London: Day 6

6/7/2013 Friday 4:11 am

 

Today was bus tour day!  There are several companies offering “hop on – hop off” bus tours around the city.  The full circuit takes about 3.5 hours, but you can get on and off buses all day long from about 8am to 8pm.  Some have live guides, some have recorded narration (in multiple languages) that you can listen to if you plug in the complimentary headphones they give you on board.  It’s a terrific way to see the city, really, and you can get off and have a meal or walk around any time you wish.  Overall we enjoyed the live guide a lot more than the recorded one because when there’s a traffic delay, he/she can fill in the pause with spontaneous bon mots.

1 Bus

 

BBC!  We saw lots of cool places, including the famous Langham Hotel, and Her Majesty’s Theatre where Wagner’s complete ring cycle was first performed in its entirety.  But I thought I’d get a shot of the BBC, while saying quickly with a faux-British accent to myself “BBC News”… (Glenda adds: our new game is looking for oddball British phrases and names “as we trot about” and intoning them in our best version of a British accent–it sounds rather ‘orrrible but gives us a laff–a mix of Scottish brogue, Cockney vowels, and an Irish lilt.)

 

2 BBC

 

We “hopped off” at Trafalgar Sqaure.  Another beautiful day with tons and tons of people out.  We finally ate lunch al fresco a la “Pret a Manger”, which are everywhere, like Starbucks in the US.  There are three (3) that I know of on Trafalgar Square alone!!!  So we decided to stop in and see what all the fuss is about.  Turns out the food is varied, fresh, delicious, fast and inexpensive.

 

3 Lunch

While here we visited the National Gallery to get a good dose of fabulous impressionist art and, of course, we walked into the National Portrait Gallery to be outraged (along with everyone else) by Duchess Kate’s portrait!  Also, we saw this crazy frozen head-cast self portrait by Marc Quinn made entirely of the artist’s own blood.  Eeeeewwwwww!  Oh, and there were amazing portraits of many others like Warhol’s Liz Taylor and Joan Collins, Margaret Thatcher, Princess Diana, Prince Charles, Professor McGonigall (Maggie Smith), and many others!

“I’m on a boat…!” Our bus tour tickets included a ride on the Thames!  I just love water.

 

4 Boat

You get a neat perspective from the water–here’s the Tate Modern on the South Bank (used to be a power plant).  Doesn’t look like we’ll get to visit the Tate on this trip. 🙁 (Glenda adds: we might on our last night in London next week, since the museum is open until 10 pm on Saturdays!)

5 Tate

 

And I really like this picture of “The Shard”–the tallest building in the EU–from the water.

 

6 Shard

 

One more–this is the “Tower of London”.  The Tower is where the Crown Jewels are kept… and also where many many people were imprisoned, tortured and killed over the centuries.  Heavy.  The pier in front used not to be there, and there were water entrances to the tower–so they could haul you in through iron gates in a boat.  Relatively easy to get in–not so easy to get out.

 

7 Tower

 

Here’s cousin Laura and I in front of the Tower Bridge!

 

8 Tower Bridge

 

James Bond’s headquarters below!  Back on the bus, our guide pointed out MI6 to us–the rambling series of rooftops in the middle of this picture.

 

9 Bond!

 

Westminster Abbey!  Yesterday was a big ceremony for the 60th coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.  Will, Kate, Harry, Charles, and so many more were there.

 

10 Westminster Abbey

 

Gardens in London are amazing. From the rooftop gardens we saw on day 1, to the incredible Regent’s Park and Hyde Park Gardens, the richness, variety, care and sheer beauty is really striking.  Here you see a vertical garden on the wall of a hotel – beautiful!

 

11 Wall Garden

 

Laura has some fabulous friends, Zsolt and Mikaela (she’s American, he’s Hungarian–they met in NYC and now live in nearby Greenwich)–that we were going to meet for dinner near Covent Garden after our big tour day.

 

12 Covent Garden

 

And here we all are at Sagar for South Indian food.  Yum!

 

13 Sagar

 

Now that’s a Dosa!  Never seen one quite so big…

 

14 Dosa

 

(Glenda adds: we capped off the evening with dessert and drinks at a place called Bella Italia near Leicester Square.  Laura had taught us how to toast Prague-style–you clink the top of your glass together, than towards the bottom, then you tap the bottom of the glass on the table before taking a sip.  You must keep eye contact throughout, or it’s bad luck!  We toasted our good fortune to spend such a nice trip with such wonderful company, and wished for more future opportunities!)

Day 6 was fantastic.  After touring around many sites by tube and by foot, it was really nice to get an above-ground driving and boating tour to help tie everything together.  (Glenda adds: and you can see the architectural detail of the buildings!) Laura takes off for the US tomorrow.  It will be our last full day in London before we head to Paris for a week.  We’ll be back for one night after that though, to stay at the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel and fly out of Heathrow for home.

London: Day 5, Beatles Tour & Singin’ in the Rain!

6/6/2013 Thursday 11:26 am

Today we went on an “In My Life” Beatles walking tour!  Pictured here, lower left, is the official “Beatles Brain of London” (a title won in Liverpool, of course), Richard,  who is also the author of “Guide to the Beatles’ London.”  We’re looking down the street, right next to Marylebone Tube station (in our neighborhood, actually) where the opening of “A Hard Day’s Night” was filmed!  That brought back memories.

 

1 Hard Day's Night

 

Below, and behind us is the Westminster County Registrar where both Paul (twice) and Ringo were married!  Our guide had incredible knowledge of Beatles history–you don’t get the “Beatles Brain” title for nothing!–and at many of our stops he had pictures of the Beatles at the site we were visiting.  Here we saw pictures of both of Paul’s marital visits, along with two great pictures of the “Brain” himself with Paul on several occasions!

 

2 Westminster County Court House

 

The next site was incredibly cool.  Below is 34 Montagu Square–Ringo’s former apartment.  Over the years he let many friends stay here.  It was in this basement here that Paul wrote “Eleanor Rigby”.  Jimi Hendrix visited here, and at one point lived here with his girlfriend (until he was evicted apparently).  John and Yoko even lived here where they took the “Two Virgins” photos, and where, later, the police came to search for drugs–finding some that it now seems were actually planted on them (the arresting officer was later convicted of planting drugs on others).  Amazing story actually, because while that was a minor infraction that carried a nominal fine, it was, years later, the grounds upon which the Nixon administration attempted to eject John from the US once his political activism became troublesome for the administration.

 

3 34 Montagu Square

 

And not far away, here’s the home on 57 Wimpole Street (of family friends) where Paul wrote “Yesterday”!  Wow.

 

4 57 Wimpole Street

 

Glenda pointed out that it was 7 numbers away from 50 Wimpole Street–where  poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning lived until she eloped with Robert Browning.

We saw many amazing things on the tour, and eventually ended up here at Abbey Road studios.  The list of unbelievable artists, projects, classical and pop music ensembles and blockbuster movie scores recorded here is staggering. What incredible history!
5 Abbey Road Studios

 

It’s a busy crossing!  We decided not to take our shoes off and try to pose like Paul on the crosswalk… we settled instead for a shot of some others walking the most famous of street crossings!

 

6 Abbey Road

 

After the tour we returned home for yummy Turkish food at Ishtar –right around the corner from our flat!  Since we arrived we have wanted to try it out.  Totally delicious!  Here Glenda is about to dig into Musakka, a delicious layered dish with veggies, lamb, and Béchamel.  They even made a veggie version for me!

 

7 Ishtar

 

Next was Singin’ in the Rain the musical!  We have been looking forward to this for a really long time.  Singin’ in the Rain (the movie) was introduced to me by Glenda.  I’d never seen it before (this is 10-15 years ago, I’m talkin’ about) and it instantly became one of my favorite films of all time (it was already at the top of G’s list).  We’ve had entire DVD “seasons” that we’ve dedicated to watching Gene Kelly and song and dance films since.  We’d heard great things about this live show here in London from our Austin friend Jennifer Judkins, and so these tickets were booked shortly after our plans to come here were solidified.  Thank you, Jennifer, for the phenomenal recommendation!  We got to see it with the original cast, just one week before it closes.

 

8 Singin marquis

 

It rains in the production!  I like this pic of the theatre because you can see some of the boxes and decor, but you can also see the crew mopping up the stage after it “rained” just prior to intermission during the title number.  The folks near the front got super soaked!

 

9 Singin Stage

 

Post-show Thai food in Soho at @Siam.  Yum.  We had not had Thai food since arriving here, and we had been craving it!

 

10 Thai

 

Picadilly Circus is like the Times Square of London.  Here are Laura and Glenda standing in front of a statue of Eros–but do you see all that pink light on the building behind them?  That’s from the Times-Square-style jumbo-trons behind them showing ads and other info of various kinds.

 

11 Picadilly Circus

 

Tomorrow will be sightseeing busses around the city and a tasty South Indian dinner near Covent Garden with friends.  Can’t wait!

London: Day 4

6/5/2013 Wednesday 3:06 am

Our big set plan this morning was to go meet our dear friends Xuefei Yang and Neil Muir for Dim Sum at Royal China Club on 40-42 Baker Street (not to be confused, Fei took pains to point out, with “Royal China” which is just a few doors away!).  Xuefei Yang, if you don’t already know, is a fabulous concert artist from China who is one of my favorite guitarists and comes to Austin on our series with some frequency.  I suppose, in fact, that now’s as good a time as any to mention that she’ll be back in Austin next April 26 to close our ’13-’14 International Series!

But on the way to Dim Sum we thought we’d check out the neighborhood a bit, and so we walked over to Marylebone High Street.  Such a cool street!  Here’s a shot back from MHS: on the corner you see a bar and restaurant called simply “The Marylebone”–we haven’t been but Glenda’s heard they have good cocktails.  Further past on the right is the “Fromagerie” (a cheesemonger), a simply enchanting little grocery and restaurant and bakery.  (Glenda adds: if I could be personified in a shop, this would be it: gourmet cheese with disco balls hanging from the ceiling!)  And at the end of the street in this picture you seen an entrance to a gorgeous little neighborhood park called Paddington Street Gardens that we walked through to get here!

 

2 Paddington St Garden and Shops

 

And here’s a shot from inside Fromagerie!  This is not, in fact, the “fromage” (though I was sorely tempted to take a picture of the climate-controlled cheese room behind glass doors) but the bread pictured here was so beautiful and so varied, I thought I’d take a picture.

 

1 Bread at Fromagerie

 

We spent a bit of time in Daunt, a bookstore on MHS, which is a terrific bookstore in its own right but is unusual in that it has a three-story section dedicated solely to travel.  Cousin Laura, for example, was able to get a specific and detailed map of a particular park in Africa she’ll soon be visiting for a safari tour!

We eventually made our way back over to Baker Street for Dim Sum, but before we we arrived at Royal China Club we were powerfully pulled into Leonidas, a famous chocolatier!

 

3 Leonidas

 

Dim Sum was amazing!  Fei ordered up a delicious tour of the menu, and it was simply marvelous to sit and catch up with she and Neil–who came all the way down from Oxford to spend the afternoon with us.  They have giant lobsters at Royal China Club!  We didn’t have one, but they were fun to look at.  (Glenda adds: the texture of the dim sum was extraordinary–the egg tarts were silken and the prawns in the har gow dumplings were perfectly poached.)

 

4 Royal China Club

 

We walked south toward Oxford Street – and I was amazed at the number and variety of shops that line the often-narrow streets.  At one point the streets opened into the quaint and bustling St. Christopher’s Square, which Fei said was one of her favorite places to go for coffee when she was a student  at nearby Royal Academy of Music.

 

6 St Christophers Square

 

And they took us to the famous Wigmore Hall!  I’ve always wanted to see it.  Someone was practicing in the hall itself, so we got only the briefest of peeks inside.  Fei has played there many times–her next date is this November I believe.

 

5 Wigmore Hall

 

And we said our goodbyes in front of the London Guitar Studio!  Loads of great guitars inside…

 

7 Guitar Shop

 

We walked down Oxford Street, admiring the extraordinary amount of people and shopping, all the way to the north end of Hyde Park.  (Glenda adds: the shopping!!!  I will be back.) It’s a large park that, like Regent’s Park, has a combination of playing fields, partially shaded areas to sit and relax, paths to walk on, and water elements, like the “Serpentine”–a small lake filled with ducks and swans, and where you can rent rowboats.  Here’s Glenda on a promenade with her first double-coned ice cream.

8 Hyde Park

 

A major highlight of Day 4 was the Dennis Severs’ House in the East End.  Glenda has been my tour guide this whole trip – and I should say she’s researched and weighed our many options, booked our tickets, and guided us in every step.  Boy, am I lucky!  And one of the many places I never would have found–and indeed most people do not–is the Dennis Severs’ House.  Dennis Severs was a film set designer and artist who lived in a home that he spent years turning into a museum-like living replica of an 18th century French Huguenot house.  The idea of the place is that you step back in time and enter spaces where the family may have just left–the candles are still burning, you can smell the food, see it on tables, everything is as it may have been.  It’s hard to describe, really, but the experience was incredible, and utterly unique.  On Monday nights they have an evening candlelit tour that you must arrange in advance.  Everyone is completely silent, and you simply walk and observe this extraordinary 5-story (including the basement) time machine.  It took a great deal of restraint not to take pictures inside – but they told us not to…

 

9 Dennis Severs House

 

And for our final act of Day 4, we went to The Owl and Pussycat Pub on Red Church Street in the East End!  This one’s for you, David!  (Who had observed that we haven’t eaten at any British spots–though we’ve had plenty of other cuisines like Spanish and Mexican.)  Here we had a “Scotch Egg” (soft boiled egg surrounded in breaded, fried sausage), Fish and Chips, a Fried Chicken Burger, Ale and more.  (Glenda adds: the portions were huge!  Far larger than anything else we had experienced so far, and for that, a bargain.  Even Matthew’s amount of linguine gave him pause, though he was able to eat it all.)  A perfect end to a marvelous day in London!

10 Owl and Pussycat

 

(Glenda adds: on the way home, we stopped at a pub called the Prince Regent on Marylebone High Street for one last round of drinks.  We met a nice bartender from Albania who was very, very embarrassed after he read the date on my driver’s license, when I ordered a pint of London Meantime ale.  I tried to reassure him that I often get asked–thanks to good genes from my parents!)

 

London: Day 3

6/3/2013 Monday 4:04 am

Another beautiful day in London!  We are feeling very lucky indeed.  We’ve been told a number of times that this is a rarely clear and warm stretch of days we’re having.  This was the view from our flat–including, if you look carefully, our across-the-street neighbor sunbathing with strategically placed blue tarp.  We were told yesterday that when the sun comes out, the English take it off and … they weren’t lying!

1 Blue Sky

Yesterday was a slow morning.  Cousin Laura arrived from Prague – as did two of her friends from a few hours north of London (one Texan, one English)–and Glenda and I spent the morning enjoying some down time in the flat.  Once everyone was here, the five of us ventured out for some incredible South Indian food at Woodlands Vegetarian Indian Restaurant off Marylebone High Street in our neighborhood.  Marylebone High Street, by the way, is an awesome, bustling, beautiful street–and I can’t wait to spend some more time there, browsing.  If you’re in this neighborhood visiting the Sherlock Holmes Museum or Madame Tussaud’s (both of which we walked by yesterday) you should definitely walk down Marylebone High Street for coffee, lunch, or shopping.  Here’s Glenda with Dosa, Saag Paneer, Kofta Korma, three types of Naan and more!

2 Indian Food

After lunch we walked to Regent’s Park–also in the neighborhood.  It’s gorgeous!  Here’s a shot of Laura’s friends Susan and Isobel, along with Glenda and Laura–standing on a bridge covered in blooming wisteria, with willows all around.

3 Garden

And here is Cousin Laura again, with Glenda and I.  Magical place!

4 Matt Glenda Laura

One of the things I’ve found most striking about our visit so far, is the extent to which people in London are out and about enjoying public spaces.  It’s truly remarkable.  I’m not sure this picture does it justice but here’s our party, and behind them you see a stretch of Regent’s Park with families and friends on blankets enjoying the weather, the views and the community.  Regent’s Park has a goose grazing area (!) which we visited, sports fields for soccer and cricket, a zoo, tennis courts.  Oh–and the Royal Academy of Music is right at the entrance we took from Marylebone!

5 Regent's Park

After spending the afternoon at Regent’s Park, Laura, Glenda and I went down to the Globe Theatre on the South Bank to see The Tempest.  It’s an amazing place and the show was phenomenal!  Well done, Prospero!

6 Globe

After the show we walked along the South Bank for a while looking for a good dinner spot.  We decided to try out some Interior Mexican cuisine at “Wahaca”!  As three Texans in the UK (Laura lives in Houston), we were totally poised to be harsh critics.  But I have to say, we thoroughly enjoyed Wahaca.  From Margaritas and Guacamole to the Churros con Chocolate, the meal was delicious.  We had New Potato Taquitos, delicious Frijoles con Crema (black beans), Chicken Tinga Tacos with Chipotle, Street Corn, Roasted Sweet Potato Salad with Pepitas and Spelt, along with Cactus and Courgette Tacos!  Yum! (Glenda adds: I tried to figure out the ingredient that made the black beans especially yummy–there was a rounded, slightly nutty flavor–I think it was browned butter, but didn’t receive confirmation from the waiter!)

 

 

8 Wahaca Matt Glenda

We walked across the Thames on the Golden Jubilee Foot Bridge to the Embankment Tube station.  The view was gorgeous–London is so beautiful at night.

9 View from Bridge

And along the bridge they were filming for a TV or movie!  In this shot you can actually see the actors walking toward us along the left side: a guy in a suit and woman in a tan trenchcoat–crew all along the right side.  We weren’t able to figure out what they were shooting for, though.

10 Filming

 

So excited for tomorrow when we’ll have lunch with dear friends Xuefei Yang and Neil Muir, tour the Dennis Severs’ House and meet up with my old college friend Justin Yoo for drinks!

London: Day 2

6/2/2013 Sunday 5:28 am

Day 2 (Saturday) began at the Borough Market!  This place is unbelievable – if you come here, come hungry, thirsty, with loads of time on your hands, a big shopping bag and plenty of pounds and pence!  I had a tasty coffee and an Argentine Empanada with Spinach and Ricotta.  You’ll see what Glenda had in a moment.  This shot is just one teeny portion of the sprawling indoor/outdoor combination of stalls, tents and brick & mortar establishments that make up this bustling market.  We arrived around 10am.

1 Burough Market

They have lots of food from Spain, a Croatian station, fresh fish, wines, meats and cheeses aplenty, even an exotic game purveyor with meats like alligator, kangaroo, camel and ostrich!  Here is a simply extraordinary confectionary – not sure if the picture does it justice, but on the far end are merengues as big-as-yo-face!

2 Burough Market

And for Glenda’s breakfast treat?  A giant duck confit sandwich!

3 Duck Sandwich

Well, too bad.  You can’t see it very well.  But as we left the Burough Market we saw London’s new tallest building… The Shard!

4 The Shard

Next to Borough Market is Southwark Cathedral.  We hadn’t really planned to stop here but we were enchanted by it – and decided to spend some time.  Originally built, I believe, around 600, this Cathedral was rebuilt in the 13th century.  It’s gorgeous!  John Harvard (of Harvard University) was born in the area and there’s a special chapel dedicated to him.  It’s also believed that Shakespeare worshipped here, and there’s a stained glass piece with comedies on the left and tragedies on the right… and Prospero in the middle.  Good thing I had Glenda the Shakespeare expert and all-things-English-literary-and-cultural walking encyclopedia with me to tell me what it all meant!

 

 

5 Southwark Cathedral

And also good to see that a Texas High School choir will be here extending the light of the Lone Star across the pond in a few weeks!

6 Texas

The Millennium Bridge!  I’d only seen this in Harry Potter (movie) 7 when the Death Eaters are causing havoc at the beginning… but it’s pretty neat in reality too (kidding).  We stopped at “The Anchor” pub along the way: Glenda had a cider and I tried a Deuchar’s IPA (Scottish – uh – not my cuppa ale).  Hey!  That’s St. Paul’s Cathedral on the north side of the bridge behind Glenda.  We popped a squat in front for a few minutes to cool our heels and for Glenda to tell me all about Sir Christopher Wren (St. Paul’s architect).

7 Milennium Bridge

The Gherkin!  I really, really wanted to see the Gherkin – and Glenda acquiesced.  Not too far – maybe 15 minutes – from St. Paul’s.  Along the way we stopped at the Paternoster cafe for a bite (I had a tasty homemade veggie burger and “chips” which are, of course, what we call french fries–potato chips are called “crisps”).  The ambience was fabulous – and I picked up a paper to catch up on the latest exciting financial news.  Oh… and along the way there is the London Exchange and some particularly tempting and unbelievably pricey men’s clothiers!  I spent a bit of time in reality (and much more in my dreams) staring through two windows in particular, one at some shoes, and another at some simply spectacular jackets.  Mmmm.  (Glenda adds: and suddenly, Matthew understands how fabric and cut can make one’s heart sing.) Oh, but here’s the Gherkin!

 

 

8 Gerkin

Unsure about our next move… we decided to head back to Borough Market to pick up some supplies for the flat.  On the list: Bread, Cheese & Wine.  Glenda also went for some yummy (I’m told) sauteed scallops from Shellseekers which were so delicious that, after devouring them, she went back for some fresh raw oysters for dessert!  (Glenda adds: The scallops were topped with bacon and served with crunchy soybean sprouts.  This was by far the best thing I’ve eaten in London!)  Here we are at a Neal’s Yard outpost at Borough Market.  “Cheeeese Grommet!”  When Glenda was last in London – early in our courtship (late 90s) she went to the original Neal’s Yard to get me some cheese to bring back to the States.  She sure knew how to reel me in!  (Late last night we actually walked by the original which is near Soho.)  So it was very special to go here and pick up a baguette (“French Stick”, they call it) and a goaty brie-like round, a blue, and a cheddar.

9 Neal's Yard at Burough

Et voilá!  Here I am at the flat doing my stint on quality control.  Everything passed – though it was close and took quite a bit of careful testing.

10 Cheese

Glenda booked us seats at St. Martin-in-the-Fields to see an all-baroque performance ending with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.  Bach, Corelli, Vivaldi… what an incredible treat.  And, I have to say, a rare pleasure for me to hear a concert that I was not, myself, presenting!  St. Martin’s is stunning!

11 St Martin

Here we are at intermission!

12 St Martin Selfie

So this June 21st my grandfather, Dr. Harold Eugene Snedden, turns 100.  Grandpa was born in Ohio, grew up working at his parents’ restaurant during the Great Depression and enlisted in the Air Force after finishing medical school to become an orthopedic surgeon.  He served in the Air Force as a flight surgeon and was stationed during WWII not far from London.  He has been blessed with remarkable health and, while he still lives in Ohio, he spends his winters in Florida.  We had lunch in Florida with him in January and I told him we were heading to London in June – and asked if he had any place he used to go with his Air Force buddies when he was stationed here.  He told me “The Strand Palace Hotel.”

13 Strand

The drink of choice for Grandpa at the Strand Palace?  Six shots of Bourbon with Coke.  Cheers, Grandpa!  Can’t wait to see you for the big 100 in a few weeks!

14 Strand Bourbon

15 Strand 3

Hungry!  Cheese and bread are good and all, but one concert and a bourbon or two leaves one feeling a bit peckish.  It was a short walk from the Strand to Covent Garden where we were lucky to get a quick table at a very busy Tutton’s. Here’s Glenda!

16 Tutton G

And here’s Matt!  I had an inside-out mushroom ravioli with “rocket” (arugula) for appetizer along with a tasty butternut squash and spinach bake with parmesan crisp and beet greens.  Yummy!17 Tutton MAnd that was Day 2 in London.  Tomorrow my cousin Laura arrives from Prague to join us for a few days.  She doesn’t live in Prague, just happened to be there for a medical conference she’s speaking at – and decided to pop by afterward.