Thursday, March 24, 2016

Collier Arrives

Several of you have asked whether Collier arrived safely, and he has. He spent almost 24 hours in transit, eventually getting to London from Charlotte via Los Angeles for reasons known only to American Airlines. 

Once here, our intrepid colleague was determined to see London like one of the 99%. So, Oyster Card in hand, he headed for the Tube where he was informed that the Picadilly Line, the line from Heathrow to Central London, was closed for a one-day strike. Why a strike? Dunno. Why for one day? Dunno. But the real puzzle is why only the Picadilly line was shut down. That's the true mystery and it remains unsolved at this point. Your humble correspondent will let you know if she learns the answer to this baffling question.

But arrive, he did, and we met for dinner at his hotel. We had the omakase (chef's choice) sushi menu and it was quite good. We'd originally planned to go out for fish & chips, but that would have entailed a mile-plus walk in the rain, so we're saving the fish & chips for another day.  

Tomorrow we plan to take one of the hop-on, hop-off bus tours. Collier is convinced that, because it's Good Friday, the crowds will be smaller. Yeah, keep telling yourself that, buddy.

Steps walked today: 5,735

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Wheels on the Bus

I've been remiss in posting the last few days. But I'm a convert to bus riding and now I can't get enough of it. It's like a free tour. Today I went to the Courtauld Gallery to see the Botticelli exhibit. But the bus ride was just as fun. Trafalger Square, the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, just watching London pass by was part of the experience. 

I saw something rather odd. It's common to see buskers in the subway stations -- musicians or other performer who do their thing and have a hat out to collect money from passersby. Some stations even have dedicated areas for buskers. The stations have good acoustics, and the performers aren't hampered by bad weather. But today I saw a busker on the street and he was playing the bagpipes! The fellow was piping away enthusiastically, but I wonder how he was doing financially!

My friend Collier arrives in London on Thursday and I'm looking forward to doing touristy stuff with him during my last week here. I've been here three weeks and am enjoying myself thoroughly.  

Steps walked today: 4,180

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Scotland Yard, Cheese and Beer

Today it was back on the bus with me. I rode the #148 bus out toward Scotland Yard, passing Hyde Park, Green Park and Buckingham Palace. And today I rode on the top deck of the bus.

The real action occurred this evening. I found a tiny shop a week or so ago called Buchanan's Cheesemonger. It's a wholesale cheese company that purchases fine cheese, ages and conditions it, and sells it to restaurants and shops. They also have a small retail shop, and this evening they offered a class on Beer and Cheese pairing. There were six students. We sampled seven beers and 12 cheeses. That was a lot of beer and cheese. The class was both informative and delicious.

Steps walked today: 2,924

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Give me Liberty!

So far this week has been a bit atypical for me in that it's involved shopping. Those of you who know me well know that shopping is not my favorite activity. But this past weekend my iPad seemed to be getting a bit wonky so I made an appointment at an Apple Genius Bar. The Apple Store is in Covent Garden, so off I went.

When I first visited London in the mid-80s Covent Garden was pretty run down. It was just beginning a sort of urban renewal. Now the neighborhood is chock-full of fancy, and pricey, shops. Both before and after my appointment I browsed the wares, but didn't buy much. 

My main and enjoyable activity yesterday was a massage at a place near my flat. 

Today, however, was a landmark. I did something I've not done on any previous trip to London. I rode the bus! I'm not sure why I avoided them in the past. The Tube seemed simple by comparison, I suppose. I guess I imagined I'd fumble the fare, or miss my stop. But it turns out that my trusty Oyster card and I did just fine. Oh, and it turns out it's only 90p per ride, no matter how far you go! And riding the bus allows you to see the sights n the way to your destination.

My destination was Liberty, the department store. I wanted to look at their fabrics. Some of the prints they offer have been in production for over 100 years. The store still has many of its original Arts & Crafts details like the paneling in the lift you see in the photo above. I didn't find what I wanted, but a saleswoman discretely referred me to Berwick Street in Soho. 

After a stop for lunch at Honest Burger (hamburgers are all the rage in London right now) I walked the few blocks to Berwick Street. I still didn't find the fabric I sought, but it was a fun outing.

Steps walked today: 4,591

Vocabulary word of the day: Lift. The British call elevators lifts. And if that didn't confuse Americans enough, they number the floors differently than we do. What we call the first floor, they call the ground floor. What we call the second floor, they call the first floor, and so on.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Ode to the Underground

Steps Today: 7,765

The Underground. The Tube. The magical carpet that whisks people hither and thither in London. Yes, it can be congested. Yes, you can encounter delays or station closures. But it's still an amazing system. 

The Underground is over 150 years old. It has 270 operating stations on 11 lines. It handles 1.3 billion passengers per year. 

Now, you do need to learn its secrets, its quirks, its ways. The most basic skill you need is learning to read the system maps. At first glance the map looks like a plate of multi-colored spaghetti, but, in fact, it's a diagram that displays the entire, glorious, complex, confusing, system at a glance. The man who designed the map  in the 1930s, Harry Beck, did so on his own time since his superiors thought his idea wouldn't work. But he realized that, since the trains run underground, people didn't care where, exactly, the tracks were; they only cared about the relative locations of the stations.

In Central London it's important to realize that some stations are quite close together. For instance my flat is roughly equidistant from Marble Arch, Edgeware Road, Lancaster Gate and Paddington stations. Which station I should use depends on which line I need to take for my destination. Picking the better of two nearby stations, even if one is a few blocks farther away, can save you time and the trouble of transferring between lines.

The Tube is now cashless. Even a single-trip ticket must be purchased before you approach the gate to the station. But if you're using the Tube every day, as I am, an Oyster card is the way to go. This is a pre-paid card you simply touch to the card reader on the gate. The great thing is that fares have daily caps; once you pay the maximum, you card is not debited for the rest of the day, no matter how many times you travel.

Riding the Tube requires you to steel your nerves for the sensory overload of bustling, public, urban life. People walk quickly, they know where they're going, and tourists need to fit in. So you need to plan your journey, follow the signs, and be ready to move. When you ride the escalators stand to the right so people can pass you on the left. And be ready to climb stairs, lots and lots of stairs. My FitBit  indicates I climbed 190 steps today, and I only took the Tube twice.

Many stations have attendants who will patiently answer your questions and point you in the right direction, even to places near the station. When you emerge from the station it's important to orient yourself and figure out which way you need to walk to your final destination.

I guaranteed that after you return home from a visit to London, you'll wish your town or city had its own Underground.

Friday, March 11, 2016

When I Lived in London

I'm beginning to wonder if one of the tilesetters who worked on these London stoops was a quilter. Every day I find a more elaborate pattern that could have come from a current quilt magazine. 

And in case you wondered, yes, I will be this woman. You may count on it!

Steps today: 6,216

Vocabulary Word of the Day: Blue Plaque. A blue plaque is placed by English Heritage to commemorate a person or historical event associated with the location. I saw the plaque in this photo today, just around the block from my flat. It commemorates Sir Charles Vyner Brooke (1873-1963), the last Rajah of Sarawak. Imagine the changes he saw in the world during his lifetime.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

"Of All the Gin Joints ..."

The City of London Distillery bar and 
lounge. Note the light fixtures above 
The bar made from old copper kettles.
Today I distilled my first bottle of gin. The City of London Distillery offers a class in the history and practice of distilling gin. Once you have the basics down, you get to choose your own botanicals -- juniper, of course, but also lots of other aromatic, delicious seeds, flowers, spices, roots, citrus peels and such -- and then you distill your own bottle of gin.

My gin recipe.
The City of London Distillery was the first to operate in the City in two hundred years. They distill five varieties of gin and also offer several experiences including classes and tastings. 

I entered the distillery by going down a couple flights of stairs from street level into their bar and lounge area. Michael greeted me with a gin & tonic. I had the good fortune to be the only pupil in my class so I got all of Michael's attention. He was very patient answering my myriad questions. He gave me some guidelines for selecting my botanicals, and gave me time to sniff and select and weigh and measure.  

The small pot stills are named
for the seven dwarves. 
Then it was on to the still room. It took about half an hour for the still to reach the right temperature and distill about 450 ml of gin that had twice the alcohol by volume we needed. Michael diluted the gin with the proper amount of filtered water, then we sealed the bottle with cork and wax, and I affixed my custom label to the bottle. Finally Michael packed my very own bottle of gin into a padded carrier for its journey to the US. 

If you're interested in history, in gin, or just want a unique London experience I highly recommend a visit to The City of London Distillery.

The distillery, as I mentioned, is in the City. This is a square mile in the center of London that's the primary financial district. St. Paul's Cathedral is in the City, and so is the Central Criminal Court, affectionately called the Old Bailey. In this photo you can barely see the dome of the Old Bailey. Atop the dome is a golden statue of Justice. She's to the right of the crane. In one hand she's holding the scales to weigh evidence and in the other she's holding the sword of punishment. 

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the City and will return to it again during my trip.

Steps today: 8,350.

Vocabulary Word of the Day: Look Right. Because vehicles drive on the left-hand side of the street, it's important that you look to your right before you cross the street. At many complex intersections there are "Look Right" and "Look Left" reminders painted on the pavement to alert pedestrians to the direction from which vehicular traffic is coming.