Tuesday, June 21, 2016

London 2015 Day 31: Hampstead Heath, Boris Biking in the Rain & Tea

London 2015 Day 31: Hampstead Heath, Boris Biking in the Rain & Tea

A little slower start again today after so much walking yesterday. My "chill" weekend was a sort of "do MOST of the things" rather than "do ALL the things"...

The day started with some research about where a good Tea house was in London. I'd already been to the magnificent Savoy for tea so I wanted a more kitchen-y/homey kinda place to get a different experience. After looking through some Yelp and other reviews for "Best Tea in London" spots, I found one called The Tea Rooms in Stoke Newington... "that's sortof North London, right?!" I was already planning to go to Hampstead Heath today so figured this was maybe... close enough? I called and booked a reservation only to realize it was an extra hour of transit to get there and back. Whatevs. That's what weekends are for!

Up I bussed to Hampstead Heath. A quick flat white to get my energy up for a walk, and off I went, in awe. "I just found the best part of London!" I said to myself as I was walking into the magnificent tree-canopy entrance to Hampstead Heath off of Well Walk. Definitely felt as if I had just transported myself to Berkeley as I was walking through the entrance.

Glorious!! The bright green trees and beautiful pathways sure were a sight to see and experience. I even got a whiff of the past -- thistles?! There was some smell in there that very clearly reminded me of my youth in Oxford. Crazy. Countryside, glorious countryside!! I couldn't believe this unbelievable Secret Garden of a place was only 4 miles from downtown London. A total win. Just incredible. I wandered for a few hours throughout the (many!) pathways.

From there I made my way to a place called Kenwood House where there was a lake to sit at. I sat for a while and made a "buddy" (a funny bird, who seemed to be walking around a lot and having a good time).

The hilarious bird adventures continued. I walked closer to the lake and found another insane looking bird, who I called the "miserable bastard" bird. He was wandering back and forth, head down and sulking, hanging his head, with this sour look on his face. Any time another bird would be anywhere near him, he would hop over one part of the gate and start chasing the other birds! "What a miserable bird!!"

Intro to: Miserable Bastard

Uh oh, he's... looking right at me...

Miserable Bastard seemed unfazed that there were some adorable small ducks near him

Grumbling to himself

Now he's feeling sorry for himself. (This is the gate he would jump through to go chase other birds, he did it several times!)

Miserable Bastard being anti-social. Look at the young duck trying to say Hi!

Sulking away, in a really bad mood
After laughing at the absurdity of the ridiculous duck in a ridiculously bad mood, I headed off to continue walking for a while. I found the "pools" -- outdoor public pools that were separated by gender ("Men only") so old school! I think these have been there for a very long time. It was sortof like a lake with a cordoned off area to swim between.

From here I went to Parliament Hill, to see big landscape views of the city. A nice spot to chill for a bit, as many other Londoners were doing.

I caught up with my parents about 2:30 as I was walking through Primrose Hill. This was a fancy area (if I was in Berkeley before, now I'm in SF!) Fancy food spots, little pet stores, a bit "Noe Valley". The Primrose Hill park was kinda nice but after the majesty of Hampstead Heath I kept walking. Plus, it was most definitely time for an ice cream. It was 2:30 and I hadn't had breakfast or lunch yet? Kinda nuts... I gotta work down the 10 slices of Pizza I had on Friday, but this is nuts! After a quick ice cream to tide me over, I needed a break.

My legs and hips were gonna fall off after 3 hours of walking straight-up. So, I got a Santander "Boris" Bike rental, finally!!! Fun!!!! Very good! It is an excellent system, and very easy to use. A good "luggage spot" in the front as well to carry whatever you've got around your shoulder.

I biked through Regent's Park (some of it), but a lot was not bikeable. Nice to see a bit of it though as I hadn't had a chance to get there yet. The bikes are timed so you are charged a certain amount for <30 and="" for="" min="" more="">30 min. So I did a "drop and swap", dropping off the bike at one location and then hoping to pick up another one. As it turns out, you need to wait 5 min before picking up a new bike. Of course, since this is England, while I was waiting to get my new bike, it started raining.

And it rained more... and more... and more...

I mapped it and found out it was about 30 min bike ride to the tea shop, can I do it?? "This is so much better than walking", I thought, but... the rain! I didn't have a rain jacket (wasn't it supposed to be sunny today?!). I biked in the bike lane for a bit ("Oh, HERE it is...") but then decided to give up and take the bus when it started to rain further. Too crazy.

I dropped off the bike right as a group of three people were scrambling to pick up bikes in the rain. But there were only 2 bikes at their pickup spot so they were looking around trying to figure out what to do. They were so psyched I was dropping mine off ("Thanks, mate!") and the three of them headed off. I had dropped it at Kings Cross/St. Pancras Station, and managed to get RIGHT onto my bus, directly to Stoke Newington! Yes! Insanely, it was still a 40 min bus ride from there? I had chosen the farthest possible Tea room in London, it would seem. Well, the adventure continues.

I got to The Tea Rooms and my table was ready, which was great. It was exactly as I was hoping, a very "homely" atmosphere, as the internet had suggested. I picked Earl Grey and drank 2 pots-worth! I was so damp and hungry, and mowed through the sandwiches... rahhhrrrm! This was kindof like yesterday, nothing to eat until 4pm! Crazy man! Too busy doing all the things.

This experience was nice and relaxing, tasty sandwiches. The scones were well made and I had a normal scone and a "fruit" scone (raisin). The best part was the homemade raspberry jam, which tasted like fresh pie filling!! The clotted cream also was awesome. More tea to make room... and then the 3 desserts were all VERY nice.

First up was a Victoria Sponge, finally I got to try it! It seemed like everyone kept talking about this cake and it was a very classic British cake, so I was glad to finally try it. In the cake there was the same jam as the homemeade one... yes! The second dessert was an almond muffin/cake with very unexpected icing -- it was not overly sweet though, which was a pleasant change and which rocked. The last one was a banana chocolate square, also just excellent! Also, surprisingly, not overly sweet. Lots of warm tea and a great afternoon break, I left very satisfied and pleased with my choice to schlep all the way out to Stoke Newington in the rain. Given the vibe of the tea house, I figured the Stoke Newington high street would make for a nice quaint, cute stroll... nope. It was kinda meh, so I ditched and just decided to bus back home, to St. Pauls and then Central Line alllll the way home. Whew. I got home around 6:30pm, a long day! A really long day, again actually (do all the things).

First some relaxing, emails a bit, shower and laundry, and then eating the leftover food from Harrod's. I chilled for a while, and then went to get groceries to make shortbread for our event on Tuesday, "The Great ILM Bake Off" (based on a British baking show I've never seen called "The Great British Bake Off").

While I was out, I stopped at Ya-Hala, my favourite local hummus spot for "The Usual" -- Mixed Grill Schwarma and Hummus Beiruty. So fast and SO good!!!

Tonight I finished laundry, and had to start prepping to leave London. Crazy stuff, time flies! My Ya-Hala dinner paired very well with my Vanity Fair Star Wars article magazine reading.

Tomorrow is a holiday but I might still go into SoHo area so I can take care of some stuff with a real computer and not just my iPad. I'm also planning to go to Dishoom in Covent Garden, and back to the SoHo Whisky Shop (The Vintage House) again to wander. Then hoping to get back to Fortnum & Mason. Then pack and get ready to roll. If I'm actually relaxed and packed tomorrow night, maybe I'll go and see Mad Max or Tomorrowland at the Cinema.

Monday, June 20, 2016

London 2015 Day 30: Art Museums

London 2015 Day 30: Art Museums

Um... yeah, a late start today. Not the usual Saturday "up and at 'em" like I've been doing the rest of the trip... I got up about 11:45 after my 4pm Chinese food finish last night. Win. I did finally get to Borough Market, but kinda in the style of me-as-Pixar-intern getting to the Ferry Building on a Saturday in the early afternoon with the other interns after going to bed in the wee hours of the morning. Good times. :) So yeah, finally got to Borough Market about 1:30pm, but glad I managed to get there eventually.

I got Chocolate Cheesecake again (my absolute favourite) from the ION Patisserie booth and Herb Biltong again (YES). I grabbed some Monmouth Coffee too and crushed the cheesecake in the Monmouth shop again. DO it upppp!!! That is my favourite combo and it sure is great. I did some planning of the day in the Monmouth shop. Also grabbed some Rosemary for "The Great ILM Bake Off" on Tuesday, an event we are running where employees are baking something at home over the long weekend and bringing it in after the long weekend. Tasty.

After the excellent coffee and cheesecake, I walked over to Tate Modern to check out the art. There was a book sale there on the ground floor which was pretty cool, I almost bought a book on tea & cakes. The artwork there was a great selection... I still love the Pompidou the most, but this was a great museum too. Awesome Andy Warhols, Miro, and especially Kandinsky... the best as usual!! There was a section on Kandinsky and "Constructionism"... that is definitely one of my favourite kinds of modern art.

Unclear if this was a modern art piece or just a mirror on the wall. But, when in Rome... make some art of your own?! :)

The reality distortion field

There was a cool drawing wall with Wacom tables where you could draw a sketch on a tablet and then enter your name and where you are from, and it would then project your image on the wall. I drew a very messy-looking Wall-E and Eve and submitted it. :)

"mike from san francisco"
The museum building was also quite cool, a former power station. I walked along Southwark after a couple hours at the museum and found some fun and unexpected stuff along the way. There were some guys playing music on the beach and having a great time. And a "Snog" bus!!! Snog is a frozen yoghurt shop, and they have a Pink double-decker ice cream bus. Um... YEP. That rocked.

From here I headed towards the National Gallery. They had nice older stuff, but as expected I tend to like the Impressionists the most. The bathers, tons of Monets, and the Canoe painting were my favourites. Loved the Van Gogh sunflowers, and there was a chair painting of his as well.

Looks like Monet's Garden!

One of my favourites. Such a calm moment in time, and a bright and sunny day, people out enjoying a canoe ride on the lake with a light wind blowing the sailboat behind them. Love it.

From here I headed down to Covent Garden Market, attempting to stop at a place for Sticky Toffee Pudding! But, the place, while highly rated on Yelp, was pretty snooty and said "It's minimum of 2 courses only". Also it seemed I wasn't specifically dressed for the place. Also, meh. Walked by a cool Canada Bar in that neighbourhood though which was funny to see.

The snooty place did me a huge favour though as I managed to save room for a fun Pie at Battersea Pie in the Covent Garden Market. I hadn't really spent any time there yet, so it was great to go when I was hungry so I could try some of the great stuff they had to offer there. I was ready to eat like a madman... I got a Steak and Ale pie with mashed potatoes which was just as good as it sounds. I had walked like crazy today and had only eaten a slice of cheesecake at 2pm. :) Crazy man.

Funny umbrellas.
So after finally eating "lunch" at 6:15pm... I headed off to finally try out Gordon's Wine Bar after hearing so much from EJ and Sue about it. The outside was cool, with a patio, but inside... wow!!! Did not expect that! It was a very busy spot, tons of people in there, and they had some awesome homemade sherries in there. A cool dry sherry, Oloroso... etc. Super awesome! Even cooler was a section at the front where you could buy a loaf of bread and sides and a HUGE block of cheese of your choice. You pay per cheese type, and they take a huge block of each kind and drop it onto your big platter. You then pick up some free sides, pickles, chutney, jam, etc., take your loaf of bread and sherry, and head with all of this back outside to the patio and hang out with a barrel as your table. Fun times!

It was about 7pm now and I was chillin' with the Pre-Broadway Show crowd at Gordon's. It was packed inside, but very comfortable and friendly outside. Ahh man, what a nice place, this "Gordon's"... I sure wish my Spring was here!!! For several reasons, not only because this place is kinda named after her :) An epic recommendation by EJ... "Batman wins again!" After annihilating my cheese platter and chatting with a lovely South African lady and her Mom at my table/barrel, I headed back home via Harrod's. Obviously, gotta do more stuff!

I hadn't really spent any time in Harrod's yet, so wanted to see what the fuss was about. I check out the Men's stuff for like 2 sec (most epic pyjama pants of all time... only £400!) Cashmere pants?! And then, to the legendary Harrod's Food Hall.

And more for a London WIN: go to Harrod's 1 hr before closing: 1/2 price on most items!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I had no idea. This was so exciting to find out and the Food Hall food is incredibly well made and quite varied. A nice way to grab to-go dinner. I bought some non-half-price stuff first, a taste of Leonidas Chocolates, Elderflower Presse and some German All-Beef Salami... and then went to town in the 1/2 Price Food Hall: foccacia, a scone, Tikka chicken breast (huge and like £1.90?!!), chicken curry... what a deal!!!!!!!! I went nuts and bought it all.

I walked back via Hyde Park. I hadn't walked in Hyde Park since the 1st weekend in London, so it was nice to wander there again. Back to Lancaster Gate, I feasted on a bazillion things. This was sortof my only real meal today. So "dinner" was at 10pm paired beautifully with my new favourite British TV show, Gogglebox.