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Check, Check, Check and a little about Harrod’s

December 30, 2011 Leave a comment

West Minster Abbey and Cathedral – CHECK

Buckingham Palace – CHECK

Harrod’s – CHECK

We walked from Trafalgar Square to all sites above. These were all the spots I simply had to see.

Wow! Harrod’s is a magical shopping market dwarfing even the flagship stores of Neiman Marcus, Sak’s, Macy’s in the states.

Must do is check out food hall on first floor. We sat down at the dim sum station and enjoyed duck spring rolls and prawn dumplings with a blossoming jasmine tea.

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Luck at the Adelphi Theatre Box office

December 30, 2011 Leave a comment

After much obsessing over obtaining tickets two the smash hit One Man, Two Guvnors, I obtained a pair of tickets to the show.

I waited in line for day of performance tickets. Go earlier than I did, as my tickets are for tomorrow and I was lucky to get those. The last tickets for today were exhausted to a man who arrived at 8:30 am. I arrived at 9:15 am. The first people in line had arrived at 7:00 am.
The box office opens at 10:00 am.

Next time I’m set on a show I’m going to line up at 7am and avoid the risk of walking away empty-handed.

The three hour wait would well be worth it. The only other place I saw where I might get tickets was a ticket reseller offering tickets for £135. If you can afford it here’s a link to the service: http://bit.ly/tsuIqa

Most hit shows sell out of advance tix well in advance. I looked to by tickets online teo months before my trip and the shows I wanted to see were sold out.

Photo: Line at Adelphi Theatre for Zone Man, Two Guvnors. Vantage from my place in line having arrived at 9:15.

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Walking tour of palaces and shop fronts in London

December 29, 2011 Leave a comment

If you are planning a trip to London you must consider London Walks tours

Erin and I chose the Old Palace Quarter. This tour walks you briefly through the 17th century orally but most of the time is spent viewing 18th century architecture.

The tour guide was excellent and theatrically trained, which meant even though we were part of an unusually large group (30+ group) she projected her voice so all could hear.

I appreciated the stories about royalty and the Gemtlemen’s Clubs (social not the other type). There was a lot of time spent talking about merchants. I loved the beginning and end of the tour.

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Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

December 28, 2011 Leave a comment

My perfect Christmas dinner at Bar Boulud held the position of My Best Meal of 2011 for all of two days before being surpassed by tonight’s experience at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. The once in a lifetime meal I’d looked forward to for 10 years that I had at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry just in January 2011 unbelievably has fallen to a third position. Only three days in London and my expectations have been superseded. Incredibly both Bar Boulud and Dinner by Heston Blumenthal are in the same Mandarin Oriental hotel. Therefore I’m uncertain if I’m taken with London’s culinary scene or simply with that of the hotel.

“Dinner” surpassed Bar Boulud in food, service, and atmosphere. A view of the lit London Eye from our window side table created a romantic setting supported by the softly lit and dark wood dining room.

I wish I was more articulate when it comes to writing about food. To avoid attempting to capture the sublime I’ll simply state what we ordered and trust you order the same to complete the translation:
• The appropriately acclaimed Meat Fruit (we needed to order a second toast for this “pate”
• Lemon pickled mackerel (exceeded any piece of sushi Spanish mackerel I’ve had)
• Cod and Fried Mussels (Erin’s Main)
• Powdered (salted/seasoned) Duck Breast with roast fennel and duck hearts
• Tipsy Cake (brioche, sweet rum syrup, grilled pineapple – all the dessert you’ll need

I think I over-stated myself placing Bar Baloud ahead of French Laundry, congratulations Thomas Keller you’ve reclaimed #2, sorry Daniel Boulud. However Heston Blumenthal reigns if for no other reason than he seared my sous-vide duck breast before serving. The dining room is grand next to The Laundry’s charming. What a superb experience

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Top 10 Hidden London -Top 10 Discovered Secrets

December 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Traveling reveals many minor secrets about a place. That’s the primary reason I started this blog – to discover, record, and share little discoveries from the few trips I take. I enjoy researching trips as much as taking trips. One of my favorite ways to prepare for a trip is to type “hidden ________” (e.g. “hidden london”) into Google’s blog search and see what other amateur travelers have to share. My favorite secrets are ones that are quite obvious once I’m “on the ground” on trip but wouldn’t have occurred to me at home.

Today was a banner day for such discoveries. Here is what I learned,:

Tip #1 – How to buy tickets to the Tower of London when it is sold out

I wonder if this secret will close a loop hole. I figure I won’t be making use of it again and there will be few friend’s who need the tip. The Tower of London may rarely sell out in advance, but when I was planning my trip over Christamas there were a few days it was sold out. The website says your tickets are good for one entry within 7 days of purchase. I called and confirmed that I could pick up my tix I purchased for 12/23 entry on the sold out day of 12/26. I ended up not visiting the Tower of London until 12/27. I noticed that people purchasing tickets that day had to wait about 30 mins to enter, but since I was picking up tickets from an earlier day I could enter immediately. Pretty cool.

Tip #2 – Lingering at the Tower of London Crown Jewels

Don’t rush through your brief contact with the historic crowned jewels. Although the wait was short – only 15 minutes to enter the exhibit – on the unseasonably warm winter’s day I attended, I was nevertheless surprised to see how quickly people shuttle through the exhibit. It’s a pet peeve of mine that people spend more time waiting to see sights than to experience them. A cluster usually forms at the first exhibit (exacerbating the outside line) and quickly disperses at the crowd’s initial, novel wonderment wears off. You can, most often, easily bounce over the first exhibit to view the second exhibit unhindered. Now, at the crown jewels, the first exhibit is a bejeweled sword (The Jewelled Sword of Offering) and is not to be bypassed so blithely. However, as likely as the crowd is to cluster around the first exhibit and create an impatient buzz and forward momentum, they are equally likely to walk in the same footsteps at the same distance from the exhibit. You can usually stand askance from the exhibit with no rush. If you’re tall like me you have the advantage of standing behind the crowd as well. Either tact should allow you an unharried view. Once you’ve past the premier exhibit it becomes even easier to linger. If you linger directly in front of each and every piece you’re bound to be disturbed, but shift a few feet opposite the flow of traffic or step out of the beaten path altogehet and people flow right past you without nary a word.

The bulk of the jewelled treasures are displayed in the center of two moving walkways. About 80% of people I saw zoom through just once! There’s no posted rule that states you can’t backtrack and ride through two, three, four times. I’ve noticed at nearly every large exhibit people assume traffic is unidirectional. Once you realize you’re free to walk to and fro you can scan exhibits for the least crowded spots and pace your own tour. You’re unlikely to have a chance to spend time with these treasures during your own coronation (excepting Prince William if you’re reading) so make the most of your £20 Tower of London ticket.

Tip #3 – My favorite London street art pieces / My Top London Street Art Pieces
#3 – Banksy’s His Master’s Voice in the beer garden at 83 Rivington Street
#2 – Eine’s PRO + ANTI dominating Ebor Street – if I ever get tattooed this piece is going on my left and right arms respectively
#1 – Roa’s majestic Crane on a (currenly) exposed brick wall near the intersection of Hanbury Street and Brick Lane

If I were pressed for time I’d be happy to simply see those three pieces in that prioritized order. I spent the most time with Roa’s Crane (bird not machine) that completely captivated me.

Thank you to Lauren Porter who shared her own tips about London Street Art on about.com via her self-guided
tour that I saved in Instapaper and used myself. It’s a top Google hit and here’s a link to her guide http://bit.ly/vIhbEc. Which brings me to the next tip

Tip #4 – East London Street Art – You dont’t have to pay to have a good time.

I wholeheartedly recommend paying tour guides to expand one’s understanding of art or historical sights (street art falls into both categories) especially to provide context as to why an artist made a piece. However my misconception, while planning my trip on my couch in Los Angeles, was that I needed a paid tour guide ‘to find’ street art in London’s Eat End / Shoreditch / Brick Lane. What I came to find out “on the ground” is that there is street art everywhere and with the help of Laura Porter’s guide above it was simple to go on a self-led walking tour and find the most famous / popular works.

I’m certain that if had I gone on one of the paid tours lauded on TripAdvisor.com http://bit.ly/u31bqw or http://bit.ly/sVpOlC then I would have learned more quicker, seen fresher and more hidden art, and better understood the artists. However, both tours must have been on Christmas Holiday so my plans to impromptly join the latter tour went afoul when no guide showed up (totally my fault for deciding that morning and not emailing ahead). Adversity was the gateway to a self guided tour.

Lauren, you should totally retrace your steps and record an audio walking tour podcast!

Tip #5 – Time Out London is your friend

Make ample use of Time Out London magazine print edition, online edition http://bit.ly/rQ0jJm, and iPhone app http://bit.ly/v4XTy8

I have 5 more tips left to write!

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Mike Leigh’s GRIEF playing at National Theatre

December 27, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve no doubt that Mike Leigh’s 2011 play GRIEF is a great work of art. As such, like most great works of art, it deserves a 15 second glance before moving on to the next masterpiece. However, this affable form of respect so oft attributed the great museum treasures is not an option – as GRIEF is a play running two hours lacking any reprieve via intermission.

It is a play in which the living room flowers change more than the characters. To give the playwright credit there are more scene changes than vase changes. Furthermore, both devices are used to foil that the characters’ grief comes from their inability to change. The lack of change is slowly revealed, but I argue I got most of the substance of the play in the first scene. The remainder was falling action.

If you find yourself in the lobby of Cottlesloe Theatre about to endure the play, make use of the barman and order yourself a double Scotch – at £3/shot it’s the cheapest and most rewarding item I’ve purchased in London.

The acting was excellent. I did not once doubt that the characters were obliviously and pitifully trapped in their pathos. My issue is that I didn’t care that they suffered. It could be that without the somatic therapy of television most of our lives would feel as miserable as those of Dorothy, Edwin, and Victoria. Hence I’m unable to drum up either empathy or sympathy. (Thank you DirecTV)

GRIEF is art. Art coherently focused on Bourgeoisie “suffering” for a contemporary audience. It is not entertainment. Be forewarned. It may turn out to be a very good script for English majors to write term papers about, but it is by no means a play to take a date. The monotony is too much to bear.

Upon reflection I may be as hapless as Dorothy and Edwin in that I did not take any action to correct my plight.

Spoiler Alert! I hold out hope, despite Erin’s protestations, that Edwin is the father of Victoria’s newborn child.

Underground (but easily accessible) restaurant in London

December 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Today we spent a brief spell on The Big Bus tour bus and then headed off to Kilburn neighborhood for Miss Marmite’s Underground Restaurant http://bit.ly/sx3AQR . The food and fellow diners were pleasant.

We were a lone couple dining between two large and friedly parties. Our twosome with a foursome and a sixsome. Miss Marmite prepared a selection of dishes from her recent trip to Sweden. We enjoyed: devilled eggs topped with caviar, smoked mackerel, pickled herring, smoked salmon, potato salad, biinis, and jams. was only recently turned on to glog I via a progressive party in Silver Lake. There was homemade sour cherry ice cream for dessert along with fresh berries.

This was a great experience at the beginning of our trip as our fellow diners shared tips on where to eat and what to do while we’re in town.

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