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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Toodles, Canary Wharf!

From Thursday lunch and happy hour at the Wharf...until next time!!

Wonders of the Internet

Just as I was bemoaning what a tragedy it was that I did not get a photo of my new "friend" from Chinawhite...he found me on Facebook.

Honestly, how many intriguing European guys who find me on the Internet am I going to encounter in 2007?

Nevertheless, I felt obliged to share these photos, so you could see how cute he is!

Last Night

So, for my last night in London, I was treated to the remarkable coincidence that my dear friend Hillary was in town, also for work. This was quite a fun “we’ve grown up” moment, as we’ve definitely come a long way from our dorm rooms and mini-fridges in 1994 to international business travel in 2007! We are also both September birthday girls, so we had some celebrating to do.

After MUCH deliberation with the office gals, we got a reservation at a place called Sketch. My friend at work assured me we were quite lucky to get in, as there was some sort of art week something or other going on, and this is supposedly a place for the glitterati… I met Hilary at her hotel, and we headed to the restaurant. Mind you, there is a “fine dining” section upstairs, plus several other bars and such inside, so the place has all sorts of stuff going on. (Feel free to check out the Web site if you’re really curious – I think the thing we were both most taken by upon entering was some live-motion statue of a dog eating out of a trash can. Seriously.

Anyway, here’s what the dining room looks like without any people in it…

It’s also a gallery by day, and at night they have some kind of funky black and white new-age video show going on with techno music and kooky images (as Hilary said, “that candle looks like it was made on a Commodore 64”), juxtaposed with text like (I literally wrote this down):


I think “sensory overload” is probably the best way to describe the scene, as there was so much going on, it was almost hard to concentrate! When I insisted that Hilary switch seats with me so she could look out and have the “good” seat, she said, “I can’t believe you’ve even been able to talk to me, there’s so much going on behind you!”

The other décor highlight was the bathrooms, which are individual egg-shaped stalls/pods (kind of like an airplane bathroom, honestly) with French maids in attendance.

Anyway, the food…we started with cocktails: a champagne one with various fruity things and some kind of pink lemonade. Hilary had a delicious starter of a gazpacho with fresh melon and a berry sorbet; it also had some ham toasts on the side. I had pan-seared gnocchi with gorgonzola, strawberry and tomato, which was a really different combination of flavors, and just fantastic. However, her duck entrée was definitely tastier than my scallops. And after that, I just felt like I needed another course, so I got a cheese plate, which was an enormous (considering all the other portions had been typically avant garde-miniscule) platter of stilton, fresh mozzarella, toasted nuts and grapes. For dessert, Hil had something that was chocolate with a gelatin center, and I got this selection where they bring you four pastries and a sorbet, and you pick two of the four pastries, along with the sorbet. One of my pastries was a really dense, rich chocolate tart with a crisp crust, and the other one was an impossible to describe mix of lemon and some kind of airy cookie with delicious cream. Oh, and the sorbet was something like passionfruit mango, so it was really 3 desserts in one.

From there, we headed to a bar called Jewel around the corner (HD's favorite spot), where we got a random person to take a photo just for documentation!

And with that, the long journey home began…

Hampton Court photos

Now you can see why I was so high on my trip to Hampton Court with Kelly a few weeks ago!

One of the cool things about Hampton Court is that it's two kinds of architecture in one. So, as Kelly is showing us, the front is Tudor...

And the back is baroque.

So, the Tudor part has fun things like gargoyles...

And the baroque part overlooks fabulous gardens...designed for William and Mary, just in case you're wondering why you feel like you're in Williamsburg.

We even took flower photos...Grandmama would have been so proud!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Meet the team

Hallie (events), Liz (media relations) and me

Marta (media relations), who just graduated from Chapel Hill

Amanda (internal communications)

Liz and Marta at lunch

Amanda and Zerin (admin)

Everyone at lunch
Needless to say, communications/media relations/events is a very female-dominated team! We do have one male (coincidentally, also the big boss) but he was out today.

Last week

Since it was my last week in London, I resolved to get out and about as much as possible.

Monday night, Kelly and I walked to a pub called The Gun, which is quite close to my apartment building on the Thames. Unfortunately, upon arrival, we found out it was closed. And, even more unfortunately, there is absolutely nothing nearby. So, we treked over to the Radisson Hotel by my building, which you may recall was the scene of the steak sandwich incident.

We had a light dinner of wine with cheese and crackers and just enjoyed chatting.

Tuesday night after work, I spent some time sitting in the courtyard of my building to watch the sun set, and I just enjoyed being sort of introspective about the past six weeks and writing in my journal about how different experiences change us. (If you are curious, I was contrasting two thoughts: One, that "wherever you go, there you are," which is an expression I've always liked. And two, a sculpture exhibit I saw at the Tate Britain, which represented the idea that we become different people in different spaces, and sometimes that difference is physical.) Then, I went to my new neighborhood Italian restaurant (the site of the free open house last week) and had a FANTASTIC meal of veal parmagiana and vanilla panacotta with raspberry sauce. The veal had fresh buffalo mozzarella and came with roasted peppers, roasted potatoes and vegetables, and it was just so tasty.

Wednesday night brought a field trip with David to Brick Lane for Indian food. This is a very big thing to do in London, and I was really glad to check it out, although David's food was much better than mine. (I ordered chicken tikka masala, which is a very classic, popular Indian dish here, but it was too sweet -- too much coconut milk or something.) Many of the restaurants have people outside to make you "special offers" to eat there, and we got a complementary bottle of wine that seemed quite it had been watered down, which was possible, since it had not been opened in front of us.

David has gotten some new glasses, which I should have taken a photo of, as we could call him PD (Preppie David) when he's wearing his glasses.

Thursday night, I went for drinks with a Brazilian guy named Adriano (I have assembled quite a collection of Portuguese-speaking colleagues, and if I were staying here longer, I could create a little club!). He made a bet that I will end up back here within six months with a permanent job...if he's right, I have to buy him dinner. I said that was a bet I'd be happy to lose!

Now, I am mostly packed, and it's my last day at work. We went to a very British place for lunch, where I had duck confit and potatoes dauphinoise (scalloped potatoes). Perhaps I should have gone with bangers and mash, which is also very British, but they do have that at RiRa in Charlotte. Then, I got a little photo happy...

Presenting HD

Well, you've just got to love a man who takes photos, don't you?

Hunky David (the fact that he requested a blog nickname pretty much sums up his fun personality) handed off these photos from last Friday night.

Here we are in Piccadilly Circus...I think this looked tres London with the bus in the background!

David really wanted to be sure to capture the atmosphere of Chinawhite...

Right down to the bathroom...

And the cool sinks.

Our new Swedish friend, Anna

Monday, October 8, 2007

Roberta gets around!

Sunday morning, I managed to get up early enough that I could spend almost two hours reading, drinking tea, and polishing off the last of my grocery store scones…and still make it out the door to church!

My book, American Psycho, got to such a creepy part that I suddenly felt compelled to hop up, shower, and seek a cleaner, more wholesome part of life. So, I checked the service times at Westminster Abbey and realized I could make the 11:15 service if I hustled. And, I decided that the weather was perfect for Roberta to make her London debut! (Roberta is the tweed cap I bought last year in Victoria, Canada…Mary Neal, Leigh Ann and I would probably agree Roberta is the only good thing that came out of our night in Victoria.)

Upon arriving at Westminster, however, I remembered there is a big Methodist church next door called Methodist Central Hall (photo above), and I was feeling really pulled to get back to my roots – all of this expensive food, drink, culture of consumption, etc., had started to feel a little overwhelming, and I needed a little normalcy. The service had already started, but I rode the elevator up with an elderly black man on crutches and a young Asian girl, which basically says it all about what an incredibly diverse congregation this was. They were celebrating the 75th anniversary of Nigerian independence, so a lot of the women had on these beautifully intricate head wraps. It was probably the most diverse church I’ve ever been to, and I imagined God must really smile to see that. After church, the young adults pastor made a beeline to tell me about their young adults group, which meets on Thursday nights, and I explained my temporary status but took their very cool booklet to give to my minister in Charlotte.

From there, I walked down to the Tate Britain museum, where they’re having a special exhibit called the Turner Prize Retrospective. I’d seen a brief segment about it on the news last week; apparently the Turner Prize was created in the mid-80s to create some interest around the modern British art scene, and it’s been quite controversial over the years. The exhibit was £11, but it was worth it.

This photo is probably the most iconic part of the exhibit and, I think, one of the most controversial winners.

Called ‘Mother and Child Divided, it is a large cow and a calf; both are cut in half and preserved in separate formaldehyde cases. Blech. I didn’t get into the symbolism/meaning or whatever of this one, and my biggest takeaway while looking at it was a little four-year-old boy who approached with his father shouting excitedly, ‘Look, Daddy! It’s a cow!’ Then, upon closer inspection, ‘Daddy, what’s wrong with the cow?’

I mean, I think it’s great to expose kids to art and all, but why anyone would choose to subject a child to such complex, esoteric art is really beyond me.

Anyway, the exhibit has a mix of mediums, and some of the sculpture or video pieces were very thought-provoking. There was a documentary about Bush and Texas, including stops in Waco and Crawford, that won in 2004, but I wasn’t that impressed and thought it was probably chosen just because of the anti-Bush sentiment.

It seems that the Turner prize definitely stirs up a lot of controversy, and this one from 2001 was apparently one of the most controversial ones…

It is a room where the lights go on and off every five seconds. Uh huh. That’s the exhibit. That’s the big winner. Man, can you imagine how the artists who lost to that guy must have felt?

Here’s the official explanation: Creed challenged traditional ideas of display, in particular the expectations of the viewer within a museum context. The work invites the visitor to re-evaluate rules and conventions, focusing attention on the very fabric of the gallery.

It kind of reminds me of this time in college in some ‘cultural studies’ English class when a student informed the professor that we shouldn’t be tested on which ideas came from which authors, as hadn’t we been studying all semester how there were no ‘original’ ideas and they were all cultural constructs?

Oh, well, anyway, as you can tell, I really enjoyed the exhibit, and I guess just missed out on having someone to discuss it with!

So, from there, I gobbled down a gorgonzola, red pepper and tapenade baguette on the steps, then went to Westminster Abbey for the 3 p.m. Evensong service.

I made a quick stop for a self-portrait in front of the Parliament buildings.

I could have asked someone to take my photo, but that’s not as fun because you don’t end up with these trial runs…

I didn’t know what to expect of Evensong and though it might be some sort of choral vespers, but it’s basically a full church service (no communion). It was pretty cool to sit and look around the abbey, and of course the sound of the choir was lovely. (I actually ended up sitting in the side near Poet's Corner, but I didn't realize that until today when I looked at a map.) Ironically, I guess yesterday’s lectionary was from John, the story of Jesus and the blind man, because I heard it in both services, but the guy at Westminster Abbey did a really good job of encouraging us to think about how we see things with strange/new vs. familiar eyes...e.g., the Pharisees saw the blind man as dirty and hopeless, but Jesus saw him as someone worth helping.

The service was over about 4:15, so I looked around the Abbey a bit (the only really famous part I saw was Newton’s tomb; the back part behind the main alter is closed on Sundays, and they were sort of pushing us out). I cannot imagine how frustrating it must be to ride herd over tourists in a sacred woman was taking photos during the service, and I couldn't figure out if she was asked to leave or just left because she was either (a) offended/embarrassed or (b) successful in getting the photo, which was all she wanted anyway. Then, I hustled (and I really had to hurry) to make it to Kensington Palace for the last admission at 5 p.m. I almost didn’t make it, and I was a little worried I might not get in and would thus waste a bunch of time…but I had free admission (a $24 value!) with my Historic Royal Palaces membership.

Here's a glimpse of what the palace looks like set among the changing leaves of the park...

The tour started in the Princess Dianna memorial exhibit, which had a ton of video clips and photos; standing and watching the wedding-related bits was particularly interesting, and I listened to some of the interviews with photographers who’d followed her over the years. Upstairs, they had about 8 of her dresses on display, with a video interview of Mario Testino talking about the famous photos he took of her in the dresses for the Christie’s auction. Probably the coolest dress to see was the one from the iconic photo of her dance at the White House with John Travolta. I also found myself trying to eyeball the sizes to see if you could tell whether her shape changed over the years…is that awful? The 1992 dress definitely looked smaller than the 1984 dress.

From there, the remainder of the Kensington Palace tour is of the palace as it would have been in the Victorian era. Queen Victoria lived at Kensington Palace until she became queen and moved to Buckingham Palace, so a lot of the tour commentary had to do with her. The funniest thing was a set of ‘Indian clubs’ she was supposed to use to work out. Overall, I thought the palace tour was neat and was really glad I did it, but what else can I say about yet another palace?

After that, I headed home, giving myself two gold stars for making the most of my last Sunday in London!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Let's go clubbing

OK, so, Friday night, as I mentioned, my mission was to check out Chinawhite with the previously introduced Hunky David (HD). (Lauren asked, “Can we see a picture of this guy to see if he’s as hunky as he says he is?” and I imagine others were wondering the same thing…)

Now, just to set the scene, here’s how Chinawhite is described on View London: The Londoner’s guide to London:

Famously known as London’s celebrity haunt, Chinawhite’s legendary status has witnessed partying from members of the royal family to Page 3 models alike.

You can read the rest of the review here:

Now, that first sentence sounds intriguing, right? However, the review also goes on to call Chinawhite “unquestionably overrated.” And here’s a photo so you get a bit of the ambience.

Nevertheless, when I told a few women at work that I was going there, they asked if I really knew what I was getting into and informed me it drew a much, er, faster crowd than they suspected I was looking for…however, when I explained that it was to be my only foray into the London club scene, they agreed I was definitely going straight to the top of the heap!

David and I made an early stop at a bar called Jewel, also in the Piccadilly Circus area, and then headed into the dark alley where Chinawhite is oh-so-discreetly located – i.e., no signage because if you have to ask where you are, you’re obviously not meant to be there. After our names were crossed off “the list,” we paid £3 each to check our coats (oh, I had some major shoe drama going on, as I couldn’t wear my sassy shoes on the tube – yes, girls, the JCs made it out on the town! – so I had a shoe bag with my ballet flats for walking).

So, remember, we’re there for a Swedish Junior Chamber of Commerce event, right? (They even gave us two free drink tickets, which saved us a good $40 each at the typical standard upper end £10/$20 cocktail standard. Honestly, those prices are enough to make you want to stop drinking alcohol, aren’t they?) Keep in mind David is Portuguese/South African, and neither of us look the least bit Swedish. So, the next thing we know, a blonde girl comes up and starts chatting away in Swedish…oops. We informed her that we were, in fact just friends with a Swede, and I was going to lie and say our friend was in the bathroom, but we ended up coming clean, and this girl (Anna) turned out to be our friend for the rest of the night.

Honestly, the evening itself was not particularly eventful; I’d describe the place as more of a lounge than a club, though people did start dancing as the night went on. I did have an interesting conversation with a Swedish/Russian guy named Anton, who was pretty unconventional and all into that sort of philosophical (as Leigh Ann calls it, my need to examine my belly button) conversation that I enjoy. And when I asked him what he was carrying around in his man purse, it was a copy of Candide by Voltaire and a sketch pad, among other things. (Oh, plus, he was CUTE, with very expressive eyes, a total baby face and this gorgeous thick dark hair.) So, naturally, I was all intrigued as I tend to be by these European types, and we chatted away for probably about 2 hours until we got into a conversation about whether children are inherently good, and he said, “Children are not inherently good. Children are neutral.” And maybe that is true, but it was just too much, and it was on top of the fact that he’d said I had “cute wrinkles,” and insisted on calling me Jennifer because he thought that was just the PERFECT name for me, so I bid him adieu and called it a night.

Nevertheless, I managed to exit Chinawhite having spent only the £3 to check my coat, which made me quite happy.

So, this morning I just enjoyed having a lazy Saturday with a pot of Earl Grey tea, then I went out for the spinach and brie tart that I enjoyed so much on my first weekend here. I meant to get out and do some sightseeing, but I just didn’t have the energy to go go go, so I decided to see Atonement. What a fantastic movie! It is much like the book, which I loved when I read it, so I highly recommend it. There were also a few London references/landmarks that I enjoyed noting. One of the best things about the movie is the score; the music really sets the mood for each scene.

This evening, Adam and I had made plans to eat a Yauatcha, (which took me all week to learn to spell, by the way, and just try looking up a restaurant online when you don’t know how to spell it). One of the girls at work had recommended it when Christy-Anne was here, and I’m sorry we didn’t check it out then, as it’s really cool. They serve mostly dim sum, and Fodor’s calls it a very “Sex and the City” atmosphere, which is probably as well as you can describe it…super hip and trendy, but the food was actually very tasty.

I had one of the yummiest cocktails I have ever tasted...I wish I could tell you what was in it besides grapes.
We let the waiter pick out 4 dim sum dishes for us -- lobster dumplings, vegetable dumplings, prawns, a really tasty ginger Chilean sea bass and then split crispy smoked duck with hoisin sauce and pancakes. Dessert was coconut rice pudding with mango and a burnt sugar crust, topped with a blob of what I would call Rice Krispie treat. Divine!! They have a tea room upstairs, with a pastry counter that looked amazing.

We stopped at a Borders on the way home, and I picked up a copy of American Psycho, which seems like a fun thing to read now that I am feeling so immersed in the big-city capitalist, consumptive frenzy here. (Adam thinks my phrase “Porsche Culture” would make a good book title.) Overall, it was just a very pleasant evening…oh, and we took this picture before dinner when we had a pint at a pub.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Introducing Hunky David

Oops, I should have posted this earlier, as I am now in a rush, but I just wanted to tell you we have a new character for the blog! His name is David, but when he found out he would be appearing on the blog, he requested that he be called 'Hunky David.'

Our mutual friend Kelly and their teammate Jenny have hooked us up to go to this club tonight which is apparently super chi chi and hard to get into. There is an event for (I think) the Swedish Junior Chamber, and this is how we are getting in free. I didn't ask too many questions and just took it as a fun opportunity.

Anyway, last night HD and I met for a drink, and we agreed we will make fun wing-persons for each other this evening.

After our drink, he went out to meet his 'mates,' and I decided to head over to Ubon (that's Nobu spelled backwards...not sure what the difference is, as the menu seemed the same as Nobu, and they're owned by the same people). I sat at the sushi bar and had some yellowtail tuna with jalapeno, followed by the black cod with miso. The latter is probably Nobu's most famous dish, and it is DIVINE. It was so good when I put the first bite into my mouth, I almost cried. Seriously. I also had a scrumptious strawberry balsamic caipirinha, which I am now determined to replicate on my own.

I will try to come up with some good stories on this my LAST weekend in London...

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Photos from Patrick

Sunday breakfast at Browns on St. Martins Lane

Checking out the lions at the foot of Admiral Nelson's column in Trafalgar Square.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Thames Path

What a fun night! I left work shortly after 5 and headed home to put on my tennies. Though it was rainy in the morning, it had cleared up and was in the mid-60s, so it was a nice night to be out for a stroll. When I was bemoaning my exercise options last week, someone told me I could easily walk along the Thames Path from Canary Wharf to London Bridge, as it’s a big jogging route. Eureka! I mean, I had literally gotten out the map and poured over it and wondered if maybe I could take the tube down one stop to a park that looked like it might be OK for jogging…

Seriously, folks, I have missed a majorly cool thing to do for the past month! I just think that being outside along the river is so lovely. My flat in the boondocks is to the east of Canary Wharf, but somehow I had not realized that if you walk off to the west, it is super cool! There is a whole new set of restaurants and bars I haven’t even checked out. I did not make it all the way to London Bridge because it started to get dark, and I wasn’t sure how good of an idea it was to be by myself (aren’t you impressed, Mom?), but I went all the way through Limehouse (where Leigh Ann and I had dinner at the Gordon Ramsay pub…little did I know we could have walked home…in 30/45 minutes) and up to part of a park. It was so neat! Part of the route is along the water, and part cuts through the streets of Limehouse and Wapping (both are converted industrial areas – warehouses turned into apartments). I passed another pub/restaurant I’d read about, and I must say it’s too bad my visitors came before I had scoped out the good haunts!

When I got home, it was only about 7:15, and I was feeling very peppy, so I walked down to the new Italian restaurant that has opened on the corner. I pass it every time I come and go from my building, and for the past week, once I realized it was going to be a restaurant, I have been SO excited that there would be somewhere else to eat in my ‘hood! (Just FYI, that steak sandwich from last week rang in at $50 by the time my wine and dessert were added, so I don’t think the Radisson is a viable frequent dining option!)

Well, just my luck, they were having an open house at the new restaurant! They had free food, drinks, etc. It was hilarious; I’ve just never been in a restaurant where they were literally giving everything away, even alcohol. And I experienced the friendliest service I’ve had since I’ve been here. I ate standing up at the bar and started talking to a couple standing next to me, only to find out the girl was Brazilian, so we spoke Portuguese for a while.

I repeat: what a fun night!

And how fun is this...I found this whole set of 360 views on a BBC site, so you can see parts of the walk I took for yourself!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Sunday at Hampton Court

Sunday morning, I was still dead tired (and my legs were by then aching from the stairs on Saturday), but I dragged myself out of bed to meet my friend Patrick, who was in London with his parents, as his father had given a paper at Cambridge earlier in the week. (My, doesn’t that sound impressive? For those of you who can remember back this far, Patrick and I were both in ‘The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas’ at Duke and had to simulate hanky panky together in the shadows during one scene.) We lived in the same freshman dorm, and we are always connected through our friend Neil, but we hadn’t seen each other since our 5-year reunion. Once I got to the British Museum, Patrick had scoped out the queues for the special Terra Cotta Soldiers exhibit from China, and he said there was no way we’d get early tickets. So, we headed out to breakfast!

We had a great time catching up over a pot of tea; he had a bacon sandwich, and I had a really good salmon florentine eggs Benedict. He filled me in on finishing his English dissertation about George Elliot and the concept of individualism and his theories about how her writing was dictated by her very interesting (and scandalous) personal life…and, even better, I got the update on his own recent personal life. After that, we walked to the National Gallery, where Patrick tried to get a picture on one of the lions.

Then, he went into the National Gallery, and I headed to Waterloo Station in order to meet my friend Kelly for a palace excursion. We both wanted to go to either Hampton Court or Windsor, so we let the train schedules determine our destination, and Hampton Court won. It was only about a 30-minute ride, and quite cheap at just £5 round trip.

I highly recommend Hampton Court! One again, folks, Fodor’s will not let you down, as it was a Fodor’s Choice attraction (so was, I might add, the Prospect of Whitby AND the fabulous brunch destination of last Saturday, Electric Brassiere).

Hampton Court is best known as the riverside palace of (principally) two monarchs: Henry VIII and William (as in William and Mary). Most interestingly, it is a juxtaposition of two completely different architectural styles. The front is Tudor, and the back is baroque. Apparently, William and Mary wanted to ‘update’ the place from the old Tudor style, and they hired Christopher Wren to do so, but all sorts of problems struck – from a wall collapse to the death of the queen – so the upgrade was never completed. It’s like the place is having an architectural identity crisis.

Kelly and I managed to join in on two really great guided tours, so we got an overall overview and a tour of the Henry VIII section. I learned (OK, maybe Mrs. Johnson covered this in high school, but I’d forgotten it) that Henry VII ended the War of the Roses by uniting the houses of Lancaster and York (and marrying a York gal), so Henry VIII sort of had to prove his legitimacy as king (and, the sign of the house of Tudor was a white and red rose, which combined the Lancaster and York symbols).

Anyway, I guess I would bore you with a bunch of details, but the house itself is just enormous and great fun to wander through, with lots of open courtyards, so you can kind of break it all up with walks through the splendid gardens outside, which is what we did, so you never get that ‘oh, my God, I cannot look at one more painting’ feeling. And even by the end, when we’d probably been there for about four hours, we were still really enjoying it, and had the nicest time hearing one of the guides tell us ghost stories and tales of Queen Catherine (married to one of the Georges…they were the Hanoverian kings from Germany, who had to come in because there were no Protestants to take over the throne). Since we were in the queen’s rooms, he filled us in on how her bath and other personal grooming worked. He also gave us some good scoop about the tradition of ‘grace and favour’ apartments. Apparently, there are still some people living in these apartments, which date WAY back to when lords were getting killed in wars, and their surviving families would show up on the king’s doorstep asking for a roof over their head, since the lords had died fighting for the king and all… Well, in the 1980s, there was a terrible fire, which started in one of the ‘grace and favor’ apartments and damaged part of the historical palace, and after that, the Queen decided to end the system (people have apparently sort of wrecked some of the history by making the apartments fit for modern-day life). So, now there are 4 elderly people still left, but once they pass on, that’s it. (There was also an explanation about how this system ties into the fact that they can fly the Royal Standard, but that would definitely be too much information).

We even saw the world’s oldest tennis court, which is still in action.

Anyway, I highly recommend Hampton Court as a fun day trip! We were especially lucky that the gardens were still very much in bloom. Along the way, we stopped for a tea/beer/scone/refrigerator cake break, and although it got a teeny bit chilly a times when the sun went behind a cloud, it was mostly sunny and a really lovely day to be outside.

Whew, by the time I got home, it was about 7 p.m. and I was just wiped out. What a pleasant weekend!

Patrick and Kelly both took photos, so I'll post them as soon as I ge them.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Super Saturday

This weekend started off a bit slowly, which was just what I needed. I had a quiet night after work on Friday (oh, after a big org announcement came out after 6 p.m. and got everybody talking…hope I still have a job when I get back!). Let me just tell you that Waitrose has the yummiest line of prepared dinners…they really reflect the ethnic diversity that makes up London cuisine. (Several people have asked if British food deserves its poor reputation, and I must say absolutely not! There is a ubiquitous chain that I just love; it’s called Pret a Manger (Ready to Eat), and they have tons of yummy freshly-prepared sandwiches and salads. The other popular chains like EAT, Bene Bene, etc., are also much more European, fairly healthy, etc.) Anyhoo, at the grocery store, you can get these dinners that feature different Thai, Middle Eastern, French, etc., dishes, and you just put them into a pan to cook the meat, then add some kind of tasty sauce. So, last week I had one that was some sort of Moroccan lamb, and it was so good over cous cous, I ate it twice, including Friday night.

Saturday morning was lovely and lazy. I brewed a pot of Earl Grey tea and toasted two scones, topped with clotted cream and jam. Clotted cream reminds me of a cross between butter and cream cheese. I read a bit and just had a nice relaxed morning. Then, I tried out my newly-discovered exercise option! One day last week, I saw a guy push open the paneling between the elevators to reveal a stairwell. Eureka. Sadly, this had not occurred to me…I have not been able to find a way to get regular exercise, yet I live in a building that’s almost 20 stories high. Bingo! My own personal stairmaster!

I amused myself on the stairs (or, huffed and puffed, that is) for long enough that I could hardly walk today. By then, it was getting on into the early afternoon. I checked in with my friend Kelly to see if we should do one of the palace outings we’d discussed, but we decided the weather looked better for Sunday. So, I finally got dressed and headed to the Westminster area to do some of the museums galleries I’d been putting off for a rainy day. I went to the Cabinet War Rooms and Churchill Museum, but I found out it would cost £11, so I decided some lunch was necessary, in order to ensure I had a full tummy and got my money’s worth (the scones had worn off by then).

At Pret a Manger (see above), I got a tuna baguette, apple and ‘refrigerator cake,’ which is apparently an old-fashioned sweet made of graham crackers (a.k.a. ‘digestive biscuits), chocolate and sultanas (raisins). We’ll call it a British s’more. I sat on the steps of Trafalgar Square and watched the tourists climbing up on the lions by Lord Nelson’s column. Then I walked back down to the museum. It was really interesting; it’s basically a bunker underneath the Royal Treasury building that was used by Churchill and the War Cabinet during WWII. I learned that the blitz bombings on London were concentrated around 1940 and 1941…at some point, I guess Germany gave up and had to focus more on defense than offense. Most of the rooms are maintained exactly as they would have been in 1945, and I found it really cool to walk through a museum that was so authentic…we don’t often get to see things of historical value in exactly their proper setting. They even had the bedrooms set up for Churchill and his wife, Clemmie (though Churchill only slept in his bed overnight three times and mostly just used it for naps). I think my favourite part was the Map Room, with the holes remaining from the charting of convoys as they crossed the Atlantic. The Churchill Museum (it just opened in 2005) was a bit too modern for moi…it has won several awards, but with its cacophony of videos and audio recordings, I found it to be a museum designed to cater to someone with ADD. However, I did find the video montage of Churchill’s funeral to be very moving. It also did a good job of giving a pretty well-rounded depiction of him and not sugarcoating some of his less popular aspects.

From there, I met up with Adam (yay…the blog has some ongoing characters besides me…hopefully you remember him from two weekends ago). He was working at his law office in the City (the main business district), and we tried to find a pub to go get a drink before our dinner reservation, but everything was closed. Seems the City shuts down on the weekends even more than Canary Wharf. So, we took the tube to Wapping, where we were going to have dinner, on the recommendation of someone I met through the bank. I was a little anxious, as I thought the Indian place I picked for us to eat two weeks ago was a bust, so I didn’t want Adam to think I was incapable of picking a good restaurant.

In short, it could not have been any cooler! The place is called The Wapping Project, and it’s an old hydraulic power station that’s been turned into a restaurant and art gallery.
It was lit with tons of candles, and the atmosphere of the candlelight and the industrial fixtures was just a great contrast. Wapping reminded both of us of NoDa in Charlotte…sort of an up-and-coming, gentrified former warehouse area. I had a clementine martini, and he had something kind of like a mojito. For starters, we had a Spanish charcuterie with lomo, jamon serrano, chorizo, olives, etc., and scallops with garlic polenta, corn and spinach. All very tasty. His entrée was a duck pie – shredded duck in a pastry crust with mashed potatoes – and I had porccini sformato. We had to ask what that was, and I’m not sure I can describe it, other than to say it was kind of like a mushroom pate…with a hint of truffle. We were too full for dessert.

We didn't take any photos, so here are a few that I found on Flickr...looks like these girls had fun!

After dinner, in my usual lame fashion, I was ready to call it a night, but we walked by a pub that looked really fun and full of people out on the deck, so we ventured in for a beer. Funny enough, it’s the oldest riverside pub in London and is actually in all the guidebooks!

The deck overlooking the Thames is really pleasant, and we had a nice time sitting outside (except for the cigar smoke).

I did not make it home until midnight, which was too bad, as I was supposed to meet my friend Patrick at 9 a.m. Sunday at the British Museum, so I’d need to leave home a little after 8.

To be continued!