Last London

 

 

Admiring the Rosetta Stone at the V&A.

Admiring the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum.

Sunday afternoon on Marlybone Street.

Sunday afternoon on Marlybone Street.

Hard to say goodbye to this amazing city—center of many universes that it is. But on with the schedule: we take the train to Lyon tomorrow morning. New apartment in new city in new country with new money and a new language. I have to admit that my plan to buff up my college French has not gone well, no fault to Duolingo, which is a great (and free) program.

But here’s our last look at London.  (small apology and quibble–this webserver doesn’t allow me to post any pics larger than 2 MB–I’m not happy with how fuzzy most of them look when they get converted down). But onward to some observations, then more pics.

Looking at the Thames Barrier to the west from south side of Thames.

Looking toward the Thames Barrier to the east from south side of Thames.

There are far more racially diverse couples and families here than in any US city we know. Most of the servers in the restaurants and pubs we’ve been to are not native-born English speakers. There are lots of all women groups in both pubs and restaurants. Beetroot jam! Two more bits of graffiti: “Patience is half way to happiness” and “Technology won’t impress me until it can download beer.”

 

It’s been a busy three weeks—museums, little trips out of town and lots of music. The out-of-town ventures were to Bletchley Park (the WWII decoder camp, most recently seen in the movie The Imitation Game) and Stonehenge and the neighboring standing stone circles at Avebury.

Bletchley Park was terrific—extremely well done exhibits and excellent explanations of very complicated stuff. We hadn’t seen the movie, but tried to watch it afterwards. Gave up about half way through—why couldn’t they just tell the true and totally amazing story?

Turing and Welshman's Enigma decoding machine "The Bombe"

Turing and Welshman’s Enigma decoding machine “The Bombe”

Stonehenge and Avebury similarly astounding and well explained. If you haven’t been, when you do go, be sure to include Avebury in the itinerary—it is three huge stone circles that you can walk around in and touch, which you can no longer do at Stonehenge. There was a little group of Druids there holding hands; later they stuck flowers into some of the stone crevices.

Stonehenge: notice the bump on one of the uprights: mortise and tenon construction!

Stonehenge: notice the bump on one of the uprights: mortise and tenon construction! (me, experimenting with B&W)

 

Avebury: three stones and a farmer's brick wall.

Avebury: three stones and a farmer’s brick wall.

Back in the city, more walks in the park, and a terrific nighttime light show that closed parts of the main streets (Piccadilly, Regent, Oxford). Museum exhibitions we visited included a wonderful Calder exhibit at the Tate Modern—he did a lot of stuff before mobiles—little wire sculptures of circus acts that moved. Very fun. Also new platinum prints of Hurley’s photos from the Shackleton Antarctica expedition, including some in color and some moving picture film, at the Royal Geographical Society. Also a terrific Charles and Ray Eames exhibit.

We trekked out to the Thames Barrier too. The engineering is quite amazing. Makes us eager to see the hold-the-water-back constructions in Venice.

Thames Barrier looking west. Not designed by Frank Gehry!

Thames Barrier looking west. Not designed by Frank Gehry!

Music was all classical—we heard Sir Simon Rattle conduct his new London Symphony Orchestra, Joshua Bell conduct and play with St Martins in the Field and Gustavo Dudamel conduct a Venezuelan orchestra. Each in a different venue around town.

Finally, we took the train, ferry and buses to spend a couple days on the Isle of Wight (since Peter’s turned 64—remember the Beatles’ song?). We walked 10 miles one day along the Coastal Path on the west side—huge windstorm, gusts well over 60 mph. At one point we had to hang on to a fence to stay upright.

Coastal Path on west side of IOW, on the way to The Needles.

Coastal Path on west side of IOW, on the way to The Needles.

 

Waves along the breakwater at Colwell Bay Coastal Path.

Waves along the breakwater at Colwell Bay Coastal Path.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking down on The Needles from the Tennyson Downs.

Looking down on The Needles from the Tennyson Downs.

Can’t resist this final city picture:

Scooters on the railing of a preschool up the street from our flat.

Scooters on the railing of a preschool up the street from our flat.

London Snapshots, and Food, Glorious Food

A few more shots of our wanderings around this marvelous global capitol. Weather in January has not been as calm and pleasant as December’s but there’s enough breaks in the rain for us to venture out of our usual long walks (accompanied by our faithful Fitbits).

First a few delicious words about food. I’ve been wallowing in my Jamie Oliver fandom. We discovered him years ago, with his first TV show. So casual, so assured, so charming, so articulate and so cute and English. Now, years later, with 4 kids and an empire, he’s aging pretty darn well. Seems to have stuck to his principles of decent food for all, which is good to see. He definitely uses a lot of ingredients, but is pretty casual about quantities, encouraging of substitutions and experiments. It all adds up to making cooking seem more personal and creative.

Some food observations from our grocery store adventures:

  1. Tea is cheap and strong and flavorful
  2. The veggies are more adventurous and ones that are less common in the US are much more prevalent here, like leeks and parsnips, celeriac and swede (what they call rutabaga). Veggies and meat and eggs are all labeled with the country, and sometimes the county or farm, they come from.
  3. The butter!!! OMG, unbelievably wonderful. Lower water content than ours and so much creamier and flavorful.
  4. The flour (I’ve been making cookies) has a smoother, denser feeling and is more yellow than ours.
  5. Cheese—we’ve long loved British farm cheeses. The best are available in everyday grocery stores at very reasonable prices. Cheddars are white with those wonderful little crunchy bits and cost less than bland yellow US store brands.
  6. Eggs, as I mentioned before are not refrigerated, because they are not washed. The boxes are labeled with the kind of chicken they came from. Yolks deep yellow/orange. Sizes vary—the ones they call large seem larger than ours.
  7. Bread! Fabulous. Seeds and nuts and wholemeal and rye.
  8. Jam! A million kinds and combinations—rhubarb ginger now sits in our fridge. Again, very well priced.
  9. Not much choice in the peanut butter department though—we found one brand in several stores, though, that is better than our own organic top of the line stuff in the US.

There’s a lot written about “high welfare” meat—which means the animals are well treated and killed more humanely than otherwise. A million kinds of bacon, too—including lardons which I can personally testify are better than I’ve bought in the US.

Away from the grocery store, we had a long lunch at Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant called Dinner earlier this week. Blumenthal earned his stripes at The Fat Duck, which topped lists of the best restaurant in the world for several years. All about molecular gastronomy in those days, we ate there a couple of times years ago. His Dinner restaurant is more sedate but similarly intensely detailed and perfect. We sat next to the glassed-in kitchen and could look in to see the busy chefs (20 or so) or look the other way and see across the street into Hyde Park. Pretty darn nice.

The menu we had was very fun as it indicated the cookbook and the era the dish originated. It had things on it like “Meat Fruit: mandarin, chicken liver parfait & grilled bread” from c. 1500. Peter started with “Early Grey Tea cured Salmon: lemon salad, gentleman’s relish, wood sorrel & smoked roe” from 1730. My main course was also from 1730: “Braised celery: parmesan, chanterelles, vinaigrette, cider apple & smoked walnuts.” YUMMY!. For dessert we had Victorian specialties: spit roasted pineapple and brown bread ice cream with caramel, pears and malted yeast syrup.

Our local pub isn’t so bad either. Here’s my Cumberland sausage dinner from a couple nights ago. Actually, I’ve had it twice.

Cumberland sausage dinner at the Phoenix pub off the King's Road

Cumberland sausage dinner at the Phoenix pub off the King’s Road–about 4 blocks from our flat

 

Duck among early blooming daffodils in St James Park a couple days ago

Duck among early blooming daffodils in St James Park a couple days ago

 

Lest you think nothing modern is going on in London--the south bank of the Thames near Vauxhall Bridge

Lest you think nothing modern is going on in London–the south bank of the Thames near Vauxhall Bridge at sunset day before yesterday