Saturday, October 11, 2014

Saturday: Shopping & Pies & Something Sweet

At least if I had to suffer
a day of shopping,
I could appreciate
how awesome the stores
looked from the outside.
Before I dig into our final full day in London, I need to clarify that I loathe shopping.  I don’t mind buying gifts for people.  However, I prefer to know what they are and where to find them.  And I enjoy window shopping, looking at pretty things with no intention or even desire to buy anything.  I also love bargains, which is why I love buying books at a library book sale because I also love buying books so it’s twice as wonderful to buy books at a bargain.  And if I find something I love while window shopping, there’s something delightful about returning to the shop and find it’s on sale. 

But my idea of a good time does not involve shopping.  So I was dreading Saturday in London. Why?  Well, when I had planned the itinerary, I had purposely shoved the shopping into the very first full day of our trip, hoping to get it done and out of the way.  Rob’s being sick kept us from going shopping that first Sunday.  Every day we went out, I looked for and hoped we’d find something everywhere we went to give as gifts. My logic, my hope, my expectation was that I would easily find something for everyone given how many places we would go.  British Museum.  Tate Britain.  Hampton Court.  London Tower.  National Portrait Gallery.  National Gallery.  Surely, that would be enough for us to find something for everyone. 

In planning the trip, Saturday was set aside. If we did not find gifts for anyone and everyone, we would go shopping.  If, however, we had all the kids we could afford and/or desire, we would go to Hatfield Place, the ancestral home of a certain Robert William Cecil, Jr.  Or we might go back to one of the sights we had visited that we felt deserved another visit or we couldn’t finish seeing.  Like the National Gallery, with all the paintings we missed because we had to rush off for the London Walk.

Believe it or not,
we didn't buy even one
of these incredibly
yummy looking
So Saturday morning, we woke up and I knew we were going to go shopping. 

Yeah.  You can imagine how “thrilled” I was to spend my last day in London doing something I loathe.

We took a taxi to Camden Market which was a wonderful choice.  We arrived early, before most of the crowds.  Some of the stores and shops weren’t even open but we started browsing right away.  It is impossible for me to begin to describe the plethora of items we saw.  Suffice it to say, we were able to find some really great gifts for everyone (and some not-so-great gifts as well). 

Before leaving for London, Rob was hoping he could find a replacement cuff or something Celtic, to replace the one he used to wear that wore out and broke.  That happens with such things so it wasn’t a terrible disappointment.  Finding a new one in London, however, would have been perfect.  And he did.  He found one he liked.  In the meantime, I found gifts for all of the children, a scarf for Kanika, and even a little something for myself. 

Throughout the trip, Rob complained that I didn’t get anything for myself.  But I did.  I got a book at the British Museum.  And a postcard.  I bought myself a thimble and a quill pen at Hampton Court.  And more books.  We may not have gone to Westminster Abbey but we went to the gift shop to pick up something for Rob’s mother and I bought myself another postcard and some pen nibs.  See?  I had things.  But he kept insisting I needed more and, at the market, I found a book, a blank book, made with paper that had flowers in it.  This felt perfect for me because I had been so consumed with eating flowers that there was a sort of symbolic parallel to writing on papers with flowers. 

♥ ♥ ♥
As we shopped, it became increasingly crowded.  We decided to leave.  We decided to leave because we had promised Kanika we would buy Steven a football t-shirt.  He sent us a long list of team names and headed to a shop that the concierge recommended to us.  By some perverse twist of fate, there was an American football event occurring that weekend and all of Regent’s Street was shut down, overflowing with crowds and bandstands, and noise, noise, noise, noise, noise.  My heart grew three times smaller as we took a cab into yet another crowd of people to hopefully purchase this shirt for a friend. 

We found ourselves back in Soho, walking the now familiar streets and some unfamiliar streets.  For lunch, we meandered over to Chinatown where we found a buffet.  I had hoped to have some dim sum.  I’d wanted dim sum when we went to New York.  Finding myself in Chinatown, I hoped we might finally get me some.  We didn’t.  No dim sum at all.  Bah humbug.  Still, the food was good enough.  And while in Chinatown, we found a couple more gifts for our granddaughter and niece.

Back at the hotel, I spread out the gifts and was not satisfied with what we had for Bibi.  Rob agreed.  She needed more.  She needed a Paddington Bear toy.  Which explains how, even after all that shopping and how much pain I was experiencing, we ended up heading out to Hamley’s to do more shopping.  Ugh!  We came away with two bears and a third toy, this one for me and Rob. 

Although we had passed
the Queen Victoria Memorial
several times, this time
Rob stopped to take a pic.
I was able to rest with my legs up for a little while before we headed off for our final dinner in London.  Where did we choose to go?  Back to Chimes where Rob had the Poacher’s Pie and I had the Shepherd’s Pie.  I was tempted to order the bread and butter pudding, since Rob hadn’t been so generous with sharing it the first time as I had hoped he would be.  Rob talked me out of it because, as he reminded me, I had planned on ordering the cheesecake with rose petal ice cream from room service anyway.  No reason for me to give into the temptation.  Rob ordered some ice cream for himself.  Only, my dessert arrived with coffee ice cream.  It took me a minute to realize that I received the wrong dessert.  I called room service and they delivered the correct dessert, free of charge.  Rob and I shared the mis-delivered dessert. 

Extra dessert at the end of our trip?  Can you see why I keep saying that the trip was wonderful, in spite of the wasted sick days and the leg pain I experienced?  Is it so hard to imagine why it is that here I am two weeks later still dreaming every night (but one) about London?  I wasn’t ready or even wanting to leave.  But I missed my loved ones enough to get back on a plane and return home in spite of having fallen in love with London.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Friday Fun From Galleries to Music to Food

Just another mutant pigeon.
This is the day, I was nearly
assaulted by one of these beasts.
Friday was perhaps our most poorly planned day because we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into.  We knew what we wanted to do:  go to the National Portrait Gallery, go to the National Gallery, go on a London Walk, and go out for dinner.  Yes, I know that sounds like a lot but we didn’t want to see a lot at the National Portrait Gallery.  We just wanted to see the Tudor portraits and bounce over to the National Gallery.  And we didn’t have to be at the walk until 2pm so it seemed like we could do it.

So what went wrong? 

Well, whereas the British Museum is a lot of objects—jars, bowls, mummies, textiles, statues, etc.—the National Gallery is paintings.  And Rob and I love paintings.  We could have easily spent an entire day at the National Gallery and have a wonderful time.  But that isn’t what we had planned. 

Cecil and Cecil.
We went into the National Portrait Gallery first because we were hoping they would have Robert Cecil’s portrait hanging up.  We did not find it because they rotate some of the paintings and his was not on display but his father’s was.  Which is how I got a picture of Rob standing beside the portrait of one of his ancestors. 

They also had a special exhibit of some of the Tudor portraits with detailed explanations of the purpose of the portrait, the changes that were made, and more.  The way the paint faded and how they used silver to give the pearls a sheen but, over time, the silver has tarnished and cannot be polished without causing damage to the painting so the pearls have a black spot. 

Honestly, I could blabber on about the portraits until you’d wish I would just move on to the next part of our day so I think I’ll do that now.  We left the National Portrait Gallery and moved on to the National Gallery itself.  I quickly realized that we could not possibly view everything.  There simply wasn’t enough time and Rob and I could not just breeze through the various galleries.  We tried.  We truly did.  We stopped for lunch at the café.  I had a bowl of soup (a curry spiced one) with a quiche.  We then decided not to torture ourselves with more paintings (maybe on our next trip, we’ll set aside a full day for the National Gallery) and, instead, explored the gift shop, still hoping to find things for too many people. 

Rob had already taken
a picture of this building
which was part of our walking tour.
We left and walked over to where the London Walk Rock ‘n Roll tour would begin.  I highly recommend the London Walk tours because I wasn’t even that enthusiastic about the tour we were going on (mostly because my legs were killing me and my feet were throbbing with pain) but I had a great time.  The tour guide, Adam, walked us through the history of rock ‘n roll in Britain, from skiffle to punk.  He was an entertaining tour guide and even touched on some of the architectural details of a few of the buildings.   

The walk was about 2 hours long and we were walking along streets we had traversed several times already so we felt like we were learning about familiar territory.  When the tour was over, we were both ready to return to the hotel and relax a bit before going out to dinner. 

We had planned on going to one nice restaurant while we were in London and chose to go to the Bistro which was very close to our hotel.  I had a butternut squash soup with allspice pecans followed by chicken tikka masala.  It was wonderful.  For dessert, I had the deconstructed tiramisu and, yes, mostly because it was served with flowers.  After our glorious feast, we ended the night in our hotel room watching Hugo which I think actually did justice to a marvelous book. 

Doesn't it look delicious?
Hi.  My name is Satia and I’m addicted to eating flowers.

So, all in all, it was a long day with a lot of walking, ending with a sublime meal.  The only problem was I still didn’t have any gifts for anyone.  Well, I had a few token gifts for my kids and a book or two for Bibi.  But over all, there were still so many people on our gift list that I knew we would have to do the most dreaded and horrible thing of all on Saturday, our final day in London.  We would have to go shopping.  Ugh.

On the plus side, we had to go out and buy something for Rob anyway so what’s ten or twenty more blocks of walking anyway?  *sigh*

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Thursday: Towers and Tombs

I didn't realize Rob was
taking my picture.
Once Rob was feeling better, our trip became all I could have hoped it would be, except for the incredible amount of pain I was in at the end of each day’s walk.  Thursday morning, we woke up to a little rain but I was optimistic because it didn’t look or feel like it would be a lot of rain.  I am happy to say that I was right.  We took the Underground to London Tower, once again able to follow the signs to our destination which was a short walk away.

I won’t bore you with the history of the Tower too much.  Suffice it to say, parts of it are very old while other parts are more contemporary, by which I mean they are still 100s of years old.  This year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the first World War.  Between 5 August and 11 November, there is a special installation that is still growing even as you read this. There are porcelain poppies being planted, one for each British soldier who died in the war.  They are each handmaid, unique as the soldiers who fell somewhere in Europe during the so-called Great War.   You can learn more about it here. Rob and I ordered a one of the poppies as the perfect memento of our visit, something unique, specific to this visit.  Had we gone in July, we wouldn’t have seen this stunning installation.  And a few weeks from now, the flowers will be gone but one will find its way to the United States and we will put it someplace special.

There is a place where you
literally walk under
a wave of poppies.

I’ve said before that our timing has been impeccable and, once again, this held true.  We went to the crown jewels and there were only three other people in the room with us.  We were able to read the detailed information about the crowns and then step on the slow travellator to admire the sparkly prettiness.  There aren’t a lot of crowns but they are not all there is to admire and, because we were alone in the room, we went on the moving floor more than once.  Of course, I had to stop to look at the pretty sword and other things, marveled at the huge salt cellar shaped like a palace, and more.  It’s amazing Rob was able to get me out of there, all things considered. 

We walked all over the Tower, exploring the torture dungeons (although not a lot of tortures occurred there) and the courtyard where three queens were beheaded:  Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard (one of Rob’s ancestors), and Jane Grey.  If you go to the Tower, be prepared to do a lot of walking, up and down narrow steps, along the Tower walls, and more.  Walking through the narrow corridors, exploring the royal armoury, including a quirky dragon made from medieval weapons and armour.  (I loved the dragon.  It was so weird and random.)  There are some interactive features for children which I enjoyed in spite of my age. 

This guy was at least
6 ft tall.
Remember what I said about some of the pigeons being unusually large?  Well, the ravens at the Tower of London were enormous.  There is a legend that, if the ravens leave the Tower, the kingdom will fall but that doesn’t explain why they are so huge! 

We left the Tower and decided to have lunch after the next leg on our day.  Before leaving for London, I had found an old cemetery, Tower Hamlets Cemetery, that was originally opened in the 19th century and closed for burials in the 60s.  Rob and I weren’t looking for famous burials so much as a simple cemetery with old tombstones.  The choice was perfect. 

I could not have anticipated the emotional experience of visiting the cemetery.  The gravesites were so tightly packed some of the tombstones that had started falling over would knock another askew.  In some places, the tombstones had toppled onto one another.  Others were overgrown with ivy or covered in moss.  It was all so beautiful but also very sad because I couldn’t help thinking about how 100 or more years ago someone had loved another person enough to have them buried and a tombstone carved yet, over time, the descendants either moved away or forgot about this person’s resting place, leaving it to fall into decay. 

Falling stones.
It was tragic and beautiful, a reminder of the impermanence of life and death.

We headed back  to the hotel, long after I wanted to eat, and dropped off the things I had picked up at the Tower before heading off to Chimes, a wonderful pub where we had our first fully gratifying meal.  Rob had Shepherd’s Pie and I had Bangers and Mash.  We finished it off with a perfect Bread and Butter pudding which we were supposed to share but which Rob practically inhaled.  I highly encourage anyone interested in a lovely pub food experience to go to Chimes. 

Back at the hotel room, I took a nap.  It was such a lovely, full day, I could have stayed in the room and be content but we went out for dinner.  We chose a Turkish restaurant where Rob had some lamb and I had a salmon and pasta dish.  Truth is, we weren’t there for the main course so much as for the dessert because I had been wanting Turkish baklava for decades.  (I am not exaggerating.  I haven’t had any since I was 16 and it was amazing!)  Turkish baklava is made with pistachio nuts and the honey is lighter, more subtle, than in Greek baklava which is made with walnuts.  Rob ordered some baklava for himself to take it back to our room, it was that delicious.

In an odd way, this Thursday was perhaps the best day of our trip.  But it wasn’t our last and there was still fun to be had.  A lot more fun to be had.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

And Where Did We Go on Wednesday?

Yesterday, Rob ordered a book on afternoon tea, just to give you some idea of how affected we were by our trip.  He had already bought some scone mixes as well.  We won’t be indulging in our own afternoon tea experience any time soon.  Rob is working a lot and heading out of town on top of that.  Who knows?  We may not do it until Thanksgiving.

But I’m supposed to be writing about our trip. 

Wednesday morning, we were having breakfast, planning out our day.  Rob bought an app to assist us in navigating our way through London.  Fortunately, we very quickly learned that the app was misleading us and, had we followed it, we would have never reached our destination.  I honestly cannot praise the employees at the Taj Hotel enough.  They were able to explain the best way we could get from the hotel to our final destination:  Hampton Court.

This was to be our one and only big excursion.  Had we been in London longer, we would have gone to a palace further away or visited Cambridge or Oxford.  We had considered also going to Hatfield Place but Rob’s being sick precluded any hope we had of doing that as well.  After all, Rob really wanted to do some shopping and we had planned to do some on our first Sunday there.  We had not found many gifts for anyone thus far so we were anticipating (or dreading, in my case) the inevitable day of shopping on Saturday.

Surely I’d find something fabulous at Hampton Court, right?  Not so much.  Still, I had a wonderful time.  It’s relatively easy to get to Hampton Court from London.  You just take a train and there’s a short walk which is well marked from the station to the palace.  And there it is, just across the street from a gardening shop and a pub.  I am still amazed by the confluence of contemporary living with these historical places I’ve so longed to see. 

Hampton Court has some actors walking around in costume, not unlike one would find at the Renaissance Festival.  At Hampton Court, you get to follow Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, and others as they describe the political climate surrounding the King’s Great Matter.  These actors move throughout one part because Hampton Court itself is divided into two different eras—Tudor and Stuart.  We went through the Tudor section and most slowly.  One of the things I noticed is how the various rooms smelled.  Smoke and slightly herbal.  It smelled old but not stale. 

We didn’t follow the actors although we did watch the first of the Henry the VIII actors and we later stumbled upon the King George I reenactment.  I wasn’t aware there was so much drama at Hampton Court even decades after Henry had died.  We didn’t immediately leave, learned enough to know about the court’s intrigue, and now I want to read more about British history. 

I don’t think I’m going to turn into an Anglophile but anything is possible.

We ate lunch there in a kitchen built at Elizabeth I’s urging before continuing our exploration in the gardens, which are lovely.  I can only imagine their splendor in the spring but they were pretty enough to be enjoyed and the weather was prefect.  Not too warm.  We saw the tennis courts, the oldest so far as I can tell, which are still in use.  Two people were playing a game as we wandered by.  There were some beautiful swans all about the property and other water fowl.  Truly, enchanting.  I had to remind myself that, as lovely as things were, what I was seeing was the crème de la crème, that those who lived in poverty did not experience anything even close to what I was witnessing and could only dream of seeing it as up close and person as I was on this visit. 

When we left, I was still in the afterglow.  After all, I had fallen in love with Anne Boleyn’s story when I was eight years old and became passionate about Elizabeth I so much so that my mother bought me a copy of Elizabeth Jenkin’s biography of the monarch.  I didn’t even mind that we had nothing else on our agenda for the day. I was content. I had seen one of the familiar portraits of Henry VIII, his crown, another portrait of his family, walked the same corridors he and Anne and Elizabeth had walked.   

Back in our room, we relaxed until it was time to go out for dinner.  Naturally, we headed downstairs for canapés first.  Then we did something anathema to many but perfect for us.  We went out for pizza.  Now, being from New York, I fully confess that I am a bit of a pizza snob.  Mind you, my children and I all agree even bad pizza is good.  We decided to go to Pizza Express, a chain pizza place in London.  Our expectations were low (or maybe I should say my expectations were low) and the pizza was mediocre.  The place was packed, noisy, and a bit overwhelming because of that.   

Now that I write this, I realize an irony.  Everywhere we went, we managed to avoid crowds, except when we went out to eat the first few nights.  We would walk up to things and there would be no line whatsoever or, if there was a queue, we would decide to come back later and, when we returned, find none.  It was quite amazing.  While others were hustled through certain exhibits, such as Henry VIII’s crown, Rob and I could linger, walk around it more than once, to fully take in the tiny details of what we were seeing. 

And we have big plans for what we would see the next day, plans that exceeded our expectations, even though the pizza did not.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Tuesday at the Tate Britain and a Little Afternoon Tea

Traditional breakfast
See the flowers on the eggs?
Having survived a full day out and about, Rob and I were ready to tackle our Tuesday.  I had rescheduled our Afternoon Tea for Tuesday (originally scheduled for Sunday) but we had other plans for the morning. Specifically:  The Tate Britain.

But first, we had breakfast and I chose the traditional British breakfast, complete with beans and black pudding.  It was a lot and I have to say I was surprised by how bland the black pudding is.  Disappointing only because it was not at all what I had expected. 

The museum had been recommended to us by my stepsister, although she may have meant the Tate Modern.  It doesn’t matter because we had a wonderful time, exploring the individual rooms.  A few of them were quite warm, one so much so that I stepped into it, glanced around and, not seeing anything that grabbed my immediate attention, I stepped back out.  Rob saw, then followed, my example.  But missing out on one or two rooms was not enough to keep us from having an amazing experience.  And Rob obliged me by allowing me to drag him up to the Blake exhibit. I was surprised and enchanted to see some of the pages I have only seen in books.

We saw this sign on our walk
to the Tate Britain
I had planned for this to be our morning experience and then we were going to slip into Westminster Abbey before going to the hotel.  We never went, walking by because Rob wanted to get back to the hotel and rest a bit before we had Afternoon Tea. 

The tea was lovely, from bottom to top.  Rob and I each ate taking turns, sharing our thoughts.  We were the only ones in the room and Giorgio, the young man who was so wonderful serving me drinks and canapés my first night at the hotel, was there being attentive to our needs.  The sandwiches were larger than I had expected and so delicious.  As always, everything was served with flowers.  Yay!  The scones were served with clotted cream and jam, no lemon curd.  Apparently it is not necessarily traditional to have curd, depends somewhat on where you are, what part of England, etc.  See?  I learned things while in London.

So pretty.
So yummy.
The desserts at the top were elegant with a clear jelly topped with a berry purée, a Battenburg cake (so pretty), a small fruit tart, and a sponge cake.  It was all so elegant but Rob and I were sort of goofy, having so much fun, and not being the least bit dignified.  Thankfully, because we were alone in the Library, we didn’t embarrass our nation before witnesses. 

After tea, I decided to take a bath.  My legs were in a lot of pain from all of the walking and even Rob, whose work keeps him walking and standing most of the time.  I had thought maybe I was hurting so much due to lack of exercise and, while I won’t imply it isn’t part of why I was so uncomfortable, I took some comfort knowing Rob was experiencing some pain as well.  He decided to go to the store and buy some ibuprofen.  Because of his delicate stomach, he asked for some with coating.  The pharmacist reached behind him and pulled out a box of ibuprofen with codeine. 

Apparently, you can buy codeine over the counter in England, something neither of us had expected.  A friend of mine had actually encouraged me to do just this—go to a drug store and see what drugs they have that we can’t get here in the US and bring them home with me.  I guess I’m too conservative and straight-edge (something of which nobody would EVER accuse me) because I had no interest in trying to sneak illicit drugs into the country, even if they are OTC in the country I’m leaving.

Now, I could have happily skipped dinner, had some canapés in the Library and been done for the night.  Rob, however, wanted to go out and eat so off we went to find another place to have something to eat.  We ended up finding a place that is probably a chain.  It had that “chain” vibe.  It was very noisy, crowded, and offered some traditional options. Rob ordered a steak pie and I ordered a chicken one.  But I was not impressed.  The afternoon tea was more impressive and satisfying. 

I went to bed, knowing I had eaten entirely too much for the day and looking forward to tomorrow because we had big plans for the next day, plans I had been dreaming of since I was a little girl.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Monday in London (with bonus pictures)

Rob took a lot of pictures.
You can imagine with what anticipation we ordered Monday morning’s breakfast to be delivered to our room.  I didn’t want to eat in the room, obviously, more than ready at this point to get out and do something, anything, but stay there, but I also didn’t want to go downstairs for breakfast and have to leave prematurely because Rob’s stomach was upset again.

We didn’t need to worry, however.  Breakfast arrived and we were able to enjoy it to the fullest. Rob’s order still played it safe—toast and eggs.  I kept my meal simple as well, knowing that the aroma of food was potentially nauseating. 

Both of us ate our food with pleasure and we were finally able to make plans to leave the hotel.  Now, if you take the time to look at our tentative itinerary, you’ll see that we had already missed out on a lot of exciting things, including going to the first Irish pub in London, seeing the changing of the guard, an afternoon tea, walks through one or more parks and other landmarks.  With Rob finally feeling strong enough to brave the real world, we picked up our tentative itinerary where it ought to be, not backtracking at all.

You can't even imagine how many.
We headed to the British Museum.  We could have taken a bus or cab but preferred to walk from the hotel to the museum.  Can you blame us?  We had been mostly sitting since Friday afternoon. 

We walked by Buckingham Palace, past the Queen Victoria Memorial, walked along the Mall, Through Charing Cross, Leicester Square, with Rob stopping to take pictures along the way.  In other words, we saw many things along the way that surprised and delighted us. 

This is made of porcelain
Before we left the hotel, I had told Rob about the pigeons but he didn’t believe me.  I grew up in NY so I know from pigeons but, when I went out to get medicine for Rob, I was surprised to see how very large some of the pigeons were.  I’ve seen full grown chickens that are smaller than these pigeons.  Okay.  I exaggerate slightly but, believe me, the pigeons in London could easily kick some NY city pigeon tail-feathers. 

He believed me before we reached the museum and no longer wasted breath accusing me of exaggeration.  If he had already seen the ravens of London Tower, I’ll bet he would not have wasted a moment’s breath debating my veracity.  However, we had not yet experienced the enormity of the ravens so it is understandable that he would treat my pigeon warnings casually.

We arrived at the museum with time to spare.  We paid for some water and then I explored the gift shop until the exhibits officially opened.  Rob wanted to see the Egyptian exhibit most of all and we explored to our heart’s content until it was time to head to the Japanese exhibit because the museum offers free educational tours. 

My tart on a pretty plate.
After the tour, we went to have lunch, looking at the menu of a café.  We ended up eating at the Great Court.  Rob had a mushroom soup while I ordered a caramelized onion and dolce latte tart with a chive sauce.  I had a taste of Rob’s soup and it was delicious.  The tart I ordered was good when eaten as a whole—pastry with onions with sauce.  However, the individual parts were themselves, not tasty.  This interested me because the different elements should stand on their own yet the overall effect of the three was quite good.

We then moved on to the rest of the museum, going through the Sutton Hoo and medieval exhibits and so much more that I honestly couldn’t list them all without boring you.  Our trip ended with my buying a book and postcard.  We tried to find something other than books for gifts but everything I found was a book and Rob wanted to wait and see if we could find other things.  (Remember:  Rob loves to shop so I suspect he was hoping we would get to the end of our trip without gifts and would perforce have to spend a day shopping.)

Rob photobombs
a pic I'm taking of a store.
Walking home, however, was rough.  I don’t know if the pain was due to my being unaccustomed to walking, thanks to my being stuck in bed for almost the entire summer.  Or if the uneven ground, the occasional cobblestone paths and such were too difficult for me.  After all, I have a hard enough time walking with ease on a perfectly smooth surface.  You can imagine how much more challenging all of this was.  Rob ended up getting a cab for us, much to my relief.

Back at the hotel, we ordered another DVD and I took a hot shower, trying to steam away some of the pain in my body.  But they delivered the wrong DVD and we had to request an exchange.  I mention this because the concierge who brought the correct DVD became our go-to-guy, telling us where we could go for different things, showing us shortcuts, and encouraging us to have a more British London experience.  Honestly, the attention the staff at the Taj Hotel provides is superlative!

We headed off for a simple meal.  Rob had wanted fish & chips.  Because he was feeling better and had been able to keep food down.  I had a bowl of minestrone soup.  We both found the food uninspired.  After dinner, we went back to the hotel where I enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine (far better than my soup) and we watched the DVD. 

It was our first day of fully enjoying our trip to London.  From beginning to end, we had a wonderful time, even when the food wasn’t living up to our expectations.  One doesn’t have to have good food to have a good time.  Having Rob healthy and able to enjoy our holiday was good enough for me.

Rob took this picture for me because
this gorgeous lion reminded me of Holly.

Every morning, the paper arrives
in one of these burlap bags.
Rob enjoying his soup at the museum.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

London: First Sunday

I took a picture of the pub
on the corner hoping
not to get lost.
Sunday, Rob rallied and we both went down to breakfast.

Now, let me explain that this lovely hotel offered us a free breakfast that included a buffet.  The buffet was quite lovely, including fresh fruit, a caprese salad, some protein (slices of lox or turkey, mostly), muesli cereal (what they had also left for us in our room), some baked goods (mini muffins and tiny loaves of banana bread), yogurt, and such.  On top of that, you could order anything you wanted and I wanted food!  I ordered eggs and bacon and hashbrows and COFFEE!  I mean, it’s nice to have an espresso machine in your room but that’s a tiny amount of liquid and I’m used to massive cups (really soup bowls) of coffee.   Rob ordered some eggs and toast.  Something simple.  Nothing too dramatic.

But wait, I’m not done!  When they brought us the coffee, they also brought a basket with two croissants and four pastries—strudel with pear or cherries or berries, sometimes with chocolate.  It changed from day to day, what pastries you would get, but the croissants were always there and always delicious.

Rob still sick.
Rob was too sick to eat.  We ended up asking if we could take the pastries up to our room for when he, hopefully, would feel better.  He collapsed in bed and I tried not to pout.  It should come as no surprise that I had taken books with me on the trip. What will likely surprise you (I know it surprised me) is that I didn’t do much reading at all.  It wasn’t even that I avoided reading.  I simply didn’t care to pick up a book or open my kindle.  I was avoiding everything, including words. 

Okay.  Maybe I was pouting.  After all, here we were in a city neither of us had ever been, in a country neither of us had ever been, on a continent neither of us had ever been.  Can you really blame me for being a bit disappointed that Rob was still feeling too icky to do anything but stay in bed? 

I decided to go to the store for Rob and buy him some soup.  After all, we had a kitchen, complete with pots and pans.  I could make him something if I had the resources.  So off to the market I went.  I found a small store with aisles wider than they have in NY stores but not a lot of variety.  There were three types of soup offered:  tomato, cream of mushroom, cream of chicken.  I went ahead and bought the tomato and mushroom soups.  I then went to the local pharmacy for some Pepto Bismol but it was still closed.  So I shuffled off around the corner for a cup of coffee at Café Nero.

Death by
whipped cream
Café Nero is almost as ubiquitous in London as Starbucks is in the US which is why I boggled to see several of the latter scattered around the city during our travels.  But I can go to Starbucks in the US any time and, although I had promised my son I’d go to Starbucks once while there, I wanted to try a London coffee shop more.  I ordered a white chocolate mocha and said “Yes” to the offer of whipped cream.

Lesson learned.  I should have said “Yes but not a lot, thank you” because this is what I got.  Mind you, the cup is about as tall as my hand is long and, in case you can’t tell because of the angle, the whipped cream is as tall, if not taller, than the cup.  There was simply no way to even take a first sip of this coffee without getting a face-full of whipped cream.  I had images of death-by-whipped-cream-asphyxiation running through my head followed by headlines in the London papers “American Dies From Asphyxiation” and the humorous “stupid American” editorial comments that would inevitably followed.

Room without a view.
A better view would have
faced the courtyard.
I bravely proceeded to eat spoonfuls of whipped cream, scooping out a space so I could drink and breathe.  I took my first sip and was satisfied.  It tasted like one would expect—sweet and warm.  I did not return for another coffee but I wouldn’t avoid it.  I would, however, not be too eager for whipped cream next time. 

That afternoon, I watched Notting Hill and took a nap with Rob, after buying him some Pepto Bismol.  He was feeling a little better by the late afternoon and by evening he was talking about being hungry.  I also ordered some ginger ale for Rob because I was unable to find any at the store. 

Now, remember that pretty plate of deliciousness we had been given the night before?  The one from which I had so generously given Rob several pieces?  He had not yet touched these and, although I hadn’t finished my breakfast nor had I eaten anything for lunch, I nevertheless had not touched a single one of these things.  Instead, I ate my way through a croissant, a couple of pastries, and was beginning to think that my entire trip would be centered around consuming every bit of carbohydrate I could find.  All of them.  Every delicious variation of them!
Rose petal in a bowl.
Together, we walked to the market and picked out some food.  Waitrose is a food-store chain in London and we were able to buy some packaged meals that were not frozen but not freshly made, the sort of thing you can buy in many larger supermarkets these days in the US.  He picked up some mushroom risotto and I chose a steak and mushroom pie for myself.

The thing is, I had really hoped to have Yorkshire pudding on our trip.  Alas, this traditional British dish is only served on Sunday. I, being the martyr to my marriage that I am, let Rob’s delicate tummy lead the way.  As a result, I never did get my Yorkshire pudding which is why I chose a steak and mushroom pie because I was determined to have something traditional, something other than the endless flow of pastries and sweets I had been enjoying.

We curled up in front of the television to watch a couple of comedies while enjoying our meals before I headed off to bed, hoping that tomorrow my trip to London wouldn’t be limited to fetching food for a still suffering Rob.

The bouquet of flowers in our room.
I regret not taking one of the roses
before they took the bouquet away.