Category Archives: England

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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Snapshots of Cambridge.

Take a moment from your not-quite-last-minute Christmas shopping to peruse some pictures from my day in Cambridge. And if you find yourself wondering what you can give your favorite food blog (oh please, let it be us!) for Christmas, a suggested list is below.

Cambridge had their Christmas decorations up in October. (In comparison, the Newark airport was just putting up their pink and green Christmas balloons sixteen days ago.) It seems that the British are serious about the holiday.

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Old Friends.

When Ben and I planned our itinerary for the England trip this fall, most of our destinations had to do with the people we’d see. London had Elen, Sam and Sarah; Leeds was home to his sister Maria and Cambridge had Ben’s college roommate, Nate. The entire trip was a perfect vehicle to catch up with folks we hadn’t seen in ages.

While seeing Nate was the purpose of our one-day visit to Cambridge, we found ourselves wishing we’d scheduled more time to see the city, itself. It was pure joy to see history coinciding with every day life. Just one walk through made me want to spend days exploring every college, every path along the canal and, of course, every restaurant on its stone streets. (Stay tuned for a picture-only post of the sights of Cambridge.)

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The Road To Peas.

I’m cursed. Every time I’ve traveled outside of Ohio in the past few years, I break my camera lens. The first time it happened, I was in the Philippines. Maya and I had to take a side trip to a mall in Manila for me to “barter” for a new lens. I dropped said lens in Asheville, North Carolina a year and a half later when trying to carry too much Indian food. For this most recent trip, I prepared myself. No longer would I schlep my camera around in a knapsack; if I want nice things, I have to take care of them. A blog post from Columbus photographer and design house, Genre Creative inspired me to look into carrying my beloved camera in a protective bag. Robin even lent me hers to try out for the trip.

I honestly don’t know what happened. Perhaps I opened the bag at a table to grab my journal to write something down, and failed to close it properly. Perhaps, after a little too many large glasses of wine (alcohol is legally required to be measured in England; as a result – large and small glasses of wine) I stood a little too close to a fellow bus rider who helped themselves to the contents on my back. Either way, my heart stopped when, while walking back to our friend’s place in Shoreditch, I heard my camera crash to the concrete, lens breaking away from the body. Again.

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Booze Rules.

It was a day that we’d scheduled to be a walking tour of one of the most gorgeous places in England. It was a day that made me extremely regret leaving my wellies in London. (Yes, I lugged rubber boots all the way across the Atlantic to leave them in Shoreditch the one time I’d need them.)

On the only cool and rainy day of our trip, York practically demanded that we spend as much time as possible inside, warming up with as many cask ales as we could handle—an early-in-the-day bar hop to contend with the weather.

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Unsexy Coffee.

I’m not a coffee snob. When it comes down to it, I’m addicted to the stuff. If it doesn’t have chunks and is remotely lukewarm or hotter, I’ll drink it. When I get into places that specialize in sophisticated coffee drinks, I freeze. So when I walked into Terra Nera, the fast-paced Camden Market Italian coffee joint (filled to the brim with roughly six people per square foot) I panicked. I quickly scanned the complicated menu for something resembling a plain old coffee. The closest thing was caffè Americano. Of course. I’m the American in the Italian coffee shop in London ordering caffè Americano.

My barista was quick to point this out to me and yelled, “No. Not the Americano. Something sexy. You like sweet?”

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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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