Monday, April 11, 2016

Travel Diary 1 - London weekend April 1 - April 3, 2016

Arrived on Friday am. U ordered a cab which got me home by 12:30. It was a gorgeous day and I could have taken public transit given the weather and given I was travelling light for once. However, the cab traversed west to east London and I got a preview of this great city with its double decker buses, gorgeous landmarks, parks, it's rich, gentrified and poor neighbourhoods. The overwhelming impression was of much life happening out in the open with folks scurrying around in the broad sidewalks, or pedalling their bikes, riding transit or braving traffic in those narrow roads in tiny cars - mostly European and stick shift. The ride took an hour and cost £40. The Somali driver, who spoke fluent Dutch, told me in halting English that he had moved here from the Netherlands for love but 12 years later could not afford to buy a house for his growing family of 6. He did not think he could afford anymore than 4 kids. Certainly not the 15 his parents had. It was a pleasant chat on topics ranging from the weather to politics to the economy. I finally reached U's 4th floor walk up where she was waiting for me, having decided to work from home. I showered and left her to her devices taking off to the open market close by. Cheery, colourful and rich in cultural, ethnic, racial and linguistic diversity it was warm and welcoming. I bought some fresh vegetables eager to cook for U. I also settled on parathas from the Guyanese vendor formulating a menu in my head of a vegetable masala with roti and quinoa. The meal hit a spot combined with delicious pickle and yoghurt. Satiated we watched TV, got caught up, argued over silly things and then decided to diffuse the tension with a walk through the park that leads to Islington. A small tub of Haagen Das was just what we needed after what had been a long and tiring day for both of us.

We set out early on Saturday morning to the nearby coffee shop. Home grown and very civilized with gunny sacks of coffee and wood blocks at the entrance for effect, it was a welcoming place, the smell of coffee rich, flavourful and a quick draw. We ordered a mixed plate of avocados, tomatoes, artisanal bread and a boiled egg to share over cups of flat white coffee. U had hers with soya milk. The place was teaming with young yuppie couples with babies out for their Saturday morning treat. We came back home showered and changed to enjoy a glorious day in the sun. It was a balmy 15, the sky was blue and spring had sprung. I packed some fruit and we headed out to Hampstead Heath taking the overground and then changing over to a subway. We disembarked refuelled with delicious coffee at an upscale deli and coffee shop also picking up little packets of caramel and chocolate covered popcorn for a sugar fix after the long trek. We followed the undulating path and then climbed up to its highest point to catch a glimpse of the skyline. Clear and unhindered by smog, there it was. There were young families picnicking everywhere. It was a lovely sight. We made our way back to Hampstead subway walking past cafes and restaurants not particularly inspired to partake of lunch there. We set our sights on Soho for Chinese or Malaysian food. Alas the subway line which would take us there was closed for maintenance so we settled for Bank Street grabbed a wrap and some Sushi and headed to the National Portrait Gallery by a double decker bus. As the bus lurched I swilled coffee from my half full cup on a young woman across from the seat I was about to occupy. After profuse apologies and a few embarrassing moments we alighted from the bus leaving behind the impression of a naive tourists still learning the intricacies of riding public transit in this City. The National Potraits Gallery had Vogue and Churchill retrospectives which we did not get to see. We settled for the regular fare and were delighted to explore 500 years of Potraits of royals, nobles and famous figures. We were struck by the repetitive theme of the catastrophic and dreadful ends that most of them met as a result of disease, decapitation, depravity or depression. At 6:00, we jostled through crowded Soho in the light drizzle and took a long bus ride home riding on the top floor of the double decker, occupying the front row. Back in U's cozy apartment I cooked a nice South Indian meal which we enjoyed watching the last season of The House of Cards.

The next day was as gorgeous as the one before. U's friend and cleaning help Irina was home and so we left her to her devices as she cheerily did some deep cleaning, laundry and ironing. We decided to walk down to the Geffrye's Homes and Gardens museum which had homes of the merchant class recreated from the 1500s to the present day. I loved the narrations of daily activities from personal dairies retrieved from those times. I also liked how under the theme "swept under the rug" they talked about the mistreatment of the household help, including ayahs brought over from India. There were distinct variations in theme to the home gardens of these families over the centuries. We picnicked on the grounds. I had brought along Halloumi, tomato and avocado wraps and fruit. We then made our way to the flower market. It was packed as the vendors were packing up and giving away plants at bargain prices. There were so many young men and women, alone or in pairs. This was Shoreditch where the yuppie culture is alive and well and people were spontaneously gathering to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon in the watering holes and coffee shops around the corner from the market. It was so good to be young and alive in this place at this time, I thought!

We returned home and took a nice long nap. Famished I woke up, had dinner and went out for another long walk to make the most of the balmy night. It was after 10 when we found ourselves in the middle of a deserted park. We picked up our pace till we got to the well lit street and got home. U assured me she never walked or rode her bike through the city parks alone at night.

I left the next morning for Spain.

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