Sunday, October 16, 2011

Broadway Markets And The Book Club

I've lived in London for almost three years and it was'nt until recently I started exploring the funky area of Hackney.

It took a fair effort to get to Hackney from my flat. Old Street tube was shut so I had to take a train and two buses to get there. But I finally found the elusive Vietnamese bagettes or banh mi I was craving for.

It turns out they're not the same as the ones in Sydney. These were made with grilled meat and the bagettes are lighter and crispier so you can have more than one (or maybe that's just me?)

They also sold pho in a cup! The broth is apparently slow cooked for 72 hours. It was very tasty. Nom nom.

I watched buskers while chomping on my banh mi. The market has a Glebe feel to it. I was in my element with the atmosphere and the clear sunny day. Nothing thrills me more than a market with fresh food.

I took an alternate route home by walking along the Regents Canal and taking a train from Haggerston. From the picture, it does'nt look pretty outside-of-London standards, but in real life it was a lovely walk.

Maybe it was the food, weather or the walk but I felt damn chipper. I got back to Hampstead and chilled out with a bunch of friends in a beer garden.

That evening I went back to Old Street to celebrate a friend's birthday at The Book Club. It's a popular nightclub with ping pong tables and electro swing music. Can you believe it? I was dancing away thinking, the DJ's from Paris, singer's from Sardinina and I'm sure as hell not in Sydney.

The bus to Old Street was packed and a funny thing happened when a woman shouted at people to move down the bus. Seconds later, she quite audibly remarked: "oh wow, I just moved people like I was Jesus."

It took two buses to get home after closing time and I was pooped.

The next morning I had a fry up in Hampstead Heath and relaxed the rest of the day.The weather is getting consistently chilly and grey. Heating is on and my coats are out of storage. Winter's coming. Soon daylight savings will end and my days will be spent in the snugness of my couch, wrapped in a blanket!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Mon Weekend à Paris En Bus

A last minute decision to join my cousin in Paris meant two choices. Pay £180 for the Eurostar or £42 by bus. I chose to save the cash and partake on an intrepid adventure.

So it's Friday night and I'm among the huddled masses at Victoria Coach Station. At 10.20pm we're allocated our buses and instantly there is a frenzied battle for the best seats. I scored one at the front with full view of bugs smeared over the windscreen. The lady next to me painted her nails as people boarded the bus.

Most of the passengers were French and not the type I'm used to seeing while travelling. The bus driver did'nt make any English announcements. He looked like a giant schoolteacher trapped in the 80s.

The journey to Paris was not as bad as it could be imagined. At the Eurotunnel, two French policemen got on board and took everyone's passports. They disappeared for twenty minutes and returned them stamped without even a cursory glance at the photos inside or the person they passed them onto.

The bus was then stopped for forty minutes and I had no idea why we were waiting. Other vehicles were queuing behind us. By 2 am, I was thinking: "why can't we drive through this tunnel already?"

The bus eventually moved into what looked like an oversized train. It was surreal, like entering the Enterprise. That's when I realised the Eurotunnel is actually a trainline that carries traffic under the Channel. After 35 minutes of gentle rocking, the train opened and we were in Calais. Once we hit the motorway, the driver floored it and we arrived 45 minutes earlier than scheduled. I did'nt get much sleep but that was expected. It was still a fun eye-opening experience.

Paris was fabulous. I took my cousin to my favourite places. Highlights were Angelina's for life-changing hot chocolate and La Nouvelle Epoque for traditional French cuisine. I demolished two baskets of artesian freshly baked bread with garlic butter escargots. I'm proud to have interacted with the staff only in French!

The non-food highlight was the long walk from Anvers to the Seine, stopping at the famous landmarks along the way. The weather was perfectly warm and sunny.

I stayed in a hostel near the Sacre Cour. You can see it from the window.

On Sunday we visited the Richard Lenoir farmer's markets. Possibly the best fresh food market in Paris. The produce is so good, I bought four huge red grapefruit for only two euros and carted them back to London!

The return home was a struggle. After an bewildering 1 hour wait for the bus, I got into a row with a staff member when I asked about the delay. I think my first mistake was speaking English. She kept repeating that I had to get my boarding pass from downstairs and when I finally showed her mine as proof that I was'nt bothering her for a boarding pass, she yelled at me to talk to someone downstairs anyway.

No one knew why the bus was late but we had to trust that it would show up. It did and it was a not so pleasant ride home. There was extra traffic and we got kicked off the bus twice to go through French and UK border controls.

I'm returning to Paris in December and I'm definitely taking the Eurostar.

Boujour from Paris, dah-lings!

Punting And Perving

Punting in Cambridge was more of a perve than a historical tour. Lucky it was a hot day for more reasons than one.

Eye candy aside, it was blissful floating (and occasionally bumping other punts) along the river, passing magnificent buildings and gardens.

Afterwards I hung out at my girlfriend's and jumped on her kids' trampoline. Have'nt been on one of those for ages. Compared to the netted and padded things you see today, the ones from my childhood were deathtraps!

We went to the local pub and had a glass of wine while the kids played. Sat under a tree by the petanque court as the sun set.

A splendid day indeed.

The Hottest Autumn Days

It's hot, which is a miraculous feat for autumn in the UK. It's like how it was in early spring but without the promise of long warm days ahead.

With winter not far away, Londoners reveled in this amazing weather. Or the tease of the summer past. Although by the time I got out of the tube station after work, it was still warm but dark.

This week I had a prosecco with a girlfriend at a new Prezzo on my street. I've been meaning to have a drink there since they opened. They have a lovely garden and it was nice to have a second chance of an evening there alfresco and balmy.

Today I went for a swim in the Hampstead Heath pond. It's normally shut in October but they were reopened for this special weather. There was no shortage of visitors. We queued for twenty minutes to get in and there was hardly space to sit inside let alone to sunbake.

No matter what the outside temperature is, the pond water is always cold. It was 16 degrees and I felt it through my bones. It was refreshing (with ducks paddling at face level!) but I struggled swimming out of the pond. Tiredness and panic set in and I was in trouble.

Luckily the life guard's raft glided to my side and the guard took me back to the water's edge. He overheard me saying that I was'nt a strong swimmer so he was watching me, bless him!

I'm actually not a terrible swimmer but the cold water seized my muscles after I hung off on a floating ring for a while. A warning for those who swim in very cold water. Keep moving or get out!

I warmed up in the sunshine afterwards. It will probably be the last time for the rest of this year in the Heath.

The pond looks cold and I can vouch that it bloody well is!

Warming up with a good book.