Friday, June 13, 2014

London: Isle of Shakespeare, Sherlock & Selfridge's

Our London flat is up five flights in what I can envision an Irish family living in the early 1900s. It’s a cool, working-class neighborhood now very Middle eastern. The smells down the alley are heavenly. Nigel met us to hand over keys and give us a few tips. I’d rented the place on after fluke-ishly finding it almost last-minute. When I discovered it sat midpoint from Selfridge’s and Baker Street, well it was a no brainer. We are a die-hard BBC family.

Portobello Road Market
It’s $172 a night, central, just around the corner from the Bakerloo line, great amenities a bit tight, but workable for four of us. Thaere’s a separate bedroom, full bath, well-stocked kitchen with washer and compact living/dining room with sofa bed, advertised for two. No way they’d both fit, I could tell from the photos, however, the owner also has a single air mattress, so the girls are pretty comfortable. There’s wifi, satellite TV, plenty of hot water and small necessities such as shampoo, cream rinse, shower gel, coffee, tea, milk and juice. There’s a well-stocked small market around the corner and plenty of wonderful narrow, but deep shops lined with bins of feta, olives, pastries, produce and even roasted chickens. Easy to make a complete cook-free meal that’s healthy and inexpensive.

Silver at the market
Rousing ourselves our first full day in London, we headed to the Portobello Road Market with its pastel townhouses and winding streets stuffed with a riot of incongruous wares: souvenirs, silver, antiqued sporting goods, paella, pastries, cheeses, pashminas and ice cream. No rhyme nor reason to placement and such a colorful clash of cultures. We ate street food, grabbed a few cheap souvenirs and meandered through the throngs to nearby posh and quieter Nodding Hill. We hopped the tube to Harrod’s, the antithesis of the rowdy market with its opulence. I knew we had to visit the food hall and Autumn, a budding designer, wanted to swing through the haute couture.
Harrod's Food Hall
Many gowns were inspired by history and sketches hung nearby. We sipped the original, 400-year-old recipe for East India Tea Company’s Earl Grey – a bit flowery for my palate, but quite elegant. The ornate deco staircase descended to a memorial for Princess Diana and Dodo Fayed, whose father previously owned the store.
Letter to Diana

Feeling very royal after our visit, we strolled to Buckingham Palace, watched the guards do their little dance, chanced by Big Ben as he sang out 8 p.m., were awed by Westminster Abbey and St. Margaret Church, with a window created for the wedding of Henry VII and Catherine of Aragon, before heading to the Sherlock Holmes Pub for very fresh fish and chips. Somehow we nabbed a bar table on a busy Saturday evening. There’s a small museum upstairs and an authentic pub down, where we sat on high stools. We walked back through Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus, which left me grateful to return to our very immigrant, non-touristy neighborhood.

Sunday, I forced myself to arise for Quaker worship at the Friends Center, just opposite Euston Station. An oasis in a bustling part of the city, worship was quiet and the perfect antidote to rushed and somewhat stressful traveling. Though I entered 10 minutes late, I was able to settle in and pick up on the flow of the silence and vocal ministry. I had a few quick, but meaningful conversations before they adjourned for their business meeting and I needed to meet my
Front-row seats @ King Lear
daughter at the theater.

My 16-year-old had set her alarm way back in April to get up at 3 a.m. our time to score 15£ tickets to King Lear. I was as excited as she. We all met up and the other two departed for a Dr. Who walking tour. We ate a quick, delicious and well-priced light lunch before the almost three-and-a-half-hour drama. We had dressed in our best and were somewhat disappointed by the Bermudas and flip flops.

Live theatre is intense and, sitting in the front row, we were reminded just how dedicated stage actors are. The guy in Bermudas and flip flops who sat behind me and two seats over said he could see behind stage. Nonetheless, we were up close and personal – a little embarrassing for my teen when there was brief male nudity. And, perhaps, when so much blood flowed. I had forgotten how bloody this play is. My daughter said she saw a poster at intermission entitled “Everyone dies” with a synopsis of how Shakespeare’s characters meet their deaths.

Bridget Jones' pub
We emerged early evening and decided to wind along the Thames, twisting toward The Globe Theatre, London Bridge and landing at the Globe Pub, which served as Bridget Jones’ apartment in the two movies. I love the books and character because she asks the world to accept her as she is. It was exhilarating to stumble on this – I had it on my to-do list – even if it wasn’t open. Along the way, we uncovered  afternoon tea and gin and tonics at the Southwark Cathedral café called The Refectory, but it had just closed. Looked like a gem quietly hidden behind the South Bank attractions. We also walked past the caged, and sadly, closed, stalls of Burroughs market. So much to do, so little time.

We located the nearest tube station, then turned the corner, trotted down an alley to order a draft bitter and fountain Coke at the King’s Head Pub. On the way home, we stopped by our local grocers (four to be exact) to concoct a multi-course course dinner: English cheddar, spinach pastry similar to spanokopita, Greek salad, roasted chicken, meat pies and baklava.

Monday, my husband and daughters were up early for breakfast at Speedy’s Café of the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes fame, while I slept in. I needed a lazy morning. Although I adore our neighborhood, it is perienially noisy. Our texting wasn’t working so I left a handwritten note that I would meet them at Selfridge’s. I am such a fan of the BBC Mr Selfridge’s that I couldn’t wait. Not as deco-decadent as Harrod’s, Selfridge’s is hip and contemporary with an artistic endeavor in every window. A simple, short cotton beach skirt was priced at 150 £, too rich for my blood, though I settled on a child’s oil cloth backpack dotted with red double-decker buses. Makes the perfect purse. The store was dotted with a variety of restaurants, an entire floor devoted to shoes and all items were grouped by designer, almost as if each had their own shop. We stopped for drinks on the Ikea-like fourth floor food court with a great view of the surrounding neighborhood.

The dinner plan was to head back to the Globe after visiting the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. The girls were hungry, so we picked up a snacking picnic and headed for Hyde Park, stretched out in the grass, then hopped the tube at Marble Arch. While debating the merits of blowing our budget on Tower of London tickets, we discovered they were only open another 45 minutes. Not enough time, we all reasoned, so we walked around the old castle, across the bridge and ambled toward The Globe Pub, which was open. It was stiflingly humid, unusual for London, and the old Globe seemed stale. One round was enough here, just for the sake of Bridget. We trudged, well that’s what the girls would have called it, to more of the central, regular part of London to Fleet Street and the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, an authentic pub (rebuilt in 1667 after a fire destroyed the original from 1538) sprawling down into the former caverns of a 13th century monastery. The ground-floor restaurant was packed on a Monday, so we climbed the ancient stairs down to a labyrinth of small rooms and snagged a long table as a small group was exiting. The girls ordered gi-normous and tasty burgers, Tad opted for fish and chips and I dared to get the fish pie, a white sauce of fish and shellfish over mashed potatoes. Our meals were excellent.
Buckingham Palace

St. Margaret's Cathedral, front; Westminster Abbey

No comments:

Post a Comment