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Archive for September, 2010

www.themonument.info
Open Daily: 09.30 – 17.30 (last admission) 17.00
Phone: +44 (0) 207 626 2717

Ever wonder why there is a tube stop called Monument? I didn’t, but it didn’t surprise me to learn that there was an actual monument there. I don’t expect there to be a real Chalk Farm or an actual Elephant and Castle, but we all know there is a Tower Bridge and a Marble Arch. Sometimes tube stop names are still relevant, sometimes they are not.

Monument

The Monument was built in the 1670s to mark the rebuilding of London post the Great Fire of 1666.The structure, built by Sir Christopher Wren is 202 feet tall which is the distance between the monument and the location that the fire began.

Plaque on the Monument

Everything before the fire that wasn’t built of stone was a goner. The city must have felt so new and young in the years directly after the fire as a whole new generation of architecture made its way to the forefront. Wren built 51 churches after the fire. Would he have ever had such an opportunity? Would he be a common household name otherwise? What would the cityscape look like now if there had never been such a destructive event?

This type of opportunity intrigues me. I’m reminded of cities like Le Havre, France that were completely bombed out during WWII. The city now feels strangely overwhelmed by immediately post WWII design. If the whole city hadn’t needed to be rebuilt, would Oscar Niemeyer have found another forum for his googly hand?

Niemeyer's The Volcan in Le Havre

Anyway, for £3 you can climb the 311 steps to the top of the Monument and take in the views. Honestly, you can get better views in other structures around London, but it is neat to try and imagine where the fire started. If the monument were to topple over, there is a chance you would land there.

Views from the top of the Monument

Views from the top of Monument

While the climb up got narrow and uncomfortable, the climb down made me really dizzy and claustrophobic. Flip flops were a bad choice of footwear. At one point I lost a shoe and decided it was safer to make the remainder of the trip barefoot.

Dizzzzzzzzy.

As I exited, I was awarded a nice little certificate to show off that I had made the journey to the top. The certificate depicted how the Monument appeared when it first opened. Nice touch.

An engraving by Sutton Nicholls of the Monument in 1750

Drawing from Certificate, courtesy of http://www.themonument.info

Bottom Line: It’s a good way to contemplate the Great Fire of 1666. I am glad I did it once, but I don’t think I need to do it again. Wear appropriate footwear.

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When my plans for Wednesday night were canceled at the last minute, I thought to myself “Hey, I wonder when those free outdoor movies at The Scoop go on?” A quick check of my email revealed that they started that very night in just a few hours. Even better, the movie that was scheduled (Up in the Air) was something that I wanted to see.  Although it was tempting to be lazy and stay at home, I knew if I got out I would be richly rewarded.

I decided to make the More London outing a 2 fold endeavor. I would walk there and that way I would get a good bit of exercise on the way. 3 miles? I could do it! I left with an hour of time ahead of me. On the way, I realized I didn’t have any cash. Maybe I should stop by the cash machine. And oh yeah, while I’m near the Tesco Metro, maybe I should pick up a tasty beverage.

All of this meandering ate away at my walking time. At about 7:05, with 2 miles to go, I started panicking that I wouldn’t make it on time and thus hopped on the tube. Exiting at London Bridge, I made my way toward More London. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for. Luckily, the area was labeled conspicuously. I was happy to find myself amongst a nice design of water features and sleek finishes wedged between buildings that overlooked the Thames and Tower Bridge.

More London

With only 5 minutes to spare, I rushed towards the outdoor amphitheatre, had my hand stamped by a staff member, and created a seat right up front.

The Scoop - the photo blurriness is quite accurate considering my rushed dash to find a seat.

Whew, I could now enjoy my cold beverage and relax. Next time I plan on bringing a full picnic, a friend and a blanket.  The weather is getting really chilly at sunset these days. I knew autumn would come, but did it have to come so soon? Can’t we negotiate on this?

Please be seated.

I enjoyed Up In the Air. The best parts? George Clooney (yum), loved Anna Kendrick’s character (as a former 23 year old fresh college grad I could relate to her annoying naivety), and the opening song by Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. I totally forgot that their cover of Woodie Guthry’s This Land is Your Land got picked up for the opening credits. I’ve seen them jam out several times- at Austin City Limits festival in 2008, at a fundraiser for the democratic party of Tarrant County right as Obama was being elected, and at SXSW in 2010. They’ll be in London November 3rd at the Roundhouse. Go check them out. They put on a great show full of retro nostalgia, glamour and honesty. I couldn’t be happier for them for their success.

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings + lucky audience member at SXSW 2010

When the movie was over, I was treated to this lovely view of Tower Bridge.

Backdrop

Free outdoor movies at the Scoop continue every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday throughout September and begin at 19:30. Here’s a list of remaining shows.

  • Fri 17 Sept – The Bourne Ultimatum (2007, Cert 12A)
  • Wed 22 Sept – The Hurt Locker (2009, Cert 15)
  • Thur 23 Sept – North by Northwest (1959, Cert PG)
  • Fri 24 Sept – Pretty Woman (1990, Cert 15) – celebrating 20 years since its release.
  • Wed 29 Sept – Invictus (2010, Cert 12A)
  • Thur 30 Sept – Up (2009, Cert U) – non 3D version of the superb animation.
  • Fri 1 Oct – Dirty Dancing (1987, Cert 12A) + a special Dirty Dancing workshop!

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I was at Harrod’s pricing inherited bone china purchased there decades ago that our movers (EuroUSA and IMS Relocation / Mayflower) lost during our transatlantic relocation. I won’t go into details on that right now other than to say that they really botched the job.  I was unable to get the information regarding the pieces as they are no longer in production. This wasn’t a huge surprise. I figured that while I was at Harrod’s, I might as well have a stroll around.

Since I am currently unemployed and therefore broke, strolling through the luxuries was not really appealing to me. I had heard about the food halls, and well, a girl’s gotta eat. I strolled through the massive rolling areas complete with built in restaurants and took a peek at a few menus. Yikes! £15 for a sandwich? No thank you. Luckily the take out areas had more reasonably priced fare.

Harrod's food halls

Harrod's takeout areas

The food halls stretch on and on with delis, bakeries, candy shops, a fromagerie. It went from one room to the next. I was starting to understand the legacy.

My stomach was growling so I became serious about my search for a snack. That’s when I spotted this disaster.

Moroccan Roll? Which Morocco?

“What do you mean by disaster?” you might ask. Well, look closely. The Moroccan roll here is 31% pork. Morocco is a country with a  population that is over 95% Muslim (source Pew Forum.) I’m no religions of the world expert, but I am certain that the Muslim faith forbids the consumption of pork.  I’ve been to Morocco. I do not remember seeing one person eat pork or sell pork the entire time I was there. My dear friend Ghita from Casablanca even refused to eat turkey bacon, just in case. I felt embarrassed for Harrod’s and their ignorant snafu.

But enough about that. I settled on a Beancurd Vegetable Parcel. For £1.65, it was a steal.

mmm, beancurd.

Having purchased my lunch, I was on a mission to find somewhere to eat it. The clerk was of absolutely no help. When I asked her where I might go, her response was a firm “You can’t eat it in here.” Set on a mission to find a place to snack, I exited Harrod’s and went walking about.

In hindsight, I should’ve gone to Hyde Park. Instead, I wondered around the neighborhood running into small private parks that I was not allowed entry into. London’s full of these member only parks. I suppose it’s a brilliant thing if you are a member. It’s a nice way to compensate for the urban density of London, but I just feel like I’ve been expelled from something potentially great. Standing on my tiptoes peeking between bushes, I try to imagine what it’s like inside. One weekend a year about 200 of these gardens are open to the public. I missed this year’s open garden weekend, which takes place in June. I guess I’ll have to wait around 9 months to find out what I’m missing.

I ended up chowing down sitting on a ledge across from one of these parks in a very posh neighborhood. I tried to imagine what it was like to be one of these “Sloane Squarer” types as I munched on my cold and slightly disappointing vegetable beancurd parcel. It wasn’t a mind blowing treat, but not all was lost as it was filling and affordable. Tell me Interwebs, what must-have food item did I miss from Harrod’s Food Halls?

Harrods on Urbanspoon

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Last weekend Boyfriend and I got a text from Flora asking us if we wanted to go on a boat ride down Regent’s Canal to celebrate Jam’s 30th birthday. The weather had been amazing all week and I had been dying to do something like this. Unfortunately the weather nose dived just in time for our Saturday outing. It was cloudy with sparse sun, but at least it didn’t rain.

We rode the Boris bikes up to King’s Cross area, which ended up being a bit of a nightmare. The first docking station we tried didn’t work at all, we got lost along the way, and we ran into trouble when we tried to hot dock the bikes at 30 minutes. Apparently you have to wait five minutes before taking out a new bike. I was beginning to regret waxing lyrical about the scheme on a previous post.

We finally made it to the canal with groceries and cider on hand. After a bit of putting around, we had a boat full of people and were ready to take off.

The journey begins.

Our location required us to go through a lengthy tunnel. This was at first very exciting, but after a while turned very cold.

A chilly tunnel

What a relief to literally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Tunnel's end.

A canal trip provides views and perspectives otherwise not seen. Check out the reflection of the industrial buildings on the water and the contrast of the greenery draping off the tree.

Along Regent's Canal

But it wasn’t all about the views. There was much conversation and baby passing too.

Tania and Rowan (Flora and Jam's adorable son)

As our journey continued, we all got a crash course in canal lock operation. I imagine this is a really tough journey to make with one or two people. The locks aren’t hard to operate, but they are heavy. Transportation via canal isn’t the quickest way of getting around. It’s pace, however, is part of the charm.

Baby in one hand, lock operation instruction with the other.

Lock operation

Keiran

Onward through the lock

With lock operation skills under our belt, we continued along the canal. We saw lots of people out fishing. I’m not sure I’d want to eat anything I caught along this canal. Any thoughts out there on that?

Think he catches any fish?

My love and fascination for gas holders as dramatic backdrop continues.

Gasholder

Other random things you see along the canal? How about a pimp and his banana. No I’m not joking.

Oh you want to get to Victoria Park? Just pass the gasholder and around the corner from the guy pimping the banana.

There was some slight drama as we approached the last lock. We didn’t have the right key to get through. The crowds had thinned so we couldn’t ask for help from fellow boaters and phone calls to friends who might have a spare were futile. I think someone ended up purchasing a key from the lock keeper. Don’t ask me how he was tracked down. In the meantime, we moored up and passed the time easily.

Ahoy, matey.

Good times.

An afternoon’s trip down the canal left us on the east end where Boyfriend and I had the boat pull over so that we could jump out, wave goodbye and catch public transportation home. It was all in good timing, as Rowan and I were at the same energy level.

Rowan's Boat Life

Thanks Jam and Flora for a fun trip and Happy 30th Jam!

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It was the day of the Queen’s birthday parade and Joanna and I had been up the night before drinking too many bottles of wine and playing music videos which quickly turned into singing and dancing along to music videos. Our respective significant others were out of town, her kids were at grandma’s house and it all seemed a little necessary.

She was up early the next day to get her hair did and I was off to see the Queen. Kitschy yes, but I had to do it.

I put myself on the tube and headed down towards St James Park. I spotted some slightly hungover American girls across from me, and in British tradition, did not strike up a conversation or make eye contact during the ride. As soon as we were back in the sunshine and off towards the parade, I asked them if they were headed to see the Queen and if I could join them.

None of us knew where we were going but we figured anywhere with crowds was a good bet. Unfortunately, there were more crowds than we bargained for. We tried to position ourselves for the parade but had a very difficult time finding a place where we could actually see anything. We finally wedged ourselves into a spot with a partial view and waited. Every once in a while a horse or official looking person would march by and we’d get excited, but alas it was just a teaser.

“I’d pay about 10 quid for a cup of coffee right now” I moaned to one of the American girls. “Me too” she agreed.

Finally, some action.

Pomp and Circumstance

As we balanced from one tiptoe to the next, guards on horses, foot and with instruments passed by. “There’s Camilla!” someone shouted and I looked just in time to see her and one of the princes pass by in a carriage. Finally, the moment arrived and the queen was in sight.

The moment arrives.

I couldn’t help but be disappointed that she didn’t bother to wave or smile. She just sat there like a big grump being forced to be in a parade on her birthday when all she wanted to do was sleep in and eat pancakes.

I guess I can’t blame her – except that the birthday parade isn’t actually for her birthday at all. It’s a ceremony of British infantry regiments that has been going on since the 17th century. It’s held the second Saturday in June in St James Park and celebrates the beginning of the monarchy in it’s entirety.

The Queen’s actual birthday is April 21, 1926, making her a Taurus.

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17 Took’s Court
London EC4A 1LB
020 7242 2622

www.vanillablack.co.uk/

One thing about living in a world city like London is the totally different class of vegetarian restaurants available. In many towns, the vegetarian establishments are typically cute and quirky but not particularly fine dining. Don’t get me wrong, I love my quirky and fun veggie restaurants, but it’s nice to branch out for a special occasion.

The name, Vanilla Black, creates images of stark contrasts. The establishment rides on this theme with a fine but demure atmosphere. During lunch the crowd was mostly polite people in business attire and a solo me in my denim and trainers plopping down a humongosized hobo bag with camera, maps and books spilling out the edges.  At the moment, I felt like Vanilla in a world of Black, but it was lunch and I had been on the lookout for upscale vegetarian dining for a while.

Weekdays from 12-2:30 Vanilla Black has an amazing set menu of 2 courses for £18 or 3 courses for £23. I decided on 2 courses: an appetizer of Sweet and Sour Glazed Baby Beetroot with Candied Fennel and Wasabi Cream and a main of Asparagus and Chervil Pesto Crumpet with Yoghurt Curd, Potato Cakes and Leek Tagliatelle.

The staff was courteous, polite and attentive but formal. In keeping with the contrast theme, the server brought bread with sea salted butter and black peppered butter which I immediately chowed down on along with a glass of white wine.

Sea salted and black peppered butter for the bread, wine.

The wonderfully presented beetroot dish had the most amazing wasabi cream. The power of the wasabi mixed with the cooling cream made an unusual but perfect pairing and flowed nicely with the natural sweetness of the beetroot.

Sweet and Sour Glazed Baby Beetroot with Candied Fennel and Wasabi Cream

The unlikely combination of ingredients were proving to be well thought out and delightful. I conquered every bite of the beetroot and was anxious for the main course.

Asparagus and Chervil Pesto Crumpet with Yoghurt Curd, Potato Cakes and Leek Tagliatelle

“This is what crumpets are?!?” I thought as I vowed to eat crumpets every day. The aparagus, yoghurt curd, potato cakes and leeks were extremely pleasing. At this rate, my ordering skills were  having a 100% success rate. I decided to go ahead for the dessert. The plates were small-ish, I reasoned.

The peanut butter parfait sounded a bit rich so I chose Olive Oil and Vanilla Roasted Pineapple with Chili Syrup, Mango Pureé and White Chocolate Ice Cream. That’s where my lucky streak ended. The Pineapple overpowered all the other ingredients and left the dish feeling stagnant. It wasn’t bad, it just didn’t live up to the expectation after the other two courses.

Olive Oil and Vanilla Roasted Pineapple with Chilli Syrup, Mango Pureé and White Chocolate Ice Cream

Bottom Line: Vanilla Black works the contrast theme with amazing and inventive results. The pricetag is a little hefty for everyday, but the restaurant boasts a decent set lunch best with dessert skipped.

Vanilla Black on Urbanspoon

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Back in May as the summer began, Boyfriend and I decided to take a day trip down to Brighton to check out the scene. We hopped on a train from London full of other beachgoers. The weather had just begun to get warm and nice and everyone around was buzzing with the promise of summer. Coming from a climate where summer constitutes two-thirds of the year, I tend to take such things as a day at the beach for granted. The whole of Southern England was fully taking it in.

Brighton Pebble Beach

We dipped our toes in the freezing water and I immediately felt awe for those brave enough to swim. After an hour or so of laying around and having someone’s child throw pebbles at us, we decided to have a walk around and check out the rest of what Brighton had to offer.

But where do I fit my beach towel?

The beachfront was simply overwhelmed. The ice cream stores were packed and the restaurants were drained of menu items.

Hope you wanted tiger prawns for lunch.

Thankfully, there’s quite a lot more to Brighton than the water. We stumbled upon a park, cute homes, groovy looking shops and restaurants. Once away from the droves of people on the icy beach, I was really digging it. I’ve been told the nightlife is quite the scene. As we embark upon Fall, I’m thinking this is a good thing.

Brighton, not all beach.

Groovy looking shops abound.

The excitement and crowds over what I considered to be a mildly warm day scared me. It’s occurred to me that although I have traveled quite a bit and have spent months at a time away in Europe or mountain climates, I have never fully experienced the seasons.  I have only been a visitor, popping in for a while and then returning to my natural habitat. I imagine how odd it was for explorers or immigrants before today’s globalization. It must have been difficult for them to wrap their heads around their new home and the weather. Humans adapt, but it’s not without effect.

As for me, I am learning to recalibrate what warm is and trying to soak up the sun while it is around. I’ve developed a plan for my impending Seasonal Affective Disorder that involves lots of trips to the Mediterranean and vitamin D supplements but I think the best plan is to learn to embrace it.

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I had the opportunity to take a helicopter ride from the Cotswolds to Blackbush airport.  I had been on a helicopter once before and by the end of the experience, I was left nauseated from a bad case of flicker vertigo. I was desperately crawling out towards the ground as soon as we touched down. Needless to say, I was a bit nervous this time around. I managed to suck it in, strap on the seat belt, and was pleasantly surprised that this time the ride was smooth and easy. I was able to enjoy myself and snap a few photos of the green and gold quilt patches that make up the landscape.

I hope you enjoy them.

Aerial View of English Countryside

Aerial View of English Countryside

My Lovely Pilot

Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England. Birthplace of Winston Churchill

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