Sunday, September 26, 2010

Day 25: Kismet's Calling

Sometimes the best walks are the spontaneous ones.
I absolutely did not know what to do yesterday. I got up rather early for a Saturday (about 9 am), had the usual breakfast, took a shower, did the laundry, chatted on skype, did some blogging and so on. After checking the timeout London newsletter I considered seeing an expedition about experimental food for 5 pounds, but as it was afternoon already and it was about to end at 5 I abandoned the idea. Well, why not just go to Hyde Park, see what people at the Speaker's Corner had to say leave a little through my book.

That was the plan. I never got to Hyde Park. As they always try to only do construction works on the tube at the weekend, you need to be aware of that when being in London. While I am, the Northern Line always seemed to be very reliable so far and everything was roughly planned out (ok, rather in the "we'll see what happens" manner), so it was quite suprising when right before arriving Bank Station, an announcement was made that the station could not be serviced at his point. Fudge. So I got off at London Bridge Station for the hundredth time, seeing what I could do. Take the cruiser to Greenwich? Naaah, not in the mood. So I pretty much just kept on walking for a while, passing over Tower Bridge, walking in the sun along the waterside, eating an overpriced but luscious pistachio macaron from Paul's along with a mocha. As there was a Wagamama right around the corner I decided to have my late lunch/early breakfast there. No too good of an idea. The place was rather empty (maybe 5 more people inside) and the forcefully friendly waiter gave me one or too weird looks I could not really figure out. Dunno, hard to explain. I decided for the Wagamama Ramen along with duck dumplings as a side. Ramen: not really delicious (I did not feel like taking a picture, sorry). Watery miso soup, usual noodles with very little chicken, some half-assed fried tofu, one little slice of narutomaki with one sad little shrimp, nori and some undefinable fresh green stuff. Seemed like they just threw in the little rests they had. The duck dumplings really were tasty, especially that cherry-hoisin sauce that came long with it. I will definitely try to reproduce it at some point when I get back to Germany. Nevermind. I paid and walked further for a while until I reached Monument Station.

Monument Station is one of those stations you will come across more often than others as it is a junction for quite a few lines (along with Bank since they are interlinked) located directly in Central London. So I already changed lines a few times in the underground, but never actually got off there.

Although the station is called MONUMENT  - who would have thought... that there actually IS a MONUMENT right at the exit? Maybe I'm stupid. Maybe I just never gave it a thought. I mean, there is a station called Angel, but would you actually expect a seraphic figure there? Or Elephant and Castle...

The actual monument ( is quite impressive with a height of about 61,6 metres. That was the moment where I decided why not taking a walk through the City of London from the monument to St. Pauls Cathedral - so I did. You would be amazed of how deserted the area is at Saturday evening. Really peaceful and calm - you could almost pass the streets withought checking the sides (ALMOST). So I took my time exploring the area, not taking the direct way but rather passing small alleys looking what might be to be found there (frankly, I could not name most of the sights I've seen. Maybe I should go back with a guide or something next time). It's fascinating how there are still old, historical buildings  side by side with recent (or at least post-war) ones. One of the unforeseen sights I saw was St. Mary Abchurch - hardly noticable between all those tall buildings so close there is no way to actual have a good few of it. The reproduction of boys' heads you can find there will haunt your dreams.

Sleep tight - we're waiting for you...

Further along I came across a variety of sights nameless for me, until I finally reached St. Paul's. I don't know why, but it always had a certain allure to me. Such a characteristic view for London, being the city's Notre Dame in my humble opinion. And while it is nice being right at its feet, walking through its small garden with roses and other plants as well as a spring and sculptures, and being able to see all those ornamental details at close range - St. Paul's real fascination really evolves when viewed from quite a distance.

Oh the horror! Not again...

And while it cannot keep up with its romanticization in Mary Poppins, the tune still lingered in my head.

So, passing the former wobbly bridge, enjoying the honestly engaging view of London and the Thames at Dusk (and being terribly annoyed by these stupid joggers that where on some kind if treasure hunt through the are  - I encountered the first ones already at Monument- sort of disturbing the atmosphere. I could swear one of them called me names at a certain point on the bridge. They constantly tried to walk by the pedestrians on the bridge withough losing speed.) I slowly walked back to London Bridge Station, passing more attractions such as Shakespeare's Globe.

So, although starting with little motivation to really make something out of the day, I think I had one of the nicest walks I've had so far - thanks to unforeseen coincidences.

Day 16-24: You really get Portobello Mushrooms at Portobello Market!

Just something to get started: This is what I see when I look out of the window at work.
I took this photo in an all sneaky manner, so that (hopefully) nobody noticed. I'm cool with taking pictures of my food in public now, but at work it's kinda awkward and and tourist-y. I cannot really complain about work. People are talking to me more and more and there a some that I like and vice versa, so I'm quite fond of going to work everyday, actually.

Last Saturday I went to Portobello Market. It was right before my mother's birthday so the plan was to get her something from there. Located in Notting Hill, Portobello Market is a generic vegetable street market during weekdays but expands to an antique and vintage market on Saturday. The best way to get there is from Notting Hill Station and really just by following the crowd - hard to miss then and it's honestly not far. I read somewhere that it was supposed to be open until 7 pm, so I did everything but hurry and arrived at about 4. Too bad that it went actually until 5.30 with the good stalls already starting to pack so I was rather stressed after realising that - thus so little pictures as my main goal really was finding a present.
The majority of antique dealers actually had their constant shops inside and when looking at the facades of the buildings it is actually hard to imagine how deep they actually go. One antique market hall next to another, so to say. The atmosphere reminded me very much of Camden Market, but less crackhouse chique and more posh. Oh, and really really expensive if you really want to go for the antiques. I expected something resembling a fleamarket to be honest but what you find are actual antiques and porcelain merchants so be aware of that. May it be jewellery, silverware, china, furniture, vases and so on - it's at Portobello's and it's pretty - it really it. Along with vintage clothes and accessories as well as new creations that fit into that kind of style. I actually was really really stressed and slightly panicking as finding something nice, thoughtful and affordable turned out to be more difficult than expected (I always put a lot of thought into giving presents as I really want the other person to like it. Still feel uncomfortable reveiving presents, though). I started to get pissed as all those other people seemed to be so terribly slow and rude, always purposely standing in or crossing my way! That was of course all in my head and I was very aware of that - it's just how it seems to be when you are in a hurry, right? ;)

After finding something, I was finally able to relax for a second and get myself something to munch on. I settled on a delicious vegan falafel wrap with aubergine/eggplant for 4 pounds (3.50+aubergine), sat down on a traffic refuge - there weren't that many cards passing, anyway - listened to troubadour singing Elvis songs and trying to avoid the sauce dripping from my dinner. I went on buying myself about a kilo of tasty and fresh grapes for 1 pound or 1.20 - actually not too fresh, slightly brownish at some areas but still very very yummy - for later, passing a shop selling super expensive, delicious smelling hand-made soap and other things. Lushy it was called and the soap looked like broken parmesan with something like a honey-coloured, comb-strucured  glaze on top - and cost a fortune.

I spent the whole Sunday with Katja. She had an appointment in Shortlands - south-east London - and I came along. Believe me, getting from Streatham to Shortlands really is an adventure, but one worth the effort. It was Sunday and I wrote down a route the tfl - transport for London website - suggested me. It later turned out that there would have been a probably longer but assured way - but nevermind. I only went by bus with one change. Taking the bus is a rather tricky matter here in London - they might not show up, be late or just ignore you (what happened to me today and that fucker of a driver looked me write in the eyes... There are some stations the buses only stop when you wave at them and so I did. Greasy, bloated, dumb-looking little bastard). In my case, the first bus I had to take not only had a different destination than what the tfl said  - that later thankfully changed directly into the one I needed to get off - it did not even stop there. Actually the destination the bus was supposed to stop turned out to be right around the corner, but if you are unfamiliar with the route, you wouldn't know. I was supposed to change at Crystal Palace and the bus right after the one I just had to leave was named that way, so I hopped on it and asked for a zone 4 ticket as my final destination was there and my oyster cards only reached zone 3. I tried to get that one on the first bus as well but the driver refused to sell it to me and I still don't know if they really just don't or if he was not in the mood as I saw him selling SOMETHING to somebody else later, but nevermind. Anyway, the busdriver of the one I just got on not only asked me where I actually wanted to go, but took me with him for one station for free so to say and told me exactly how to get there and which bus to take. Friendliest. Busdriver. Ever.

That reminds me of an incident the Czech girl that lived here on my first week told me about. A bus stopped right next to her with the driving lady shouting "hey". Not realising that she meant her, the girl went on, with another "hey" following. It turned out that she dropped her pullover a few metres before and the driver just wanted to tell her. So some busdrivers really are nice here.

After Katja's appointment we went on for lunch in Brixton. Again I ate at Bamboula - the place I've been before twice - but this time I was rather disappointed. We were really hungry so I was not in the mood to extensively search for the entry of the market so we went there almost directly. Maybe some other day I will find the place P recommended me when they actually jerk the chicken fresh outside.

This time I had the simmered goat which honestly turned out to be a disappointment. While really tender, the meat was spare with many chunks of bones and not really distinctive flavour-wise so I would honestly put it in the category of mystery meat again. Katja opted for the jerk lamb and while finding it delicious, she said that it was nothing she could eat everyday, what is okay with me. As I suggested the place I was worried that she would not like it at all. Frankly, last time I ate there I was not even sure if they actually served plantain or just  bananas and they first bill the waitress gave us was only handwritten so I asked whether I could get an actual one (I get a certain amount of subsistence at my internship when handing over receipts) and the price on there was lower than the first one - although service was included as well. Pretty shady if you would ask me and I think that it is about time to find a different place for Caribbean cuisine. Nevermind.

We went on to see the new Resident Evil in a cinema close to picadilly circus that turned out to be the shittiest cinema I have ever been in, While looking rather fancy from the outside, the actual theatre had not even stairs but only a slight lowering of the floor so you pretty much had a nice view of other peoples back of the head. It might sound weird, but I like the fact that I saw a film in London - which was actually the first one I saw in 3D - and the cinema turned out to be the way it was.

After a short side trip to Chinatown afterwards (where I bought unsweetened bottled green tea - very refreshing) we called it a night.

The following week was not too eventful. I went to a pub three times with some colleagues which may be a bit too often but worth it. :) I don't know why but I don't feel like writing too much about work- or colleague-related topics on here.

If I find the time, tomorrow I will write about my spontaneous but AWESOME walk through Central London I took today, finally being up to date again!