The London Chapter

A Barrel of LaughKensington High Street

English Sauce

Under the Bridge

People

The Blue Eyed Maid

Croissants at Bill's London

Street in front of Harrods

Walking down a quiet lane

Barely looking at my passport she asked me a few official questions, flicked through the pages before she finally found an empty spot to squeeze in an entry stamp. “Have a nice holiday honey and please do lots of shopping?” she remarked. She repeated again in single syllabus “lots of shopping” as if she was in a trance. Drawn in by her hypnotic drawl, I parroted like an obedient student …“Lots of shopping”. She nodded and I nodded back in a comrade agreement. Right…What just happened there?

I had no such intention to shop; I made sure to take a casual valise and a single knapsack to limit any impromptu purchases. 10 days in London, 10 days in the mother-city of the British Empire, 10 days of speaking just English, 10 days of exploring museums, galleries, markets, library, bookstores and dining halls – 10 glorious days of doing everything but shopping (OK, maybe just a little).

It was rush hour on a Wednesday morning as I navigated my bulky self through the crowd at the train station. There are over 8m people living in London proper, almost double in the metropolitan area – a big percentage are from the working class age group. Most of them converge almost daily at the 270 stations on London’s tube network covering a lengthy route of 402km – rushing to be in time for work and appointments. Trench coats, umbrellas, boots and heels, they hurried with fury in their steps. I was the unemployed spectator stunned by the enormity of what lay ahead of me and I was not even at ground level.

February 2014, the weather was as wet, windy and cold as it almost always is. Equipped with an umbrella and wrapped in a warm coat, I was ready to brave the soggy English climate. The wet prospect however failed to dampen the pleasure I felt being in this vast, unique urban melting pot that is the British capital. I was instantly pulled into the energetic sphere of the multitude and I waltzed in their rhythm.

LONDON STROLL ON WET WINTER DAYS You can’t visit London without going to the Natural History Museum. Apart from its Goliath exhibition on nature, the building on it’s own is a spectacular structure in the Neo-Romanesque style. This terracotta beauty with opulent staircase, galleries and dramatic arches is set amongst a lush sculptural parade of designs derived from plants and creatures.  Next on my list is the National Gallery. It hosts a great collection of works by some of my favorite artists from the nineteen-century impressionist era. On Piccadilly Street, there’s the infamous Waterstone bookshop – the largest in Europe, where I always find an interesting edition to add to my book collection. This time I found a book beautifully crafted in cloth “Jerusalem – by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi” filled with recipes and street images that capture the flavors and smells of Jerusalem. Attend poetry recitals in participating bars and venues around the city. Look out for events listing at Poetry London website www.poetrylondon.co.uk. Go to Mrs Kibbles (Brewer Street) for traditional old fashion bonbons; I always leave with a few bags of chewy raspberry flavored candy.

I’m a creature of habit and often go to the same restaurants: Bill’s (125 Kensington High Street) for leisurely breakfasts. The Grapes, Limehouse (76 Narrow St), a historic pub overlooking the Thames frequented by Charles Dickens and now partly owned by Gandalf the Grey, Sir Ian McKellen. This charismatic boozer is a good place for a pie and a pint. Ice Cream Parlour at Harrods (Brompton Road Knightsbridge) for a well-deserving chocolate gelato treat. I really love winding down at The Booking Office Bar, St Pancras Renaissance Hotel (Euston Rd.)  The after-work buzz and hot Victorian punch paired with late-night live Jazz has a calming effect of a chamomile tea. This remarkable historic venue serves the best sticky toffee pudding with clotted cream I’ve ever tried and their Charles Dickens Memorial punch is a classic.

Before leaving London, browse for antiques, vintage fashion and second-hand books. Be antique-inspired at Coreone (The Gasworks, off New King’s Road) a large shed full of antique dealers with mid-range price tag and is absolutely free of junk. Blitz Vintage (just off Brick Lane) is where your will find vintage clothing, furniture and accessories all in a 9,000 square feet Victorian warehouse. Here I found the cutest Breton striped oversized jersey to add to my summer closet. South Bank Center Book Market (Queen’s Walk) tucked under the Waterloo Bridge is the go-to place for antique books. Wherever the destination I always steal some time to shop for antiques, it’s a relaxing treat and you never know just what you will find.

oh yes, I was guilty of buying a few things too many but I managed to fit everything into my luggage (barely). I almost wished I brought a reasonable sized one but then again I was happy I didn’t for a very good reason. Along with its cultural feast and International fare, London is a splendid commercial treat with a great variety of shopping choices – from the discerning bargain hunters to the ultimate luxury shopper there is something for all taste. Depending how space-prepared you come and how deep your pocket is, when in London the common traveler always end up doing one thing…lots of shopping.

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