Monthly Archives: August 2011

Jazz Festival and Welcome to London Tours

Here’s another double weekend post for you all.  What can I say, I’ve gotten bad at being timely.  As we adjust to normal life here (read: some boring, lazy days) its hard for me to figure out how often to post. Anyway, on to the update:

A little bit of America in London

August 12-14

After a leisurely Friday evening, we awoke Saturday morning ready to go exploring. The plan was to go to the Museum of London and then to a Jazz Festival I had heard about on Londonist in hopes of cheap, but delicious food stall lunch. We were starved, so decided to go to the festival first and the museum afterwards the only problem was that we didn’t check the tube lines before we left and it took us much longer to get to Canary Wharf (where the festival was being held) then we expected.

Canary Wharf

So Canary Wharf.  I pictured docks and boats, mostly things that would remind me of the Jetty back home, but Canary Wharf is actually a financial district. As J put it, “like NYC but cleaner.” There was still a nice river and I still believe in my heart of hearts that there was a dirty fish-smelling marina somewhere around there, we just didn’t happen upon it. It was still a really nice and interesting area despite its clean, yuppie feel.  A lot of the buildings were really interesting to look at and we found a pretty cool park.  Of course, I was also wrong about the food stalls.

We finally came upon the Jazz Festival, using both our ears and the signs, in a small, well-groomed lawn between some buildings and cafes. There were a few modern sculptures on the grass as well as the stage, a huge screen and many picnickers. Even though we were hoping for a cheap lunch we were too hungry to care and found a seat at an outdoor cafe with a view of the screen and had a tapas-like lunch.

Lunch and Jazz

Our goal with this lunch was to sit and nurse our wine and nibble at our food for hours like Europeans do.  When we were leaving I felt we had done a pretty good job until J said we were there for about 2.5 hours.  That sounds great right? Well it is for Americans I guess, but there were two ladies at the table next to us who were done eating and drinking when we sat down and were still there when we left. I’m not sure I’ll ever get that hang of that.  We ended up going home after leaving the festival because it was too late for the museum–another day…

part of the Olympic Stadium under construction from DLR line

Sunday was also pretty low key, but had one great event: going to see the Harry Potter movie. Neither J or I are huge fans of the movie series, but it feels like something you have to do and it was something we could both agree on, so we went for a matinee (even though I think the price is the same here). Prices for movies here are extremely expensive like 15 GBP a person.  We probably won’t go to the theaters very often which makes me very sad since we are also without Netflix.  What is the movie lover to do?

Anyway, Harry Potter was a good movie overall.  J and I both thought some parts were a bit slow, dramatic and corny–very similar to the final Lord of the Rings movie in style.

Hyde Park and the Serpentine

August 19-21

We had another quiet Friday this past weekend (that seems to be a routine now).  I was feeling really homesick and bleh, so we stayed in.

Saturday we woke up relatively early because one of J’s coworkers just got into the city. Like us, he moved to London for work and will be here for the next 2 years or so. I knew how hard it was for us our first few days, so I wanted to make sure that he’d feel comfortable since he was coming alone. We met him at the Churchill Arms, which was one of our first dining experiences here, but I forgot my camera today so still no cool pictures of the crazy flowered pub–google it.

Admiral's Arch-J and coworker debated roman numerals in front of this for 5 minutes

After a delicious thai lunch we had plans to go to a relatively affordable department store on Oxford St. for things like towels and sheets.  We decided to walk there through Hyde Park so he could get more of a feel of his new area. Unfortunately it started to pour as soon as we go too far from the tube and were forced to just keep walking.  Luckily J and I had two umbrellas so we were all mostly covered, but still pretty wet (soaked through shoes) by the time we got to John Lewis (it was further down Oxford St. then we remembered). After picking up a few things we split up for the evening so the coworker could sleep and we could do laundry (new, softer sheets!).

Westminster Abbey

On Sunday, after silly things like laundry and grocery shopping, J got a text from his coworker asking to hang out so we met him at the Princess Diana memorial fountain in Hyde Park, which I believe I’ve talked about before. From there we walked down the Serpentine to Hyde Park corner and followed much of the same route J and I did on our first touristy walk: Buckingham Palace, St. James’ Park, Trafalgar Square, Parliament and Westminster Abbey.  We did it all much more leisurely though and it was a nice time.

After our touristing and with yelping feet, we began to walk towards Soho to find dinner.  Unfortunately we wanted to take coworker to some place nice or cool and it was also Sunday night, which means over 50% of all places are closed. After wandering to what felt like (and probably was) an hour with the boys stopping periodically to yelp certain places, we ate at O’Neil’s Irish Pub on Oxford Street.  It was actually a good time and you could tell they were serious about their Irish cooking. We split up after dinner at the tube again (coworker lives south of us) and J and I became engaged in the latest battle with our dryer.

Sneak peek–Next week I’ll have a lot more to say because we’re going here for J’s birthday:

On the London Riots (Night 3)

Building burns in Tottenham, 8/6/11 Source: the Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/aug/07/police-attack-london-burns

Many of you in the US are probably just hearing about the rioting that has taken place between Saturday evening and right at this moment in the Northern and (now spread to) Southern of “suburbs” London. There are accounts of similar violence occurring in Birmingham and Leeds which is about 2-3 hours North of here by train.  Since I have been pretty much glued to twitter and news reports about this since yesterday morning, I’m going to give you a brief summary and my reaction to what’s going on. I am going to attempt to be as unbiased as possible in my reporting of the different sides, but I will be giving you my opinions.

Mark Duggan

Whether or not the riots and looting were really caused by Mark Duggan’s death, that’s where it all began.  Last Thursday evening, Mark Duggan was shot and killed by police. Investigations are ongoing and some of what the police said occurred now seem a little less likely.  Police were carrying out a pre-planned operation as part of their action against gun crime. This involved pulling over a taxi cab to arrest someone inside of it.  The current reports say that the police exchanged gunfire with someone in the cab and Mark Duggan was that person. During this fire fight he was shot and killed, a police officer was also injured, but has left the hospital within a few hours.  These were the “facts” or at least as much as the media reported before Saturday.

Who was Mark Duggan?  It’s hard to say–he’s either a criminal gang member or a well respected peaceful member of the community (and father of four). Here are a couple articles so you can read the different sides: one and two. To be honest, I think its something in the middle.  He grew up in a rough and poor neighborhood (a bit more about the areas all this is happening in later), so most likely he’s not completely free from associations with people, but I do not believe he was a full out gangster–of course I’m a very non-judgmental person and I know a bit more information than you do right now. On to fixing that!

So Mark is dead. The police on Friday and Saturday (during the day) seem to go about their usual investigation duties. Interestingly the IPPC (Independent Police Complaints Commission) were on the scene with hours of it occurring, which is apparently unusual.  Saturday afternoon/early evening Mark Duggan’s family and close friends held a peaceful protest outside of the police station in hopes of getting the police to give them more information about what happened. Apparently, many of his relatives only knew about his death after they saw it reported on tv. The police refused to comment at that time.  More people began to show up, some allegedly with oil cans and other materials.  There is an unconfirmed story that a 16 year old girl pleaded with the police for information then threw something at them–some say stone, some say leaflet.  She was then pounded into the ground by 15 police shields (again this is the unconfirmed story) and was pushed back down when she started to get up.  Her friend pulled her away.  That was when things got real.  Mark Duggan’s family apparently left the scene and two police cars were flipped which began the Saturday night riot in Tottenham.

The police have since apologized to Mark’s family about the way they treated their loss. A multi-faith vigil has also taken place today (Monday) in Tottenham.

Saturday Night–Tottenham

Tottenham (and many of the other areas I will mention tonight) is a very poor area with a history of relative deprivation and racial conflict (these areas are mixed, but do have a large black population). It is important to have all that in the back of your mind as you read the news stories and form your own opinion, either way this level of violence is uncalled for, but perhaps (on this night) some level of rioting was understandable.  Rumors abounded of Mark being handcuffed and executed, etc. Whether these rumors were “planned” in some way remains unclear, but more about the level of planning later. During this time preliminary reports from forensics said that the bullet found embedded in the injured officer’s radio (thought to be from Duggan’s gun) was police issue. This completely changes the way police have reported the incident occurred and no further information has been released.

I won’t go into detail about what happened there are lots of news stories for that, but I will say that multiple buildings and vehicles were completely burned, stores looted, and minor injuries (I haven’t seen any reports of major ones at this time). Some accusations of the police not acting quickly enough to the riot or the fires have been made. The riots were brought under control in the early hours of the morning Sunday.

Sunday Night–Enfield, Edmonton, Brixton

Skip forward to last night, this again started around early evening–for exact times look in some of the news stories linked throughout (I’m encouraging you to read multiple sources). Riots and looting of the same variety began in an area just north of Tottenham, Enfield. After a few hours as this began to heat up, this violence was said to spread east towards Edmonton. Again much of this seemed to be about burning cars, buildings and looting.  While I was not there and reports are still coming out about this, I believe that there were less fires than in Tottenham but Enfield was just as violent (my opinion from reading live tweets and news blogs until 1 am last night).  By 10 pm last night the violence had spread to more areas North of London as well as Brixton, South of London, where a festival (read: lots of people) had been held earlier that day. There were also reports of “more minor” looting in West London and even in Oxford Circus (the street I have mentioned a few times on this blog).

I’m not going to list all of the regions that were affected here in part because most of my readers come from the US and won’t know where they are and in part because when I heard about all of them via twitter and such last night things were unconfirmed. Last night’s riots seemed most serious in the three areas I mentioned above–Enfield, Edmonton (where a teenager was stabbed), and Brixton. Those areas are still cleaning up and many of the streets, highways and public transportation stops have been blocked off of those areas for investigation.  The riots that happened last night seemed to be more about criminality and looting than the previous night in Tottenham (my opinion).  I do believe it is possible that a contingent of the Tottenham rioters were doing it “for” Mark and against the (mostly) white police they have had historical issues with. I do not think this was as much the case last night, I think many of those youth are fighting to loot and to “succeed” over the police. Some more reports on what happened last night and police action: one and two; timeline/map. These riots seemed to slow after 1 am (some say because that’s when public transportation closed) and seemed to have finally been taken under control by 3 am.

Monday Night–Hackney, Croydon, and ??

Unfortunately this continues tonight. I still hear the sirens from my flat often (I’m near 2 hospitals and 2 police stations), but it is not as constant as it was last night (it went from 9 pm until after 1 am straight). Most people that I encountered today (here in central London) had no idea that the riots even occurred. Television news reports did not cover it last night, so unless you saw it on-line and then researched it like I did it was hard to know what was going on. It was strange for it to be “the day after.” I think that’s why its even more surprising to me (but I suppose realistic) that riots are occurring in other areas tonight–some North and some South of London as well as in Birmingham and Leed, UK (the level of looting and violence here remains unconfirmed).  Here are some articles and reactions so far: one, two and three.

A reporter for the Guardian Paul Lewis   has been “in the field” in the middle of these riots for the last three nights (almost no sleep in 72 hours) and live tweeting what he sees. He has said that what is occurring at this moment in Hackney is worse than Enfield last night and what he’s seeing on the news from Croydon make him believe that the low injury rate may be ending.

Current initiatives to stop the riots include working with Blackberry to see how they can assist–much of the riot seems to have been planned using BBM and twitter. If needed, I’ll post an update on here about what happens tonight, I hope nothing so major occurs that requires that.  I would recommend the Guardian and the Telegraph for coverage, both have had live blogs the last two nights.

My Reaction

I’ve given you my opinions and feelings throughout the post, but coming from a Peace/Conflict Resolution degree I have a few more things to say.

First my own feelings.  I am disturbed.  My anger and addiction to reading all the live updates have been covering this feeling up for the last 24 hours, but overall I am very disturbed that so much violence can be happening for so long in a place I live, in a place like London.  Even though its bad to say, one of my first thoughts was ‘things like this don’t happen in places like London.’ I have studied wars in Africa and seen text and social media used to spark violence (we have also seen it spark good demonstrations recently), but somehow my privileged mind could not compute that it was happening here. So yes, those are my overall feelings–disturbed, sad, slightly angry and scared (I am safe though everyone all the occurrences so far have been pretty far away).

Now for some more general thoughts about this….

I do think it is possible that some police officers have been slacking on the jobs slightly–the first night–due to racial histories and a belief that Duggan was guilty.  Now, I think that many police officers, especially those that have been out in this for the last 3 days, have gotten angry. Both of these things are causing the violence to increase. The reporter I mentioned earlier (Paul Lewis) was threatened by a cop who didn’t believe he was a journalist—that’s what I mean by anger leading to more violence.

I personally think that Duggan’s death was an operation gone wrong.  Whether or not he was the man police meant to arrest (even that has not been released, nor what happened to the cabbie driving the car), I believe that his death was wrongful. It does not, with the facts I have at this moment, seem like he exchanged gunfire with police. There was a non-police issue gun found at the scene, but there are mixed views on where that gun came from. Either way, Mark’s family deserved better treatment by police.

I’m not convinced that better treatment and information from police about Duggan’s death would have changed the riots.  The pattern of the rioting on Saturday and Sunday night (and perhaps tonight) are very similar making it seem more certain that these riots have been planned. Some rioting youth have also been quoted as saying that they’ve been planning this for a long time or have been waiting for a long time. The use of BBM and twitter to spread rumors, scare people and encourage them to join is also another form of evidence for this theory.  Apparently, How-to-Avoid-Getting-Arrested leaflets have been found at on of last night’s scenes of rioting.

I think that’s all I will say for now. I hope you find this useful and that I have included enough links for you to find out more.  If another reaction comes to me or if something very serious occurs tonight I may update this post. Overall I am glad that the police seem to be out in full force tonight keeping me and so many others safe.  I am appalled by the needless violence and criminality that is being perpetuated. I am also keeping a close eye on the Mark Duggan investigation, finding out the truth (“right” or “wrong”) about his death is important and should not be covered up by these riots.

Two Weekends, One Post

I know I have been a bit delinquent on the last two weekend round ups (July 29-31 and August 5-7), but our weekends were more low-key than the previous two and I didn’t take any pictures. I hope the brief update below with some pictures I took recently while on errands (now that my camera works!) will suffice.

The buildings across the street from our flat.

July 29-31

The notable things about Friday came with dinner–J and I ate at Cote, a Belgian/French (we should probably figure out which…) restaurant in Soho. We split a bottle of merlot (wasn’t my favorite) and shared bread and olives (which apparently were not free) before our entrees. J had the duck and I had the filet mignon. It was pretty delicious and it was nice to sit in front of the big windows that were open to the street outside. J actually stepped through the window onto the street when we left. We then walked home stopping along the way at the Prince Regent (again) for a pint. Pubs on the weekend here get super crowded and people are allowed to spill out onto the sidewalks and sometimes the street to enjoy their drinks and company. This was our first time drinking outside with the crowd. After this we went home and listened to music and chatted the evening away.

One thing that surprised me here was the flowers everywhere

On Saturday we had a leisurely morning before heading off towards Piccadilly and then finally towards St. James Park. We walked around the other half of the park that we didn’t see the first time for a little bit, many people were out having picnics and playing football (soccer) or frisbee. We ended up at Westminster Abbey and paid the £16 each to get in–expensive! but soo worth it. Unfortunately I still didn’t have my camera fixed and cameras are banned on the inside so I have no images for you, but it was amazing. The architecture, especially in the Bath Order Chapel (I think that’s the name…), was beautiful–high vaulted ceilings, stained glass windows, and delicately carved marble everywhere. It was pretty surreal to be in a place that has so much history and royalty…actually…in …it. It is a shame that some of the writing on the tombs had worn away and that I don’t speak Latin (which much of the inscriptions were written in). My favorite place was Poet’s Corner where many famous authors, poets, composers and other creative beings are buried or memorialized. I’d like to go back there again and “commune” with them. Fortunately, J felt the same way about all the royalty and English history that was in there, so we may do an entire day in Westminster Abbey at some point. After walking home and grabbing dinner we spent the rest of the evening planning a late August vacation to Paris for J’s birthday (which happens to fall on a holiday here).

Oxford Street

On Sunday J and I met an old roommate of mine from my time abroad (Brussels 2008) and her boyfriend for lunch in East London. We met them near Aldgate and they walked with us into a food market area (only open on Sundays). The neighborhood was very Indian/Bangladeshi and the food smelled amazing. We went into an area where there were inside stalls and some seating, after much looking I had Moroccan and J had Ethiopian. Both were extremely delicious and we hope to go back soon (maybe even next weekend!). Afterwards the four of us walked to other Sunday markets–one for flowers, a few for clothing and vegetables. It was a fun afternoon and great for seeing different areas of London. This neighborhood seemed very trendy and creative. I suppose it would be like U st, H st, and maybe a little of Columbia Heights in DC. Not as clean and pretty as some areas of London, but very diverse, brimming with young people and full of hipster/bohemian/musician/creative types. That pretty much sums up that weekend. Like I said, more low-key in terms of tourist visits, but still fun.

Building in Hyde Park

August 5-7

On Friday night after we both finished work (yay! I’m temporarily employed!), we met at J’s office before walking to Jamie Oliver’s italian restaurant in Covent Gardens.  J did a full review (which I endorse) here. After our fabulous dinner we pretty much walked home and hung out for the evening.

Bridge over the Serpentine in Hyde Park

After sleeping in a bit and eating lunch at home we spent much of Saturday afternoon in Hyde Park.  As you know, Hyde Park is a quick walk from where we live and is huge enough to find new places to explore for days.  Honestly, without all the little signs they have, I feel like I’d get lost and starve if left there alone with no map or phone. Well maybe I shouldn’t say that about myself–I’m resourceful! Either way, the point is… big effing park. On this particular visit, an international triathlon  was being held in the park. I thought this was pretty cool for the first 2 hours of our walk, but then it got annoying: too many people and too many blocked off roads/paths/areas.  We did visited the Princess Diana fountain memorial, saw some awesome athletes and walked along the river for quite a bit.  Check out some pictures (also that pretty much sums up Saturday):

Princess Diana Memorial Fountain

Awesome building in Hyde Park, the nursery?

At least half of Hyde Park looks like this--huge green lawns and paths

This past Sunday was our laziest day in London yet, but it was oh-so-good. We slept in then stayed in bed reading until I-can’t-really-admit-how-late-it-was.  I video chatted with my family, hooray! Then in time for an early dinner we left the flat in search for food. We went to this very small and authentic Iranian restaurant down our street called Patogh. It was delicious, we still have leftovers in the fridge (hmm it is dinner time now…).  We spent the last part of Sunday doing errands, reading, etc. Just because we live in London doesn’t mean we can’t lay around all day.

Cooking with J [read: Going Out]

*post by J*

When we last left our heroes (yes, we are your heroes, also our own heroes, making us violently vapid individuals, but not really), we had finished up a weekend of fun and were headed into another week of being real humans, which apparently the British still do, albeit sparingly. Since, we have had another weekend, K has started work, and a whole host of much less interesting things have happened. But I’m not writing about that, I’m writing about food.

Tonight (Friday), K and I, as is typical on this day of the week, went out to eat. She decided on Italian, and I was left to Yelp away, slaving for hours finding the perfect restaurant. Okay, not hours, but still. K’s approach is much more “probably anything I wander into will be good to eat” whereas my approach is much more “this is London and bad restaurants prey on innocent nonlocals like a pack of raptors in a daycare.” Yelp is magical, and still works in London, proving once and for all that at least one thing from California can be a net positive contribution to the world (also, you know, the entire technological revolution, but whatever).

So. Food. Yes. I finally settled on Jamie’s Italian, the London banner restaurant of Jamie Oliver, who I’m not sure I like but recognize that my opinion of a person is not, despite the dramatic conveniences that would otherwise ensue, a reliable metric for determining the quality of their food. So we went. AND IT WAS FABULOUS. Now this is going to temporarily be a food blog.

This is literally the table at which we ate. We found this on the internet. Holy crap, Internet!

The Cocktail Hour: K had a Bellini, I had a Milano. Both are drinks based off Prosecco, hers with peach and mine with OJ. K enjoyed hers thoroughly, whereas I found mine to be a bit tart and difficult to drink when I wasn’t thinking about how much I already sunk into it and wanted to have a drink. This was rapidly overcome, however, by…

Bread and Balls: To start, we shared their bread selection with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping, which is pretty much the bread and…olive…oil…of Italian meal-starting. Appetizing. These were good — there was one crunchy flat bread which was especially fun, as well as a pretty delightful sourdough, a good wheat, and three more breads which were, obviously, somewhat less memorable. Overall, fantastic experience for a bread basket, even if I do have to pay for it (evidently a London thing). These were followed by Smoky Scamorza Arancini, which I not only correctly pronounced, but also thoroughly enjoyed. Essentially these were fried balls of rice, mozzarella cheese, and porcini (mushrooms). They were magically soft inside and perfectly crunchy outside, and the cheese and smoky (surprise! it’s in the name, after all) flavor of the porcini conspired to not-so-subtly rock your face. These were really good, to be clear.

The Pasta: Because Italian people evidently eat like snakes and devour like ten times their body weight with every meal, pasta dishes at Jamie’s come in two sizes: “small”, “starter”, or “this is probably enough for a human to eat if you got anything else” and “normal”, “entrée”, or “hope you brought a bigger belt”. We opted to get three of the former and split them between us. I decided on the Cuttlefish Paccheri, which was well-balanced between fish and pasta, featured the most marvelously well-cooked pasta I have ever had, and generally conveyed the sense that the entire ocean had pooled (hah!) together just to make you happy for twenty minutes. Which it did, despite the constant fear that I would think of what a cuttlefish looks like while eating my meal, thus shattering my meal, my world, and imbuing me with some horrifying alien-fish mental disorder or something. But I did not. For reference, cuttlefish look like this:

HOLY. CRAP.

Pretty much they look like alien Cthulu hovercrafts of the sea. So that’s great.

K went for the Bucatini Carbonara, which was pretty much spaghetti carbonara with some fantastic smoky meat and bucatini noodles, which are essentially superthick round spaghetti. K was not as impressed with her dish, finding it somewhat bland. I thought it was good, but definitely wouldn’t recommend it out of everything we had, even though it, like everything else, was very fresh and well-prepared.

We split the Wild Truffle Risotto, which packed the dual threat of being a delicious risotto and tasting entirely of black truffle. K was able to eat way more of this than I was, as I found it pretty powerful on the truffle side. Both of us thought it was utterly delicious, and I would order it again provided I had somebody to split it with again.

Wine: The pasta was accompanied by a carafe of Fiano di Avellino Compania (2010 we believe), which was pretty great by itself. Very light, fruity (peachy) white, crisp and really ideal for a light meal. This would probably crush with a salad. We did not have a light meal, of course, but still both enjoyed this immensely. I think it paired quite well with my dish — the fruity crispness did nice things versus the salty experience of a bowl of fresh ocean and light pasta. Paired reasonably well with K’s as well, from what I am told. I was less happy about the truffle pairing, but that was sort of an odd man out anyway. K didn’t mind it, but the truffle utterly decimated the flavor of the wine, and I would have gone with something a bit more assertive were I planning around the truffle-heavy dish.

Dessert: Shared the “ultimate brownie”, a chocolate-raspberry-amaretto cake which was really nothing like a “brownie” and all for the better. This was a perfect finish to the meal, was a great size for a split, and came with chocolate drizzle and a simple bit of vanilla ice cream. There’s not a lot to say except that it would be worth coming back just for dessert if the opportunity presented.

Report Card:
Cocktails: (B-) K enjoyed, I’ve had many better. Could be personal preference on what I got, but can’t give it too much benefit of the doubt.
Appetizers: (A) Bread was good, Arancini were amazing.
Pasta: (A) Two out of three dishes were exceptional, and the third was good. Preparation was spot-on for all of them, and everything was fresh enough you could taste the pasta being rolled. This is an A+ from my end, but K was less ecstatic.
Wine: (A+) The whole list was attractive, and simple, which I value as a person who does not maintain an internal database of wines. Our selection was delicious, and the slight pairing fault on the third dish was obviously our own.
Dessert: (A+) If I went again, I’d order a different item for all the above to branch out. I’d order this again next time, and then the next ten.

All in all, fantastic success for a Friday night, and props to Mr. Oliver for establishing a fantastic Italian eatery. The atmosphere was fun, the food was fresh and well-prepared, and there’s not much else I can ask for if Italian is the goal.

Alright, Space Cadets! I’m signing out until next time (i.e. next time we go to a fantastic restaurant). Cheers!

The Six Hour Walk (and other stories)

*Enjoy these pictures of Regent’s Park courtesy of J, since I didn’t take pictures this week. Camera cord coming soon!*

One of many fountains in Regent's Park

Our second weekend in London (July 22-24) was mostly unplanned.  Friday meant work for J and errands/job hunting for me, except I got a bit stir crazy inside the flat and decided to go on a walk. I walked east from my building and soon came upon Baker’s Street (Sherlock Holmes’ “hangout”) and Marylebone.  Basically I found myself surrounded by beautiful town homes that I could probably never afford.  Amidst these buildings was one where Lionel Logue, the speech therapist to George VI as seen in The King’s Speech, practiced. It  didn’t look any different from all the others on the street and it didn’t look to as “rugged” as it was in the movie. Of course, things were a lot different in London before WWII. How did I know it was his former office you ask?  Well, for those of you that have never been to London, London does this pretty awesome thing where they put plaques outside of where famous people (not just Englishmen) spoke, lived or worked.  I’ve walked by Eisenhower’s WWII London lodgings, houses where Charles Dickens wrote, and many more plaques about people I’ve never heard of.

My walk continued through Soho, Convent Gardens and Holborn neighborhoods.  I was probably walking over an hour at this point. Lots of young people live in these areas and Soho is full of creative, bohemian types, theaters and clubs. It’s one of those places that is pretty cool to walk around in, great place to eat out, maybe too loud and crowded to live in and one in which I don’t quite fit in (just not “hip” enough). Eventually this led me to St. Paul’s Cathedral, but along the way I admired architectural styles, people watched, window shopped and began to develop some understanding of where things are in my new city and what restaurants were chains.

I made it to St. Paul’s by about 2.5 hours elapsed or so and I began to feel a bit tired by then, but I was too far from where I lived (basically across the city) to turn around and walk back, so I decided to walk down the Thames river towards what I call downtown (Piccadilly, Parliament, Buckingham, Oxford St. etc). After almost walking in the wrong direction and getting terribly lost (the river is north, west, east and south in London depending on where you are, growing up where the ocean is always east of you has made this difficult for me to accept), I corrected myself and found my way to the Embankment to walk along the water. I don’t want to bore you with more general details, so I’ll just say that I walked through the crowded maze of Piccadilly Circus having passed many theaters and interesting shops, to meet J outside of his work after about 4 hours of walking.

Flowers! and some other part of Regent's Park

J and I then found a place in Soho (south of where I was earlier, but same neighborhood) to eat dinner–Wahaca, which has pretty delicious Mexican tapas.  We decided to walk home and walked through Regent’s Park for the first time along the way. Regent’s Park is very large (though not quite as big as Hyde Park) with beautifully manicured lawns and gardens.  The London Zoo is actually in the park as well as a theater and Regent College (high school).  With this detour, by the time I got home I had walked about six hours pretty much constantly that Friday.

There's me! and a fountain in Regent's Park

Of course, that didn’t stop me from walking to the British Museum (as was our Saturday plan).  I complained a bit more than I would have if I hadn’t spontaneously walked near half of the hours I was awake the day before, but what can I say, I’m a trooper (well actually, a geek for walking around cities). We set out much the same way I started the day before, until we found the British Museum. The British Museum was actually somewhat difficult for us to find even though it is a sprawling, marble, historic museum-looking building. The catch is that it is in the middle of a city. Yes, it has a bit of a lawn and a gate around it, but it’s like stumbling upon a ruin in Rome. Sorta common, but you never (if you’re a tourist) quite expect it–modern buildings and history just seem so weird together, but that’s one of the things I love about London.

We went through a good portion of the museum, but were too tired to see it all in a day.  We focused on the Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Greek and Roman exhibits. We also went through one area dedicated to the Age of Enlightenment (when much of the collecting/studying that created this museum began), which almost acted like an executive summary to the rest of the museum. There were ancient (13,000 year old) stone carvings, exotic cultural costumes from central asia, pottery from china, fossils from all over Europe, astronomy devices and even a copy of the Rosetta Stone.  (The real one is also in the museum, but I would recommend looking at the copy as you can touch it and actually attempt to read it). I was pretty amazed by how sophisticated some of the really ancient artwork (pre Egypt) was, which reminds me to be a bit humble and challenge my assumptions about what other cultures and times are/have been capable of.

We had our inaugural fish and chips after the museum.  It was exactly what I expected–I’m not sure how anyone can eat it often (huge plates, rather greasy) and I probably won’t–but it is the experience you have to have, right? We walked back towards Piccadilly where I showed J where the Phantom of the Opera was playing and we went in just to see if they happened to have seats for that night.  They did! And they were on the ground floor of the theater 8 rows from the stage!  We wasted a few hours before returning to the theater (the show started too soon to go home). Her Majesty’s Theater is beautiful outside and inside, but the theater itself was much smaller than both J and I expected.  The orchestra was actually in a pit that was half covered by the stage (it took us a while to figure this out). This is where Phantom was originally played and where it has played (in London) for the last 20 years. I loved the show (my first time seeing it) and J also seemed very happy with it (his second time). The female lead had an amazing voice and some of the songs gave me goosebumps.  I was also very impressed with their sets and how they were able to change them so fluidly and quickly–as you can see I’m no theater buff.

Its a weeping willow! Get it??

We spent much of Sunday listening to J’s album of the original cast and comparing voices (some I like more, some I prefer the current cast).  We had lunch on High Marylebone St, a very upscale, but small shopping street (a subdued Georgetown), at a pub called the Prince Regent.  I think it is one of my favorites–a great selection of things for those who dislike beer to drink and a pretty varied menu (not just fish and chips and meat pies). We walked towards some of the major shopping districts in search of a trench coat for J, but soon gave up due to over-eating and foot fatigue.

It is beginning to sink in that I actually live here, but it is amazing how much you can do and see in a day. I suppose it is somewhat like DC in that way–lots of things to do–but the city is even larger and I am actually taking advantage of  all it has to offer.  I had lunch with a friend who has lived here for a while and hasn’t done as much as J and I have in the last two weeks.  I am very glad that we are taking advantage of living in London and I hope we can keep it up!

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If you have any questions about London you’d like me to answer (if I can), places you’d like me to go/review or curious about random things like what the grocery stores are like, just let me know! I am more than willing to try to post about whatever you’re interested in, I just don’t want to bore you with descriptions of my errands or job.