Foodie Friends for Life

So. Stephanie and I attacked London once more for her last full day here. Our day began with the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. Well, it really began at the barracks… After seeing the guard a few weeks ago with momma, I thought there had to be a better view. So we went over to the barracks to see the source of the new guard. The old guard marches down the Mall while the new guard comes down Birdcage Walk to meet them. Grey skies and clouds had been threatening all morning and we had already felt a few sprinkles, so the accompanying band fittingly played “Don’t Rain on My Parade” prior to the guards marching out. And march they did. At quite a quick pace, I might add. Their weapons were impressive, bayonets and all. As they marched, the crowd followed. One of the great things about London landmarks is the abundance of tour guides. My guide status being as yet unofficial, we sneakily followed one of the louder guides as he led his flock toward the Victoria Memorial. We made our way around the Memorial and waited patiently, enjoying the sight of the clouds scudding across the sky. Our patience paid off. The new guard marched right past us on their way down the Mall. Snapping the obligatory tourist shots, we moved on.

Buckingham Palace

Another of London’s great features is the park culture. They are everywhere! Dotted throughout the city, one can find splashes of green sprouting amidst the concrete of the centuries. It’s as if the hand of a giant has scattered seeds across this great conurbation. It certainly is a welcome relief and St. James’s Park is one of the brighter blossoms the city has to offer. Stephanie and I strolled here for a bit on our way to our next locale. Over forty-two waterfowl call this park home and the landscape is inspiring: a fairy tale park in the centre of an international metropolis. But our stomachs, as ever, drove us onward (becoming cultured cosmopolitans works up quite the appetite, particularly when so much walking is required.

From St. James’s Park, we caught the Tube to London Bridge and followed our noses. Borough Market is open Thursday through Saturday and is a mishmash of gourmet food vendors and farmer’s markets (though, I just call it heaven). Stephanie was instantly in l-o-v-e love. Jeff might have some competition… The smells of fresh cheese and grilled meat pervaded the air, making patrons’ mouths salivate worse than Pavlov’s dogs. We slowly worked our way up and down the aisles, sampling the wares of the savvy vendors. We were easy prey and the vendors could see the hunger in our eyes.

Borough Market

After seeing the whole of the market, I turned to Stephanie to see which direction her foodie heart was leaning. We settled on wild boar sandwiches with grilled onions and rocket. Delicious! The sandwiches were accompanied perfectly by a pint of beer and our appetites were assuaged. I knew that just outside the market is a cheesemonger, Neal’s Dairy, and thought it would be a good addition to our tour. I have never seen a larger wheel of Parmesan in my life. It all looked so delicious, but my sweet tooth was aching. I had been eyeing some Turkish delight for a while, but one of the stalls was displaying enormous meringues piled high and they were calling our names. Stephanie bought a chocolate one and shared it with me as we continued our perusal of the fine food found here. Eventually, we left Paradise to see a few more of the sights London has to offer.

Say “cheese!”

So. Much. Cheese.

We boarded the Tube once more, thinking our mutual status as literature nerds needed to be acknowledged. Off to King’s Cross we went! After wandering around the station in search of Platform 9 ¾, during which I quoted lines of Harry Potter at Stephanie, we finally asked an attendant for directions. He answered before I even finished the question… *Click click* and our tourist duty was complete. We exited the station walked a few blocks to the British Library, home of some of mankind’s greatest gifts to knowledge. The history contained within the building is priceless. From illuminated manuscripts to the Magna Carta, the British Library is incredible and will always be one of my favourite places in London. But enough of my nerd crush.

St. Pancras

We took a moment to regroup and figure out what still needed to be seen before heading out. Somehow we had overlooked the momentous Tower of London and Tower Bridge. Again with the Tube. It’s the lifeblood, the veins and arteries of London. I continued to spout my catalogue of often useless information, which Stephanie graciously tolerated. Built in eight years, contest for the design, architect died before completion, etc. We began to walk across the bridge and were quickly halted by the raising of the bascules. This was quite a treat. Any time the bridge needs to be raised, it must be scheduled at least twenty-four hours in advance and I had yet to see it happen. We eventually made our way across and continued our adventure.

Raising the bascules.

I had one last place I wanted Stephanie to see before she left for Dublin. Bunhill Fields is a cemetery in the centre of London. It was long used as a cemetery for Nonconformists, for those who practised Christianity outside the Church of England. Among those interred here are William Blake, Daniel Defoe, and John Bunyan, each having contributed immensely to the development of literature. Bunyan and Blake were also notable for their views on religion. Bunyan’s book Pilgrim’s Progressserved as a second bible to many Protestants and Blake held controversial views on organised religion. I liked Blake’s poem “The Tyger” so much that I have the last two lines tattooed on my arm, for those who were unaware. Stephanie and I stopped in the park to rest our weary feet and eat some of the strawberries Stephanie had picked up at the market. Several dogs and their walkers were wandering in the park providing us with some cute and friendly entertainment. But our time was running short and the weather was growing cooler. As the sun set, we walked back to the station and said our goodbyes with the potential of meeting again at Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany! Safe travels, Stephanie!

Where we hope to meet again!


Costumes and Culture

So. After our incredibly English day, Stephanie and I ventured once more into the urban jungle of London. We met in Trafalgar Square in the shadow of Nelson’s Column and the giant lions guarding its base. We made our way up the stairs and into the artistic halls of the National Gallery. Touring an art museum is so much more enjoyable when you have a partner in crime. We laughed our way through the hideously drawn faces of the Renaissance art, the multitudes of Jesus and Mary depictions, to the incredible landscapes of J.M.W. Turner and the pointillism of Monet. Seriously, though. One would think some of the artists had never seen a woman’s face before. The twisted visages ranged from foreheads the size of billboards to just plain grotesque creatures. Oh, and the babies? Demonic or disfigured. But I digress.

After we regained our composure, we grabbed some sandwiches from Pret A Manger and sat on the edge of the fountains in Trafalgar munching away. Pret can be a bit overpriced for what it is, but the sandwiches are good, natural, and made fresh every day. At the end of each day, the sandwiches that aren’t sold are donated to shelters. What’s not to like about an all-around feel good sandwich? After lunch, we wandered down to Westminster, seeing the major sights along the way: Downing St, Big Ben/Elizabeth Tower, Parliament/Palace of Westminster, and Westminster Abbey. Stephanie snapped a few tourist shots and we pressed on.

Three trips to the UK and I still can’t resist taking a pic of Big Ben.

The Victoria and Albert Museum was our next destination. The V&A is an eclectic collection including artwork, sculpture, and culture from around the world, spanning the centuries. We walked through Roman archways, passed through galleries on Japanese culture, and finally grabbed a map to give a sense of order to our exploration. My favourite part of the museum is that it chronicles life and how people lived throughout the centuries. From dishes and flatware to a replica bed from a Scottish estate, life has been preserved within the walls of the museum.

Did I mention the museum is interactive? No? Well, let me tell you… We went around to all the interactive spots we could find. Stephanie and I had a blast trying on hoop skirts and cravats respectively (I thought about putting the skirt on… but thought better of it), and Stephanie designed her own monogram (my station was malfunctioning). Best of all, we tried on costumes that theatre companies had donated to the museum. Magician, china man, Mr Toad, fire bird… Stephanie was ecstatic over the fire bird, flapping her wings in front of the mirror. We had an awesome time!

Two hours in the V&A and we had barely scratched the surface, but London has so much more to offer. We walked to Hyde Park and rested our weary feet while reading the Evening Standard. It’s a free newspaper that is printed and distributed across London every evening. It’s so easy to stay abreast of current events here, even if the Duchess of Cambridge has dominated the front page for the past few days. I wanted Stephanie to see the park, so we strolled around the Serpentine – a lake in the centre of the park – parting the sea of ducks, geese, and pigeons. However, I was unaware of the damage done to the grounds by the Olympics. The northern portion of the park looks like a wasteland… But we walked onward, heading for Oxford Street so Stephanie could procure some leggings to accompany her outfit for the next day.

We embraced the madness and the horde of people shopping their way up and down the street, trying to locate a decent pair of leggings on a budget. Thus, we arrive at Primark. Far from a high end department store, Primark is good for the essentials. We dove into the crowd, hunting for the illusive leggings as Luna Lovegood hunted for the Crumple Horned Snorkack. Leggings in hand, our rumbly tumblies sent us in search of food. Continuing my duties as culinary London tour guide, we headed to a pub for a platter of fish and chips, another British staple. Our stomachs full and our palates quenched with a pint, Stephanie and I walked down Carnaby Street to Shaftesbury Avenue. This is where Hermione apparated in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows – Part 1. In the books, it’s Tottenham Court Rd, but that’s a minor detail. We wandered around M&M’s World for a bit and then walked down to Piccadilly Circus to see it all lit up. Piccadilly is London’s answer to Times Square. Bright, busy, and lots of people. Taking the photos required of all tourists and having successfully navigated our way through another culture packed day in London, Stephanie and I returned to our respective domiciles.


Pub food and pints.

Carnaby Street

Union Jack

God save the Queen.