Tag Archives: London

London In A Day.

Most of what I see in travel guides and destination magazines is not for me. I know this. While looking at the photos from The World’s Most Exclusive Spas or Ten Autumn Getaways might give me a spark to get through the next week, the only way I’ll end up at a resort is by accident. (Though my two-night stay at Daluyan in Sabang was well worth the splurge. I’m not saying I don’t like these things; I’m just being realistic.) There is a category of travel writing that captures my attention, the short stay stories. The In Three Days series, published through the New York Times, is one that always catches my eye. Chances are, if I’m somewhere fabulous, I can’t afford to be there long. (I’ve spent a single day in both Seoul and Bangkok, and while the latter left me with limitations due to civil unrest, I wish I’d had a quick go-to to, well, go to.)

This is my own version of that travel guide. London in a day. Several leisurely leave-the-flat-at-eleven days preempted this flurry of activity, spawned by the realization that we were running out of time to see the things that Ben and I both wanted to see. With maps in hand, and joined by Elen we left Shoreditch before breakfast to see how many things we could see in London.

Stop One: Kensington.

We grabbed caffè Americanos to go and headed away from the sunrise, determined to witness Time and Relative Dimension in Space, otherwise known as the TARDIS of Doctor Who fame.

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Bacon Under Fire.

My first cultural food shock came in the form of fish sauce. Cambodian cuisine and I were already on shaky grounds (based on the dubious absence of cheese) when I passed a fish sauce factory. My olfactory senses singed for hours; one simple, clear and well-reasoned thought resonated: There is no possible way that anyone in their right mind would eat the stuff.

It didn’t take long for me to adapt to the cuisine and its beloved fish sauce (which tastes infinitely better than it smells). By the end of the trip, I’d almost forgotten about dairy products. Almost.

While it’s acceptable to (temporarily) question other cuisines, my own American-bred eating habits have never come under fire. Until my recent trip to England, when my choice of ordering bacon, of all things, proved to be somewhat of a cultural snafu.

It’s not like I was in Israel or something. I was in Patisserie Valerie in Leeds. They had bacon on the menu. It turns out that it wasn’t the ordering of a side of bacon that gave my server pause. It was that I ordered it to accompany a scone. Sweet and savory. “Are you sure?” she asked in amazement. In my years of eating (and ordering way too much), I’ve never actually caused the waitstaff to openly question my choices. Both the server and I were equally confused. “Yes, I want the bacon and the scone.” She shrugged and processed my weirdo order.

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Breathing Room.

After ten minutes sandwiched between all of London and her tourists in Camden Market, I realized that in at least one way, living in the Midwest is a luxury. Space. We spent an afternoon getting caught in the current of foot traffic, wandering the stalls without stopping to look closely at anything designed to attract our attention along the way. To stop would mean to be run over, or to lose a member of our party. We’d gone to Camden to meet up with Sarah, Ben’s childhood friend, and we’d brought Elen, our London hostess along with us. With only a cup of coffee as our nourishment for the day, we were starving. While the food stalls in the market were tempting, we let Sarah talk us into visiting her favorite nearby pizza place. (The crowds helped persuade us, as did the underlying fear that any food near a tourist site was likely to be crap.)

In what was to become a tradition in our London dining experience, our initial goal (in this case, pizza) was just out of reach. (This happened several times during the trip; we’d get to a bistro that a friend recommended and find that the kitchen had closed seconds prior to our arrival, or we’d arrive at our destination restaurant to learn that they could only seat us at their second location, thirty minutes away.) Camden Bar and Kitchen had changed menus and its beloved stone-baked pizzas weren’t available for brunch on Sundays. Our server—who did not approve of this very recent change in operations—tried to talk the kitchen into serving us pizzas, to no avail. Brunch it would be.

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It’s Them, Not Me.

You can’t go home. That sounds so final, so bitter. Sometimes, you can’t go home. Or, to be more on point, sometimes home changes to a point where you don’t even recognize it. In this case, home isn’t even home. It is, instead, the place I spent most of my time in my temporary home of London, during the summer of 2000: Mezzo. A restaurant. I’ve written about it before. I’ve waxed poetically about the place to anyone who will listen, and if Facebook could somehow chronicle a Timeline for my mind (a terrifying concept), many Life Events would be connected to the place.

I knew that in the eleven years since I’d worked at the Soho restaurant, things had changed. For one, Mezzo had become Meza, and the place had changed ownership. Despite this knowledge, I couldn’t not visit it in my recent trip to London. On the first night in the city, I showed up on the doorstep of the restaurant, sans reservations and sans club attire. My super-duper fancy dining establishment had turned from the place that introduced me to mis en place and fruits de mer to what was essentially a club, a place that as a civilian, I would never enter. Instead, I was a woman on a mission: to touch base, at least emotionally, with twenty-one year-old me.

Once we walked in and looked at the menu, I had to have a stern conversation with myself: absolutely nothing would be the same and I could either enjoy my dining experience or lament the changes. The former would be way more interesting for my dining companions, so I tried to keep my commentary to a minimum. (This, of course, did not stop me from informing my first-day-on-the-job server that I once was in her shoes, but that on my first day, the building was on fire.) (True story.) (I’m sure that she didn’t care.) (I’ve turned into one of those people, the ones who show you pictures of their pets or grandchildren or announce that in this very building, eleven years ago, I ate a bowl of crème bruûlée in a stall in the server’s restroom so that the security guards wouldn’t see me stealing from the company.)

I seem to be doing it again. Right here.

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On England.

I first visited London when I was 16. My British-literature teacher offered to take a dozen or so over-achieving students to the city over spring break. Intrigued by the idea of international travel and, let’s admit it, a chance to spend more time with the teacher (I had a bit of a crush – as did most of my cohorts on the trip) I started saving money made at the Half Off Card Shop to pay for my adventure.

In this most recent visit (at double the age), I’ve found memories of that initial foray into travel popping up. My food memories are vivid; pizza with corn on it (corn!); my first red-wine vinaigrette (I thought I’d get drunk); a heavenly baguette at an Upper Crust inside one train station or another; and, of course, a healthy obsession with the endless Cadbury selection of candies at Boots and WH Smith.

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Becoming Home.

I’ve been house-hunting on two different continents in the past two months, and although finding an apartment in Brooklyn has its own set of challenges, let me tell you: It’s not any easier overseas than it is on home turf. When my sister moved to London to start her program, she had accommodation lined up; a few weeks before classes were due to start, her house fell through, and we spent the majority of my remaining time there looking at places that would work for five mostly non-UK residents, short-term. Not an easy task.

Of course, this story has a happy ending, and, naturally, it’s one that involves a triumphal meal. After a few days of frantic searching, my sister inked her signature on a multipage housing contract, and we got down to the important business of celebrating her newfound digs.

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Saintly Pies.

In August, the stars were in alignment: My sister was getting ready to begin a course in makeup application for stage, film, fashion, and the like at Ealing Studios in southeast London, and our mother was heading over to help her get settled and to see a bit of the city. I had some downtime at work, and you don’t need to ask me twice about putting another stamp in my passport. I bit the bullet, charged the exorbitantly priced ticket to my credit card, and began counting down the days ’til I could flee the country.

I didn’t arrive in England expecting to find a decent pie. It would be somewhat counterintuitive to travel from New York, a well-established pizza Mecca, to the home of fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, and pub grub, with such a goal in mind—the thought never occurred to me, until the traditional Neapolitan-style pizza at Santa Maria sought me out, exceeding expectations I didn’t even know I had.

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Stolen Memories.

This is the story of a cookbook. It’s a long story and it’s a juicy story and I ask you to bear with me.

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The cookbook.

It was the summer of 2000. I’d spent a few months in London, carousing, working and sometimes sleeping. My friend Ricky and I were sharing a four-story flat at King’s Cross with five other people. It was during my last week of work at Mezzo, a restaurant in Soho, when Maya came into town. She’d somehow convinced someone out there in Grant & Scholarshipland to give her free money to “experience culture,” and so we decided to go to Spain for the remainder of the summer.

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First Date Redux.

My first meal with Baseball Boy was in the parking lot of a Subway off of Cleveland Avenue. This past Saturday, we finally got to visit the restaurant he had intended to take me to on a first date: Ying’s Teahouse & Yum-Yum. Had things gone as planned, I would have been very impressed with both Mr. Baseball Boy and his choice of restaurants. Subway was okay, too, I guess.

I found Ying’s to be both modest and delicious. You don’t go to Ying’s to see and be seen. Rather, you go to Ying’s for excellent food at reasonable prices. You also, it seems, go to Ying’s to get a pot of jasmine tea served upon dishes that your stepmom used during your childhood. These suckers are unbreakable.

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Ying’s, unlike other tea destinations in Columbus, does not charge for a refill of hot water.

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