Archive for the 'Travel' Category

Your Girl in London: The new face of London

May 26, 2008

Theodore Dalrymple, one of my favorite contemporary essayists, beautifully sums up the unique face of modern London:

London is now the most ethnically diverse city in the world — more so, according to United Nations reports, even than New York. And this is not just a matter of a sprinkling of a few people of every race and nation, or of the fructifying cultural effect of foreigners… Walk down certain streets in London and one encounters a Babel of languages. If a blind person had only the speech of passersby to help him get his bearings, he would be lost; though perhaps the very lack of a predominant language might give him a clue…

A third of London’s residents were born outside Britain, a higher percentage of newcomers than in any other city in the world except Miami, and the percentage continues to rise. Likewise, migration figures for the country as a whole — emigration and immigration — suggest that its population is undergoing swift replacement. Many of the newcomers are from Pakistan, India, and Africa; others are from Eastern Europe and China. If present trends continue, experts predict, in 20 years’ time, between a quarter and a third of the British population will have been born outside it, and at least a fifth of the native population will have emigrated.

What he says is literally true: When I walk down the streets here, I am as likely to hear a foreign language as I am English, and much of the English I hear is strongly accented. We have very little to compare with it in the US, outside of New York City. Read the rest of this entry »


Your Girl in London: Harrods

May 19, 2008

Knightsbridge today, and Harrods, “the world’s most famous department store.” I took a bus, but then just walked back to the flat, it was so close. I can’t possibly afford anything in Harrods, and I mean that sincerely. I sometimes think only the Saudis can afford to shop there, particularly in its “Rooms of Luxury,” and there were plenty of them there today. (Harrods actually charges you to use the loo!)

No, I go to Harrods for its Food Court, which I think is one of the wonders of the world. The store has moved some its food operation across the street since I was here last, but the original one is still pretty spectacular: Rows and rows of gleaming counters and food bars, with all kinds of meats, seafood, cheeses, breads, sweets and all kinds of delicacies, including a caviar bar and — EGAD — Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, which was doing a booming business!

I discovered a fascinating corner where you can buy really interesting kinds of oils and flavored vinegars, which they will decant for you in special vases of all sizes. I’ve never seen anything like it.

I picked out two kinds of quiche and some lovely rolls for our lunch as well as fruit scones for breakfast, and will likely go back for some sushi next week. I also got some little candies, meringue dipped in dark chocolate, nice and light. When I handed the clerk my Visa card, I was given the option of paying in dollars or pounds, a first for me.

Harrods’ distinctive dark green shopping bags remind me of Chicago and Marshall Fields — RIP, another distinctive shopping experience that is now only a memory. (When I lived in Chicago, I couldn’t afford to shop at Marshall Fields, either!)

Your Girl in London: What I’ve seen so far

May 19, 2008

Plays and musicals, with star ratings:

Pygmalion with Tim Pigott-Smith (from The Jewel in the Crown glory)**** He was chewing up the scenery but good, and Eliza was enchanting. No happy ending here, which would have pleased Shaw, the old grouch.

Never So Good with Jeremy Irons (about British PM Harold MacMillan)**** Britain throughout the mid-century, with scandals aplenty, including the long-running affair between MacMillan’s wife and a British gangster. Jolly good fun in the Suez.

War and Peace, a two-part, six-hour dramatization of the epic novel done in the style of the Nicholas Nickleby that was such a hit several years ago.***** Lovely, imaginative theatre, and dinner at McDonalds across the street between Parts I and II. Read the rest of this entry »

Your Girl in London: Living

May 16, 2008

A few observations from Across the Pond:

Our neighborhood in South Kensington has a lot of schools. There’s the Ecole Charles de Gaulle a few streets over (surrounded by French bookstores), with the Imperial College of London just a stone’s throw from that. And I’ve walked by a lot of smaller language schools and even an art school on Queen’s Way. So we have a lot of students, and the neighborhood is quite relaxed, with lots of coffee shops where the students congregate — and smoke like chimneys! (Do American students smoke that much?) Our building is run by an outfit called FIE, which rents flats to various university programs. We have at least four schools represented in our building, including Boston University, and several others are supposed to show up next week.

This is first time I’ve been to London when I’ve actually felt like I LIVED in London. I’m still trying to do my job, with help from my well-flogged slaves highly trained interns back in the office, so I spend about four hours a day on the Web. We’ve been to plays and museums, including a really interesting trip to Temple, which is the heart of London’s legal world and has some great Knights Templar history surrounding it. I’ve been buying groceries at Waitrose and Tesco, with my little recyclable shopping bag, and I’ve been reading and trying to find something interesting to watch on the telly. (No cable, just public channels, and Four and Five run a LOT of American television series.)

Food is fun here, with lots of ready-to-eat ethnic choices in the supermarkets. The scope of the British Empire can best be seen in its cuisine, which outside of fish-and-chips, clotted cream and the occasional Yorkshire pudding, is pretty global: chicken tikka, moussaka, samoyas, hummus, cous-cous and pita. Today for lunch we had onion bhirgy, sort of a knish. Delish. The deli counter at the local Waitrose is a thing of beauty, with its assortment of REAL cheeses, meats, salads and prepared meals. Although the dollar has made a few gains in the past week or so, we’re not eating out much because of the cost, and I’m not missing it.

I am relieved to report that there is no super-sizing in London, at least that I can see. No Big Gulp mentality here. (My sons think the definition of a great restaurant is all-you-can-drink refills.) It’s definitely made a difference in my consumption. Smaller portions and all the walking you normally do in the city has helped me lose probably ten pounds, so I’m going to have to rethink my American lifestyle.

The Brits are definitely more green-conscious than we are. Nearly all the washing machine soaps at Waitrose were rated “bio,” and there’s a real push for recycling even in our little building.

There’s a bank holiday next weekend, and the students will be gone, so we’re planning a trip southwest to Cornwall, which is supposed to be very beautiful and pastoral. This weekend we’ll go to the National Theatre for a production of “Fram” and I aim to stroll over to the V&A Museum for a few hours.


Your Girl in London: The Full English

May 9, 2008

While we Americans have managed over the years to perfect Cardiac Arrest in a Bag with a Big Mac, fries and a extra-large drink special (never mind the chili-cheese fries at Carl’s Jr. and Denny’s Grand Slams), the Brits have their own version of Death on a Plate: The Full English. Says London Times restaurant critic Giles Coren,

The current £7.25 “Olympic” breakfast at Little Chef comprises: “two rashers of crisp backbacon, British outdoor-reared pork sausage, two griddled eggs, whole-cup mushrooms, crispy sauté potatoes, fresh griddled tomato, Heinz baked beans and toasted or fried extra-thick bloomer bread.”. . .[W]e read that: “A good English breakfast never lets you down.” No, it kills you. That’s what an English breakfast does.

I’ve also had a version that includes a black pudding (don’t ask), but not this trip. I’ll stick with my cereal and semi-skimmed milk, thank you.

Your Girl in London

May 5, 2008

A word of explanation: I am in London for several weeks, trailing The Spouse, which over the years has not been a bad gig. He knows how to show a girl a good time. Anyway, I’m living in a dingy little basement flat in Kensington while he wrangles a group of college students on a study abroad program, which leaves me lots of free time to explore London, including shops, parks, pubs, museums and abundant thrift stores. (I refuse to set foot in any of the Starbucks that have cropped up on every other corner, but I’m actually getting a little nostalgic for Taco Bell…) I’ll be posting pictures and such when I get a little more organized. I was afraid of encountering some anti-Americanism, but the Brits I have met so far are very friendly, although they hate Bush, and have been very welcoming. Pax Brittanica!