London Calling! Fond Farewell

“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford”
– Samuel Johnson

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I was all sniffles on the way to the airport, and it wasn’t from the wet chill outside, I’ll tell you that.

Yeah, I was grumpy all right. And I preferred indulging in my melancholia instead of reveling in all the wonders we experienced in just four days…

like this…

and this…

and oh my gosh, this…

And finally this!

See, why I’m so grumpy!?

Well, always the stalwart optimist, Jordan seemed to know exactly what would cheer me up.

And in his wisdom, he followed his appetite.

What better than a proper English breakfast to send us on our way?

Needless to say, this brought a very, very big smile to my face.

🙂

My tummy and heart salutes you, London!

Cheerio!

London Calling! – From Britain to Belgium in a day

Morrissey woke me up this morning.

“Here is London, giddy London, Is it home of the free or what?” So, what’s got me so giddy?

Medieval torture of course! Traitorous prisoners, the beheaded ghost of Anne Boleyn, the reviled White Tower, and the infamous Crown Jewels!

On the menu today: The Tower of London!

A nice addition to the tour was a trip through the Royal Armories. Jordan and I geeked out so hard on all the swords, axes, crossbows, and overall medieval pageantry of the exhibit.

It hit me only afterwards that today was our last full day in London. Yikes, we still had so much to do!

The British Museum was next, but before that, we headed straight for the Underground. We absolutely couldn’t leave London without sampling Britain’s “true national dish” Chicken Tikka Masala!

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Brick Lane and Whitechapel are known as ethnically diverse, primarily Bengali, neighborhoods in London. Devon Avenue in Chicago has a similar vibe.

Funny enough, Whitechapel is also where the Jack the Ripper murders occurred apparently, but today, it’s a vibrant community where English it seems is everyone’s second language.

We decided on Zayyabs. It’s actually a Pakistani place so we knew the dish would be slightly different than the creamier Indian version. But as chicken tikka masala is also one of those dishes that varies from chef to cook to region like any good paella, gumbo, or feijoda, we decided to go for it.

And we are so glad we did. Every dish was densely spiked with spices, richly layered, heavily perfumed, and authentic to the bone.

The only bad thing about our lunch at Zayyab’s was the inevitable food coma that followed.

Thank ye gods for the long Tube ride to the British Museum.

Power nap, go!

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The British Museum is an unbelievable treasure.

Packed inside this enormous structure is an arena of antiquities spanning from the Far East to the Far West and everywhere in between.

I had to force my mind to focus. The countless stories behind these objects of old pushed and pulled at my imagination as I walked the halls. It was marvelously overwhelming!

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As we descended the grand white steps in front of the Greek Revival façade of the Museum, Jordan and I felt we had zoomed through centuries of history in just a few short hours. Naturally our heads were buzzing and our stomachs rumbling.

So we made our way down a few streets to Le Bistro Savoir Faire.

The charming French brasserie invited us in with its rosy ambiance. Its cherry wood framed windows, French sconces, white napkins, and quotations and French cartoons painted across the walls fit our contemplative moods perfectly.

We supped on paté, bouillabaisse, warm baguette with butter and salt, bone-in ham, and a light Pinot Noir.

And for dessert, we exchanged thoughts on the past few days whilst taking turns cracking the caramelized sugar sheet on our crème brulee.

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I felt I was dream walking when we left Le Bistro only to “wake” up in another dream – this one full of sparkle, whimsy, and good cheer. It was Christmas on Oxford Street. Amongst cascades of twinkling white, blue, green, and silver lights, Jordan and I shared one final sweet before surrendering to sleep.

Liege gauffre or Liege waffles from The Waffle Place. What makes the Liege waffles so up and beyond is the batter which has chunks of sugar in it. When cooked the sugar chunks caramelize to form a crispy almost candied coating on the top of the waffle.

Happy Christmas indeed!

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London Calling! – WWII, Churchill, and The Wolseley

Being a big WWII history buff, one of Jordan’s life goals was to visit the Imperial War Museum and Churchill War Rooms in London. Through the years I’ve also become a bit of a fangirl for this stuff, especially after watching documentaries like The World at War and reading books like Alan Clark’s Barbarossa: The Russian German Conflict, 1941-45.

We were both awed by what we saw today.

T-34 and M4 Sherman tanks, Spitfires, an Enigma de-coder that helped turn the tide of the war, personal letters between lovers, a moving look at the Holocaust, and much more painstakingly displayed. It was all there for us to experience and we soaked in as much as we could.

One could easily spend days here, and seeing both old and young faces around us, it’s clear how impactful WWII has been on generations.

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Churchill’s Bunker was both surreal and kind of spooky to walk through. It seemed a place frozen in time. One’s mind was filled with sounds iconic to WWII like old-timey phones ringing, crackly speeches from tube radios, and Churchill’s monotonous and gruff British voice that inspired so many.

We spent copious hours down there back in the 1940s, and emerged from the bunker into a dazzling London night.

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After a quick nap for me and a stroll across the bridge for Jordan, we met back up to decide on supper.

Oddly enough both of us were in the mood for meat and potatoes. Perhaps our souls were hankering for a good old fashioned meal.

Again our trusty concierge set us up with a great recommendation. Although The Wolseley was booked for reservations that night, we suggested we try our luck and stroll by.

And lucky for us, the host at The Wolseley was such a nice gentleman and he was able to accommodate us straight away despite how busy they were.

It seems every restaurant near St. James and Picadilly Circus has a grand story to tell. And The Wolseley was no exception.

According to their site, the space was owned by Wolseley Motors in 1921 and was designed to be a prestigious car showroom. Venetian and Florentine influences are clearly apparent with the restaurant’s grand pillars, arches and stairways.

The addition of a banking counter and offices with a Japanese lacquer theme came in 1927 when Barclays Bank acquired the building. The post box and stamp machine are still there today.

It was only in 2003 that it became the remarkably unstuffy restaurant with impeccable service and food that it is today.

Escargots à la Bourguignonne

Endive salad with bleu cheese and candied walnuts

Chopped Liver

Filet de Boeuf au Poivre

Tenderloin, pommes frites, kale

Lyonnaise Potatoes

Apple Strudel with vanilla ice cream

After our sumptuous meal, we walked the graceful London streets around us and mooned over this great city with its long turbulent history and its leading-edge present.

I think I’m starting to feel quite at home here. 🙂

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London Calling! – Pagan rituals, Pasties, and an Irishman?

Never imagined waking up to a cold, rainy, grey sky would be so exciting!

Today we were off to the countryside on a small group tour arranged by International Friends (hugely recommended) to Windsor Castle, the medieval town of Bath, and Stonehenge. I hope the Queen is not cross with me for waiting so long to visit!

Tony was our guide. He was bright, knowledgeable, and just a gregarious silly dude which we loved. Are all Irishmen this cool?

Here is just a tiny smattering of all the unbelievable sights, scenes, smells, scenery, and of course, tastes of the trip.

The druidic pagan spirits must have been with us today as we were blessed with a clear towering blue sky and bright reflective clouds. This isn’t supposed to happen in the middle of November!

Breakfast of champions at Avanti – a cute Italian cafe in Windsor that served authentic pastries, panini, and coffees

Meticulous gardens of Windsor Castle

The stones speak to me…Ooommmmm…

Welcome hot snacks – meat and potato stuffed pasties from Presto Pasty!

Savory pie filled with juicy tender meat and peppery soft onions

Flaky crust, potato, stuffed with soft onions and lots of black pepper

Ancient Roman Bath of which the city gets its name

Charming streets of Bath

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It was quiet on the van ride back to London, part from exhaustion and part from meditation on all the amazing experiences we had today.

Once we arrived back in London, though, everyone wanted something warm in their bellies. Tony again had a perfect recommendation – a placed called Belgo which was all about mussels by the bucket.

Oh my gosh, that sounded killer.

So a bunch of us from the tour decided why not dine together and keep the party going?

Belgo was several floors but crowded as could be – vibrant, full of energy, clearly a happenin’ place, especially for young people. Craft beers, buckets of mussels, and lively conversation at every communal wood table made for some great feasting with some new friends.

It was too dark for pics, but here are the mussels they offer. Hard to remember but we may have ordered one of each, or at least wanted to.

Mussel Pots
Fresh rope grown mussels delivered daily, kilo pot served with frites

Marinière – Steamed with cream, white wine, garlic, celery & onion
Green Thai – Steamed in coconut, green chilli, lemongrass, lime & coriander sauce
Provençale – Steamed with plum tomato sauce, basil, thyme & garlic
Traditionnelle – Steamed with white wine, celery, garlic & onion
Florentine – Creamed spinach sauce with smoked bacon grilled with gruyère cheese
Mediterranean – Topped with a tomato and basil sauce, grilled with cheddar & mozzarella
Portuguais – Mussels & roast chorizo in a tomato, garlic olive oil & paprika sauce with new potatoes & basil
Moules Blanches – Mussels cooked in Belgo Wit beer with shallots, smoked bacon & parsley, served with frites

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After our glorious day and lively night, Jordan and I slept quite soundly indeed.

Cheers.