Friday, April 2, 2010

london by balconies, with coffee. and swans.

My spring break trip continued in the UK after my Irish adventures had ended. I landed in Gatwick Airport in London around 8:00 PM on Tuesday night, with the roommates of the two girls I had initially planned on travelling with. I do not know these girls well, and have very little in common with them...this may or may not have made the first leg of my journey through London slightly awkward.

At any rate, I steered us onto the right train from Gatwick into the city, and then onto the correct tube line to our hostel, where we arrived, exhausted from a full day of travelling, past 11 PM. I hadn't eaten dinner, so I headed out for a quick bite before returning to my room and passing out until morning.

I fueled up on free hostel breakfast the next morning before heading out for a bit of adventuring.

I walked through Russell Square, intending to head toward Covent Garden before being sidetracked by...

Starbucks. I hadn't seen one since I left America, and while Italy's coffee trumps 'Bucks' EASILY, I had to sit down for a chai latte, in the name of America. I promptly fell asleep in my chair.

After rousing myself, I wandered down Oxford Street (accidentally) and bought myself a pair of jeans, thank the dear sweet Lord. Aftere that, it was time for me to go meet up with Jessica, a friend of mine in high school who permanently resides in London (well, at least until 2011, anyway).

Since I hadn't been planning on hitting all of the touristy spots that I went to when I visited London last year in any kind of depth, we decided to hit most of them on a whirlwind three hour tour of the city that included...

Somerset House

The Thames River

This is technically not a tourist sight, but a place I stopped for my dear friend Onalee, who studied in London through FSU last spring. Shout out!

Jess also took me where her school, London School of Economics, is based near Aldwych. They had apparently just finished a new building, so after slipping past the high security guards at the front desk (no lie), she took me to the balcony for the view.

'Twas a bit windy.

Then we walked a bit more...

This was so not here at this time last year.

More Thames.

Then we crossed the river on Jubilee Bridge, and after landing on the south bank we headed straight for...

Coffee, of course! From a little caffe called Vergnano, where they actually spoke a little Italian to me! This particular latte was enjoyed on a balcony overlooking the Thames.

Then we walked some more...

Back across the river...

Big Ben, and the scaffolding that was covering Parliament.

The National Gallery

Trafalgar Square

At this point, we had been walking for at least a couple of hours and needed some sustenance. So we headed to Covent Garden where Jessica played the part of Eve to my Adam and introduced me to the sweetest sin since Genesis...

Ben's Cookies.

Oh, dear sweet Jesus, how can I ever choose?
[Small hint: I don't have to. But that comes later.]

Check out the ooey-goeey melty goodness of this white chocolate macadamia nut cookie.

My day in heaven continued when we we returned to Jessica's flat, where her boyfriend, Lucio, made us Moroccan food.

Where can I find a man that will cook me lamb with raisins and saffron and cinnamon and all kinds of other spicy goodness?

Never let him go, Jessica.
Our tour of London's best coffee continued the next day at Cafe Manon, which Jessica and Lucio agree is definitely near the top of the list (if not number one, but we won't argue about silly things like that). They also took me to one of their favorite lunch joints, Benito's Hat, which is kind of like a Moe's or Chipotle in America, with burritos the size of your head. These were fresh and delicious, and this store is not chain, which somehow made me feel less guilty about all of the guacamole I consumed.

It seems like we walked all afternoon, just around and around, so we retired to Jess's flat again to watch a movie. After my movie...we headed to Soho to a Japanese place called Satsuma, where we shared some sushi and rice bowls over a couple of beers. Not quite ready to call it a night, we also went for a pint at a pub close by. Eventually, they dropped me off at my hostel, making sure that I was safe and sound.
The next morning, giving Jess some time to sleep in, I walked down to Covent Garden where I went to -- you guessed it -- Ben's Cookies and went big, buying a special tin that allowed me to also get four cookies for less than 6 euro! Sweet deal! And don't worry, I later shared my goodies with Jess and Lucio.
After that, I took a metro over to Regent's Park, where Jessica had suggested I check out Primrose Hill, both of which I had failed to see on my previous visit.
It was a totally gorgeous spring day.

I stopped here, at the Cow and the Coffee Bean, for a quick latte.

Primrose Hill may not look steep, but let me tell you, I was out of breath when I got to the top.
(Then again, you are talking to a girl who regularly eats gelato before her nightly dinners of pasta with insane amounts of cheese, and whose only exercise these days is trucking it through the streets of Florence in search of more delicious eats. But I digress).

The view from the top was spectacular.

But of course, this is London, and sunshine doesn't last long. The clouds started rolling in before I left the park around 12 PM.

By the time I got to Jess's flat, the sky was downright ominous, and when we set out for Borough Market around 2 PM, it was totally pouring. Typical. Fortunately, Borough Market is almost entirely covered, so the weather did little to deter us.
It was actually Onalee's suggestion that I visit the market, and I must admit, when she first suggested it I was kind of on my Italian high horse.
"Oh, a market? We have those in Italy. You know, fresh fruit, vegetables, olive oil, and all of the bloody meat your heart could ever desire. What's the big deal? But in the name of 8 years of friendship, I'll check it out. No skin off my back."
And can I just say that I am SO glad I went! This market totally kicked mercato centrale's butt. Don't get me wrong, I'm still totally in love with my market here, but this was a whole 'nother playing field.

Freshly made sangria

It also has a significant size advantage over il mercato centrale.

Every spice you could ever need.

But I think it was the prepared foods area that really put it over the top. Here, I ordered a veggie burger on top of a bean salad with some of the best hummus I have ever had. Italy has refused time and time again to provide me with hummus, and I may or may not be holding a slight grudge.

Also, dessert was to die for. Jess and Lucio sampled each other's selections and ended up swapping.

There was also a beer stand that was endlessly amusing.

After leaving the market, we walked along the river bank toward the Waterloo station, where we caught a train to Kingston, located just outside the city.

In Kingston, we met a couple of swans.

Which turned into a whole swan army.
In Kingston, we got some drinks at some pubs and stayed out pretty late, since I didn't actually book a hostel for Friday night. We got back to Jess's flat around 3 AM, where I grabbed my luggage and caught a bus and then a train to Stansted airport. My flight for Eindhoven, in the Netherlands, departed at 6 AM, and from there, I took a bus, then a train, then another bus, then another train to the great city of Amsterdam. But that's another story.

Speaking of other stories, Gillian and I went to Bologna today. And tomorrow is Easter, which means big things in Florence. But if my internet doesn't get it together, you will never get to hear about any of these things, because I will constantly be backlogged on spring break entries. This is actually the second time that I wrote this London entry, becuase when I wrote it last night, my internet crapped out just as I hit "publish post" meaning that I lost everything. It took all I had not to pitch my computer out the window that we have left open to enjoy the beautiful weather. After reminding myself that it is not my baby Dell's fault, but the fault of the Solving Problem network (irony, yes?), I decided that bed was a better option.

So hopefully my internet will be cooperative enough tomorrow that I can post about both Bologna and our Easter celebrations. If not, my parents may have to buy me a new laptop when I return to America.

(I'm only kidding guys, don't worry.)


  1. mmm that cookie place looks right up my alley...and we WILL have hummus here. Worry not.

  2. Don't shoot the messenger or in this case the laptop.....London sounded like a foodaholics paradise....better start getting ready for alot more exercise we are headed that way. Happy easter honey...<3 mom

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