London - the final days of the Kammerer Sisters' Christmas adventures
05.01.2015 - 12.01.2015 14 °C
DISCLAIMER – This post, regarding the time elapsed between Monday, January 5 and Friday, January 9, was written solely by Natalie, due to the fact that the Kammerer sisters had returned to their respective countries of residence at the time of publication.
Our arrival in London, though without major incident, was a bit traumatic. We both loved Cork so much that we weren’t quite ready to leave. Much of its appeal was in its similarities to Omaha – interesting and quirky, but uncrowded. The weather was beautiful, and it was home to the most comfy hostel. Also, we were starting to burn out on packing our bags and moving (this made the fifth time in two weeks). Nevertheless, we got to London (after an hour delay at the Cork airport) at about 6pm on Monday. For those of you who don’t know, London is ENORMOUS – 607 sq. miles (New York is about 470…). We had a long Underground ride, then a bus connection. The underground went without a hitch, but it took multiple tries to get the bus right.
The connection turned out to be at a big bus station, where it proved difficult to find the right bus. Once we did, we discovered that we couldn’t buy tickets from the driver (standard in my experience) – we needed to buy it before we got on. Back in the station, we bought what we thought was a ticket. Apparently not. But the third time was a charm. Then, our directions to the hostel kind of sucked (and in hindsight, we probably got off at the wrong stop – it turns out that there are multiple instances of stops with very similar names. “Shepard’s Bush Market” and “Shepard’s Bush Market Station”; “Askew Road” and “Askew Road Library”; and many others. When you don’t know what all of the stops on a route are, and you really don’t want to miss your stop, you tend to get off when you see something that resembles your desired stop so closely. Suffice it to say, we grew wiser over the course of the next few days.).
We finally arrived at the hostel around 8:00. Never had we been so relieved to settle in. But our priority was dinner, having had nothing since trail mix at noon… The adorably over-friendly desk clerk/bartender (yeah, our hostel was above a Victorian pub! It was pretty awesome, and open to residents of the hostel as a dining space for our personal meals) had recommended that we just go to the big street nearby, where we found a variety of ethnic restaurants, from Eritrean (still kind of bummed that one didn’t fit into the schedule), to Turkish, to American fast food. Due to the hour (8:30 by this time), our options were becoming limited. We ended up at a place called Nando’s, a chain specializing in Portuguese chicken, but also serving multiple delicious varieties of veggie burgers.
(Our pub/hostel hangout in the Shepard’s Bush area of London)
As far as adult humans go, Eva requires a ridiculous amount of sleep to function. I say that with much love, but when I travel, I prefer to get up and have a full day. So props to her for humoring me and getting up hours before she would have if left to her own devices after the taxing and late night before (and pretty much every other morning of the trip…). We walked the two miles to Notting Hill, which I had heard was a charming little neighborhood with lots of shops and cafés. It was about half that, half souvenir shops, most of which sold shirts, bags, mugs, etc. with a blue-tinted Julia Roberts on them… But we did find a number of interesting vintage shops and a great café for lunch. And another one for dessert a couple of hours later… Eva was reveling in the abundance of French pâtisseries, so we had to stop at one (or three) over the course of our visit. Here, Eva ordered a slice of chocolate bombe (pretty much just a mound of thick, cocoa-y mousse mounded on top of a flaky cookie bottom) and I had a slice of a cocoa pear cake, which was super dense and dark, with tiny bits of pear mixed in, and a sliver of one on top. An interesting and yummy combination!
With so many options of things to do in such a short period, it was difficult to prioritize. There were a couple of musts, and also a couple of interesting things that presented themselves along the way. One of these was the rebuilt Globe Theatre, an as-close-as-can-be reconstruction (and working theatre) located about half a block from the original site. So, on Wednesday, we ventured into the thick of the city, which ended up being an hour and a half bus ride. We were able to take a tour inside the theatre, as well as check out a surprisingly extensive museum that was equal parts Shakespeare and Elizabethan theatre in general. It was all very interesting and quite cool to be in such an important fake historical place.
The first "must" on the list was the National Gallery, which was conveniently within walking distance of the Globe, on Trafalgar Square. On the way, we stopped at one of the nine (I counted) Prêt à Mangers (French for “ready-to-eat”, it is a chain of pre-made gourmet sandwiches, wraps, salads, and the like that are EVERYWHERE in London. I had already been to one in New York City, and thought Eva might appreciate it.) And we also picked up some European street food for dessert – Nutella waffles! At the museum, Eva was once again a willing sport, and we (I think that’s inclusive) ended up having a good time, both appreciating some great art and making fun of some decent/downright strange art.
After spending so much time in tea-country, we started feeling the need to take tea ourselves. This can partially be attributed to our desire to eat desserts at all hours of the day. But not only were there the mouthwatering café baked goods that we have already written so much about, we discovered an incredibly wide array of intriguing mass-produced tea biscuits available in grocery stores. We discovered – and heartily approved of – Ginger Nuts (a crunchy, very gingery cookie, perhaps what our gingerbread would be like with twice as much ginger and no molasses); Bourbon Creams (sandwich cookies of airy dark chocolate biscuits with chocolate buttercream between); and Custard Creams (vanilla biscuit sandwich with custardy cream.) And now I have a giant box of black tea to work my way through, because bags come in multiples of forty…
The second concession to Natalie’s interests was the British Museum on Thursday. This one was definitely a win. After about an hour of wandering amongst an (extremely interesting) exhibit dedicated to health and food-related artifacts from around the world and a good amount of Asian pottery, we found another special exhibit dedicated to the portrayal of witches and sorcery in European engravings. Whoa. On many levels. I have always been amazed by the apparent inability of artists to realistically render women’s breasts before the 19th century. Seriously, they are either unnatural shapes protruding from chests (often with equally unnatural placement), or they are reduced to slightly-larger-than-normal pectorals. Or a nightmarish mixture of the two – thanks, Michelangelo… But I learned here that European witches had it worst of all. Here is one of my personal favorites, by Jacques de Gheyn:
On our way out, we thought we’d swing by the Greek wing (we share an interest in Greek architecture and sculpture) and I was so glad that we did. I had completely forgotten that the Rosetta Stone (we passed it on our way) is housed there. Then, when we got to the Greek stuff, I remembered that the Parthenon friezes are there too! Both displays were incredible, but the Parthenon collection was particularly breathtaking.
After the museum, we hiked up north to Camden Town, which had been recommended to us by the Londoners that we met at the hostel in Dublin. It too had been described as an interesting neighborhood with funky shops and stuff. We were particularly intrigued by what one of the girls had said: “You have to go to Camden when you’re in London. Just don’t go when it’s raining. Or at night. And don’t get piercings done there!” So, of course, it made its way onto our list! (Early in the afternoon on a clear day…) We had done a bit of research and discovered that there is a restaurant called Poppies with a location in Camden that has been voted one of the best fish and chips places in London, so that was our first stop.
It was a bit strange, because it is a 1950s-diner-inspired restaurant, and all of the waitresses were wearing red pillbox hats and dresses with poppies printed on them. But Eva dug the 50’s playlist – I think she recognized every song, and gave me a bit of trivia to go along with every single one. And it was totally worth it – the fish and chips were infinitely more delicious than what we had eaten in Dublin – very fresh and flavorful, and served with delicious house made tartar sauce. And Eva was happy because she was able to order a pile of chips and a vegetable pasty – a vegetarian variation on a traditional dish (basically just a vegetable pot pie, but in the form of a turnover). It, too, was quite good!
After lunch, we ventured out into the neighborhood, which proved to be even more touristy/souvenir shoppy than Notting Hill. And there were definitely some super shady-looking tattoo/piercing studios. But we were able to find a couple of sweet vintage shops (one of which was closing, so cheap, awesome clothes became even cheaper, and, as a result, even more awesome…until we had to figure out how to pack again…) Eva won for best purchase, finally succeeding in her quest for an ugly Christmas sweater. (We're pretty sure it's supposed to be figgy pudding...)
Thus concluded our London activities; we spent a quiet night at the hostel, packing up and enjoying each other’s company. Eva left early the next morning to retrace our bus/underground trail to the airport (good thing we had figured that one out earlier). There were definitely some tears at the bus stop. Then, a couple of hours later, I made my way in the other direction to the train station for my return to France. I had two trains – one from London to Paris, (and a metro ride across town to a different train station) then another from Paris to Besançon. I had been a bit worried about the Paris connection, because I only had an hour and I wasn’t sure if there would be increased security in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack. But it turned out that there was nothing out of the ordinary; there was no train security, and I only saw two law enforcement officers (and they were just walking and talking to each other).
I got back to Besançon at about 7:30 on Friday night, and Eva arrived safely in Omaha a few hours later (or earlier, depending on how you look at it – it was about 5:00 Omaha-time…). It was so nice to be able to get off the train, jump on a bus without a map, know exactly which stop to get off at, and recognize the streets and buildings that I passed. But I definitely am experiencing a bit of withdrawal… The two and a half weeks that we were able to spend together were some the happiest I’ve had in a while – everything is just so much better with family! I am so grateful to Eva for having the idea in the first place and so proud of her for facing her intense fear of flying (six flights total!). I’m lucky to have such an awesome sister!!! Anybody who wants to venture to France is always more than welcome… I would provide translation/tour guide services for the price of license to recount our adventures on this blog!
Now I have one more week of vacation/recovery/preparation before the beginning of the semester. I’m getting more and more excited for my French university experience!