Saturday, January 30, 2016

London - our local pub, Portobello Road, Winter Wonderland, more River Thames

In England, pubs (public houses) are a place of focus for communities. They are welcoming for anyone looking to go hang out and have a chat. This is presented in contrast to bars in the USA and UK that might cater to a certain clientele by making the music loud, fancy design, etc.  Our preferred local pub, the Greenwich Union, is about a half mile away.

Quick video tour of the Greenwich Union.

Anyone who has been out with me know that if I drink at all, it has to be a sugary treat - like a lambic beer. My first time at the Union, they introduced me to Lindeman's Kriek, cherry flavored and delicious.  While savoring the Kriek, KLS and I checked out the beverage menu. Much to my surprise, I found beer from a brewery that my brother Tait introduced me too near Philadelphia, the Sly Fox Brewery.

A 'to go' (take away) container at the pub.

In 1999, I was still in Pittsburgh. Each Wednesday, we would rush to pick up the latest local alternative paper, the City Paper. It had ads for free movie screenings, but to get the passes you then had to go to a random store. We'd grab the paper, hop in the minivan, and drive all over, sometimes picking up multiple passes, as fast as we could because the passes always ran out quickly.  One time, Jay and I got passes to see Notting Hill, which quickly became one of our favorite romantic comedies, and permanently lodged the neighborhood name in my head.  That neighborhood is in London and more or less centers around Portobello Road which turns into a giant antique market every Saturday.

A model of one of London's famous double decker buses.

A bike share in Notting Hill.

An animatronic watchmaker.

This is busy Portobello road on a non-market day. It gets even busier.

A small part of the 326 antique sewing machines collection at the luxury brand AllSaints flagship store in Notting Hill.

  The famous door from the movie is blue again - "in this small village in the middle of a city -- in a house with a blue door"

Houses on Westbourne Park Road in Notting Hill. 

Painted windows of celebrities in Notting Hill. 

Right before the holidays, Christmas villages had cropped up all over the city. KLS wanted to take me to one so our next stop was Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. Little did KLS know that Winter Wonderland was not a tiny Christmas village, but a full on carnival that was decked out and redecorated for Christmas. It seemed wildly out of place for Christmas celebrations. It was absolutely amazing.

Standard carnival rides.

Not-so standard Christmas rides.

More carnival rides and games.

I don't think I have ever seen a real bow and arrow at a carnival.

This video might have been the most unusual piece we saw at the carnival and shows how weird co-opting things for Christmas can be.

This photo is for my brother Tait, who watched Airwolf with me growing up.

This creepy decoration kept blinking its eyes and looks like it has a little too much interest in KLS.

This next set of photos is riding the boat home or walking along the Thames. While the tube and buses both run near our house, riding along the river is definitely the best. It does not hurt that KLS has an unlimited pass to ride the boat too.

River Thames.

The rebuilt Globe Theater, make famous by Shakespeare's theater company

The Millennium Bridge in London. This bridge is similar in style to one in Denver of the same name. Did they build one in your city?

Hay's Galleria along the river.

A music school along the river in Greenwich.

Most of the best museums in London are free, including the British Museum. The British museum is huge and has an absurd number of works - like 8 million.  These can cover anything related to human civilization. This was probably one of the most complete museums that I have ever been in. Unfortunately, KLS and I did not enjoy it very much. It was a drizzly day and unbelievably crowded. Instead of going to see a specific exhibit that we could focus on and enjoy, we just perused through many exhibits and didn't dig too deep. We'll have to go back.

Lindsay - this photo is for you. It isn't a dung beetle, but it is the biggest beetle we have seen.

The Great Court of the British Museum.

Friday, January 29, 2016

London - Week 1

Big Ben (not the Pittsburgh Steeler)

KLS' job officially reassigned her to London starting in September for six months on about 5 days notice.  Luckily, my current job lets me work remotely and was amenable to me joining her for a couple months.  I drove north to my amazing mom's house to drop off my dog, Sabah, and then hopped a plane to join KLS just before Christmas.

KLS picked me up at the airport around 8am, tossed me on the tube (subway), and then we jumped on a boat that runs the River Thames for commuters. Within minutes of getting downtown, I was passing by the London Eye, under the London Bridge, past the Tower of London, and under the Tower Bridge (what we all think the London Bridge is) until we arrived at our riverside flat (apartment) in Greenwich.  I hadn't slept on the plane much, but had two big reasons to stay awake. The first was to beat jet lag and the second was to see Star Wars. I chose my flight date to coincide with the release in London which was a day earlier than in the USA. I loved it!  It was like coming home again.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

The first week after seeing Star Wars was a blur. KLS did her best to keep me awake by taking me on long walking tours around central London.  We mostly cruised by the major sites - Big Ben, the West End theater district, Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, and did a lot of shopping to set up her new flat.

There were at least 5 buskers using this device to entertain in Trafalgar Square.

Trafalgar Square

A pretty typical busy scene in central London with tons of people and amazing buildings.

I never look at statues, but happened to look at this one and it turned out to be Robert Falcon Scott, of Antarctica exploration fame and tragedy.

There are so many open air markets in London.  They are not just chic shopping tents with expensive organic goods, though they have plenty of that too. A lot of these markets are where people walk every day, near the tube or rail stations, so that people can pick things up on their way home. It is a big cultural shift. It's fun. The Borough Market is supposed to be one of the best and is the oldest in the city at the end of the London Bridge.

Food stall.

Lychees, just in case my mom comes to London.

Grocery shopping is different in the UK. I do not know the rules and regulations, but everything seems to be a bit fresher. Maybe there are less preservatives because people stop at the market on their way home daily instead of stocking up once a month like we might at CostCo in the USA. When we have gone to larger grocery stores and stocked up a little bit extra, we have often regretted it because many things go bad so quickly - the baked bread, the vegetables, fruit, dairy, etc.

Happy KLS buying tasty fruit.

This is probably more types of mushrooms than I have ever seen at one time.

Blackheath Cathedral

Just a few miles south of us is a quaint London suburb, Blackheath, that has another great farmer's market and some cute shops. I don't have the vocabulary to describe English architecture, but this town had oodles of it. I can't imagine it being anywhere else.

At some point during that first week, Kin-Ling and I grabbed half price tickets to see Wicked. The theater scene is just like NYC.

The London Shard at night - a building we can see from the Thames.

Tower Bridge on our way home to Greenwich.

The Cutty Sark is dry docked in our neighborhood. It was one of the fastest clipper ships ever built (1869) and towers over both of our local transit stops, boat and rail.

KLS and Big Ben.