Wednesday, 22 March 2017

November 2016 in Brief

November was a month of much exploration, and by the first of December I had been officially awarded with a gold medal that read "King Neeshar: Explorar-Bo". 
It all began in Bethnal Green, where we were once again house sitting for Wanda. Knowing we wouldn't be staying there much longer, I took the opportunity to delve into the nearby Victoria Park, where many colourful things were photographed (including pagodas and trees). I also strolled along Regent's Canal to Mile End, Stepney Green and Whitechapel, furthering my love for East London. 

Speaking of Whitechapel, I attended an event for World Vegan Day (1 November) where I queued for over an hour in order to score free pizza! The pizza was quite nice, but what I liked better was the free mulled cider and brownies that the pub was giving out because they felt bad for how cold everyone in the line was. If you're of the mindset that "time is money", then waiting for such a long time wouldn't be worth it, but I had all the time in the world so free food was the only thing on my mind that day.

With all that free time I had, I made sure to spend many hours playing Stardew Valley, listening to Wanda snore, and cooking up delicious lunches and dinners. One of my favourite meals to cook was inspired by a macrobiotic dish I had when Yannick and I were last in Athens, comprising of sweet potato, cabbage, brown rice, marinated tofu and greens. Gotta balance that yin and yang, yo!

London seems to be perpetually crowded, and yet I braved the tumult to pursue a fun wintertime hobby of mine: spotting all the different Christmas lights around the city. The ones on Oxford Street looked like large balls of gold and silver yarn, which I particularly enjoyed, and the angels on Regent Street were quite spectacular. 

For three out of November's four weeks, my dad came to visit from New Zealand! As such, we needed a proper base for our party of explorers, so we rented out an AirBNB in the basement of a large haunted mansion in the south-eastern suburb of Anerley. (Note: It only appeared haunted; we were not once visited by disgruntled spirits.)

For a couple of days, Fabienne also visited us, and as such we had a 'belated birthday party crossed with an early Christmas' type of celebratory dinner. It was wonderful. Prosecco was had. I made delicious Greek stuffed peppers, which was Fabienne's favourite of the night. The others also convinced me to make an apple cake, which I had been hemming and hawing over for several days, and it turned out to be a roaring success (with cinnamon icing and almond decorations no less).

Just a half hour's walk or a short bus ride away from Anerley, we found Crystal Palace. Indulging there one night, we ate at a Vietnamese restaurant called Urban Orient. I was adventurous and tried some fake meat: mock duck! The texture was very convincing, and the sauce delicious. We intended to return there for another dinner later, but that never came to pass. I will remember you, mock duck!

Stepping aside from culinary explorations, on several occasions we took a stroll through Crystal Palace Park. The name comes from the fact that after the Great Exhibition of 1851, the eponymous glass and cast-iron structure was moved from its place in Hyde Park and plonked here. Sadly, the palace burned down in 1936, but you can still see the grand staircase that led to its entrance, and its sturdy concrete foundations. Some elements from the palace had been saved, including a few oddly conceived dinosaur sculptures which now loiter around a pond at the southern end of the park.

Moving on to more parks, dad, Fabienne and I visited Regent's Park where we traversed the rose garden and the Japanese garden. 

From there we passed some iconic telephone boxes (this pose was me telling dad to take a suitably touristic photo) on the way to Primrose Hill, which is yet another park.

This one offers a good view of London's skyline, though our attention was commandeered by two men with metal detectors. 

We watched them with curiosity for a time, and on our way down the hill dad asked if they had found anything. "Just a few pound coins today" one of the treasure hunters said. I wonder if they detect metal full-time.

Need a rest after so much park ranging, we skipped below ground to the Attendant: a circa-1890 Victorian public toilet that has in recent years been turned into a niche café. The wall tiles are original, as well as the cisterns and gleaming white urinals. I'll admit it's rather a strange idea for a café setting, as even though nobody has done a poo or wee here for over fifty years (the toilet was closed down in the 1960's) it still feels a bit unhygienic to eat or drink next to a urinal. 

In order for dad to get a good feel for London, we would often catch the train into the heart of the city and take in the sights for a few hours. On one such day, we crossed over London Bridge to see the Monument to the Great Fire of London and the Tower of London. While in the area, we quickly popped into Saint Dunstan in the East: a church with a glorious ivy-covered courtyard. It was such a lovely patch of greenery in the midst of tall glass office blocks.

On another day, we set out to see a veritable feast of attractions. On the menu was Big Ben (part of the Palace of Westminster, aka Parliament), Westminster Abbey, 10 Downing Street, the Horse Guards Parade, Trafalgar Square, and through St James's Park to Buckingham Palace.

Dad saw a sign for the Queen's Gallery, which we followed and ended up in the gift shop. Everything was ridiculously overpriced (doesn't the royal family have enough money as it is?!) but it was terribly fun to see little Corgi plushies and tea towels reading "God Save the Queen" among extensive Christmas decorations. Seriously, check out the online store here for a giggle. You can buy pyjamas in the fashion of the Royal Guardsmen (minus the meter-tall fluffy hat). 

One of the last excursions we undertook during dad's visit was a trip to Greenwich. I figured that Greenwich would be a good starting point for a riverboat tour (which dad had expressed his intent for), and we could experience a few historical sites at the same time. Dad, a fan of boats and all things maritime, entered the Cutty Sark and learned many interesting facts about the long-serving tea clipper. From there we checked out Greenwich Market and then a nautical-themed store alleging to be "The First Shop in the World" without offering further explanation. It was here I discovered that my winter coat looked just like the seafarers' coats for sale, and dad purchased a very fitting cap reading "CAPTAIN". After a wander around the National Maritime Museum, we trekked through Greenwich Park up to the Royal Observatory, where we could observe the Meridian Line (of Greenwich Mean Time fame) through a barred gate. You had to pay an entrance fee to actually be able to get near it, so we left and watched a squirrel bury a special treat in the ground to find later. While waiting for our tour boat to depart, we took advantage of the toilets in the Old Royal Naval College, and had a look at some historical documents as well.

We rode on the top of the boat, which was bitterly cold, but well worth it for the stunning views and fresh air. The narrator of our journey was both informative and hilarious, and I would highly recommend City Cruises for anyone wanting to learn more about London while cruising down the Thames, all for an affordable fee. I'm usually not one for guided tours, but it really was much more interesting than simply catching one of the commuter ferries and only a few pounds pricier. 

And if you thought that we had already done plenty of exploring in November, that wasn't the half of it! We also took weekend trips to Berlin and Paris.
It was sad to say goodbye to dad on the day he left, but it was such a great experience to have him visit for three whole weeks and show him around London, which was a place I could call home with contentment (though we had been there a while, and the travel bug was nibbling at our feet).