Tuesday, June 16, 2009

London Weekend Trip

Alright, let's do this. London recap time. I'll try to keep it quick and dirty, and sprinkle in lots of photos.


I landed after a pretty quick flight-- it took serious effort to keep from watching Virgin Atlantic's stupendous programming and just try to sleep so I wouldn't be jetlagged. Heathrow Express, Paddington to South Kensington by way of Circle Line, and then a hop into the phone booth to call my friend C. I stayed at her flat on Queensgate.

Once I dropped off my stuff and took a quick shower, I headed straight back out. First, it was to High Street Ken to get my phone topped up and some coffee. I was still adjusting to the accents and the currency, and I'm afraid my brash almost-New Yorker attitude was a bit out of place. I asked for an ice coffee with milk and sugar and got a hot Americano. Next time, just make eye contact and say hello, Me.

Then to Old Street to drop into my former internship. First, I made sure to check Pret for my signature Chicken Avacado sandwich-- for you see, New York's Prets substituted vinaigrette for the yogurt dressing on the British sandwich. I know! The scandal! I enjoyed my healthy and delicious yogurt-dressed version and skipped over to work. My creative director was kind enough to look at my pitiful excuse of a portfolio and gave me tons of feedback. I have work to do now.

Then, it was back on the bus to Aldwych. I tried to be a smart ass and take a short cut to the Wyndhams Theatre to pick up my Hamlet tickets for Saturday, but of course I got hopelessly lost in SoHo. Easy mistake, ok? It's SoHo. Wandered around until I found a busy street and then figured out where I was going. Once in the theater, the box office man handed over my tickets and raised his eyebrows at me-- FRONT ROW SEATS, BITCHES. "Give my love to Jude," he laughed, and I practically floated out.

Like a good daughter, I went over to the Covent Garden Transport Museum to pick up some mugs, as directed, for my mom. It was also Pasty time, and I complied. C called, and she had just finished a big exam at London School of Economics: I was lucky enough to get a few drinks at the student pub with her and her mates on the street behind LSE. We decided to follow her friends out for the night. I squeezed in a half-nap (for some reason, I am not a talented napper, even when it's past 2 AM my time).

The first stop on the goingouttrain was actually Camden, thinking we were staying up there with C's friends. They wanted to go east instead. To Hoxton we went. The boyfriend of a friend of C (whew) told his friends to meet us at the stripclub-cum (heh)-bar next to The Aquarium, another place on Old Street. Believe it or not, we weren't too pleased with the venue, so we hung out on the quiet and beautiful rooftop until it was time to move along. They (and not I) suggested checking out Catch 22. Funnily enough, that's one of my favorite places in London. I led us over and tried not to skip too much.

A "let's see how it goes" turned into us dancing to the random DJ in the back (he played "Prince Ali" from Aladdin) and then closing down the place at 2. After getting chips (C) and falafel (me) and riding the bus back to South Ken, it was pretty late and I was hallucinating with the jet lag.


Saturday is, and always was, Borough Market Day. Thanks to my slight jetlag still hanging around, it was a bit tough to get out of bed. The thought of tasty nibbles made me do it. I was sure to grab a crêpe from Kensington Crêperie for the ride. The tube strike was over by then, but some genius decided to do repairs all weekend, soooo.... The Jubilee wasn't working. Not to worry! It's a pretty walk across the river from Monument. And for a nice surprise, the actual Monument was no longer under construction, as it had been all last year-- here's my first sight of it.

I wanted to take some good photos of the market, but I still stopped for strawberry/vanilla jam, yogurt-covered cranberries, and a stroll around the place.

Last year, I usually skipped Portobello Road unless I needed to find something. This time, I wanted a leather motorcycle jacket. Thanks to it being summer, the markets were absolutely flooded with tourists and randos all weekend. Notting Hill was nooo exception.

No motorcycle jacket when I finally made it down to Ladbroke Grove (ARGH-- wading through tourists = boring), so I took the shortcut walk. The shortcut walk is actually just go down any street that's not Portobello and take a bus if it drives past.

Last market of the day was Camden. C and her friend met me at the Lock bars after I ran around and checked out my favorite vintage places. Pimms Cups and houseboat heckling was the order of the afternoon. And that is what we did.

A quick snack of Japanese noodles and then we were off to South Ken to drop off our heavy bags and get tarted up-- for it was time to see Jude Law in Hamlet.
(from here)

After the amazing showing of Othello last year, I decided to just go ahead and get tickets for the next year's production of Hamlet. They weren't expensive and worst case, I could sell them back. Weeelll, "next year" turned into this year, and I decided to come back for a visit and go to the theater.

SO glad I did, because the seats were fucking amazing. We were all the way stage right, front row, and ended up being about 3 feet from the actors for most of the show. When Jude Law wasn't front and center, he was quite often right in front of us. I had to worry about being spit on, or getting wine splashed when the King died. The man's performance was shockingly good-- his looks are stunning, of course (Those lips! Those eyes!), but his voice and his humor brought a twisted side to the character. The other performers were amazing as well, and I recognized an actor from Othello: he had signed my program and was still sexy.

Once the show was over, we headed over to Café Bohème for a kir and then tried to saunter back and casually hang out by the stage door of the Wyndhams. After a few minutes, we got sheepish and decided Jude had probably left after a full day of performing. Being so close to him for 4 hours was pretty intimate, anyways. We ran through the rain to get Subway-- on the way passing the new Blow Up's home in Piccadilly Circus (ugghhhhh)-- then got the tube home.


Originally, I was going to try and find the Columbia Road Flower Market. But. I needed an extra half hour of sleep and then I got on the wrong bus. After an unintentional tour of Chelsea and Fulham-- lovely, of course-- and a much longer trip and more boroughs traversed than I'd like to admit, I bailed at Shoreditch High Street and just walked to Spitalfields for tea and something to eat.

I had had an Eccles cake from St. John in Smithfield, thanks to my former boss. They recently got a Michelin star and opened up a more casual restaurant and bakery in Spitalfields, so I was hellbent on finding it and getting another cake. Unfortunately, I went about it all wrong. I grabbed a tea to "take away" at a cute bakery and asked for directions to St. John. It was right around the corner. I meandered into the white walled Michelin-starred restaurant, with my styrofoam cup, and asked the very smart-looking and fancy manager (in my American accent): "Do you do take away?"

I blushed, he blushed, the hot chef who was watching me from behind the gorgeous marble counter blushed. It was horrible. I very quickly tried to fix things-- "Uh uh I mean, your bakery? For an Eccles cake??"* He was very relieved I didn't want bone marrow with pickle relish or whatever-the-fuck in a doggie bag, and ushered me over to the bakery.

Long(ish) story short, Eccles cake was amazing: the brown sugar wasn't completely melted, so it was a little crunchy with the smooth currents and the flaky pastry. I ate it in my alleyway of shame, with my cup of tea, as tourists wandered past and peered at the weird girl in smeared red lipstick licking her fingers.

*I also don't know how to say "Eccles cake" and it's very possible I did it wrong.

Spitalfields is a good gateway to Saturday, because it's got good stuff but nothing I really die to buy or care if I missed it. However. This time, I did buy a beautiful ink-and-watercolor piece of ahrt that looks like this:
(from here)

C met me and we did another spin around Spitalfields (SO CROWDED and it's completely sold out, restaurant chain-wise) and then headed to Absolute Vintage. From there, it was the typical Sunday trek: Sunday (Up)Market, Brick Lane, Beyond Retro.

As I had a person with me, we also got to go for a drink at the beer garden at the Old Truman Brewery.

We got hungry so we grabbed the Circle Line and popped back to High Street Ken. I popped into Whole Foods and then C took me for my first trip to Ann Summers ever (eek!). I wanted to eat at Waterloo and, thanks to the Jubilee being closed, it was just easier to get off at Westminster (oh hai Houses of Parliament!) and walk across the river. It was such a beautiful night after a beautiful day, and I had "Waterloo Sunset" stuck in my head for hours.

I really wanted to eat at the Anchor and Hope. Jess and I had eaten there in the first week or two of being in London last year, and I was psyched off my head to go back.

It was closed. Blurg!

We had seafood at Livebait instead, which was quite nice. We stuffed ourselves and toddled back across the river to Aldwych, stopping to let me take more blurry pictures of the City at night.

As we waited for the 9, an older Indian man and his son asked for directions to the casino near by our flat-- thanks to months of walking past it on the way to South Ken, I could steer him there quite easily. He also wanted to know where some good "table dancing clubs" were located, and then explained he was going to win some money and then check out some strippers. We didn't really know of any good places, believe it or not, but I think he was happy with our directions to the Natural History Museum.

I took a long stroll around the neighborhood when I got back. My favorite trivia night and local, the Drayton Arms, has just been remodeled and the inside looks beautiful and slightly less cave-like. I wish I had more time there so I could have checked out the fairy lights and chandeliers, but alas. Some Secret Confessions of a Callgirl with C made it better.


The two things on my list I hadn't done were Chelsea Physic Garden (closed) and Kenwood House (way too far). Shoot! I watched some excellent British reality TV about a family while I got ready and just decided to wander around South Ken until I had to leave for the airport.

I ended up in front of the Michelin House and then did a big swoop around the V&A and then to the Kensington Palace. What a beautiful place! If I'd known about it earlier, I definitely would have dragged someone over there to get tea in the Orangerie. Instead, I took some photos and went to the north edge of the park. Quick bus to Oxford Street and then I peeked into Liberty (sale!) and Carnaby Street.

The buses at Oxford Street were being real bitches because of construction so I walked down Regent's Street to Piccadilly Circus and grabbed the 9 back to Gloucester Road. My excellent, advanced palate had been craving a curry chicken sandwich from the Sandwich Shoppe on Gloucester (it's a 2 pound sandwich and the place is always filled with builders and yes, I was being sarcastic about my good taste). I also got some Ribena and ate on the walk back to the flat.

(rest of the London photos here)

One thing that struck me about this weekend? Lots of people asking for directions. The Indian men looking for casinos and strippers were one; the Indian lady who wanted to know how to get to Harrods from Lancaster Gate was another. She would not believe me that there wasn't a direct bus straight to Harrods's front door, so I let her judge me for being a dumb American and she got to walk. The last was a builder who interrupted the last of my chicken curry sandwich lunch on the front steps of 123 to ask where to get a kebab or something. I tore myself away from watching screaming British children in matching uniforms play across the street to help him out.

The ride to the airport was uneventful, thankfully. Virgin upgraded me to Premium Economy for no reason whatsoever (love you bitches!!) and I ended up sitting next to Lloyd Levin in the bulkhead seat. He produced Watchmen, among others. And he was reading a script! How glamorous! I was a complete spaz the whole trip (very jittery and moved around a lot-- not to mention I peeked at his name as he was filling out his landing card, which puts me in creeper territory). He probably noticed me watching the opening credits of his movie before I decided to rent the DVD and see it again in higher quality. Yea, I went to the midnight show... what of it?

In summation, I:
-found some new British TV to check out online. I've already plowed through No Heroics and got introduced to Michael McIntyre. James May has a new show with someone called Oz about drinking in Britain. Star Stories: Elton John nearly gave me a stroke from laughing so hard. Plus, I just gave in and bought Being Human and Demons because I'll never get around to watching if it's low-quality crap online. Perusing the channel guides in the gossip rags, there's a ton more stuff to see and I'm going to try.
-bought Jamie Oliver's magazine. I love. It's like his At Home book.
-got my caramel Dutch cookies, and my all-strawberry Starbursts called Fruit-tella. Aaand some BBQ Hula Hoops and Chicken Walkers. Genius.
-remembered some really shitty, stupid stuff about London. Like lack of trash bins on the tube and the street!! And Spanish tourists everywhere!
-was relieved the exchange rate had dropped from "alarming and panic-enducing" to "mildly offputting"
-nearly tripped over a Pret every damn where I went. That place is delicious and I love it, but give it a rest!
-slid back into saying "Sorry" or "Pardon" with a British accent when I bumped into someone. It's completely unconscious, like a coping mechanism to prevent people attacking the silly American. Instead, I just become a silly Brit, in their eyes.
-got told I could "make my rent quickly" by some builders sitting outside of Beyond Retro. Still not sure how I feel about that.

It was so exhausting, being a tourist. Squeezing everything in with jetlag and tiredness from the sun and somewhat hot weather is difficult. I want to live there again. Working on it.

Really good trip.


Heather said...

Awesome recap, gorgeous photos! Made me very London-sick. So jealous of your trip :)

Also, at first glance, I thought your closing line read "Jolly good trip" instead of "Really good trip". Your play-by-play commentary and tales of slipping back into the "sorrys" and "pardons" (I can so relate) must have transported me back there!

Heather said...

Oh, and by the way, was Hamlet not meant to be playing at the Donmar, like Othello? Or am I confused?

Anna said...

Thanks Heather! Hamlet was put on and produced by Donmar (for example, they used some cast members from Othello), and the Wyndhams was being called "Donmar West End".

Heather said...

Ahh, thanks for clarifying...

And really - these photos are beautiful! I just scrolled through them again. It's a perfect tour of the city.

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