Thursday, 27 February 2014

One Week in London (Part Three)

Hello chaps, back again.

On the Friday, Valentine's Day, we took a train from Victoria Station to Brighton. We noticed that it was very express. This is because it was rerouted to avoid all the torrential flooding which is still affecting the South West (and South, a bit) of England. It took bang on an hour. We left central London a bit grey and threatening, and arrived in Brighton to massive lashings of rain and wind. It was brutal.

Here's where the plan fell down. When we arrived in Brighton, in the middle of a biblical rainstorm, we had used all our ready cash in London. The bus to our hotel was three pounds. Our Canadian bank cards wouldn't work in the bank machines. We didn't have the number of the hotel to call. We couldn't afford a taxi which would take us effectively 6 kilometres for approximately thirty pounds. And Matthew was very manly about dragging our one large suitcase.

So we repaired to the very nearest (and roughest, ew) pub, the Grand Central, for some emergency free wifi (and a beer for Matthew). We called the hotel (at huge expense) from my mobile and calmed the eff down. We found a bank machine which would accept our foreign bank card, and we hopped on the bus. Even in the countryside the buses are double-decker! Who knew?

Our dearest friend Aimee, a Brighton local, had chosen this hotel for us all (we were to meet her later). It was in a tiny hamlet outside Brighton, called Rottingdean. Aimee lives in the hamlet next door, called Woodingdean. And her nice boyfriend Scott, who we met, lives in the hamlet on the other side, called Newhaven. Our hotel, The White Horse, was right on the beachfront. The pub downstairs was cozy and light-filled, and the room upstairs was huge, comfortable, and very warm. We encountered a totally charming (and not surprising) dripping leak in the ceiling of our room. It was quaint and perfect.

Matthew and I bussed back into Brighton and had a superficial 'splore of The Lanes. We were captivated most by the windows upon windows of antique jewellery. All these beautiful little seed pearls and multi-gem rings. We went to one of the big fancy hotels for a drink, where we had arranged to meeting Aimee.

Aimee and I met when we started UBC together in September 2011. She graduated from the English program on time (yay!) and then promptly went home to England. I have missed her ever since. Matthew, Aimee and I had a good catch up over a bottle of red in the hotel bar (where they were offering a "Fawlty Towers Dining Experience"... why? Only in England.) and then we dived back into The Lanes and by some miracle located the Bath Arms (pub), where Scott was waiting for us.

Special thank you to Aimee and Scott for sharing their Valentine's Day dinner date with us. Very big-hearted!

Us with our long awaited pub grub.
We ate English pub food, drank mightily, and got fully acquainted (with Scott, lovely) and reacquainted (Aimee, of course also lovely). Because it was a Friday night, the end of a long working week for our local hosts, and because Matthew and I are boring old people who don't stay up late any more, we finished up dinner and caught the bus back to Rottingdean. At Aimee and Scott's behest, we sat up the front of the top deck of the bus. The wind outside was literally gale force, and the bus was driving along the waterfront. The bus actually swayed. It was so alarming, I think I prayed a bit. When we finally got to the White Horse, our hearts were beating so fast we had to have a long cup of tea and a chat to calm us down. All night the waves crashed loudly on the beach outside the hotel. It sounded like we were on a ship in the roaring forties.

The next morning, we rendezvous'd in the breakfast room in streaming sunlight. The waves were still crashing though. After breakfast we caught the (most prompt and impressive) bus into Brighton, and hopped off at the Brighton Pier. It was a bit empty because of the gale blowing, and because it was still early in the day. We wandered through the stained-glass gambling halls (seriously, it is gambling for children. Not even disguised. Just straight-up gambling. Only in England.) and out to the very end of the pier. It was a bit ghostly quiet, but in a good way.

Overlooking the pier.

Water under the pier.

The West Pier, burnt to a shell. Matthew took this photo from on the other pier.

After the Pier, we walked to the Brighton Pavilion. We intended just to stick our noses in, but it turned out there was a really nifty collection of art and artifacts in the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery. So we stayed and took it all in, including the mummy room!

All that art and walking had stirred our appetite (no it hadn't, actually, we were still full from breakfast) so we went to The Mock Turtle tea room for our second English Cream Tea. It was superb. The Mock Turtle walls were a bright blue, and the cakes were all spread on little plates across a table in the front window, so you could see them on your way past. The list of teas was long (I had Russian Caravan), and the scones came with or without raisins (with, of course!).
All the cakes (and our luggage. bloody tourists.)

The wind!

Oh cream tea. How I will miss you.

After tea, we rolled around The Lanes for a bit. Aimee and Scott took us to an alternative lanes, on the other side of the main street. These lanes were more markety and fun (less antiques-and-boutiques). I had to resist a lot of awesome vintage stuff. And Aimee had to resist the most beautiful high-heeled oxfords either of us have ever seen.

The lanes

Bright houses in the lanes of Brighton
And just like that, the day was over. Aimee and Scott walked us back to the train station. It was a bit sad, but Aimee will be visiting Vancouver in the summertime. It was really nice to meet Scott, he is a kindred spirit.

Again, warmest thanks to Aimee and Scott for showing us their beautiful town. Brighton is on our must-go-again list!

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

One Week in London (Part two)

Poor old blog. It's not the only thing that's been gathering dust lately. Here is a short list of other things I have been neglecting:
1. Thesis
2. housework
3. grocery shopping (this means empty fridge, every-day runs to the corner store, more time wasted, the irony.)

Anyway, where did we leave off last time? London. I think I've ordered the days wrong in that last post anyway. You know when you go on holiday and every glorious day folds into the next.

Tuesday 11 February

So the day after our St Paul's exploratory day, we had a quiet one in Kew. Matthew's aunt and uncle swung by and collected Matthew, Matthew's Gran, and me, and we all went to lunch at a small, cozy and dare I say it quaint local pub/dining room (there was a minimum of beer and football, but still plenty of charm, couches and chips).

After our family lunch (where we got properly caught up with Matthew's uncle!) they kindly dropped us in Richmond for a late afternoon look-around. I bought my book club book, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (very appropriately English), and we found an internet cafe for some hasty social networking over a latte. I'm shamelessly attached to my device. I love being connected to my social network. And I turned off work emails so there was no sense of dread every time the wifi connected.

Richmond is a pretty suburban town centre, with lots to see and do, right on a bend in the Thames. It wasn't too warm so we didn't do any waterfront promenading, but we did poke around the streets a bit. Lots of charm.

Wednesday 12 February

Matthew and I went to High Street Kensington for some retail therapy. We had intended to antique shop along Church Street, or maybe stroll through Portobello Road Market. But it was blustery and frankly pouring rain, so we just staggered around soaking for a while and then shopped to escape it all. Matthew found a Warhammer store, I found enough button-down shirts to last me a whole week, and we found a vegan organic cafe. Win win win.

Thursday 13 February Victoria and Albert Museum!

Matthew and I regretfully left his Gran for a couple of days to do some adventuring. We took the tube to Victoria and checked into our hotel, the Grosvenor. Quite nice, by our standards. (Matthew and I are known for choosing... modest... accommodation, so this was something of a rare treat.)

We then trained back to the Victoria and Albert Museum, one of our favourite tourist spots. Matthew's cousin (sort of) Eleanor works there, so we were lucky to catch her in her lunch break. Thank you for making time for us, Eleanor! So lovely to see you again.

There is a gorgeous outdoor transformed pond in the courtyard, and of course the Japanese miniatures room.

There was also an interesting exhibition called “Jameel 3” (the third of this annual prize, I think?), which had Middle Eastern contemporary art. There was a spice painting on the floor that looked so like a rug that you couldn’t tell the difference until you had been looking at it for a long time. And wall-hung rug with a recognizably traditional rug pattern which then pixilated half was up.  

Even though we’d just had lunch, we couldn’t go past the scones in the tea room. The tea room is OTT decorated. Every surface. Tiled, marbled, sculpted, inlaid with text, glittery, golden, etc. Too too much. And it was the first scones with jam and cream that we’d clapped eyes on since landing in the UK, so we just had to go for it.

Pond sculpture

Me ignoring the art and furiously connecting to wifi. Shameless.

The best thing in the museum: the Japanese miniatures.

I actually remember this one from last time. It's my favourite.

Aaaand the tea room.

Enormous wall sculpture. About 15 feet tall? Hard to say.


I joked that this was me doing my homework. But I do sort of feel that way.

After the V&A, Matthew and I walked along large and winding streets, and lo, we stumbled across Harrod's department store. After several visits to London, we had never actually been to this institution. I mean. It was a department store, so nothing groundbreaking here. But I do so love food halls. We admired the cheeses, chocolates, heart-shaped cheeses, heart-shaped chocolates (Valentine's Day...) and other delicacies. 

A wall of Stilton.

Black lilies. Blue roses. Rainbow roses. What will they think of next?
It got dark, so we found a pub close to our hotel and ordered the following: fish and chips, and bangers and mash. I'm sure someone's rolling their eyes at us while reading this. We also had flat warm beer and cider. Mission accomplished.

Again, with my poor eyeballs nearly falling out of my head, I need to end it here and take at least 8 hours of sleep. Our next and final installment: Brighton!!

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

One Week in London (Part One)

Matthew and I went to London for one week on Friday 7th February. We planned this back in November, and it coincided with Matthew’s Gran’s birthday, and also a long weekend in Canada. Timing was perfect.

We left after work on Friday, on a red eye flight, and got into London in the afternoon on Saturday. Half of the Thames Valley is experiencing severe flooding at the moment, so we weren’t too hopefully about the weather. Astonishingly, we experienced a bit of sunshine on almost every day. And we were only caught in the rain twice.

Matthew’s relatives had crafted quite an itinerary for us, so we were always busy.

Saturday 8th February

Matthew’s Gran’s birthday, and also my Gramma’s birthday (in Canada).  Such a coincidence! We arrived in sunshine at 5pm, and after birthday wishes and dinner, pretty much went to bed. I have known Matthew's Gran for several years now, and visited her in her home in Kew four times since 2008. She appears not to have aged a day in those years. She is always so welcoming, and has always treated me like family, even when I was just a girlfriend hanger-on. This time we visited, it was winter (not summer as the other times), but she still had several amazing flowers to show us in her garden (outdoors and in!).

Sunday 9th February

Matthew’s Aunt Dzidra took us into town to see The Duchess of Malfi at the very newly-opened Jacobean-style theatre at the Globe. It was entirely candle-lit. The villainous anti-hero, Bosola, totally stole the show. By the end it was a right bloodbath, but the first act had no deaths, so it was full of menace.

Afterwards we walked along the South Bank to a restaurant called The Skylon in Royal Festival Hall. We had a lovely view in the window, and were treated so generously by Aunt Zed.

Monday 10th February

We were woefully late to our breakfast date with Zed at Green Park. She was very forgiving and took us to a marvelously decorated restaurant called The Wolseley, which used to be a car showroom! We were seated in an alcove overlooking the showroom-turned-dining-room. It was a fabulous view. We ate smoked salmon and I drank a whole pot of tea to myself. Heaven.

Our high nook at the Wolseley.
We then walked through Green Park, in the streaming sunshine I might add, to Buckingham Palace. We arrived just in time to see a royal whisk past in a small but stately cavalcade. Zed identified her as Princess Anne. Good timing.

Not the princess.

Walking in St James Park
We then walked to the Hyde Park Barracks an inspected the horses and also some interesting public monuments. We caught an iconic red double-decker bus to St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Neither Matthew nor I had ever been to St. Paul’s Cathedral. Matthew’s second cousin actually used to work there as clergy (now most romantically ministering on a tropical island somewhere! We took a guided tour of the ground floor, and learned that the St. Paul’s standing today was actually the fifth cathedral, and the first three were made of wood which burnt down severally. We then paused for a listen to the young Kings College School Boys Choir which was warming up for evensong.
And then we hit the stairs. The stairs to the Whispering Gallery are fairly shallow, so it was not too onerous a climb. Matthew was genius enough to get the Whispering Gallery to work: as Zed and I sat on one side, Matthew sat opposite us and we could quite clearly hear him whisper “Zoe!” It was thrilling.

We then set out for the top of the Cathedral, the small dome. These stairs were most steep. We had to stop and rest a couple of times. When we ascended, I thought we were going to end up in a tiny version of the Whispering Gallery, which I thought I could see when I looked up from there. However, I was quite surprised to pop out into a very stiff and bracing breeze, and some holy-seeming sunbeams. The view was magnificent. We could see all the London sites, and for miles. Dramatic, too, because we could see an approaching storm.

Afterwards we located a hard-earned coffee around the corner from the Cathedral, and spur-of-the-moment decided there was still time to visit Tate Modern. We only covered a few rooms, but some highlights were a couple of massive “Bacchanalian” (their words) Cy Twombly red loopy paintings, a Monet Water Lillies (surprise!) and a very disturbing series of photos of public execution sites in Syria (still, empty, malevolent).

Then we had dinner at Sauterelle, a café in the Royal Exchange Building. I loved this building. It was converted with large open-topped glass-walled spaces, but still kept the original frame of the building (for the Melbournian reader: much like the GPO building). The café, which was in the upper floor overlooking the open square of the ground floor, was almost empty. Zed very generously declared it a champagne kind of an evening, and drink champagne we jolly did.

Me and Aunt Dzidra walking across the Millennium Bridge, St. Paul's looking majestic in front of us.
I think I have to pause here. More tomorrow.