’ll never find my way back. But then I always do. I don’t mean to make myself sound like a spoiled brat. I just mean that I have come to terms with the fact that I will always prioritize Paris over things like well-balanced meals and new clothes. My best friend and best travel buddy isn’t so keen on the idea of going to Paris, but I keep dreaming that I’ll be able to take her, someday.

But back to day 20, which began again at the same café where we began day 19. How far away perfect pains au chocolat seem now. Mom and I parted ways after that, because she’d been wanting to see the Unicorn Tapestries at the Musée Cluny for years and years, and I’d been dreaming about a repeat visit to La Sainte-Chapelle for eight years. We had tried to go to La Sainte-Chapelle the day before, but the line was long, and we didn’t want to take the time to wait, since we had quite an itinerary.

Palais de Justice and La Sainte-Chapelle

It was just a short walk from the café to the Ile de la Cité, the island in the Seine at the centre of Paris. Ile de la Cité is home to two important churches, Notre Dame and Sainte-Chapelle. Sainte-Chapelle is located inside the Palais de Justice, so you have to go through metal detectors before you get to the church, which accounts for the long lines. Of course, I forget the annoyance of the lines and the waiting when I entered the courtyard.

La Sainte-Chapelle

The church was built in the 13th century and commissioned by King Louis IX. The age of it astonishes me, for some reason. It’s just so much more spectacular than what I expect from anything built before the Renaissance.

The entrance fee is a bit steep, in my opinion, especially for a church, and especially when I wasn’t with my mom and had to pony up my own Euros. I think it was about 8 Euros, which I suppose is not the end of the world, but on my last day using Euros, I think the wallet was getting a little thin. Ah well. It was a worthy way to spend the last of my Euros. And of course, I forgot all about the entrance fee as soon as I got upstairs:

La Sainte-Chapelle windows 1
La Sainte-Chapelle windows 2
La Sainte-Chapelle windows 3

Just incredible!

The spectacular stained glass windows are taller and more narrow than in similar French churches, and the ratio of glass to wall is off the charts, so the effect is overwhelming. I had been inside the church just once before and it was exactly like I remembered it and more incredible than I had remembered it, at the same time. I wrote an awkward essay about the experience in my first nonfiction writing class, circa 2006, and it’s a subject that I have wanted to revisit, but I still don’t think that I am the writer that I need to be in order to do it justice.

La Sainte-Chapelle was more crowded than it was on my previous visit, and I think it’s because Paris has adopted those multi-attraction admissions passes. Suddenly any touring family with the cash to drop on a pass knows about La Sainte-Chapelle, and it’s just down the the road from Notre Dame, so why not kill two birds with one stone? It’s wonderful that more people are experiencing it, but I did selfishly wish that I’d been able to enjoy the windows in a bit calmer setting.

Mom had a wonderful time at the Cluny and told me all about the tapestries and showed me the postcards that she bought, and maybe next time I’m in Paris, I’ll see the Unicorn Tapestries, but this time, I know that I made the right decision in prioritizing La Sainte-Chapelle.

We met up in the Latin Quarter, thanks to our international text messaging plan, and we still had a few hours before we needed to get to the train station, so we decided to hit the Place des Vosges. Mom swore I’d seen it before, from the windows of a tour bus on a driving tour of Paris, but I didn’t remember the gorgeous red brick townhouses, so I’d put it on the itinerary as a possibility. Place des Vosges is also home to Victor Hugo’s house, now a museum, and it’s also near the Place de la Bastille. I knew that I’d seen the Bastille monument from the window of a tour bus, but I didn’t have a photo of it. And that matters to me.

Place de la Bastille
We got off the Métro at Bastille, took this photo, and then made our way into the Marais, one of Paris’ more fashionable arrondissements.

Maison de Victor Hugo
Inside Victor Hugo’s house, we saw old books and learned that he had lots of books, plates, floral wallpaper, and mistresses. Or just one mistress, maybe. I suppose it doesn’t matter. For any writing nerds visiting Paris, I thought that museum was interesting and informative, especially considering the price (zero Euros). It was also hot. I guess Hugo couldn’t afford central air conditioning.

Place des Vosges
We ate lunch at a café on the square, where I bravely revisited the galette (savoury crêpe), which had so disappointed me at the mini golf-bar-restaurant in Normandy. It turned out that it was the mini golf-bar-restaurant that was the problem, not the galette itself, as I quite liked the galette I had on the Place des Vosges.

After lunch, we took our last Métro ride of the trip back to the hotel to pick up our bags and call a cab. Taking the Métro to the hotel with all of our suitcases was an adventure that we were not to relive, so Mom splurged for a cab. We weren’t staying too far from the Gare du Nord, although the traffic made it feel much further. We made it in plenty of time, though, and even had time for Mom to buy some train snacks while I sat with the bags and determined that we needed to fill out customs forms before we got in line to go to the Eurostar waiting area. Word to the wise: fill out your forms before you get in line, unless you want to be yelled at in multiple languages.

The Eurostar gate at Gare de Lyon is not big enough for the amount of traffic that it gets, so I was glad that we didn’t have to wait too long. We had a smooth ride back to London, where we arrived at St Pancras International Station, which already had Olympic spirit.

St Pancras
I’m particularly fond of trains that pull up under Olympic rings!

Our adventures by train were not over, so we pulled our suitcases a few blocks to Euston Station, where we planned to take the Caledonia Sleeper to Edinburgh. In the days of high-speed trains (at least on other continents…), it’s easy to get from London to Edinburgh in just a couple of hours, but everything I’d read about the Caledonia Sleeper made it sound like a charming adventure, so I thought it would be fun. Plus, taking the sleeper train there and back saved us on hotel costs and it saved our daylight hours for sightseeing.

I knew from my research that we needed to book a sleeper berth, but I’d read that they didn’t usually book up during the week, so I wasn’t too worried. Until I got to the ticket counter and discovered that it was closed. We eventually found out that the ticket booth for the sleeper train is only open during the day, and it closes several hours before the train actually leaves around midnight. Oups. Our best option, according to the ticket people, was to hang around until about 15 minutes before the train left, and then mosey on down to the platform to see if we could get on the train. I wasn’t sure what we would do if we couldn’t get on the train, but I tried not to worry about it and I introduced my mom to Simply Food, which she thoroughly enjoyed.

Stay tuned to see if we got on the train on Day 21! Also: this is my 100th post! Finally!

March 6, 2012 at 6:40 pm 1 comment

Welcome to London, Mama!

Day 13 marked the final day of my course in London. Most of my classmates from Chicago were scheduled to return the following day, but I still had two weeks of travelling ahead of me. And none of that travelling would have been possible without my mom, my original road trip buddy.

I worked on some coursework in my hotel room until my mom texted me to tell me that she was on the Heathrow Connect train and would be at Paddington Station in half an hour. I’d booked her a hotel room just a few doors down from mine, so after I met her at Paddington, we brought her bags to the hotel. She wouldn’t be able to check in for a few hours, so we left the luggage in the office and headed out to see London! My mom had been to London once before, but it had been 30+ years, so we decided to hit most of the tourist sites.

Trafalgar Square
Up first was Trafalgar Square, where we took advantage of the delightful free admission to national museums and visited the National Gallery. Mom was jet lagged and I’d already been inside the National Gallery during my time in London, so we kept our visit short, focusing on the Impressionists and wandering through some of the Renaissance.

Countdown Clock
I was glad that we went back to Trafalgar Square, because I’d taken a photo of the Paralympic side of the London 2012 countdown clock a few days earlier, but not the Olympic side. Glad to have a redo! I love the Olympics, so I was happy to see the clock at just 394 days to go—not much more than a year!

From Trafalgar Square, we walked to Covent Garden Market, which was new to Mom. I think she liked it, but she’s not as crazy about cute shops as I am, so we didn’t spend a lot of time there. We were both getting hungry, so we easily decided on Pret for lunch. I’d discovered Pret à Manger in London in 2007, and introduced Mom to it during our trip to New York in 2008. Pret opened in Chicago last fall, so it’s less of a novelty for us now, but we both love it and Mom doesn’t get to eat there often, since its only Chicago locations are downtown. After a recharging over salads, I charted a course to St. Paul’s on my street map and we walked it. It was a bit longer than I thought it would be (I make this mistake more often than not), but not too bad. We decided not to go inside because of the steep admission fees and we’d both been in before, but enjoyed walking through the churchyard.

From there, we took the Tube to Westminster to see Westminster Abbey and Parliament. I even suggested walking across Westminster Bridge so that we could take photos.

Mom and me
Mom and me on Westminster Bridge

Westminster Abbey
Since we didn’t go in St. Paul’s, we thought about going in Westminster Abbey, but the lines were long and the admission was just as steep, so again, we decided to just walk around it.

20th Century Martyrs
I made sure to take Mom around to the back entrance, where 20th century martyrs are memorialized above the door. I think that this is one of the nicest modern additions I’ve seen to a historic piece of architecture. I don’t recognize all of the sculptures, but Martin Luther King, Jr, is in the middle.

After Westminster, Mom was really wanting a nap and I had things to read for my last class that evening, so we headed back to Paddington. I dropped her off at her hotel for a nap and worked on my workshop comments, then took some photos from the balcony.

Sussex Gardens
View of Sussex Gardens, a lovely tree-lined street near Paddington Station that is mostly home to hotels.

View looking east from my balcony—the houses on this street are all very similar and many have been refurbished, so the effect is striking.

Our final class was to be held at The Bridge House, a delightful pub and theatre in Little Venice. Although Little Venice was just a 10-minute walk from Paddington, most of our group hadn’t known to wander that way. I was surprised to see a small canal with wide walkways on either side, boathouses, and cute restaurants. It definitely seemed more like Venice than London, although I’ve heard that Venice smells a bit foul, and I didn’t get that from Little Venice (thankfully).

Little Venice
I snapped a few photos on the walk to Little Venice. My mom came with us, because another mom was there to keep her company. Kelsey, one of the students in the program at London Met, is from Ohio and her mom had just flown over to visit. So our moms sat together and chatted while the rest of us split into groups for workshop. The last session of my group was great—I really enjoyed reading my group’s work and I got some of the best feedback I’ve ever had in a workshop. I also had a chance to talk to both my program director and the London professor about my work, and though both gave me excellent and helpful comments. And if that wasn’t a great enough way to end a terrific day, we walked out of the pub and saw this:

Little Venice Sunset
The colours were so spectacular that I just couldn’t resist a vivid HDR treatment! What a great way to end the London leg of my trip! I wish that I could have stayed and hung out with the rest of my classmates, but I had to pack for an early train to Paris!

September 28, 2011 at 4:34 pm 3 comments

Liverpool Street Station

On Day 12, it rained. I was lucky to have pretty decent weather for most of my time in London, but on the penultimate day of my class, the skies opened. I knew that the forecast wasn’t good, so I tried to get out the door before the rain arrived. I made it to the Tube before it started raining, but by the time I emerged from the Underground in Notting Hill, the rain was steady. So I dashed just down the block from the stop and enjoyed a serving of frozen yogurt at Frae. I liked it okay, but it was very sweet.

My main reason for going to Notting Hill was to visit The Travel Bookshop, the store which was the inspiration for Hugh Grant’s store in Notting Hill, which was one of the classic movies of my childhood. The shop had moved to a new location, but it was still in the neighbourhood, on a side street off of Portobello Road. I didn’t want to miss my chance to get there, so I put up my umbrella and started walking. Sometime between leaving Frae and getting lost on one of the million roads with Kensington in the name, the rain slowed to a drizzle and it wasn’t such a bad day to be out and about.

I was a little disappointed with The Travel Bookshop, honestly. As a travel writer, I was expecting to be tempted by at least a hundred books, but there were only a couple that made me consider making a purchase. Most of their stock seemed to be guidebooks, rather than travel narratives. Useful for planning a trip, but not for escaping on a rainy day. As it turned out, the shop was in its last season, so perhaps they were letting their stock run out. I just heard a couple of weeks ago that it is closing. It was a nice shop, and I like to think that if I’d visited a year earlier, I would have found many more enticing titles.

When I was in the bookshop, several loud claps of thunder sounded and the sky turned grey again. A few people in the shop jumped every time the thunder boomed, and one of the ladies was standing next to me and noticed that I didn’t flinch. “It sounds like home,” I explained. “I’m from Chicago, and we get storms like this all summer.”

“I’m from Chicago, too!” I heard another voice say. I turned around to chat with a young woman pushing a baby in a stroller. She had just moved to London a few weeks earlier and had lived most recently in River North, which is a neighbourhood that borders mine. I asked her if she missed home, and she said that she mainly missed the food so far. I think that’s what I would miss most, too, if I ever moved far from home.

The rain didn’t show any signs of letting up in the near future, so I hopped on the Circle and District line and went back to Paddington Station, picked up a coffee, and then burrowed under the covers for the rest of the day to finish my assigned reading before class. I finished earlier than I thought I would and the rain stopped around the same time, so I headed to class early. We were meeting at Liverpool Street Station to have class on Brick Lane while we discussed Monica Ali’s Brick Lane, and I wanted to head down early to be at the train station during rush hour.

I love train stations, especially European ones. Liverpool Street Station had caught my eye a couple of days earlier, but that had been a Sunday afternoon. I liked the look of it, exposed brick and and iron-and-glass roof, and I wanted to see it filled with people.

Liverpool Street Station
Wish granted. It wasn’t quite as busy as the major stations in central London, like Paddington, but Paddington hadn’t been fully refurbished yet. Liverpool Street also offered a second-level concourse from which I could photograph the madness.

Liverpool Street Station Exterior
The exterior was nice, too, and I met up with my class after about 30 minutes. Once we were all together, we started walking over to Brick Lane.

Spitalfields Market
Our walk took us through Spitalfields Market, which I had just visited two days earlier. It was strange to see it so empty after the congested commotion of market day. Most of the shops around the perimetre had been open that day, but were closing up.

Please Use Restrooms
Outside the Sunday UpMarket warehouse, we passed this sign. If it needs to be written on a sign that large, I’m not sure that the sign is going to help…

Brick Lane
We finally reached Brick Lane, which was much quieter than Carolyn, the professor for the London half of the course, had thought it would be. She had envisioned us discussing the book in one of the ethnic restaurants, but Chris, one of the students who worked nearby, pointed out that we’d have a hard time finding space for all of us to sit together and talk. I was quietly glad that we abandoned that idea, because as much as I like trying different foods, something about curry makes my stomach turn, and everyone kept talking about curry bowls. So we walked the opposite way, away from the neon signs, and went to a bar that Chris knew. Actually, I think that every class we had in London was in a bar.

September 11, 2011 at 4:04 pm 1 comment

At Home in London

One of the things I love about exploring an unfamiliar city by subway is not knowing what to expect when I pop back up to ground level. By Day 11 in London, I was already familiar with quite a few places, but I had by no means seen the whole city. One of the parts left on my “to see” list was the Borough Market area. Borough Market is supposed to be foodie heaven. I wouldn’t know, since the market only operates on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, a fact that I did not discover until my last Saturday night in London. But on the following Monday, I decided to give the area a chance, hoping that it would have some delightful foodie shops, even in the absence of the market. Borough Market is near London Bridge station, so I grabbed a couple of London Walks cards that were close by, and I headed out.

London Bridge station has mainline rail in addition to the Underground, so the station is a little maze-y. When I finally popped out into daylight, I was home.

Or at least, it felt like it. It was like I’d found a wormhole back home, to Chicago’s West Loop. Converted warehouses, exposed brick, mixed-use office and housing (or so it seemed), a strange bustle during the lunch rush hour that was mixed with tourists and artsy folk that didn’t appear to have a pressing need to be anywhere (like me, ha).

My West Loop neighbourhood, the Fulton River District, has more dogs than this part of London, though. And the FRD does not have a church quite like Southwark Cathedral, which I enjoyed photographing in the super hot day’s bright sunlight.

Southwark Cathedral

I admit, at least 75% of the reason why I’d visited the Borough Market area was to try Monmouth Coffee at their shop. I’d loved it the day before at a café on Columbia Road, but I wanted the whole experience. It was a bit tough to find, since the streets cross at every angle besides 90 degrees, but I finally stumbled upon the corner shop across from an entrance to the market.

Monmouth Coffee

I was so excited because the open layout and trendy-cool interior reminded me of Blue Bottle Coffee in San Francisco, which frankly, makes the best cup of coffee that I have ever had. So I practically skipped inside and up to the counter, where a super-cool-trendy guy asked me what I would like. Even though it was creeping towards 35 degrees (that’s 95ish, for American friends), I knew that I needed to have my classic drink to properly try Monmouth, so I ordered a skim latte.

“We can’t make a latte with skim milk. Lattes are made with whole milk,” super-cool-trendy guy told me with a roll of his eyes.

I furrowed my brow and looked at the menu, trying to figure out which coffee drink is made with skim milk. I just wanted espresso and steamed skim milk, maybe with a decorative flower drawn with the cream or something. Then I caught sight of a glass-front refrigerator, stocked with identical, unlabeled bottles of milk, from top to bottom.

“Wait…do you have skim milk at all? Or just whole?”

“Just whole.”

Brilliant. I’m borderline lactose intolerant. I didn’t used to be, but now, I can handle a little bit of milk at a time, and only skim. I hadn’t had whole milk since I’d found out about the lactose thing. But I hadn’t come all this way for Monmouth Coffee to leave without trying it, super-cool-snotty-trendy guy, or not. So I told him to make me a latte. I wondered if I could mind-trick my stomach into dealing with the whole milk.

And at first sip, I forgot all about the milk. I had made the right choice, and in between my sweaty palms was a piping hot cup of the second best coffee I had ever put to my lips. Sitting in the un-airconditioned shop on the hottest day of the year didn’t sound like a great idea, so I took my coffee for a walk, hoping to catch a breeze. I didn’t find a breeze, but I did find some shade in the churchyard at Southwark Cathedral, where I snacked on a Larabar that had traveled all the way across the Atlantic with me, and I wrote in my journal for a bit.

Unfortunately, a lot of the shops around Borough Market had nothing to do with being foodie, but a few produce shops were open, so I headed back to the market in search of something else for lunch. I picked an awesome shop to wander into, because I found one with a juice bar! I love a fresh juice! So I ordered an apple-ginger-pineapple-celery concoction, and it was so hot that the sweet lady who made it offered me an ice cube. I wanted to say, “ONE ice cube?! What is that going to do?!” But I knew that she was probably doing her best to be sensitive to the needs of the ice-crazed Americans, so I thanked her and accepted the ice cube.

Borough Market

With my juice in hand, the heat in my face was starting to subside, but I knew that being trapped between buildings was making the weather more unbearable, so I headed back towards the river. My secondary goal in wandering this neighbourhood was to take photos of Tower Bridge and the Tower of London from across the Thames.

First, I walked through a striking arcade mall, where I bought the largest bottle of water that I could find at Boots.


And then I took photos of Tower Bridge. If you squint, you might be able to see the airplane above and to the right of the right bridge pillar. It’s nearly impossible to see at this resolution, but it’s surprisingly sharp at 100%! I’ve never thought about photographing planes before, but I guess I can! Good to know.

Tower Bridge

Part of me wanted to walk further down the river to shoot the bridge from more angles…but remember the whole milk in my latte? Yeah, it turns out that whole milk sure doesn’t agree with me. I think the heat made me feel even worse, so having accomplished my two main goals for the day, I decided to head back to my room for homework time. Not the most exciting way to spend one of my final afternoons in London, but a necessity.

September 6, 2011 at 9:31 pm 1 comment

Market Sunday

On my second Sunday in London, I had a pretty serious to-do list. I’d left Saturday night fun early so I could get up with the sun on Sunday and head out for a day at the markets.

I was determined to head out early, because my first stop just had to be the Columbia Road Flower Market. My research indicated that the market is on a narrow street that gets awfully crowded on nice days, so I left the hotel shortly after 8, and after a brief walking tour of Shoreditch, I arrived at the market a little after 9. It wasn’t too crowded yet, but some folks (probably regulars) were already leaving with big burlap bags stuffed full of gorgeous flowers.

The market was fragrant and I’m a little sensitive to strong floral scents, but it was such a beautiful day, and the air smelled more fresh than stiflingly floral, so I had no complaints! The market sellers had a wide variety of colourful blooms, and I really enjoyed poking through all of the open-air stalls.

Columbia Road Flower Market

Columbia Road is an awesome part of London, because it’s against the rules (law? code?) to open a chain establishment on the road. All indie shops and restaurants! Quite a few antique shops, some crafty places, some clothing, some art, and all awesome. Visiting the shops was just as much a part of the experience as seeing the flowers!

I’d read that Columbia Road is a great place to have Sunday brunch, so I skipped breakfast at our B&B and headed out. If there’s one thing I love, it’s eating out for brunch! And also figure skating. But I digress. Back to brunch! I was craving pancakes, and I know that the Brits aren’t as crazy about pancakes as Americans are, but I was hoping I could find crepes, maybe. Which are even better than pancakes, when done right! Or at the very least, eggs.

Here’s the thing. I guess when the Brits talk about brunch, they just use it as a word for a big weekend lunch, not in necessarily eating breakfast foods for lunch. Many of the restaurants on Columbia Road weren’t open yet when I was trolling for food at 10am, and they seemed to feature roast beef in a big way. I don’t really eat beef, so I was a little disheartened. And then I met Lilli.

Next to brunch, one of my favourite weekend treats is a delicious bakery cupcake. I’d been a little disappointed by English-style cupcakes, but I wasn’t ready to give up on them, especially not when I spied Lilli Vanilli, tucked into the back of a courtyard off of Columbia Road. The cupcake was fantastic, and so was the coffee, but even better was smiley Lilli, serving cupcakes behind the counter with her staff. Cupcakes are awfully crumbly to eat on the go, so I grabbed a seat on a bench inside the bakery and enjoyed my cupcake & coffee, and she offered me a fresh sample of her new lemon pistachio dough. Definitely a memorable experience, and I’m so glad I found the shop.

Columbia Road

After a bit more shopping, I was already starting to fade, and I still had a few more stops to make. On my way off of Columbia Road, I spied a shop called Cake Hole advertising the legendary Monmouth Coffee. Exactly what I needed to revitalize my tired legs! Monmouth Coffee is pretty incredible, but I’ll foreshadow a bit and say that I have more to write about Monmouth on another day.

My class had read Brick Lane by Monica Ali, so one of our assignments was to walk down Brick Lane and see what it is like for ourselves. I charted a course to the Spitalfields Market that took me right down Brick Lane, and I was a bit surprised, because it has “gentrified” quite a bit in the decade since Ali wrote her novel. It’s still quite ethnic and there are some signs in Bangladeshi, but it has also become a trendy spot for up-and-coming designers to showcase their wares. On Sundays, though, it has a bit of additional flavour, because people line the street with some of the most random things for a sale in a makeshift market. My favourite was a guy who had a blanket spread out that was just littered with cameras and lenses, from old school Hipstamatics, Holgas, and Lomos to new Canon L-lenses for EOS cameras.

My favourite part of Brick Lane, though, had to be the Sunday Upmarket, which is in a warehouse on Brick Lane. It’s edgy and fun, with a diverse crop of designers selling new fashions every Sunday. I liked the relaxed feel of the market and I even liked a lot of the clothes. I wished that I’d had extra money to spend and room to bring clothes back home! They were the most reasonably-priced clothes I saw in London, too.

Just a few blocks away is the Spitalfields Market, an old covered market that has been redone recently.


It’s pretty awesome! Definitely more commercialized than the Sunday Upmarket, but some similar clothing for sale. Some more crafty and typical market-y things, too. Lots of shops and restaurants around the perimeter of the area with the stalls, many of which were a bit pricey. I smelled some handmade soaps, tried a sample of chili chocolate, and wished that Jules and Christina were traveling with me when I walked past a mimosa bar.

After a leisurely trip around the market, though, I was absolutely beat. I had lots of work to do for class, so I considered the day well-spent, bought a coconut ice cream cone for the walk to the train station, and bid farewell to the markets.

August 11, 2011 at 9:16 pm 2 comments

An Afternoon in the Parks

The other students in my group had been spending a lot of time in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, since our hotel was just a couple of blocks from the entrance at Lancaster Gate, but over a week into the trip, I hadn’t made it there yet. After my walk through South Kensington and Knightsbridge, I was pretty tired, but the day just kept getting prettier, so I decided to hop on the Tube and head for the parks.

Marble Arch
I popped out of the Tube at Marble Arch, across from the northeast corner of Hyde Park. While on the Tube, I noticed that more than a few people were wearing Bon Jovi tee-shirts. I like belting out “Living on a Prayer” as much as the next girl, but I was finding London’s apparent fascination with Bon Jovi a little odd. When I was approached by five ticket scalpers at the exit for the Tube, I put the pieces together. Bon Jovi concert in Hyde Park. Which also accounted for the huge crowds heading into the park. But I didn’t want to put off my visit of the park, since I was already there, so I joined the crowds and headed across the street.

Rose Garden
It took a while, but once I finally made it past the area that was partitioned off for the concert, the crowds disappeared, and it was a lovely day in the park. I visited the Rose Garden near the southeast corner first. I felt like it wasn’t in full bloom, although I admit that I don’t know when the height of rose season is.

The Serpentine is a serpentine-shaped lake that dominates Hyde Park’s landscape. A few cafés are located on its fringes, along with boathouses and beachy areas.

Swan Friend!
The animals of the Serpentine are not at all shy! I knelt down to get photos of the swans, and since I was using a wide angle lens, I didn’t realize that this guy had swum to within a foot of my lens until I put my camera down. Thanks for volunteering for a close-up!

Duck Friends
My duck friends were even more aggressive. They hopped right out of the water and wandered among the people huddled at the water’s edge. I was half-expecting this guy to speak up and ask me for food. He didn’t, but he did almost walk right over my foot. I wonder if it hurts when a duck steps on your foot.

Princess Di Memorial
I had walked around the south side of the Serpentine because I wanted to see the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. The memorial is interactive and vibrant. It’s a circular trough of water on a slice of lawn, and the water is sent rushing around the trough. Signs indicate that it’s meant to be enjoyed, so kids without shoes (and sometimes clothes) run through the water with shrieks of delight. I’m going to go on record and say that it’s the loudest memorial I’ve ever seen, but also one of the most memorable.

I was pretty tired after that, and since there were a huge shortage of benches in Hyde Park, I was wishing that I’d brought something to sit on. Not that I’d carted a picnic blanket to London with me, though. So I kept plodding along, thinking that I’d walk the rest of the Serpentine, cross over into Kensington Gardens, and then start heading north towards Lancaster Gate. It was a longer walk than I thought it would be, though, so I just plopped down on the grass in Kensington Gardens.

Kensington Gardens
Not a bad view in this part of the park, although I did notice that it had been a while since Kensington Gardens had been mowed. I had a seat in the grass and people-watched while I tried to catch up on my trip journal.

Kensington Gardens
Lancaster Gate is one of the prettiest parts of the park…of what I saw, at least. The sun was in an awkward place for trying to get the whole scene exposed evenly, so I tried some auto-bracketed exposures to convert to HDR later. This one was my favourite.

Overall, I had a nice time in the parks, but as far as urban parks go, I was expecting a little more from such a royal city! I don’t, I think I was expecting more flowers and landscaping. I’m not sure my visit was fair, since so much of Hyde Park was blocked off for Bon Jovi, but my impression was that it was a huge piece of greenery, but it’s all kind of the same. I liked it, but I didn’t find it nearly as pretty as my three favourite urban parks: Stanley (Vancouver), Millenium (Chicago), and Central (New York).

July 15, 2011 at 1:24 pm Leave a comment

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