Part III: The “Rest” of London
It’s hard to “see” any city in only a few days, so the “rest of London” is really quite a joke, but let’s just cram in the remainder of our London segment in this post, shall we?
The first evening in London, strangely enough, we saw the Queen. Yup, she’s waaaaaaay back there in her Pepto Bismol pink skirt suit and hat–I didn’t have a decent zoom and I’m shorter than almost everyone (G has some fantastic zoomed in pictures of her). After checking into our hotel (right next to Victoria station), we wandered down towards Westminster Abbey and Big Ben when we noticed a huge crowd outside of Westminster. The road was lined with police, so we figured it had to be some sort of royalty thing, and we stuck around for a few minutes to see if we could catch whoever it was. Turns out it was the queen and turns out we got there at the exact right time. After just a few minutes she popped out of the church, walked to her Queen-mobile, and gave the crowd her little royal waves. L’adorable.
Speaking of Westminister Abbey, it houses a really cute orange tabby who likes to use the Herb Garden as a litter box. (Outside of the cat, my favorite part of the Westminister was Poet’s Corner, of course, especially being able to see the newly minted plaque for Ted Hughes who I’m minorly obsessed with and whose poetry drives me mad in a good way.)
In terms of food, one of the things that astounded me was, generally, how good the food is in London. Granted, I spent quite a bit of time researching it, but our quest of the best Chicken Tikka Masala (G’s requiest) proved how delicious a little of research and a willingness to travel can be. I’d heard, of course, how few and far between a good Indian restaurant is, so I weeded through blog posts and Yelp to figure out the best non-fancy Indian restaurant there was for the dish. Turns out it was a Punjabi restaurant just off of Brick Lane–Tayyabs.
While the Chicken Tikka Masala was key, I was also interested in finding a restaurant with plenty of vegetarian options, and Tayyab’s menu was fairly evenly divided. Everyone on Yelp warned to either show up early or be prepared to wait, and while we ended up there fairly early (7 pm or so) the place did fill up by the end of our meal. Be warned, the papadums do cost a bit extra (which they don’t mention), but they’re tasty and if you’re starving, go for it! The Chicken Tikka Masala was more rustic than I’d ever had before (I’ve heard that in the States they use canned tomato soup to make it creamy-smooth, weird, no), but it was bursting with flavor–the heat from the peppers bounced off the tongue and roof of my mouth, but a savory, smokey hint cut through the sauce. The chicken was juicy and tender, yet grilled with a great hint of charcoal, and the crisp, fried onions added a great little crunch. Needless to say, G was super satisfied with it. I ordered the Karahi Mixed Vegetable dish which had a similar sauce base as the Chicken Tikka Masala (full of tomatoes and peppers and other spices), but which featured an array of vegetables from cauliflower to potato and peas. Again, incredibly good and worth seeking out. (I somehow didn’t get a picture of the naan–it’s a must order, light & fluffy & grilled deliciously. Seriously good stuff.)
Even though we knew no breakfast would measure up to our B&B experience in Tiverton, we did try to find a good, quick one close to our hotel before we set out adventuring in the morning. A kilometer of two from the hotel was a small restaurant (rather diner-ish) called the Regency Cafe. Established in 1946, the cafe oozed post-war charm–posters of boxers and football players on the wall, ageless formica tables, and large sunny windows welcoming the morning light into the restaurant. It’s a good place to get the set breakfast (egg, bacon, sausage, beans, toast, and tea or coffee) before you hit the streets of London for a full day of walking and whatnot.
Fully breakfasted, we wandered off to the Natural History Museum, a museum I’ve always wanted to go to since I was little (it always showed up in books I read when I was kid). It’s not incredibly different than any other natural history museum, but it was fun to wander around and stare at the century-old stuffed animals and walk through the dinosaur exhibit. One of the coolest things to me, though, was the Darwin Center Cocoon. Inside the Cocoon, you wind from top down through a cozy curve of a hallway and learn about contemporary science–from research to what a scientist does today to peer reviewed articles. It’s a really cool way for kids to learn about what a career in science could be like.
After the Natural History Museum, we moseyed across Kensington Gardens (rather bare still) to find lunch, which was nothing to write about (ok, it was downright bad), and then hit up the British Museum. Highlight? The Rosetta Stone, most definitely. And the Bog Man (who I could not get a good picture of–again, G’s is better, but he hasn’t had time to download pictures yet). The Rosetta Stone because, well, you learn about it for years and years in school and it never really hits you how important it is for the development of language and how beautiful it is until you’re older. It really is quite strange to stand right next to it. The Bog Man, of course, just reminded me of Seamus Heaney’s “The Tollund Man,” which I wrote about it my undergraduate thesis, so that was fun. Who doesn’t like bog-preserved bodies?
And, finally, our last meal, the meal we thought we’d never find. Turns out that if you stay in a hotel next to Victoria Station, there’s nowhere to eat. Seriously. Unless you want to spend a ton of money on mediocre food, that is. And we were exhausted and wanted to just eat somewhere close, so we wandered off in search of a Chinese place with decent reviews. Across from the Chinese restaurant (which really didn’t catch our fancy), I noticed a wine place called Balls Brothers. Which I only noticed because it said “BALLS” in huge letters. I am a 4 year old boy occasionally. Turns out Balls is a wine bar. We were sold. Also turns out that Balls runs a Wednesday night special where any bottle of wine is 17£. Any bottle! Naturally we ordered the 47£ La Croix Bonis, 2006.
For dinner, we split a cheese board and a plate of fish and chips, neither of which were mind blowing, but neither of which was bad. The fish was a bit greasy for me, but it was crisp and flaky, so no real complaints. The cheese board featured British cheeses–Cropwell Bishop Stilton, Somerset Brie, and Westcombe Cheddar. I never realized that brie could be made anywhere (makes sense), so I found it pretty cool to eat a British brie. The stilton and cheddar were my favorite, though–just crisp and flavorful. There’s nothing like a pungent blue cheese or a biting cheddar.
And that wraps up London (which has taken forever, I need to breeze through Paris, this recap is getting ridiculous!). I have to admit, I didn’t fall in love with the city. It was nice, but nice doesn’t really cut it for me. Some of it could have been that it was just too cleaned up with the Olympics this summer, some of it probably had to do with our hotel location (I would have been happier back in one of the neighborhoods). Whatever it was, it’s a city I’ll be happy to visit again if I end up there, but it’s not one I’ll search out. But as far as the food and new friend and the adventure of it all, no complaints whatsoever!