Thursday, June 29, 207:
London—Doing This and That and Meeting Old Friends at Every Turn.
Another dawn saw us rise to greet another dry day. A quick call during breakfast with my old friend from Bombay, Firdaus, who also happens to be visiting London at this time, meant that our morning plans were sorted. But first things first. We had shopping to do and Harrods was the pace to go! Yes, Harrods! Not that we can afford their astronomical prices in normal times. But during their sales, I have managed to pick up really great bargains and I wished to try my luck. My usual buys from Harrods in the past have been candles, soaps and body lotions—and this time too, I hoped to get a few lucky goodies.
Sale Shopping at Harrods:
We took a bus to Knightsbridge from right outside our digs and sailed away into the store almost as soon as it opened. A few inquiries led us to the departments where I had hoped to find the items I had in mind. But I drew a blank. There was nothing I could find this time. However, I was delighted to show Shahnaz the tourist attractions that the store affords: the memorial to Dodi Al-Fayed and Diana in the basement which comprise life-sized sculptures of the two of them, portrait pictures and a diamond ring that some believe was an engagement ring (although most people doubt the veracity of this claim). I also marched Shahnaz through the appetizing Food Halls where I go, not so much to buy, as to ogle at the displays and to marvel at the ceramic vignettes and Victorian tiles on the wall. The 19th century décor in these rooms never fails to thrill me and Shahnaz was equally enthralled.
Of course, you cannot get to Harrods Food Halls and not buy something to eat. I chose the most scrumptious-looking almond croissant that was gigantic in size and thickly sprinkled with flaked toasted almonds and icing sugar. Shahnaz got a more Oriental meal consisting of spring rolls. I had my treat wrapped carefully and hoped to find a nice place where I could sit down and really enjoy it as almond croissants are one of my very favorite things in the world to eat.
Tube to South Bank to meet Firdaus:
With little time to spare, we hurried off to meet our friend Firdaus at Vinopolis on the South Bank of the Thames as that was where he intended to be this morning. We got off far too early and ended up taking a bus to get to the Thames bank from where we walked briskly past the National Theater, the Tate Gallery, the Globe Theater, etc.
Borough Market, George Inn and Lunching on Roast Hog Sandwiches:
Eventually, we met up with Firdaus at the ruins of Winchester Cathedral which was once occupied by the horribly corrupt bishops of Winchester. Firdaus and I had a fond reunion—we go back more than thirty years to our first stint in Oxford. He happened to be with a friend named Kamal, a lovely Parsi lady also visiting from Bombay. It was not long before we wound our way to Borough Market which none of them had seen and, before you know it, we were scouring the stalls and being tempted by the many tasters laid out for our sampling pleasure. From sweet nectarines and white peaches to jams and preserves, from cheese to olive oil, from smoked mackerel pate to olives, from sourdough bread to brownies–we were simply plied with every treat and goodie you could imagine. As we were both carrying lunch, I did not intend to buy any at the market. But Shahnaz was as tempted by the offerings as were Firdaus and Kamal who decided to buy the roast hog sandwiches that were served in ciabatta bread with rocket and apple sauce. Before that, we had taken a slight detour to the George Inn so that I could show Shahnaz the last of the old galleried coaching inns in London (now managed by the National Trust)—which is still a fine hostelry. But they chose to eat at Borough Market—so we turned back.
It turns out that Kamal is a very small eater. She merely took two bites of her sandwich and passed the whole thing to me. And thus it turned out that I left my almond croissant untouched and feasted on her lunch instead! And quite good it was too! The market was buzzing. The recent London Bridge shooting which had led to the closure of the market seems to have happened far in the past—so quickly has the area bounced back. Shahnaz was simply delighted that I brought her to this place and simply could not get over the variety of eats and the generosity of the vendors. Overall, we had a lovely reunion. It was such a pleasure to see Firdaus again and to meet Kamal. I suggested that they should not miss a visit to adjoining Southwark Cathedral, the oldest church in the city. And I was glad to see them take my advice as we parted company.
Tube to Aldgate East to Whitechapel Gallery for East End Street Art Tour:
Shahnaz and I then hurried off to the Borough Tube station to catch a train that would take us to Aldgate East in the East End of London for the next item on our agenda: another Free guided tour of the Street Art and Graffiti of the East End. Our meeting point was outside Whitechapel Gallery on Whitechapel Road and we were astonished to find a huge crowd of young people surrounding our guide who happened to be from Vancouver, Canada, and had a distinct Canadian accent.
The tour wound its way through the East End taking in all the street art that has flourished in this area ever since the king pin of street artists Banksy made the area his base. On this tour too, I learned a lot about the artists and their intentions. This tour was more up my alley than the alternative music tour we had taken yesterday. We learned about paste-ups and other forms of protest for basically that is what street art is all about. By the end of it, I have to admit that I found I could not relate to any of it and did not find it appealing at all. In fact, I cannot tell the difference between street art and graffiti and for the most part, I think of these efforts as defacement of public property and a very ugly, unaesthetic use of space! The most striking items I found were those of the black women done by an artist called Drelph. And that was it.
By the time the tour which lasted almost two hours had wound its way into Brick Lane and the mosque there, Shahnaz and I were drooping with fatigue. It was time for us to pull out of it, for sure.
Dark Sugars on Brick Lane for hot chocolate and truffles:
It took no arm-twisting at all to get us into a coffee shop we passed called Dark Sugars where the aroma of chocolate wafting out of the place was much too enticing. And so it as that we armed ourselves with Hazelnut Praline Hot Chocolate and free sample orange caramel truffles that were being distributed at the cashier and sank down to enjoy our treat. Finally I had the chance to sink my teeth into my almond croissant—I had waited ages to enjoy it and I have to say that it tasted like manna from heaven. Fortified well with our sustenance, we found our way back to the Tube station.
Short Detours in the East End—Spitalfields Market and Christ Church, Spitalfields:
Attempting to make our way back to the Tube station, we made a few detours as I wanted to introduce Shahnaz to Spitalfields Market, one of the most colorful in the city. She loved its antiquity as well as its interesting wares—vintage jewelry, vintage silverware. But there was no time to waste as we had to return home quickly to change and get ready for our dinner appointment. En route, we also stopped to admire the handiwork of architect Nicholas Hawksmoor at Christ Church, Spitalfields. As the best-known pupil of Sir Christopher Wren, Hawksmoor has built some fine London churches but this one with its towering Doric pillars that support an arched portico is a particular favorite of mine. Needless to say, Shahnaz loved it too.
Dinner with Cynthia and Aidan
Our day ended in Chelsea with my friend Cynthia who had invited the two of us over to her place for dinner. Sadly, her husband Bishop Michael had another engagement, but we were very pleased to find their son, Aidan, at home. He joined us for dinner and conversation before nipping off for a walk with a friend.
It is always a great joy to see Cynthia whom I refer to as my ‘sister’ in London. She had cooked us a lovely meal: rice with chicken curry, steamed broccoli and carrots and garlic naan For desert, we had fresh strawberries with vanilla ice-cream. Such a tasty meal—made more special by the affection with which Cynthia cooked our meal and the warmth of her hospitality.
We did not stay long at Cynthia’s as we’d had a very long day. We found a bus really quickly that took us directly back to our lodgings from Chelsea and it was there that we bedded down very quickly for the night.
Until tomorrow, cheerio.